Recovering from Failure and Rejection

Failure and rejection conjures powerful, psychological feelings of pain, shame and humiliation.  

Recently I realized that I struggle with perfectionism, where I constantly battle failure and rejection (aka, feelings of insecurity, not being good enough, and disappointment). I find myself procrastinating on new projects or personal initiatives, I seem to be ‘studying’, ‘researching,' ‘thinking,’ and constantly ‘talking’ about what I’m going to do - instead of taking massive action. I found that I stall and tell myself that "it’s not good enough", so that I can avoid feelings of failure, rejection, and disappointment. Because let's face it, those feel terrible. 

Yet, in today's education and business world concepts of failure and rejection are glorified. We constantly hear messages (and I say them too) about 'learning from failure,' 'fail early, fail often, and ‘rejection is just a turn on the path to success.’ Blah.. blah… blah.. People can say clichés all day long and it doesn’t make it feel any less awful.

As an entrepreneur, life coach and therapist I live in the gray/ambiguous world of hurt and confusion. Day in and day out I work with men experiencing failure and rejection. In this post I want to share a little background on common scenarios of failure and rejection, why failure and rejection hurt so much, and how to recover from failure and rejection. 

Common Examples of Failure and Rejection

  • THE JOB SEARCH: The job search is fraught with rejection. When you’ve applied to 30 jobs and never hear back. Or, if you’ve been on a job search, made it to a 2nd round interview then get the dreaded, “We went with a more qualified candidate” email. 
  • THE FAILED SEMESTER: If you started your 1st semester at college and struggled with the transition. Maybe you were placed on academic or behavioral probation. Either way, now you’re back in your parents basement and life is pretty bleak. 
  • CAN’T KICK THE HABIT: When you give up on trying to stop continuing negative habits such as over eating, drinking too much, watching porn, or playing video games. 
  • MENTAL HEALTH DISAPPOINTMENT: When mental health and emotional issues seem to be dominating your life. When the depression or anxiety won’t let you get out of bed, try something new, or complete a goal.  
  • BROKEN TRUST: When you’ve been vulnerable and put yourself out there in friendships, romantic relationships, or in business… only to feel dismissed and/or betrayed. 

This leads one to wonder… if failure and rejection are so common why does it hurt so much? Why do I want to curl up in a ball, hide it away and never try again. Why do I want to avoid 'trying again' like one avoids the plague? 

Denver Mens Life Coaching

Why does failure & rejection hurt so much?

Because Failure & Rejection Feel Like Death


5 Reasons Why Failure and Rejection is So Painful: 

  1. It’s probably adaptation. Rejection is like getting kicked out of our family, tribe or society. We would literally die and historically, we’d like to avoid that, so our brain has been wired to be super sensitive to feelings of loss). 

  2. Our Brain: The feelings from rejection and failure are on the same neurological pathway as physical discomfort and danger. AKA, our brain registers the physical and psychological pain the same. 

  3. When we think about it, we feel it again. Where physical pain is mere memory, we often re-experience and feel the psychological and emotional pain over and over again (eventually, it becomes less intense). 

  4. We make it worse with irrational/distorted thinking. Usually, it is our own beliefs and reaction about the rejection/failure and what we tell ourselves. Automatic negative beliefs such as, 'I'll never succeed' only exacerbate our mood. 

  5. Shame. When we internalize the rejection and failure as part of who we are. 'I have failed because I am a failure.' 'I deserve to be rejected… I am not worthy.' 

The top unhelpful (negative) responses to failure and rejection. 

  • PROCRASTINATING: At it’s core, procrastination is always about fear (e.g. fear of failure, fear of criticism, etc.). Putting things off we want and need to do may temporarily stave off pain but ultimately it usually only makes things worse. (not that you didn’t know that already). 

  • PERFECTIONISM: At it’s core, perfectionism is about the fear of failure and need of acceptance. We often don’t finish or even start so that we can avoid the anxiety and possibility of being hurt. The question, how to we get to and stop at ‘good enough?’

  • HALF-ASSING: Not fully committing to something actually increases feelings of anxiety and regret. Most regret comes from looking back and seeing you didn't give it your all. 

  • AVOIDING: Watching hours of Netflix and YouTube, using substances (e.g. over eating , smoking pot) or pretending nothing happened tends to only increase the negative impact of failure and rejection. 

  • BUCKING UP: “Get Over It.” “Man Up.” These idioms do not give time and space to process and understand the failure/rejection nor give thought to lessons learned so that you re-approach the situation.

Steps to Recover from failure and rejection. 

  1. STOP THE BLEEDING: The first step in healing is triage (determine priorities and starting with the largest threat, such as continued bleeding). If there are things making your situation worse (see the 'top unhelpful (negative) responses to failure and rejection), then those are your priorities. 
  2. MOURN: Let yourself feel all of the feelings, experience thoughts, and understand the impact. Give yourself time to address and 'sit' in all the pain, frustration, hope, etc. (and by 'give yourself time' I mean it... carve out 5-10 minutes in your daily schedule to silently reflect and explore the emotions). 
  3. PRACTICE REMORSE OVER REGRET: Regret is a painful process of ruminating over what you ‘should’ have done… it increases anger, shame, and anxiety.  Whereas remorse involves admitting your mistakes, self-reproof, and taking responsibility for your actions (what you can control).
  4. FORGIVE (YOURSELF & OTHERS):  Once we start to separate our mistakes from our identity (we are not our failure), then we can start to take ownership of our situation. We can confess and apologize for mistakes/wrongs we've made, take action to make things right, and start to 'let go' the grip that failure/rejection has a hold on us. 
  5. LEARN: Analyze. Reflect. Question. Process. Learn. What when well? What went wrong? What would you do differently? What could you control and what couldn't you control? Is the failure/rejection permanent, or can I try again? Was the rejection/failure part of something or what it the whole thing. 
  6. ADAPT: Adjust, evolve, and update your approach. This might be a good time to pivot (change course or direction while firmly grounded). 

Denver Life Coaching and Therapy

Stop Letting Your Past Control Your Future

My name is Scott Treas, I provide life coaching and therapy for teens and young adults struggling in creating and maintaining change. For over 12 years I've helped young people design plans for more happy, healthy, successful lives; while developing the skills, strategies, and techniques that make change possible. As a licensed professional counselor, I provide life coaching and therapy for young men in the Littleton Colorado area. 

START BY CALLING 720-504-9933.