Why rejection sucks so much (and how to deal with it better)


As a writer I deal with rejection on a very regular basis.

Story ideas get knocked back. An editor will bluntly say ‘this needs more work’. A piece I publish on my blog will really bomb.

And despite being a generally confident person, these things always manage to shake my world for at least a day and set me to questioning everything from my ability as a writer right through to my general self-worth. (I know. It’s a real slippery slope!)

Becoming an editor myself helped somewhat as it showed me how fine the line is between a piece being ‘just right’ … and not. It’s also given me a taste for having to knock back or modify the work of fellow writers, some who are friends. And I’ve come to realise that when I knock stuff back, it’s never personal. I’m simply doing what is right for the publication.

But while this knowledge has helped, having my work rejected by anyone for any reason still hurts and I got to wondering why this is.

Am I am your typically overly-sensitive creative type? Do I need to just toughen up?

I decided to go in search of some answers.

And what I found was this … ALL of us humans are overly sensitive creatures. In fact, the average human experiences rejection at least once a day – often from people we don’t even know.

We might smile at a stranger walking down the street, only to receive no response. We might let someone’s car slide in before us at an intersection and receive no acknowledgement for our kindness. Someone in the office may be a little distracted and consequently a little short with us.

And these are just some real world examples. Imagine how many daily opportunities exist in the online world for feeling slighted. As psychologist Robert Leahy notes here,

“The sheer number of strangers with whom we [now] interact creates many more opportunities for rejection.”

How ironic. Rejection makes us feel disconnected from those around us … yet the hyper-connected world in which we live is now giving us many more opportunities each day in which to feel rejected.

Why does this feeling of being disconnected affect us so badly? Psychologists theorise it is because:

“Going back 50,000 years, social distance from a group could lead to death … We may have evolved a sensitivity to anything that would indicate that we’re being excluded. This automatic alarm may be a signal for us to re-establish social bonds before harm befalls us.”

Ok, so now we know rejection affects us all in a fairly similar fashion, just exactly how do we deal with it? If everyone in the world allowed their ego to be irreparably shaken at every slight – perceived or otherwise – society just wouldn’t function.

There’s no point pretending we don’t feel rejection though. As my friend Dr Sarah Wayland says:

“It’s simple to live your life quoting clichés about the need to develop tough skin, that words ‘cannot hurt us’. But the reality is they do. There is nothing more isolating than the feeling of being rejected.

In terms of bouncing back, take a moment to question the rejection and see if you feel it is valid reflection of who you truly are. Replacing the negative thoughts by grounding yourself in what you know to be true might help you move on a little faster from that initial sting.”

Is there anything else can we do?

Why yes, there is:

  1. Understand that everyone feels the pain of rejection every single day. In other words, it’s not just you.
  2. Understand that it is seldom personal. The person ignoring you in the street might have a parent in hospital. The client who decided to go with another designer might be responding to pressures from higher up in the organisation. That person who didn’t respond to your witty facebook comment might just be really busy.
  3. Find something to do that gives you an ego boost like seeking out the company of people who make you feel good about yourself.
  4. Exercise! I defy anyone to feel as low emotionally at the end of an exercise session as they did at the start.
  5. Recognise the power of choice. Ultimately you can choose to dwell, or you can get on with the business of getting on. It’s completely up to you.

Why is rejection on my mind?

Well one, Brooke and I are recording a podcast about it this week … and two, Practical Perfection is two weeks away from being released into the wild. I’ve experienced rejection in writing the book (seeking comments for the book from people I admire and receiving … crickets) and I’ll experience rejection when it comes out (because it’s not going to resonate with everyone who reads it).

So tell me … have you got any excellent coping-with-rejection strategies to add to the five I’ve listed above? I’m all ears!