Rejection is an inevitable part of our sometimes messy, sometimes wonderful, and often complicated sexual and romantic relationships. There will be people who don’t vibe with your energy. There will be people who say “no” because they’re practicing their own boundaries. There will be times when you are shut down by someone you love. There will be times when you get ghosted. But knowing all that hardly makes rejection any less painful when it happens.
Rejection hurts all over.
While many simply think of rejection as causing emotional pain, we can feel it in our bodies and psychies as well. Trauma and grief worker Jennye Patterson gives the example of how heartbreak creates a surge of stress hormones which can, in some cases, become broken heart syndrome, a condition that mimics the symptoms and pain of a heart attack. “It can immediately go from emotional to physical pain because of how all pain is interrelated,” Patterson explains.
When we experience rejection, people in our support systems often urge us to “just get over it” or forget about whoever hurt us. But it’s hardly that easy. “I think we do a disservice to ourselves when we separate certain kinds of pain from one another or place them in a hierarchy, making some valid and some invalid,” adds Patterson. You aren’t expected to start walking the day after you break your leg, so why should you act completely unaffected the day after experiencing rejection?
The next time you’re processing rejection or any intense emotional response, Holly Stuart-Caines, LCSW, recommends checking in with where the feeling lives in your body. “Common physical manifestations of the emotional pain of rejection can include (but are not limited to) stomachache, nausea, physical heartache, constipation, diarrhea, headaches, sleeplessness, fatigue, and a physical sense of weight or heaviness in our movements,” she says. When you discover where in your body rejection shows up, you can give those parts of yourself TLC, soothing out the wrinkles of self-criticism that usually follow rejection.
Rejection cuts deep.
Our social ego is connected to our need and desire to connect with other people. Stuart-Caines explains that humans have historically existed in interdependent communities, where support and care were woven into everyone’s contributions to the collective. Today, we exist siloed off from one another with cultural norms prioritizing romantic relationships above all others. “This creates a situation in which our romantic partners are often our primary source of social connection,” she says. “When we lose [that], it can feel almost like a death, because many of us lack intimacy with a larger circle that can continue to reflect our worth back to us in the event of romantic rejection.” An antidote to this is building intimacy into a multitude of our relationships — including those that are platonic and those with our biological or chosen family.
Dating and romantic connections are built on a foundation of vulnerability and sharing the depths of ourselves with our partner(s). So when we experience romantic rejection, it “can feel like a rejection of our core selves, of everything that we are,” says Stuart-Caines. In the event of a breakup, it’s easy to fall down a hole of self-doubt. But it’s not you. Feeling rejected can take time to abate, because our brains are hardwired to try to find ways to reestablish into some sort of interpersonal connection.
But you can get through it.
Patterson explains that, at times, we lose more than just our partners in the case of romantic rejection — especially if we exist in insular communities, like the queer or kink communities. “Sometimes we lose friends or places to hang out. It can feel really fracturing,” she says. Stabilizing your connections with friends after rejection is important, but it’s also valuable to pour some of that care into yourself. “Rejection, though super painful, can really be a transitional moment where we begin to show ourselves more love and compassion. Doing that kind off work for and with ourselves will serve us well in any relationship we enter in the future,” Patterson continues.
What does self-love look like for you? I find that devising a routine for checking in with myself after a breakup is important, so I create a word bank of all the actions I can take to nourish my self-worth and self-love. Every day I look at the word bank and check in to make sure I did at least one thing listed there — it can be as simple as drinking enough water or going for a long walk.
For Patterson, affirmations prove useful. She personally relies on: “We are all deserving of love and just because one person cannot show up to love us does not mean that no one can or will.” Self-soothing can transmute the pain of rejection into “personal power and healing,” she adds. It can also be helpful to reflect on the relationship — once you feel ready, that is. Looking within after a breakup is not only important healing work, but it will also help you better understand your needs in relationships going forward.
“We are socialized to believe in the idea of soulmates or finding the one,” Stuart-Caines says. “But the truth is that there are many people in the world with whom each of us can be romantically compatible and have a fulfilling romantic relationship.” As you heal from rejection, take time to manifest exactly what you crave in future dating prospects. Lick your wounds, but know that in time, you’ll be ready to move on.