Feeling rejected can add to depression, and depression can perpetuate feelings of rejection.
Rejection is an inevitable part of life. But it can still be hurtful, even when you’re in a great headspace. If you experience rejection while dealing with depression, it can be even harder to navigate.
People with depression often feel hopeless and worthless, and being rejected can echo those emotions.
Rejection, real or perceived, can perpetuate depression — and vice versa, causing a painful cycle.
Some research suggests that people who are depressed might experience more rejection than compassion from their loved ones.
A 2021 study noted that this could be because of the stigma around depression. The study also found that those who lack empathic concern and those who tend to be disagreeable are more likely to reject people experiencing episodes of depression.
The American Psychiatry Association also explains that stigma and discrimination can perpetuate poor mental health, as it can make it harder to access support and opportunities, among other things.
Depression might also cause folks to feel rejected even if actual rejection isn’t taking place.
People living with depression are more likely to experience cognitive distortions, which are irrational thoughts that skew perceptions.
Jumping to unsubstantiated conclusions is one example.
Let’s say that your date seems quiet or distracted during dinner. You might think, “I did something wrong. They must hate me and not want to see me again.” But in reality, they’re just stressed or tired.
Cognitive distortions like personalization or perfectionism can also make you feel more sensitive to rejection. For example, you might tell yourself, “I didn’t get the job I wanted. I must be a worthless failure.”
The good news is that these cognitive distortions can be addressed through therapy, especially through cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).
CBT involves learning to recognize harmful, irrational thinking patterns and replacing them with healthier, more rational thoughts.
There might be a link between depression and rejection sensitivity.
Rejection sensitivity is where you feel rejection more strongly than most people, even when it’s just a perceived rejection. In this case, even constructive criticism could have you feeling spurned.
Similarly, rejection sensitivity can cause you to feel lonely.
And it’s not just perceived rejection. Actual social rejection can also increase your chances of developing a depressive disorder, according to 2019 research on autistic teens.
How do you know if you have deeper issues with rejection?
Some people experience the pain of rejection more intensely and for a longer time thereafter than others.
If rejection causes you to feel extremely overwhelmed, down, or dysregulated, you might have rejection-sensitive dysphoria (RSD).
RSD isn’t a formal diagnosis, but rather a term that describes intense feelings of discomfort, hurt, or rage stemming from rejection or criticism.
While rejection-sensitive dysphoria is associated with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), folks living with personality disorders or traits like being highly sensitive can experience it.
If you find it difficult to process rejection, therapy might be a good option for you.
There are a few different approaches to coping with rejection in a healthy way.
Recognizing when you feel rejected
At the moment, feeling rejected can sting. You might experience a range of emotions: disappointment, shame, even anger.
Whatever it is that you’re feeling, you might find it helpful to pause and identify the emotion and why you’re feeling it.
For example, if criticism makes you feel ashamed — why? Is it because you’re a perfectionist? Do you believe it’s a reflection of your worth?
Addressing any cognitive distortions
When we’re hurt, we might lean into those cognitive distortions, which can make us feel worse.
If you can, try to recognize irrational thoughts when they show up. Then, you might ask yourself if those thoughts are true, and remind yourself what are true statements about the situation.
For example, you might think, “This person doesn’t want to spend time with me. That must mean I’m awful.” But you could instead gently remind yourself that there are people who do want to spend time with you or that the person might not be able to hang out because they’re busy, not because they have a low opinion of you.
Remembering that rejection is common
Rejection is a common part of life. That doesn’t mean it’s wrong to feel hurt, but it does mean that being rejected isn’t necessarily a reflection of who you are.
The people you admire, including your loved ones, your favorite artists and creators, and people who’ve made a positive impact on the world, have all experienced some form of rejection themselves. They’re still worthy of love and respect. They’re still significant and whole.
The same is true for you.
Therapy can be helpful for anyone, full stop. It’s a great tool for managing depression and it can also be beneficial for those who find it difficult to cope with rejection.
Here are some resources for finding help:
Rejection can be difficult to handle. It can perpetuate or stem from depression, causing a cycle of depression and rejection that can be tough to address.
Try to remember that being rejected is not a reflection of your worth. If you find it very difficult to cope with rejection or criticism, you might benefit from seeing a therapist.