Why Rejection Stings and How to Move Past It

by Darcie
sting of rejection

Everyone has experienced rejection at some point in their life. I definitely have, and it never seems to get easier. In fact, this has been happening to me a lot lately.

For the past month or so, I’ve been looking for a part-time job at a private therapy practice and was recently offered the opportunity to interview at a place that seemed, from its website, like it could be a good fit.  

Prior the interview, I considered what other questions I might be asked, but felt like an interview for a job as a therapist would  be much more based on my personality and my therapeutic style, which didn’t really require me to prepare to answer traditional interview questions.

I don’t know if it was that I wasn’t prepared, or if I was just off my game because it was Friday afternoon and was exhausted after a long week seeing clients, but the interview was awful.

The questions she asked me seemed to come out of left field, and several times my mind went completely blank and I had no idea how to answer the question. I left thinking, “What just happened?”

I got into my car and immediately called my mom. She empathized with me, told me it probably wasn’t as bad as I thought it was, and that it would work out if it was meant to be.

She then said, “What did you think of them?”

“Oh…I don’t really know,” I responded.

It was then that I realized that I didn’t know basically anything about the practice. I didn’t know if I wanted to work there or not because I hadn’t been given the chance to learn more about what the type of person they were looking for and what the office culture was like.

My mom suggested that maybe my interviewer and I weren’t on the same wavelength, and it just wasn’t a good fit.

Somehow, I hadn’t thought of that. Instead, I immediately blamed myself because I’m usually really well spoken in interviews, and my mind had never gone blank like this.

After I hung up with my mom, I felt conflicted about whether or not I even wanted a second interview. After all, as my mom had pointed out, I didn’t really know anything about the place to begin with.

Still, I felt obligated to thank my interviewer for her time and express interest in learning more.

Maybe I just needed to meet with her again and learn what her practice was all about and then I’d feel like we’d be a good fit, though my gut was telling me that it didn’t matter and I wouldn’t get a follow-up interview. I sent the email anyway.

As I’d predicted, I got a rejection email that Monday afternoon saying “thanks for meeting with me, we decided to move forward with two other candidates…best of luck.”

I replied and thanked her for letting me know, to which, she replied, “Sorry for the bad news.”

Where the first message was expected, for some reason this follow-up to mine really stung. Big time.

I felt like I was being pitied and condescended to all at the same time, for a job that I didn’t even know if I wanted.

All I wanted was to learn more about the company, yet it felt like she was implying that her private practice was my dream and she was causing me great distress by rejecting me.

I believe that God has a plan for me, and I recognized that my mom was probably right that it just wasn’t a good fit. But I couldn’t help but feel annoyed at being rejected, and thus, I started to feel critical of myself for not performing at my best in the interview.

My go-to when something is on my mind – happy or sad – is to write about it. Writing is my safe place, my therapy, so I sat down and started to research rejection.ere’s what I found.

Rejection activates the part of the brain associated with physical pain.

To feel pain with rejection is human and is unavoidable.

I think we can all relate to this, and the research shows that it actually does hurt. Whereas I blamed myself for the pain I felt from being rejected after that interview, this is actually a normal response.

Resilience is crucial to how we process pain. My dad has told me that what separates “successful” people from everyone else is how you bounce back from failure.

Successful people recognize that failure (and rejection) is part of life, and accepting that can help you to move on more quickly.

In essence, it’s natural to feel hurt by rejection, but then you have to let it go, reset, and figure out the next move.

Rejection threatens the human need for belonging.

For the majority of human history,people needed to live in tribes to survive. Rejection from the group posed an existential threat to a person’s physical well-being.

In present day, however, rejection threatens a person’s sense of belonging.

It’s pretty clear that’s what happened for me. The rejection email triggered the thought, “well, if I don’t belong at this private practice, where do I belong? Will I ever find it?”

In the moment, I began to buy into the belief that if this place didn’t want me, I may never find one that does. But that, of course, is completely untrue.

Finding a good business fit is a lot like dating or developing friendships – you won’t fit with everyone.

It’s hard to find true belonging, and for most people, it takes trial and error to find that right place to call “home.”

Rejection triggers self-critical thoughts.

It was easy to find fault in myself as a result of this rejection.

I knew I didn’t perform my best in the interview, and I blamed myself for failing to be fully prepared and not thinking quickly on the fly. I questioned whether I was too open, too scattered, or too enthusiastic.

The more I questioned myself, the more I became convinced that I was lacking in some way and the less I believed that the rejection was simply a matter of fit or incompatible styles.

As you may surmise, that thought process didn’t help me to feel any better. In fact, it only made me feel worse.

I ruminated over what I said and didn’t say. If I’d instead chalked it up to a matter of fit, I might have been able to accept that it just wasn’t meant to be and started looking forward.

Through this experience, I realized that rejection will always sting, and it’s okay to be upset by that.

This isn’t the last time I’ll be rejected, but this experience has certainly changed my perspective. It’s human to feel the sting, but I shouldn’t let it lead to being self-critical.

Rather, a better approach is to accept that rejection hurts and then, in the words of Aaliyah, “dust yourself off and try again, try again, try again…”

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