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What is Rejection Sensitivity?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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Rejection sensitivity is a psychological condition characterized by oversensitivity to rejection. It typically appears in people with various neurotic conditions like borderline personality disorder, and it can be extremely debilitating for people who suffer from it. Treatment typically integrates treatment for the underlying neurotic condition with talk therapy to discuss and work through perceptions of rejection and unworthiness.

Someone with this condition tends to be extremely sensitive to rejection, often perceiving it where it does not exist. For example, upon hearing that a group of friends has gone out without her, a woman with rejection sensitivity might think that her friends didn't like her, when this is not the case. Her perception of rejection, however, might lead her to be angry or aggressive, putting stress on her relationship with her friends.

Individuals who suffer from this problem also suffer from an abnormal amount of dread in situations where rejection is a possibility. They might be extremely distressed at the thought of asking someone out on a date, for example, or at the idea of meeting new people. This anticipation can set up a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the person behaves strangely out of fear, thereby creating a situation in which he or she is rejected, confirming the previous fears.

In the case of actual rejection, people with rejection sensitivity tend to overreact, sometimes quite violently. In addition to being unpleasant for everyone involved, this overreaction can also work to create a self-fulfilling prophecy in which rejection will be experienced over and over again as members of the person's social group learn that he or she is unstable.

While many people might think of rejection specifically in the sense of romantic rejection, rejection sensitivity can also strike people when they interact with peers, coworkers, and others. It also isn't limited to people in powerless positions; it is as likely to strike a shy 16-year-old girl as it is to plague a 50-year-old professor. Often, people are unaware of how severely this condition affects their lives until they start to receive treatment for it, causing their perception of the world to radically shift.

When dealing with someone who has this problem, it can be useful for individuals to remember that seemingly innocuous actions can be perceived as slights. It is sometimes helpful to stress that something is not a rejection if a person senses that someone else appears upset by it. People who are close to someone with this condition may want to encourage him or her to seek therapy.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By wisteria — On Jan 22, 2015

Thank you so much for this information. I threw a party for my birthday and invited over 140 guests, of which only 34 said they would be there. Then out of that group, 12 didn't show up. Of that group, I still have not heard from 5 of them. Only one of them actually called to let me know 5 days prior and that was my sister whose kids planned their last-minute wedding on the same date as my party.

Many who turned down the invitation didn't even wish me a happy birthday or indicate that they wished they could come.

So I feel like I could be the poster child for this affliction. I actually had a great time at my party but I can't get past the hurt. I keep saying to myself "It's not personal" but I have not been able to get past feeling sad and wondering why this has to happen to me.

Anyway, when I found this information I felt some hope for relief - at least there is a name for what I have. Hoping now to find help that will allow me to move past it and someday be able just to focus on all the wonderful people who came and supported me and on how much fun I had. That's really all I want to focus on. Just don't know how.

By anon961171 — On Jul 15, 2014

I have struggled with rejection all my life. Self fulfilling prophecy could just be my last name. I am almost 28 years old and never got a real job. I've felt rejected since I was little. When I am rejected in things like a job interview, it just feels like a bullet when through my heart.

Even if I try not to care, I spend days in a sort of psychological hangover. Another problem is that most people do not understand my reactions and just add more rejection to the mixture. I just feel safer away from people. It is not healthy, but is how I feel. Right now I am just afraid of other readers rejecting me.

By anon327592 — On Mar 29, 2013

This article is most interesting. I have had a life full of rejections from childhood/parent stuff, from growing up and being being fat and from a poor family. I developed skills, things I did on my own but did and still do suffer loneliness. Now I'm getting over an abusive marriage, 32 years, and on my own.

I am sensitive to rejection, yes and get rejected in places and from others but I have developed a "cheeky" self. I get back up, dust myself off and go back,for more. It's a tough life but that's life. I am now slim, good looking, and still poor, but who isn't? And I like people.

By nomad1 — On Nov 20, 2012

I found this article while researching observations made by my therapist this morning. I was surprised to learn that "most" people actually want to tell other people about their writing, research discoveries, or art work. Shocking! Seriously, I have never understood that. I, however, shudder at the very thought. Even writing resumes is a nightmare.

By anon296740 — On Oct 12, 2012

No matter what age you are, losing a parent is devastating. When one parent, or both, remarries, the children find themselves in yet another round of insecurities linked to fear of rejection/abandonment. The self-fulfilling prophecy of rejection/abandonment can be avoided if the 'new' parent reassures the step-children that they are loved as much as if they were that persons own child.

The breakdown of trust occurs when the step-parent fails to maintain the trust of the child and withdraws their affection. Therefore, the child's insecurities are justified and the relationship breaks down through lack of trust.

By Crispety — On May 03, 2011

@Latte31 - That is true. I had a friend that was rejected by a long term boyfriend. He broke up with her in a letter and she was never able to get over the rejection. It has been years since that happened and she has avoided dating ever since because she was afraid of being rejected again.

While she has not gotten rejected lately, she has also developed a very lonely life and although she always wanted to get married and have children the longer avoids social situations and handling rejection the more elusive that dream will be for her.

There is always a chance of rejection in anything that we strive for, but if we never take a chance then we will never know how great our life can become. I think that people sometimes let a rejection define them and they are really more than that.

By latte31 — On May 02, 2011

@Icecream17 - I agree with you and I wanted to add that while no one likes rejection, dealing with rejection is a part of life. It actually makes the times when we do succeed in life that much sweeter.

I understand why people avoid rejection, but this can also lead to a lot of depression because if you get rejected you are least trying to connect with other people or trying to improve your life somehow. People that refuse to put themselves out there never get rejected, but they never have any fun either.

The fear of rejection can paralyze people into not trying things that they would want to try for fear that they would be rejected. We learn a lot from our rejections and if we never get rejected we can’t grow as human beings because no one is perfect.

As a matter of fact, rejection psychology tells us that the most successful people in the world were the ones that were experts in dealing with rejection and the actual rejection did not allow them to give up on their dreams.

By icecream17 — On Apr 29, 2011

@Obelix- I am so sorry that you are going through so much pain. It is very understandable that you have a fear of rejection because your father was not around for you in your most crucial moments growing up.

I was reading that when a person grows up without a parent it does affect them because you have to think of each parent as putting two legs on a table. The mother puts two legs and the father puts two legs and when there is an imbalance the foundation is not sturdy and the table falls and insecurities develop.

I think that therapy is great for dealing with rejection because we often internalize things and make things worse in our own mind that what reality is. I also think that therapy will help you overcome your issues with your father and make a happier person. Good luck to you.

By Obelix — On Apr 03, 2009

This is really interesting as it's something that's only emerged today, after a year of psychotherapy. I'm certainly hyper-sensitive to all sorts of things, from noise to rejection (I now realize the latter). This makes so much sense to me, but I have to be careful not to label myself with all sorts of things - I take Sertraline and Lamotrogine, long term, so I don't have great depressive symptoms or serious mood swings, but rejection is debilitating as I don't want to apply for jobs, to make friends, to get on with my stepsons (yes, I did get married!) who I've partly raised. I constantly anticipated rejection as I wasn't their mum (who'd died) and I knew they didn't initially want me there so I still am rejected, but of course now I see the self-fulfilling circle. I'm going to make more effort to engage and not feel rejected when it's just teenage behavior 'talking'!

Now I'd like to know if there is any childhood (or pre-adult at least) foundation for someone's rejection sensitivity? In my case my grandfather died and my father left when I was 13-14 so I could see both as rejection.

Thank you for opening my eyes!

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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