Rejection is really hard for anyone. But it’s especially hard when you’re struggling with depression. The rejection only solidifies your already sinking self-esteem. It substantiates all the terrible thoughts already swirling in your mind: You aren’t good enough. You’re a failure. You can’t have a healthy relationship. And so on.
Rejection also is tough for people with depression because they tend to isolate themselves. This means they don’t have the opportunity to learn to cope with perceived rejection, said Amanda Strunin, Ph.D, a psychologist specializing in the assessment and treatment of mood disorders. “It takes trial and error to build resilience in social situations.” They might assume: “I don’t know how I’ll feel, but I imagine it’s not going to be good.”
Rejection can come from others — everyone from family to coworkers — and eventually it can come from ourselves. Self-rejection “is particularly common for individuals who are depressed. The more that we feel rejected by others in our lives, the more we come to expect or anticipate this experience.”
Over time, she said, this hopelessness confirms your negative core beliefs that you aren’t worthy and no one wants to be around you. “What’s the point? It’s not worth it” eventually becomes “I’m not worth it.”
Strunin often talks to her clients about schema therapy, which she describes as a blend between cognitive behavioral therapy and interpersonal or psychodynamic approaches. “According to schema therapy, someone who struggles with rejection may have had a critical parent(s), experienced peer rejection in school, or even abandonment [or] neglect.”
Individuals who’ve had these experiences assume that it’s normal for others to always be critical and rejecting, she said. “Because we are creatures of habit, we repeat patterns that are familiar to us.”
So you might seek out people who are critical or emotionally unavailable. You might provoke your partner to reject you by pushing them away. You might avoid relationships altogether, and at the first sign of rejection, run away. “Though our logical minds might scoff at these thoughts, our deeply ingrained emotional brain might find this more comfortable or safe.”
But thankfully you can learn to deal with rejection and relate to others in healthy ways. For one, it can help to pay attention to your patterns, said Strunin, who works in private practice at Pediatric Psychology Associates in Miami, Fla. Because depression colors your thinking and perspective, you see everything in a negative light. And your actions might unwittingly lead to rejection.
She shared this example: “Bob” is feeling rejected by his colleagues, because he’s never invited to social gatherings or happy hour. When they’re chatting in the break room, he stays away. He’s worried that he won’t have anything to say or will appear uninteresting.
It seems like everyone else is getting along great and having fun on the weekends, except for him. He feels like no one understands or even notices him. In the past Bob has had many close relationships, because he’s able to connect with others on an intimate level. But lately, he’s been avoiding most social situations. Several weeks ago, a colleague invited him to lunch. But he declined because he always felt like the guy didn’t like him.
“Bob is a classic example of how avoidance behaviors and our biased interpretation of others in the situation can lead us to fall into the trap of a self-fulfilling prophecy,” said Strunin.
Strunin shared these additional suggestions:
- Put yourself in social situations where you feel more comfortable, such as catching up with a close friend.
- Ask someone you trust for feedback to help you challenge your negative biases. You might ask: “Am I overreacting?”
- Talk to people directly about perceived rejection. For instance, you might ask: “Is this what you meant? Because this is how I interpreted it.”
- Refocus on the other person. “When meeting someone for the first time, try to refocus your thoughts on being present with the other person and ask questions about them to get the focus off of you.”
- Remember that you might be more sensitive or vulnerable to possible slights or insults. Gently remind yourself to take them less personally, such as: “So what if they don’t like me? Not everyone has to like me.”
- Spend time with people who make you feel good about yourself.
- Build up your self-worth. List all the qualities that make you a good friend, such as being a good listener or being loyal. It also might help to encourage yourself before and after a social situation.
“Rejection is difficult for even the most well-adjusted self-assured person,” said Josephine K. Wiseheart, MS, a psychotherapist at Oliver-Pyatt Centers, and in private practice in Miami, Fla. So it’s understandable why you might be crushed after being rejected while struggling with depression (whether the rejection is personal or not).
However, keep in mind that rejection isn’t some universal, ultimate truth. It’s simply one person’s opinion at one point in time. Remember that you’re also human, Wiseheart said. “We all feel hurt by rejection and we all feel rejection at some point.” Talk to your therapist or a trusted friend about your feelings. Reach out. And be kind to yourself.
Check out Part One for additional tips on navigating rejection healthfully.
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