5 Positive Ways to Cope With Rejection

Even a seemingly small rejection in an area you care about can be painful—or even crushing.

This originally appeared on Quora, where it was answered by productivity coach Hillary Rettig.

Here are some common mistakes people make in the wake of a rejection:

1. We underestimate its impact.
Even a seemingly small rejection in an area you care a lot about can be painful or even crushing—which is why someone who accuses a writer of being "oversensitive" in the face of nasty or callous remark, would likely react equally or even more strongly to a similar remark about, say, his parenting skills.

handle rejection

2. We fail to recognize it as rejection.
Ignorant or insensitive people sometimes do say terrible things under the guise of "constructive criticism," "tough love," or "fun ribbing." Even if you believe someone's motives are basically well-meaning—which is not always the case—you shouldn't misidentify the nature of their act, or its effect on you.

3. We assume that the compliments cancel out the criticisms.
Constructive criticism always begins with something good to say about the writer's work or at least his efforts or intentions; and from there tries to deliver a mix of compliments and criticisms. (You can't always do it, but that's the goal.) We often assume the compliments will take the sting out of the criticisms, but that's not always the case, especially If the criticisms are harsh or the writer a perfectionist who mentally "filters out" compliments.

4. We listen to bad advice.
Because society itself is so perfectionist, you are likely to hear loads of bad advice in the wake of a rejection, such as: "Get over it," "Move on, already," or "It goes with the territory." Ignore it all. It is crucial that you be 100% accepting of your reaction to a rejection, because, (a) your feelings are always valid, and (b) judging them will only make you feel worse.

Above all, don't chide yourself for being oversensitive. Writers feel the sting of rejection not because we're weak, but because what we're doing is difficult, and because we have committed to an emotional openness that leaves us vulnerable.

5 Positive Ways to Cope With Rejection
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Here's how to cope:

1. Overcome your perfectionism and internalized oppression.
You're probably sick of hearing me say that, but it's fundamental. Don't buy into the oppressor's viewpoint or give away your power. Also, people with strong supportive communities and abundant resources tend to cope much better than those who are isolated and deprived.

2. Prioritize coping.
Don't try to work through the pain, or minimize it, or pretend it's "no big deal." Stop your work and focus on healing. This will ensure that you'll be able to resume your work as quickly as possible.

3. Cope lavishly.
We're often in shock, after a traumatic rejection, and so may not be conscious of the full extent of the hurt. And the tendency toward denial is strong. I find, in fact, that many rejections are like icebergs: small on the surface, but much larger underneath. I would therefore err on the side of caution and assume I'm hurting worse—and need more healing—than I may realize.

If you need a crying jag or a sulk, take it: you're not hurting anyone. (If you need a bunch, take them.) When you're done, move on to journaling, discussions, therapy and other analytical tools. Explore the situation as fully as possible, and with as much compassionate objectivity as possible. Yes, you want to take responsibility for whatever mistakes you made, but you also need to recognize the mistakes others made, or the role of bad luck in the rejection—and to be sure not to blame yourself for those.


4. Avoid the temptation to isolate.
That only compounds the shame and deprives you of resources. You need your community now more than ever.

5. Take back your power.
You take your power back, mainly, by speaking your truth. If the person who rejected you is compassionate and ethical, call or visit and tell her how her comment (or action) made you feel: if you've correctly assessed her character, she will probably take responsibility and apologize. Or, she could bring up other aspects of the situation that fully or partly exonerate her. That's fine, too. The main point is that she will seriously listen to, and think about, your statements.

If the person is not, to your knowledge, compassionately objective or ethical in their dealings, or if they are more powerful than you, or if you feel that there might be adverse consequences to speaking out, then you've got a tougher problem. Definitely consult with your mentors; and you may have to limit your re-empowerment to speaking your truth to yourself and your community, coping lavishly, and limiting your future interactions with the person. (Far better, I hope you see, to only associate with, and work with, the compassionately objective, ethical, and competent in the first place.)

From Hillary Rettig's The 7 Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer's Block.

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