• Girl walking alone in forest

Overcoming rejection: what you can learn from science

We all suffer rejection at one point or another. Whether we’re turned down for a dream job, left by a long-term partner or simply don’t get a callback after a first date, it stings. And, unlike most things in life, it seldom gets easier to deal with the more it happens.

If you sometimes feel that you feel rejection more acutely than others, stop. Scientists have discovered that it’s hardwired into our DNA to feel emotionally lost and vulnerable after a disappointment. In short, it’s what makes us fundamentally human. And if you’ve ever experience truly physical searing pain at the end of a relationship, know that this too simply means your body and mind are responding in the way nature intended. In fact, a study using MRI machines found that subjects feeling rejection showed brain activity in the same area that governs physical pain. That’s why even the small rejections – a new lover taking three days to text us back, for example – can hurt an awful lot.

Why, you might be wondering, does nature want us to hurt quite so much? Well back in the day when we foraged for food and lived in tribes, a rejection from our communities could have been fatal, amounting to a loss of food, warmth and shelter. The physical pain sensor was actually quite useful – it served as a reminder of impending death, and encouraged us to change our ways in order to be allowed back into the cave with our friends.

All very well and good for the poor old hunter gatherers ostracized from his Neanderthal friends, but what of us poor 21st century sufferers of rejection?

In his illuminating TED talk 'Why we all need to practice emotional first aid', psychologist Guy Winch shares the following practical advice for soothing the pain of rejection and bouncing back to yourself.


When a lover says goodbye, it takes a sturdy soul to think to themselves “I’m sad about that, but their decision is merely a reflection on our combined lack of chemistry, and says nothing whatsoever about my value as a human being”. You only have to watch Bridget Jones to know that most of us are more likely to pull on our pyjamas, hit up the Häagen-Dazs and spend the foreseeable future chastising our appearances, personalities and all round uselessness. 

“By all means review what happened and consider what you should do differently in the future, but there is absolutely no good reason to be punitive and self-critical while doing so. [We] assume a rejection is personal when it’s not. Most rejections, whether romantic, professional, and even social, are due to “fit” and circumstance. Going through an exhaustive search of your own deficiencies in an effort to understand why it didn’t “work out” is not only unnecessarily but misleading,” says Dr Winch.


Once you’ve eliminated the critical self-talk, it’s time to soothe yourself by reminding yourself of your unique values and virtues. 

“Make a list of five qualities you have that are important or meaningful — things that make you a good relationship prospect (e.g., you are supportive or emotionally available), a good friend (e.g., you are loyal or a good listener), or a good employee (e.g., you are responsible or have a strong work ethic). Then choose one of them and write a quick paragraph or two (write, don’t just do it in your head) about why the quality matters to others, and how you would express it in the relevant situation. Applying emotional first aid in this way will boost your self-esteem, reduce your emotional pain and build your confidence going forward,” says Dr Winch.


Feelings of low self worth can be reinforced when we retreat into our shells, avoiding human contact. 

“As social animals, we need to feel wanted and valued by the various social groups with which we are affiliated. Rejection destabilizes our need to belong, leaving us feeling unsettled and socially untethered. Therefore, we need to remind ourselves that we’re appreciated and loved so we can feel more connected and grounded,” says Dr Winch.

When you’re feeling low, make a commitment to accept invitations to coffee, lunch or events, however little you feel like attending. If invitations aren’t forthcoming, reach out and ask someone if they’d like to share a bite to eat.

“When a first date doesn’t return your texts, call your grandparents and remind yourself that your voice alone brings joy to others.

Rejection is never easy but knowing how to limit the psychological damage it inflicts, and how to rebuild your self-esteem when it happens, will help you recover sooner and move on with confidence when it is time for your next date or social event.”

Feeling ready to step back into the dating scene? Improve your chances of finding lasting love by enlisting the help of Flame Introductions’ professional matchmaking service. Request a callback today from our friendly team.


Author: Rebecca

Rebecca lives in London with her husband, daughter and dachshund. She hopes her dating blogs for Flame Introductions will inspire you to seek out the best London and UK locations for brilliant dates, and discover some tips along the way to help you find your perfect partner.