Key points

  • Rejection, regardless of the situation, can always be painful.
  • The feelings are often a triggering of old childhood or adult wounds. Knowing what you are most sensitive to is important.
  • It's important to separate the past from the present, realize what is you and them, and then act differently.
 Steve Johnson/Pexels

Ace has had a couple of dates with Sam, but now Sam’s shutting him down, not responding to texts. Jalen has had a six-month relationship with Theo, she thought it was going well, but he suddenly pulled the plug and is gone.

These abrupt endings, even if you thought they could happen, can still be a shock, a punch in the gut. It’s about loss—the relationship itself or even just the fantasy of the relationship—there’s that added sting. This is about you; this is about feeling rejected. It’s hard not to think you’re not good enough, that you’ve done something wrong, messed up in some way even though you’re not sure what that might be.

None of us are immune to rejection, but some are particularly sensitive for many good reasons. Here we get into childhood—critical parents, never measuring up to that perfect older sibling, being bullied, or always left out with peers. Or about past adult relationships—being ghosted too many times or painfully, unexpectedly dumped. When it happens again, those old wounds quickly resurface and carry with them memories and feelings of loss or unfairness.

And then there is the downward spiral: Ace overreacts to what sounds like a critical comment from Sam and withdraws; Sam feels that Ace is pulling away and does the same; the relationship withers. Or Jalen does the same with Theo—feels hurt by his waffling about going exclusive—and rather than withdrawing, becomes irritable. Theo sees Jalen as high-maintenance and eventually cuts and runs. Already sensitive to rejection, it’s easy to overreact; once old wounds are fired, they add fuel to the flame. What results is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If you are particularly sensitive to rejection, here are some tips to help you cope:

Know your triggers

What pushes your buttons—criticism, neglect, not enough appreciation, wavering commitment? Keep these in mind at the start of the relationship so you don’t go on autopilot and can catch them when they arise.

Separate the past from the present

Sam’s not Ace’s ex; Theo is not Jalen’s mom. But again, it’s about awareness, telling yourself that this is old stuff, old wounds adding to your sensitivity.

Change your reaction

To stop the downward spiral, Ace needs not to withdraw; Jalen does not get irritated and scolding. To break both the downward spiral and help heal the old wounds, they each need to do now what they couldn’t in the past. Here Ace speaks up, rather than just pulling away, and tells Sam that he hurt his feelings. Better yet, he also lets Sam know that he is sensitive to criticism and what are better ways for Sam to express complaints or frustrations. Similarly, Jalen says that she is not trying to control him but that his mixed messages confuse her and make her anxious. She’d like him to proactively be more clear about how he feels.

Realize it’s also about the other guy

Sam and Theo are, of course, bringing their own stuff into the relationship—their wounds, expectations, sensitivities. Generally, relationships begin to go south when the wounds of one trigger the wounds of the other. By speaking up and saying what you need, you are handling your side of the equation, and giving the other a chance to do the same. If they do—Sam and Theo can say what they need—the relationship is balanced, and the mutual re-wounding can stop.

Realize there are things you can’t control

But doing all this may not be enough—the other guy doesn’t speak up despite your efforts. They do what they do; the relationship is unbalanced, but what they ultimately do is out of your control.

But you’ve done the best you can do … and that’s always the best you can do.


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