We’ve all experienced feeling left out, ignored, exclude and ostracised. For some of us, we brush it off and pretend that it’s ok even when it is actually not. While it’s good to be able to take ‘no’ for an answer, it’s even more important to learn to recognise how we really feel and find positive ways to deal with it.


The pain is real

Eisenberger et al, 2003

The role of the Dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex is to detect conflict and acts like a neural alarm for pain sensation.


Brain imaging by fMRI machines have shown that the parts of the brain involved in social pain overlaps with that of physical pain. These regions are referred to as the ‘pain matrix’ that include brain regions involved in sensing distress and regulating pain by releasing opioids.


Type of rejection

  • Familial rejection such as abandonment, neglect or withholding love and affection by parents and caregivers can have serious life-long consequences.
  • Relationship rejections experiences such as moving from a romantic relationship to the ‘friend zone’ can really hurt like physical pain.
  • Social rejection includes ostracism and alienation from social groups in school or at the work-place

Rejection reactions

There will always be some who just seem immune to rejection and we marvel at how they have such ‘thick skin’. How a person reacts to rejection is dependent on rejection sensitivity. This in turn depends on:

Brain biology
  • Some people have neuro networks that are more active in pain perception than others and therefore may ‘feel the feels’ more when they are rejected. Some mental conditions such as anxiety disorder, depression, borderline personality and ADHD can also cause a person to be more sensitive to rejection.
Social experience
  • Children who have been bullied in the past or who have been consistently rejected and neglected by the care-giver can become more sensitive to rejection. Some may develop avoidant personalities where they shy away from social relationships and any situation that can cause them to be rejected again.
Psychological reasoning
  • Those people who never seem to crumble over rejection probably have very good psychological reasoning processes. People who are very self-aware and have a high level of self-acceptance and self-worth are less likely to be too affected with rejection.


How to overcome those feelings of rejection:

Feel the feels

It’s always better to be honest with your emotions so that we can deal with it positively then to bury it and let it fester.

Admit to yourself how much hurt you are feeling. Feeling hurt over rejection does not mean you are a weakling. It means you are more aware of your feelings.

Find a safe and positive way to let out how you feel. You could have a good cry or talk to a trusted friend about what you are experiencing.

Ask yourself: What emotion am I feeling the strongest and what thought is causing this emotion?


Sooth yourself

Rejection can have very bad effects on our psychological and even physical health. Persistant rejection can lead to deep effects such as trauma, depression and anxiety. It can trigger physiological response too such as increase heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature.

Find ways to calm and sooth yourself to reduce these stress reactions. Be kind to yourself, practice relaxation and do exercise regularly. Our brain produces opioids when we exercise which helps to control the pain and make us feel relaxed and happy.

Ask yourself: What can I think about and what healthy things can I do to distract and sooth myself from the pain?



Take this as an opportunity to understand your sub-conscious behavior and to improve your social self.

Ask yourself if you have unwittingly contributed to the rejection by others. For example, you may have appeared unfriendly when you were actually shy or busy. Next time, prepare yourself to explain how you actually feel so that people will not misunderstand you.

If it’s a work-place or project group setting, seeking a close friend’s or colleague’s feedback may help you to better understand your unconcious behavior that may be causing the rejection. Remember to take this positively as a chance to learn more about yourself for better self-improvement. Do try not to take the feedback as another rejection. Tell yourself that no one is perfect and we slip up occasionally.

Those of us who are suffering from a physical condition or disorder may be more misunderstood than others. Think about how you can share about your condition that affects your behavior so that others can understand you better.

Ask yourself:

  • What could have been misunderstood about me?
  • What can I do to be better understood and accepted?
Be careful not to self-blame

Be mindful not to get into self-blame when you are self-evaluating. For every negative thought that you have about yourself, find two other positive things about yourself and remind yourself about this daily.

Work on your self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-worth. Be aware of your personal strength and use these in building relationships.

Ask yourself: What are my personal strengths and qualities?


Seek social acceptance elsewhere

If a particular person or group is always ignoring you despite all the nice things that you do and say, then it’s time to find your tribe some where else. Sometimes people just can’t find things in common to talk about or hang out. That’s OK.

If these people are nasty, you really don’t want to hang around toxic people anyway. Find people who you can get along with and who are nice, just like you.

Ask yourself: What type of people do I like to hang out with and where can I find them?


Get help from professionals and people of authority

If the feelings of rejection continues after you’ve tried to work on it and is changing your behavior, or getting in the way of normal life, please see a therapist for help. Prolonged distress can lead to anger outburst, anxiety and depression.

If you are being discriminated, meaning that you are treated unfairly with no good reason, then you may want to talk to someone of authority. For example, if you are always the only one in your group who is not being provided for, not being served or attended to when everyone else is, then this is a form of bullying that should not be tolerated.

The important end-game in any situation where you feel rejected, discriminated or ostracised, is to learn to deal better with people and grow in self-awareness and emotional maturity.


Here are the steps in a nut-shell. Keep this handy especially if you are always around nasty people.


Eisenberger, N. I., Lieberman, M. D., & Williams, K. D. (2003). Does rejection hurt? An fMRI study of social exclusion. Science302(5643), 290-292.

Dunn, K.R.(2014). "Neural and Behavioral Effects of Being Excluded by the Targets of a Witnessed Social Exclusion". Honors Projects. 164. https://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/psych_honproj/164

Lieberman, M. D., & Eisenberger, N. I. (2006). A pain by any other name (rejection, exclusion, ostracism) still hurts the same: The role of dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in social and physical pain. Social neuroscience: People thinking about thinking people, 167-187.

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