Handling Rejection

Originally posted as “Handling Rejection” by Dr. Arnie Kozak at Beliefnet

I was recently interviewed by Brianna Steinhilber of EverUp for a piece on dealing with rejection. You can read her very thoughtful story here

Here are some additional thoughts I had in addition to those quoted in her article:
Why does it seem that some people are less affected than others by being rejected?
Becoming upset in reaction to rejection requires subscribing to what I call “contingent self-worth.” Contingent Self-Worth is a set of rules about the conditions that we can be okay with. For example, “I can be okay if everyone likes me; I am a good person if I don’t fail” Every rule makes us vulnerable to rejections, disappointments, and losses. We live in a culture where our wellbeing is almost always linked to how much material stuff we have, how much other people like us, and other measures of status. So, when I say subscribing it’s not necessarily a conscious process; the linkages are deeply embedded in our psyches (like asking a fish, what is water?).
Is it a matter of handling the experience differently or are some people innately less sensitive to rejection?
There is clearly something we can do to break the self-worth contingencies and it is also the case that some people will have to work harder at this than others. The degree of effort points to innate contribution. Some of us are more thick-skinned. Of course, the way we are is always a function of the interaction of genes and environment.
Does the response to rejection translate across different areas of your life? For example, if you are highly sensitive to rejection at work, would you have the same response if shot down when you ask someone out on a date?
It’s quite possible to have differential sensitivities but it’s probably more likely that a sensitive person would have similar sensitivities. Of course, and again, it depends on each person’s unique life experience. Someone may be robust in the work arena in a way that they are not with relationships because of certain experiences from earlier in life. It always depends on what the person perceives is on the line. Different domains of life may be seen as more or less threatening to their sense of value, wellbeing, or worth.
What are some ways that you recommend people who are greatly affected by rejection can work on bouncing back more quickly when it occurs?
Mindfulness is the principle means that I use to break contingencies in my psychotherapy patients and workshop participants (like the workshop that I’ll be teaching soon at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health). The more aware we are of how we react to situations will give us options on how to respond differently. It’s helpful to ask yourself, “what’s really on the line here?” You can then see if your sense of okay-ness is really undermined by the rejection. Often, we worry how we’ll be perceived by others and that is just another contingency. Rejections aren’t the end of the world but sometimes we can react as if they are. Being turned away from one opportunity makes you available for another. Ultimately, I encourage people not to take things so seriously. If that reaction arises, mindfulness practice can help people to back away from it and keep things in perspective.