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Understanding the Emotional Impact of Rejection: Exploring the Why Behind the Hurt

Woman in black leather jacket sitting on brown wooden floor

We all know rejection feels terrible, whether from a love interest or a lack of curiosity from readers regarding our medium articles.

           I’ve written in different posts concerning how our species has developed such a harsh reaction to repudiation. 

           Human beings evolved with a need for each other to increase the likelihood of survival. A single person could not last on their own millions of years ago.

           Therefore, a denial of who we are feels like a threat to our existence.

           According to Eisenberger, Lieberman & Williams (2003), social rejection triggers the same brain regions connected to physical pain. Think about it this way, our mind treats exclusion like having a broken leg. 

           Social rejection increases anxiety, anger, sadness, depression, and jealousy (Leary,2010). It also negatively impacts self-worth (Williams et al., 2000).

           Considering all this data, it seems reasonable for us to develop coping skills to mitigate the pain. It’s impossible to go through life without facing some sort of rebuff from someone, somewhere.

           Internalizing every rejection incident will lead to misery, making one less likely to form meaningful relationships.

           With so many possible variables for why someone may not like you, it’s vital to remember that you may never get a reason short of asking an individual. Even then, the rationale might involve something you cannot control (ethnicity, gender, etc).

           In those circumstances, the best practice would include moving on and spending time with those who accept you.

           However, in different situations, denial might signal a need for social improvement in a particular area. It’s hard to maintain a relationship with a significant other if you do not have some basic skills in communication, confidence, or financial stability.

           Writers with issues getting readers have to face the reality of a possible need to strengthen their craft in some area.

           Or, it could signal an extreme level of competition in the field. Medium, for instance, has about 725,000 paid subscribers. With that many players in the game, finding a way to stand out from the crowd will take work.

           The answer to dealing with this point would require us to look at the big picture and realize many of our peers are in the same boat as us.

Sailing ship and boats in ocean lagoon

           While a response to rejection will vary based on the individual and circumstances, it’s crucial to remember our humanity in the process. As previously stated, our wiring causes these feelings before the executive parts of our brain can reply.

           Knowing that emotions of being left out our universal should lessen any shame one experiences around the topic.

           We’re social beings due to evolution; better to accept that reality and take a healthy approach to the inevitable times when things do not go in our favor.

What do you think?

How do you deal with the emotional pain of rejection?

Vertis Williams is a Positive Habits Life Coach and a Mindfulness Trainer. He is a regular presenter at employee and team development events. Contact him to request more info on his Workshops or on his Coaching Services! Click HERE to Request a Complimentary Habit Coaching Session!


Eisenberger, N.I., Lieberman, M.D., & Williams K.D. (2003) Does rejection hurt? An FMRI study of social exclusion. Science, Oct 10;302(5643). doi: 10.1126/science.1089134.

Leary, M.R. (2010). Affiliation, acceptance, and belonging. In S.T. Fiske, D.T. Gilbert & G. Lindzey (Eds.), Handbook of Social Psychology (5th Ed., Vol. 2, pp. 864–897). New York, NY: Wiley.

Williams, K.D., Cheung, C.K.T., & Choi, W. (2000). Cyberostracism: Effects of being ignored over the Internet. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 748–762.

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