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Rejection hurts. When it’s viewed negatively, rejection anxiety sends us spiralling in self-doubt and worry, but if you look closely a silver lining can be found

We all get anxious and worry too much sometimes. It’s part of our nature. But, when you’ve been rejected – from whatever big or small – that rejection anxiety can hit you extra hard.

Read on to find out how my own experience with rejection got me facing rejection anxiety head on and coming to a surprising conclusion.

When I first started working for a medium-sized tech charity, who just relocated to Bristol, I loved the job. I looked after the office and the staff’s wellbeing as the office assistant: I trained in mental health first aid and helped organise events. I was the general do-gooder of odd things.

Then, at the beginning of 2019, the company went through a merger with a much larger organisation. Despite the execs assuring us that there’d be no change, over the year, staff slowly started dropping like flies as the structure and people’s responsibilities changed.

It was a very unsettling time, but I managed to hold in there. I used the merger as an opportunity to reach out to my new colleagues and help in new areas. I’d trained to do copywriting and knew writing was one of my strengths that I wanted to develop in. While building new relationships, I helped write articles and interviews. When an internal job advert came up for a related job, I was ecstatic! This was my chance to shine! It was too good to be true.

Being super keen, I sent off my CV the day after the ad went live. One week later, I received a call: “Hi Carolina, unfortunately …” That was all I needed to hear to know I hadn’t got it.

Damn. I was unbelievably upset. I felt disappointed and frustrated. I didn’t even get to an interview!? I wasn’t expecting to be handed the job, but I honestly believed I would get the chance to interview and show how passionate I was about the role and how I could benefit them. What had I done wrong?

Turns out, they were inundated with applicants. Most of whom had better qualifications and experience. They needed someone who could steer a new project to revamp the intranet and experience was an absolute must. Despite this, I still revelled in my anger – more so than I care to admit. “Why wouldn’t they want to further the career of someone internally, who was already invested in their brand and vision?” I asked, I gave myself every reason I could to justify my anger.

But, being that way will only get you so far. I had to suck it up and move on, but I couldn’t. I was devastated.

Rejection is everywhere. We’ve all had to deal with it in some form; from family, friends, work, even strangers or the pet cat. But why does it hurt so bad and why is it so difficult to get over? How can some people brush it off like it never happened?

Experiencing some serious rejection anxiety from this job application got me thinking deeply about these questions.

Rejection is rooted in biology and the instincts we have to stay alive. We’re social creatures and  rejection feels like we’re being isolated from the group. Scientists discovered that social rejection activates the same areas of the brain which respond to physical pain. No wonder it hits us so intensely. Rejection sparks emotional pain and like physical pain, it’s difficult to process and overcome, but not impossible.

So, what can we do about it? When we feel that rejection anxiety, we can crumble into the fetal position and hide under our duvet munching KitKats (this was my exact response when I found out that I didn’t get that job), or we can learn to adjust our thinking habits to see rejection in a new light.

If you want to learn how to handle rejection anxiety like a true boss check out these three helpful tips. I only wish I embraced these a bit sooner.

DON’T LET EMOTIONS CONTROL YOU:

Rejection has its roots in our biology, but we should also recognise that we choose to feel emotional pain. It is self-inflicted and that’s a bitter pill to swallow. We often feel that our emotions and problems are always caused by external events or people when they’re not. We create them internally, by choosing to feel that way.

It is far easier to blame what happens externally than to take a look inside and see how you can change the situation via your actions and thoughts.

Take a moment to think about that.

Now, I’m not asking you to ignore your emotions, quite the opposite in fact. Acknowledge and accept them, but don’t let them consume you. This is a fine balancing act which won’t be easy. Be kind to yourself even when your thoughts are distressing. Remember that imperfection is part of the shared human experience and what make us unique.

As much as you want to justify your anger, disappointment or frustration, it is only going to send you spiralling deeper into negative emotions. Stop the cycle. Recognise that our emotions do not define us. Emotions are impermanent: they rise, and they pass. They won’t last forever.

I don’t think that it’s the rejection itself that causes us problems, rather how we react. Take ownership and reflect and this will be the first step in changing your relationship with your emotions so you can learn to deal with rejection better. When we learn to deal with your emotions, they will have less control over you meaning you can think more clearly.

SHIFT FROM SELF-CRITIC TO SELF-COMPASSIONATE:

As self-sabotaging creatures who often look for worst-case scenarios, upon rejection we instantly think: “What have I done wrong?”, “I’m so useless.”, or “I’ll never amount to anything.” These damaging thoughts can be paralysing.

How do you stop the inner judgemental critic creeping in? Practice self-kindness, treat yourself like you would a small child. Be empathetic and understanding. 

But how will I learn and grow I hear you ask? You can still criticise yourself, to some degree, but make sure that it’s constructive. So, you didn’t get that job promotion. Instead of saying: “I’m useless and I’ll never be successful in this career.”  Change your perspective to: “What steps can I take to get myself in a better position to try again?”, or “What opportunities has this given me in the sort-term?” Hopefully, this will make you question your choices and highlight what you hold important in your life. See how rejection can be a great tool to show you where your value and purpose lies.

Practising mindfulness is another great tool that can help with this process. Becoming aware of things in the moment – as they are and not as you want them to be – help us stop over-identifying with negative and painful thoughts.

Every time I thought I was being rejected from something good, I was actually being re-directed to something better.  Dr. Steve Maraboli

REACH OUT AND TALK:

One of the best ways to deal with rejection anxiety healthily is to take action, reach out and be honest and open about it. Speaking to your friends, family or peers can be the most effective way of moving past the rejection and getting a better outlook. Like me, write a blog post! Do anything that helps you express and process your feelings healthily.

No one is alone in their struggles. As humans, we all suffer from some form of rejection and this is important to remember. Connecting with others can help rationalise those negative thoughts and gain a better perspective.

So, what’s your view on rejection now? I hope that you can start to re-evaluate how you see rejection and accept that it doesn’t always mean something negative or damaging.

One problem we face is that we’re surrounded with success stories in the media. Few personalities are quick to talk about their failures, but I can assure you, they weren’t all plain sailing; Steven Spielberg was rejected applying for film studies at the University of Southern California (USC), twice. Stephen King had a system for collecting his rejection letters which involved nailing them onto his bedroom wall. Walt Disney’s first animation studio went bankrupt. Lady Gaga was dropped by Def Jam records after only 3 months. All these failures turned out to be powerful forces that drove them to further their careers.

After much contemplation, and even though I was disappointed to not get to interview, I realised that this experience gave me a clear perspective of what I want to be doing, and that I need to work on getting more writing experience. All I can do it take it one little step at a time.

When you let go of controlling your emotions – and the ego, experiencing rejection becomes a powerful tool that helps assess what is relevant in your life. We often don’t realise what is important to us until it’s taken away or we’re told we can’t have it. Then we want it more! That’s the key role rejection plays: it helps us figure out the connections to things that drive us.

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