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How Rejection Hurts

by Karen A. Solomon, LCSW, BCD, CGP, CHt

Recently the Harvard Mental Health Letter reported a study correlating the pain of rejection with a high potential of developing depression. It was also demonstrated that the physiological response which occurs as a reaction to physical pain is induced by emotional pain. Specifically, the experience of being deliberately excluded was examined and the region of the brain that is activated by bodily pain reacted to this particular distress.

The Today Show featured a special segment on April 26 in which Katie Couric, Jan Chan, editor of Parenting Magazine and Rachel Simmons, author of “Odd Girl Speaks Out: Girls Write About Bullies, Cliques,” discussed how parents may help their children cope with this inevitable experience.

As parents, seeing our child hurt in any way evokes the wish to make the hurt go away. We often mistakenly minimize their pain by saying things like “it’s no big deal, it happens to everyone, forget about it, etc.” It is more helpful to acknowledge their feelings and encourage them to talk about the experience. It is then equally important to focus on your child’s strengths by asking what they are planning to do to make themselves feel better. Rather than you trying to “cheer them up,” asking provides children with an opportunity to discover their own coping skills.

Children often experience not making the team or not being invited to the party with surprisingly intense hurt. Feelings of shame, inadequacy and humiliation are common. They may be tempted to forgo trying again. The challenge for a parent is to express compassion, while encouraging their child’s’ willingness to take risks again. If the activity is one the child genuinely enjoys, it is crucial that they are helped to stay involved and interested, perhaps by seeking alternative leagues, sports camps to improve skills, and encouraging friendships. This may also be a time to discuss the times they reject others.

Tell children about similar experiences others have endured, for example, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school team, but determined to play, he practiced and eventually became one of our greatest athletes. Sharing your own humiliating experience of rejection and how you survived is extremely helpful, however, parents need to be careful of overreacting. As we relive our own hurt, we may find it hard to be objective. If the child senses our pain, they will feel even worse, as they perceive the adult reaction as indicative of the seriousness of the situation. If you find yourself unusually upset, it may be that your own issues around rejection are unresolved and are worth exploring. The goal is to remain objective and use our experience to understand what the child is going through.

Karen A. Solomon
Office : 631 - 543 - 2050

Commack, New York 11725

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