When you’re rejected, this is what happens to your brain

Maybe you’re spinning out over a text left on read. Maybe you were sent a form rejection letter from a potential employer after three rounds of interviews. Maybe your college best friend is dodging your calls. Whatever the case may be, rejection hurts, emotionally and, it turns out, physically. 

According to Huffington Post, fMRI studies have found that rejection activates the same areas of the brain as physical pain. For example, a study of people who recently experienced a painful breakup had their brain activity scanned while looking at pictures of their ex and focusing on memories of the rejection. In addition to the areas of the brain responsible for emotional pain, the areas responsible for physical pain also lit up. 

Psychology Today adds that the physical pain is so real that you can actually lessen the pain of rejection with Tylenol (but obviously don’t overdo it). When we were hunter/gatherers, evolutionary psychologists postulate, the pain of rejection was important to keep us in line with the tribe. Now, however, the pain won’t serve us in the same way. And while remembering a physical injury won’t bring back the pain, remembering a rejection can recreate the experience. 

What can you do about rejection?

Rejection doesn’t just activate the emotional and physical pain areas of your brain. It also can trigger anger and aggression, cause you to attack your own sense of self-worth, and even temporarily lower your IQ. But all is not lost — there are healthy, helpful ways to respond to rejection. 

Part of the pain of rejection comes from it destabilizing your sense of belonging, so reaching out to those who make you feel loved and accepted goes a long way. Additionally, Talkspace adds, it’s helpful to make room for all the feelings, no matter how embarrassing or inconvenient they may seem at first. The more you allow yourself to feel them, the more you’ll be able to work through them.

It’s also good to practice focusing on loving, accepting, and caring for yourself. If you want something super concrete that you can do, try making a list of all the qualities that you like about yourself and/or a list of all your achievements that you’re proud of. There’s nothing that can make rejection totally un-painful, but with acceptance, time, and potentially Tylenol (ask your doctor though), you’ll get through it. 

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