At some point during lockdown, once the novelty of Houseparty gatherings and watching back-to-back episodes of New Girl had worn off, I found myself feeling listless and exhausted, a cloud of existential dread settling over me. Covid-induced anxiety aside, I didn’t have much on my plate, so why I was feeling so burnt out? I could only really attribute my feelings to one thing: rejection fatigue. As a model and freelance writer, rejection is part and parcel of my everyday life. For every Yes, I get 10 No’s (or, simply just radio silence). Pre-pandemic, I was able to easily brush this off as something beyond my control. Now it crippled me; I became emotionally pummelled by the effort of sending out a pitch or self-tape, paralysed by the fear of hearing another “No”.
Although romantic rejection is demoralising, job rejection can often feel harder because our identity is so often wrapped up in our work (and worth). As Dr Sheri Jacobson, psychotherapist and founder of UK-based therapy booking platform HarleyTherapy.com explains, we often define our status by how much money we make. As work is the bedrock of our financial wellbeing, “without the money or the work itself which keeps us busy and gives us meaning and purpose,” she says, “we can get caught in a downward spiral.” So, what do we mean when we talk of rejection fatigue and how can we overcome it? Here, Dr Jacobson shares her wisdom.
According to Dr Sheri Jacobson, RF usually starts off with a trigger such as another rejection, followed by a negative thought such as “I’m never going to get work,” or “I’m not good enough.” This then sets off a spiral where we feel anxious, dejected, and demotivated. We might have less energy overall, experience changes in our appetite, and not want to socialise with friends and family. We might also try to soothe our anxiety and low mood with negative behaviours such as nail-biting, hair-pulling, or drinking and eating to excess, which often ends up making us feel worse about ourselves - perpetuating the vicious cycle.
One way to reverse the negative thinking patterns is to challenge our thoughts. “Ask yourself the question: “What would I say to a friend?”” says Dr Jacobson. “Would I tell them that they’re useless and never going to find a job, or would I say something encouraging and compassionate? Such as Keep trying. It’s difficult but you’ll get through this. You can also ask yourself: “How am I going to feel about this in 5 years’ time? What’s the likelihood that I’ll still be in this situation or will I have moved on?”’ Although it might seem difficult in the moment, practising self-compassion, daily, will help you to overcome rejection.
“It’s vital to look after your wellbeing despite feeling low,” says Dr Jacobson. “Prioritise the things that keep you well, whether that’s yoga, running, sewing, drawing – try to integrate it into your schedule as much as possible.” Though withdrawing from friendships is a common side effect of job loss, Dr Jacobson says it’s especially important during times of change to maintain the relationships upon which our health and wellbeing depend on. “It’s really important to stay connected with others and to talk about the difficult experiences of rejection to someone, whether it’s a friend or someone more removed.”
As humans, we are naturally hardwired to dwell on the negatives, so Dr Jacobson proposes doing a gratitude exercise, such as writing down three things that you’re grateful for in the morning, or three things that went well that day. “When we are being rejected, we tend to only see the things that are lacking,” says Dr Jacobson. “As humans, we have a negativity bias, because from an evolutionary perspective, it didn’t serve us well to be complacent and content. Finding fault is very normal - but we need to train ourselves to notice the good things.”
Though it’s important to persevere during trying times, if what you do ultimately makes you happy, sometimes rejection can propel us to re-evaluate what we’re looking to get out of life. “It’s important to check in with ourselves and see what we really want,” says Dr Jacobson. “What are your goals? What trade-offs are you prepared to accept? Will you work in a charity at lower pay because it’s fulfilling, or do you want to find a job as an analyst at an investment bank because you’re motivated by the financial reward? Really get to know yourself – and if you feel like enough is enough, quit that track and try something else.”