Early last Saturday morning I was outside with my kids when I noticed my new neighbor running by. I watched as he and his little boy ran over to the house across the street. The little boy who lives there came out to greet them and they all bounded off together.

I immediately thought to myself, “Wow… those guys are sure close in a hurry.” And in the pit of my stomach I felt rejected.

This feeling is not new to me. Just last week I posted a status update to my Facebook wall:

“I’m not gonna lie. Facebook is bringing up my shit. Signing off.”

What happened was I saw some photos of good friends at the beach. I was hurt that they hadn’t invited me and my family. I assumed they had deliberately chosen not to mention the trip to me. Rejected again.

Rejection Sensitivity

I suffer from what psychologists call “Rejection Sensitivity.” It’s a tendency to “anxiously expect, readily perceive, and over-react to social rejection.”

I find that a lot of self described approval addicts have it. Many describe trauma in childhood — alcoholism, violence, abuse, an unstable or unpredictable home life. Some experience social exclusion at school– bullying is a biggie. Some report having a pretty mild childhood but encounter some kind of social exclusion as adults.

However it’s acquired, one of the consequences is a kind of paranoia about rejection.


Me as case in point… The neighbors, I learned later, had actually sent a text to my husband that morning which he missed. Apparently their little girl had fallen off the bed and hurt her head. The reason the new neighbor was running to their house that morning was to watch their son while they rushed to the hospital.

Those friends at the beach? They actually had invited me. In that moment it totally slipped my mind. (Ironically when I shared this story with a client, she confessed that she thought I posted that status update because I was annoyed at her!)

People with rejection sensitivity interpret ambiguous social situations as rejection.

For example…

You might feel mortified when an old friend doesn’t respond to your friend request. Or you might interpret a sour look from the guy sitting next to you on the plane as a sign he’s annoyed at your fidgeting. Maybe you come to the conclusion that your sister disapproves of your parenting because she couldn’t make it to your son’s birthday party.

We glob onto these stories as a way to protect ourselves from further rejection but what ends up happening is we undermine our ability to connect with other people.

Here’s the Fix

So if you find yourself on constant alert for rejection, what you have to do is switch your story. Change that rejection narrative immediately!

Your first reaction might be to send a whiny email to your friend, or phone your mother to complain about your sister or shoot sour looks in retaliation.

But this will only create what you fear. Your sad story of rejection will lead you to feel crappy which will lead you to act defensive or angry at the people around you leading them to run for the hills rather than hang out with you.

So when you encounter a social situation that makes your brain scream “rejection!” stop making it all about you and figure out a new thought that brings you some relief.

Because there are a million ways to interpret a social situation. If you’re going to make up a story about it, you might as well make one up that leads to some good.

That guy on the plane for example who shot you a sour look? Maybe he has gas. Maybe he just got a nasty text from his mistress. Maybe his pants are too tight…

The point is, you don’t know! When you make the sour look mean he rejects you, you will surely have a miserable flight. If you make that sour look mean something else that brings you relief, you might actually end up figuring out a way to feel compassion for that guy. And who knows, he might need you to hunt down some Pepto Bismal for him.


So…. Does your brain scream “rejection!” or do you have it more or less under control? Share your experience below in the comments section below. Because I LOVE that!

Related posts:


7 Responses

  1. Oh, yes. I know this too well. My most recent story involves a guest blog post and jumping to the conclusion that my writing wasn’t good enough, or that *I* wasn’t good enough. The true circumstance was something silly. And it SO helps to remember that there can be an infinite number of possibilities about what’s actually happened….and that there’s no harm in assuming the best of them, and the best of everyone involved. Including yourself.

  2. Great post Amy. Love your work on rejection. I thought I had the “corner of the market” on that one. I totally relate and agree that it takes work to get over that old brain pattern of seeing everyone’s responses as rejection of you.

    I went with a group on Sunday to a meet-up on Byron Katie’s “The Work”. My original thought was “I’m really upset that Susie is shutting me out of her life.”. By the time my turn to do the work was over, the new thought was “I shut myself out”. The facilitator asked me to change it one more time. “I’m grateful that Susie shuts me out, because it gives me a chance to explore my own feelings about it and learn in the process”.

    I sure wasn’t there with gratitude when I was venting. I’ve lived with judgment and meet clients, who have dealt with so much judgment. This is when we have to really work hard and quit making it all about us.

    Really identified with what you had to say. Great work.

    Mary Ann

  3. Why, my brain screamed rejection just this weekend…..I had plans alread- and then found out others had plans (who already knew my plans, lol!) and I STILL managed to toss a tiny pity party for myself….seriously? Sigh. I embrace and love my wonderful self despite its insecurities and doubts and fears and needs. I am moving towards a place of peace and blueberry pie (metaphorical pie, of course). Thanks lady cat for kicking some serious ass!

  4. Jean says:

    “Rejection Sensitivity” I am so thrilled to have found a name for what I feel and what others around me feel. Having grown up in an alcoholic home and then married a drinker whom I have since divorced I still have remnents of this issue that show up as I try to be brazen and put myself out into the world as a coach. Having a name helps me become aware of what I am dealing with and helps me to find the help i need through your words as well as books etc.

    Thanks for the wonderful work you do! I love being part of your tribe even though I initially resisted because I felt that I had this approval thing licked :)

  5. Sarah says:

    Oooh, I so felt you on this one. I do this constantly. Thanks for giving it a name!

  6. OMG!!! I’m so glad I signed up to the free e-course, I wouldn’t have got this message in my inbox otherwise! I love it, I totally need it, this is exactly what I need to work on, my addiction to approval-rejection-seeking. I’ve never seen someone focus on it like this before! Thank you so much!! <3

  7. amy says:

    @Lesley, I love to come up with alternative stories. Glad to here I am not the only one who does this! @Mary Ann, Thank you SO much. I love that turnaround. I have been reading research that links rejection with increased creativity. Sort of reminds of this… @ Sarah, peace and blueberry pie. Ahhhh it comes in gusts. @Jean, there is something powerful about giving a name to it. I am so glad to have you in the tribe!! @Sarah, thank you! It is so nice to hear I am NOT the only one!!!!

Leave a Reply to Sarah Seidelmann