Rejection is a universal experience. We’ve all been told “no” at some point in our lives, and probably felt bad afterwards.It turns out that humans feel both emotional and physical pain from being rejected, but romantic rejection has its own unique version of pain and hurt. Just think about all the sad love songs about breakups or ballads about being rejected by your one true soulmate.
Rejection has a deeply rooted effect on us as humans because of our social nature. We are meant to bond with each other and maintain those connections. Rejection is a big threat because it tests the stability of the bond when someone refuses to cooperate with a request, indicating that we are not being accepted socially. Rejection in romantic endeavors is especially distressing because of their intimate and vulnerable nature.
The pain of rejection is stronger for some more than others. Individuals who experience higher “rejection sensitivity” are often more anxious and insecure about the prospect of being rejected, and react more pessimistically to seemingly ambiguous situations, becoming hostile or aggressive to the person who rejected them. If you’re not careful, it can become a vicious feedback loop where you’re anxious about being refused, experience rejection, lash out, and become reclusive and even more anxious about rejection.
Those with higher rejection sensitivity become reluctant to pursue intimate relationships in fear of getting hurt again. In fact, it has been found that these individuals who have more rejection sensitivity at age 16 are less likely to have romantic relationships by age 22. Even if they do find themselves in one, they are more likely to report more negative interactions with their partner. Self-perception can also change after a rejection, leading to the development of lower self-esteem and lower self-perceived mate value.
All of this may sound scary and brings into question whether it is better to try, and get rejected or not to at all. So far, it seems as if rejection can be the start of a downward spiral of social ostracism. But it is more nuanced than that.
In one study, the amount of regret that participants felt from a missed romantic opportunity was compared with the amount of regret from rejection. The researchers found that more often than not, people felt more regret not doing anything to pursue a romantic relationship than they felt after being rejected. Interestingly, this finding wasn’t as applicable to participants with an anxious attachment style, who were actually more regretful if they experienced rejection.
In the end, rejection shouldn’t be a looming threat dictating your choices and relationships. Yes, it does hurt, and for those with high rejection sensitivity, the pain can be severe. But even if you are highly sensitive to rejection, there is hope for you too! If you choose to reject the negativity of rejection, you can break the cycle of fear and hostility with the right techniques to create and maintain positive social relationships.