Attention — 05 June 2005
How to deal with rejection

Being rejected, rebuffed or dismissed is a most unpleasant experience. Whether it is being fired or terminated from a job, being left by a partner, or even a date, the smarting sensation of being unwanted can be profound. Reacting well in these situations is very hard, particularly since often the rejected person is surprised and unprepared for the ending of the relationship.

The pain associated with rejection stems from the misperception that not being wanted represents a statement about one’s value. Though the fired worker is told that his services are no longer appreciated or needed, he is often unable to separate his work from his being. “They did not want ME anymore” seems to be the surmised message.

The fear, of course is that if this employer does not value me, another one may not want me either. The economic and survival needs are threatened both practically and emotionally. Moving from feeling undesired to undesirable is devastating.

In relationships, the rejected person may fear that not being acceptable to this partner is evidence of a pervasive state of being unacceptable to all other future partners. Since our self-esteem is reinforced through esteem from others, losing the input from important loved ones may call to question one’s own self-perception as a valuable being.

When you are asked to leave, by an employer, or partner, the requester has the power to make a choice that does not include you, but significantly impacts your life. The powerlessness associated with another person’s unilateral decision of such great magnitude, evokes many emotions and one or more of these common reactions:

SHOCK- The unanticipated rejection is so threatening, surprising and painful that some people become paralyzed by numbness and an inability to react. This emotional dynamic serves to psychologically protect the individual and provides time to regroup and regain emotional balance before responding in any way.

SELF-SOOTHING- Trying to distance oneself from the hurt of undesirability as a worker or lover, the rejected person may state his or her feelings aloud: “I can’t believe this is happening to me, I never thought I would be in this situation” or “I know you still love me, no matter what you say”. This talk to oneself aloud is a calming tool to reduce the implausibility of the trauma he or she experiences.

PLEADING- is done in an attempt to reverse the decision of the rejecting person. The rejected individual may offer to change him/herself, repair the damage done, reform his ways or seek help. He may offer apologies and regrets, humble himself by acknowledging his inadequacies or mistakes and plead for a reversal of the decision to sever the connection.

USING GUILT- some people are so overwhelmed by the rejection that they resort to tears, helplessness and feeling victimized. They may say: “You can not do this to me after all I have done for you”, or “This is very unfair, I don’t deserve it,” or, “You will regret this for the rest of your life, I am the best person you have ever had”. This emotional reaction is intended to highlight to the rejecting person the injustice of his or her choice and instill guilt.

FORECASTING -appears to be an acceptance of the decision to part but is actually another method of inflicting guilt upon the person who is terminating the relationship. “What will happen to me now? After fifteen years with the company and being my age, how can I find new employment?” or “I gave you the best years of my life and now you end the relationship and cast me away?” Though the person is thinking of the future, the fear he experiences propels him to anticipate the worst and inflict guilt upon the other.

ATTACKING- this aggressive mode is a reaction intended to sustain one’s power despite the sense of helplessness. “It is all your fault, you never told me what I was expected to achieve on this job, you never gave me feedback or guidance, and now you are firing ME?” or “You are responsible for this breakup, you have not been honest with me and led me to believe everything was fine, how could you be this way?” Assigning blame reduces the rejected person’s culpability for feeling unwanted.

RESIGNATION- to the inevitable decision of the rejecting person may serve the rejected individual best. By the time an employee is let go or a lover freed, the decision has been long thought out and is firm. Arguing, pleading, self- demeaning, name-calling, guilt inflicting, does not reverse the decision, it only serves to prolong the already painful experience.

In a work situation, it may be wise to ask for data, if any available, as to the specific reasons for the firing. Some information may help the employee act differently on the next job.

In personal relationships, parting words may not be as helpful. If the causes for the breakup were behavioral, they have probably already been discussed. If the reasons have to do with essential traits of the rejected partner, or those of the rejecting one, this may not be of help in the future.

Rejection is an extremely painful experience since we equate the loss of appreciation as a measure of our worth. A laid off or fired employee and a rejected lover are no less valuable as human beings than they were prior to this event- it only feels this way.


• What someone else thinks of you does not devalue your worth.
• Self-assessment and making new decisions about your future conduct may be the gifts of the rejection.
• There is no right way to respond to rejection, there is perhaps, a less painful one.
• Rejection does often leave a residue of self-doubt and insecurity. Keeping this period short, by plunging into work search or dating again may shorten the grieving process.
• Most often the next job or the next partner is a better choice for you as well.

June 5, 2005

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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