Why Rejection Hurts So Much — And How to Cope

We explore the experience of rejection — what it feels like, how it functions, and the lessons we can draw from it.

Listen 49:33
Woman holding post it note with the letter X drawn on it

We live in a world of endless opportunity — hundreds of dating options, dozens of jobs to apply to, the ability to market your creations, or even yourself directly online — but with opportunity inevitably comes rejection. Sometimes, a lot of rejection.

Rejection, or even the thought of it, can strike fear into our hearts, and leave a bad taste in our mouths. It often leads to a mix of sadness, shame, anxiety, and anger — along with nagging questions. What’s wrong with me? Why did this person not like me? Why didn’t I win this award? Why didn’t I get the job?

But it doesn’t have to be that way, and there’s a lot we can learn from not making the cut. On this episode, we explore the experience of rejection — what it feels like, how it functions, and the lessons we can draw from it.

We’ll hear from a fear and anxiety researcher about the evolutionary roots of anxiety — and why asking someone out on a date can feel like a life-or-death situation. Then we’ll explore a common experience among people with ADHD, known as rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD), and hear how one future physician dealt with the worst rejection of her life.

Also heard on this week’s episode:

  • We talk with Arash Javanbakht, a trauma psychiatrist who studies fear and anxiety at Wayne State University and the author of Afraid: Understanding the Purpose of Fear and Harnessing the Power of Anxiety, about the evolutionary purpose of the dread we feel around rejection, how it affects our brains, and evidence-based ways to manage those feelings.
  • Every year, thousands of graduating medical students apply for the next stage of their medical education — residency. But not everyone gets selected. Reporter Liz Tung tells the story of one such student, Katie Bellas, and how she dealt with the biggest rejection of her life.
  • Entrepreneur Jia Jiang experienced a rejection as a child that stayed with him through his adult life. He chats with us about how he learned to overcome rejection and start negotiating. He is the author of “Rejection Proof: How I Beat Fear and Became Invincible Through 100 Days of Rejection.”

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