You receive that first or that twentieth or that hundredth publisher rejection letter. It doesn’t matter how many rejections you’ve gotten because they all hurt. Well, it turns out there is science behind the pain of rejection.
In Nicole Fisher’s Forbes article, Rejection And Physical Pain Are The Same To Your Brain, she explains that although the brain does not process emotional pain and physical pain identically, the reaction and resulting actions are very similar, and a natural painkiller (mu-opioid) is released during both events. Fisher states, “Research out of the University of Michigan suggests that not only does the brain process rejection like it does physical injury, but that personality traits such as resilience are vital to how we process pain. The brain’s natural painkilling response varies between humans, with some releasing more opioids during social rejection than others, meaning that some have a stronger–or more adaptive–protective ability. “
When mu-opioid is released, there is a trigger in two areas of the brain:
- The amygdala processes the strength of the emotion.
- The pregenual cingulate cortex determines how your mood changes because of the event.
“Therefore, the more opioid released, the greater reduction in pain–and possibly a greater experience of pleasure when someone feels that they’ve been socially accepted or validated.”
She takes this research a step further, and suggests “those prone to social anxiety, panic attacks and depression release less opioid, and therefore take longer and do not recover as well from negative social experiences. These individuals may also struggle to gain as much pleasure from social support as those who get more opioid in the pregenual cingulate cortex.”
Now that we understand that the brain processes emotional and physical pain similarly, what can we do to help cope with the pain of rejection? Think about a child who has hurt themselves and what you might do to ease their physical pain. You might give the child a hug, clean the wound, put a Band-Aid on the injury, give them Tylenol, and tell them to rest for a while. We can approach emotional pain in a similar way.
Psychologist Guy Winch suggests that there are ways to treat the psychological wounds rejection inflicts. To do so effectively we must soothe our emotional pain, reduce our anger and aggression, protect our self-esteem, and stabilize our need to belong. While we won’t explore all of these ways of coping in this post, the following two strategies are a good place to start:
Don’t Take It Personal
Don’t take rejection as a personal attack. Most rejections are due to the right fit and circumstance. Yet with rejection we so often jump to the conclusion that there is something wrong with us. Miguel Ruiz puts this idea into perspective in The Four Agreements. He states, “Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of themselves. All people live in their own dream, in their own mind; they live in a completely different world from the world we live in. “
Reaching out to family and friends after receiving a literary rejection can validate who you are. Reconnecting with loved ones helps us feel connected and grounded. Call a friend, invite your parents over for dinner, or make a date with your partner. This will help remind you that you are appreciated and loved.
Next week, we’ll explore the personal trait of resiliency and how it is vital to how we process rejection. Stay tuned!