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How to hear a “No”

(or, how to handle being rejected in life.)

By Jimanekia Eborn

Historically, hearing “NO” has a negative heavy connotation attached to it. Even when you are younger, hearing “no” means you have done something wrong. It can be downright startling and depending on how it is delivered, it can even be traumatizing. It is never looked at in a positive light, yet hearing no and being rejected may actually be very helpful and one of the best things for you.

So, let’s talk about the bad parts — how people can react negatively when being rejected or hearing a no, then ease into why hearing and or being rejected can actually be a positive thing, and helpful to human growth.

Most of the time when we hear “no” it is due to rejection, I mean that is what a “no” is; that something or someone is not for you or others have decided it is not for you. Often times when this happens, it can put you in a very big spiral of shame depending on how you were brought up. It can even put some individuals into what feels like physical pain. Rejection adds on to the physical pain pathways in the brain, and when we hear a “no”, the same areas of the brain are activated.

The first time I read that hearing “no” for some individuals correlates with physical pain, I was in shock. After researching dating violence, I began studying how some people handle rejection and how it can turn violent. What led me down this path I was trying to do more research about dating violence. I was surprised to learn that painkillers sooth out reactions to rejection. I know it sounds wild, but acetaminophen (Tylenol) actually helps.

One study even found that participants who took a Tylenol before being asked to recall painful rejection experiences reported significantly less emotional pain than those who took a placebo sugar pill. While it is not safe or realistic for us to take painkillers to cushion negative emotions, it highlights how our feelings and physical sensations are closely linked.

Rejection can destabilize us as humans, as individuals. We have a natural need to belong and feel wanted. When individuals are rejected or hear no, they often go through feelings of disconnect and destabilization. Because many of us are not taught how to handle those feelings, it can lead to some scary things — things that are happening around us daily; school shootings, gang shootings, movie theater shootings, protests that turn violent, and a barrage of other instances. When people do not know how to process all of their feelings, they can lash out in a violent way.

In 2001, the Surgeon General of the U.S. reported that rejection was a greater risk for adolescent violence than drugs, poverty, or gang membership. Even mild rejections can lead people to project their aggression on innocent bystanders.

Often times when someone is in the rejection spin out, their reasoning skills have also gone out the window. They can get taken away within that emotional pain. Someone’s ability to hear no or be rejected has a lot to do with their emotional capacity and having the skills to deal with it all.

Learning how to receive and give a no is extremely vital to human life. There are many reasons why hearing these words of rejection can be negatively impactful, but what about the good things? There are indeed good things that can come from it, and ways you can create a better situation for yourself as well as others.

At one point or another, we will all be rejected by someone that we attracted to or intrigued by who may not feel the same way about you or be rejected within the workplace. Most people go into “woe is me” mode, and start to beat themselves up and question who they are. What we do not think of, is what if there is someone or someplace else that is a better fit? If we push for a relationship or person to be in our lives, and they never wanted to be, we are blocking goodness from our life as well as theirs.

It used to be that when I would get rejected, I would get upset and think that there is something wrong with me. In reality, there was nothing wrong with me or them, it just wasn’t in the cards. Now when I am rejected, or something does not align, I think, that wasn’t for me, but what is for me shall come.

Outside of a relationship context, we experience a similar feeling when everything appears to align for a potential job, and you do not get it. What if that job wasn’t actually for you, but there was a job that was actually better fitting for you was right around the corner? Rejection sucks. It does. But we need to learn how to receive it, because it is going to happen numerous times throughout our lives, and you deserve to be around people that value you and see you for all the magic that you are worth.

 

It is wild how quickly we can take ourselves out. We are often our own biggest enemies. We take on all these thoughts and feelings that are often made up projections. It’s not a reflection of who you are. Yes, you may be great, and the job may have been perfect for you, but taking it personally is an assumption. What if that job actually saw that you were above what they needed, and did not want to hold you back? There is a difference between something being about you, and something not being right for you.

And when it comes to dating, you never know what someone else is going through. Sometimes people are still not over an ex, having family problems, or not in a mental/emotional place to date. We don’t think about things like this, instead, we quickly push ourselves into a spiral and downfall.

Utilizing your no or rejecting things that are not for you can also make you more of an empathetic person. Using your own skill set creates a space for understanding. If you understand why you are saying no to something, it allows you to explore your feelings when others tell you no. You begin to hear a “no” as betterment.

It is important to put ourselves in other’s shoes, as cheesy as it sounds. EVERYTHING IS NOT ABOUT YOU!!! This can feel like shocking news, so take a second to process this. But you already know that because you are an empathetic being, right?

Being able to give and receive no leads to better communication, and can provide feelings of safety within your relationships. If someone knows that you can take care of yourself and say no to things that are not serving you, they will also feel safe doing the same. The bonus is that both of you feel more seen and heard.

Being able to hear no and receive rejection without spiraling comes with building emotional intelligence, which is the ability to identify and manage your own triggers and emotions.

Here are ways that you can start to build that muscle:

  1. Reflect on your own emotions. Take some time to sit and process the way you handle your emotions or have in the past. 
  2. Ask others for perspective. Often we do not realize how we are being perceived by others. Check in with someone that you trust in how they see you. Be prepared to hear possible hard things.
  3. Be observant. Be more aware in the current moment. This can help you to become more in tune with yourself.
  4. Pause. If you feel yourself getting amped up, utilize your pause. Step away, take a breath. Just put it on pause. You can come back to it.
  5. Explore the “why” of it all. When you are internalizing, try to tap into your empathy and compassion. Sit and process why your reaction to rejection has been different.
  6. Listen to others. When we feel we are being criticized, we often go into defense mode. Instead of instantly become defensive, think about what you are really being told, and what you can learn from this.
  7. PRACTICE. No one expects you to change overnight. You do not become skilled at hearing rejection overnight. A lot of this involves unlearning the things that we have been taught.

Take your time and be easy with yourself, you are most fighting against ways that you have reacted for years. The fact that you are wanting to figure out how to receive a no and or rejection is a step towards growth.

Jimanekia Eborn is a Queer Media Consultant, Comprehensive Sex Educator, and Sexual Assault & Trauma Expert. Her podcast mini-series, Trauma Queen, focuses on normalizing the conversation around assault, and how different the experience of healing is for all of us. She has been working in mental health for over a decade which has inspired her passion for building safe spaces, sharing education, and opening up the conversations we’re all too scared to start, but desperately need to be having.

 

Want to learn even more about helping sexual assault survivors?

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