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Overcoming the Pain of Rejection

Have you ever wondered why we often describe being rejected in terms of physical pain? "It was like a slap in the face!" "I was heartbroken." "It was a gut-punch!" Recent studies indicate that the language we use to describe emotional distress is more accurate than we imagine.

We've all been there - receiving that rejection email, being turned down for a promotion, or facing dismissal in any aspect of our lives. Even small rejections, like being excluded from a work lunch, can feel painful. When someone stops returning your texts or calls, it hurts. Ghosting, the ultimate rejection, can trigger feelings of shame and humiliation and intensify sensitivity to threats.

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Naomi Eisenberger is a social psychologist who conducted an experiment to examine the pain of rejection at a neurological level. Participants put on virtual-reality headsets and played a game of catch (called CyberBall). While the participants were playing, the researchers measured their brain activity through fMRI scans. While playing the game, the participants could see their own hand, a ball, and two other virtual characters.

As the game went on, the two virtual characters would stop throwing the ball to the participant – excluding them from the game. Those who felt the most emotional distress from being excluded also showed the most pain-related brain activity. The feeling of rejection triggered the same neural circuits that process physical pain.

This explains why the brain doesn't distinguish between a broken bone and a broken heart. Rejection actually hurts – and it is not just something in your head. Understanding why it hurts so much is essential to overcome its sting.

The Pain of Rejection and the Power of Resilience

Rejection taps into our most fundamental psychological needs, such as the need for belonging and acceptance. When these needs are unmet, the emotional impact can be profound.

Resilience is the key to overcoming rejection and adversity. It's the ability to adapt and bounce back in the face of challenges. Developing resilience involves cultivating a growth mindset, practicing self-compassion, and building a strong support system. By reframing rejection as an opportunity for growth rather than a reflection of our worth, we can emerge from rejection stronger and more resilient than before.

Rejection may wound us, but it does not define us. By embracing rejection as a natural part of life's journey, we can harness its transformative power and emerge more resilient and courageous. Remember, rejection is not a setback but a stepping stone toward personal growth and self-discovery.


Studies show that human touch can ease the pain of rejection.

An investigation from University College London demonstrates that the gentle touch of another person can counteract the negative emotional impact of rejection. “As our social world is becoming increasingly visual and digital, it is easy to forget the power of touch in human relations. Yet we’ve shown for the first time that mere slow, gentle stroking by a stranger can reduce feelings of social exclusion after social rejection,” said lead author Mariana von Mohr.


A bottle of water costs .50 at Costco.

A bottle of water costs $2.00 in a vending machine.

A bottle of water costs $5.00 at the airport.

Know your worth.


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