When you miss the nail and slam you thumb with a hammer, it hurts. When you slip off a carrot and cut your thumb with a kitchen knife, it also hurts. But when your boyfriend tells you that the romance is over because he met someone else, it hurts a lot more. And when your mammie tells you that she wished she never had you, the hurt will scar you for life. Blue or sliced fingers will heal, but mental wounds like that often don’t. Even after we get happily married with three kids, it would still feel like salt is thrown on an open wound when we run into our old boyfriend. And when our mammie gets diagnosed with schizophrenia and cries for forgiveness, it would still feel like we were never good enough. The pain is real apparently, as the exact same part of our brain lights up when enduring physical and psychological pain. So a broken heart is practically as painful as a broken collar bone, but why? 

Rejection is what causes the pain, which comes in many forms. Our daddy running away when we were five, our best friend no longer wanting to hang out with us, or our boss showing us the door after twenty years of employment. I never experienced any of the latter, but I’m jobless right now and don’t get invited for interviews, which surely feels a bit like rejection. And I’ve met unattractive guys who showed no interest in me whatsoever. I’ve even given people who I didn’t like the opportunity to out hang with me, which they didn’t take. And then there is social media, where I’ve posted the most interesting stuff without getting the slightest bit of attention. Screw them, I’m better than that! But if that is really so, why does it still hurt? 

Most of us take rejection very personal, even though it often has nothing to do with us. We blame ourselves that daddy left, that our boyfriend was a cheating bastard, or that our best friend stopped replying to our messages. No job application ever seems good enough, which must mean we’re a failure. Because we can’t help feeling offended, we go into an internal search for our deficiencies. Rejection triggers a sense of self-loathing in us, which can cause self-destructive behaviour. Romantic rejection particularly impacts our self-esteem, and can even lead to self-harm. Some people might even turn to violence and drug abuse after years of enduring rejection, most commonly by their parents. But why is it that we punish ourselves, where others are to blame?  

Rejection doesn’t just impact our state of mind, but even our intelligence. Apparently, our IQ drops severely in the few minutes after we feel rejected, which influences our ability to reason, our decision making, and short-term memory. So we basically can’t think straight when we are rejected, because we feel so hurt. And we don’t just get hurt by people close to use, but by pretty much anyone. When a high school nerd tells us that our dress is unflattering, or a hobo comments on our body odour, or an alcoholic uncle laughs about our squeaky voice, it bothers us. Who the fuck are they to say, we tell them. Yet we will never wear that dress again, spray ourselves with perfume, and start lowering our voice. How do people like that even get to hurt our feelings? 

Because rejection can alter our demeanour, it sometimes creates a problem that was once non-existent. For instance, we change our facial expression and body language when we feel unliked, which makes it less appealing for people to approach us, which then confirms our fear. But it’s not that people dislike us, it’s their natural response to our introvert behaviour. Likewise, when we were once hurt by a cheating boyfriend, we are more likely to be insecure in the next relationship. We demand to receive a message from him every day, constantly beg for confirmation, and forbid him to go out without us. Such possessive behaviour is likely to scare him off, which we will then perceive as yet another rejection. How is that we allow our fear of rejection to change our behaviour for the worse? 

To be able to answer all these questions, we have to ask educated intellectuals. Their vision is that rejection forms such a strong emotional trigger because it was once vital for our survival. Because we used to live in small tribes in big forests full of danger, we heavily relied on others for food, shelter and protection. Back in the jungle days, surviving on our own was practically impossible. But staying a member of the tribe wasn’t always a given. In a time where survival was only for the fittest, the tribe could easily kick us out when we were considered useless or unreliable, which would inevitably be a death sentence. That’s why we evolved to become so sensitive to the behaviour and opinion of people around us. Rejection was an early warning sign, that made us adjust our behaviour. Though painful, it increased our chances of staying alive. 

Even though we survive just fine on our own these days, the sensitivity towards rejection is still deeply imbedded in us. And it’s not necessarily bad, as it could motivate us to correct our personal flaws. If you feel unliked, perhaps try being nicer. If you are dumped, consider giving your future partner a bit less shit. If you get fired, it might be worth working a bit harder in the future. Nonetheless, such measures aren’t always necessary because rejection isn’t always justified. For instance, I was once told by a guy that I’ve got too many wrinkles for my age, which I possibly do. I also had a friend point out in public that I’ve got a flat ass, which there is no denying of. I was once even told by a colleague that I’m pretty stupid for a Dutch person. I laughed it away. Only shitty people would make offensive comments like that. Meaning, it says more about them than it does about me. Some have the need to talk others down in order to boost their own self-esteem, most likely because they have so little of it. 

As such, rejection can even be considered a compliment. When people throw judgemental comments our way, we clearly triggered their insecurities. Why otherwise would they concern themselves with our behaviour or appearance? Of course, getting over an insult about our ass is easier to discard than our parents telling us that we failed them, but fact remains that it ain’t our fault. What’s more, that we judge ourselves so harshly for being rejected is partly caused by our own sense of self-importance, or the confirmation we constantly seek from others to strike our ego. But if we were to be more comfortable in our own skin, it’s less likely we get to be offended. It shouldn’t matter if people don’t like us, as long as we do. And it shouldn’t matter if a guy dumps us, we’ll find a better one. And it doesn’t have to matter that mammie was mean to us, because most other people in our life weren’t. Let’s focus on those people rather. There is no need to carry rejections with us for life, it’s about survival in the end. jections should make us stronger, that’s what they are for.