Why do rejections hurt so much? - A scientific explanation

| 12 Feb 2019

Rejections from prospects, rejections from clients, rejections from loved ones, rejections from candidates, and the list goes on. Facing rejections is part and parcel of a career in the insurance industry. But why do rejections hurt so much? We take a look at the science behind it and what to do about it.

First of all, rejections are normal in this industry. Because if you close every case you open, you are not trying hard enough.

For the scientific explanation, here’s what Guy Winch, Ph.D., a licensed psychologist, has to say. Beyond career, this is a useful read for life.


Whether the rejection we experience is large or small – from a mere rejection by a stranger during cold canvassing to being ostracised – one thing remains constant, it always hurts, and it usually hurts more than we expect it to.

The Answer

So why? The answer is that our brains are wired to respond that way.

Guy had shared on Ideas.Ted.Com that when scientists placed people in functional MRI machines and asked them to recall a recent rejection, they discovered something amazing.

The same areas of our brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. That’s why even small rejections hurt more than we think they should because they elicit literal pain, albeit emotionally.

So why are we wired to experience rejection so severely? Evolutionary psychologists believe that the answer is because of our evolutionary past. We grew up in tribes, and we couldn't survive outside them. Being ostracised from your tribe was a death sentence.

Watch: How to stay motivated every day

So we developed an early warning mechanism to alert us when we were at danger of being “kicked off the island” by our tribemates — and that was rejection.

People who experienced rejection as more painful were more likely to change their behaviour, remain in the tribe and pass along their genes. It also explains why we feel things so harshly, he said.  

Responding to rejections

So now that we understand rejections are normal, and we are wired to react severely to rejections, what can we do about it?

1.Revive your self-worth

One of the ways to do that is through positive self-affirmations. When your self-esteem takes a hit next time, affirm aspects of yourself you know are valuable.

Make a list of five qualities you have that are important or meaningful. Then choose one of the qualities and write an essay or quick paragraph or two 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.

But Guy emphasised that it should be written, and not just done in your head. “That's like saying I was hungry so I thought about the food I had in my fridge… no, you have to write the essay. We have to make the list because making the list is like taking the food out of the fridge and cooking it. And writing the essay is how you eat it, it's how you absorb it.”

2.Boost feelings of social connection

Rejection destabilises 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, he shared.

Grab a drink with colleagues, make plans to meet your spouse or catch up with your friends. Whatever it is to remind yourself that you bring 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.

Bring on the next appointment. 

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