Rejection. Ugh. It’s awful.
Looking around at everyone I’ve ever known, I can’t honestly think of a person who enjoys rejection.
And I wish I could say that I’ve always taken it gracefully, but I can’t. Looking back, I can remember times when I was basically a big old baby in the face of rejection. I let what was natural disappointment spiral into a series of unhelpful conclusions about myself.
I let a simple “no for right now” turn into a worry that it’d be no for everything, ever.
Or let myself believe that a “not quite right for this particular thing” meant that I was unworthy or unskilled.
As a small press poet, my work was featured in a number of literary journals, some of them quite prestigious. Looking over the records I kept at the time, it seems that my acceptance rate was about 1 in 4 submissions.
At the time, I took the rejections very much to heart. The fact that I was rejected 75% of the time clearly meant that I sucked. And badly.
It was easy, focusing on my rejections, to take my track record as evidence that I wasn’t a very good writer at all.
There was only one problem with this. A 25% acceptance rate might have felt like I was terrible (since rejection can be very disappointing), but it was actually very good. The journals I was submitting to only accepted anywhere from 1% to 10% of submissions (depending on the particular publication).
When I became an editor of a literary magazine later on, I noted that I rejected about 95% of submissions. And a lot of the rejected work was quite good — it just didn’t fit in with the theme of the issue and/or other work that was slated to appear.
Anyway, that’s just one area of rejection. Like others, I’ve experienced my share of romantic rejection, professional rejection (for example, being told after a boffo interview that the company was going to go with a last-minute internal candidate who had applied after they’d brought me in), social rejection — you name it.
If I’m being clearheaded about it, I can say that a life that’s completely free of rejection is one that’s not taking enough risks.
But wow does it hurt when you’re rejected.
Anyway, what makes a person sensitive to rejection? Well, it turns out that there might actually be a personality feature called “rejection sensitivity.” The research into the area is still fairly new and emergent, but there does seem to be something there. Something that can actually be detected with an MRI.
For example, one study actually tracked increased brain activity in the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex in response to disapproving facial expressions, a level of heightened social fear not found in other potentially threatening facial expressions.
The area of the brain in question — the anterior cingulate cortex — is typically utilized in complicated cognitive functions, including emotions, empathy, impulse control, and decision-making.
This post is part of an ongoing Poly Land feature called Psyched for the Weekend, in which I geek out with brief takes about some of my favorite psychological studies and concepts. For the entire series, please see this link.