As social animals, we choose to live in groups and because of this close dependency on others within our environment, we are motivated to avoid rejection and to seek acceptance.
However, most people will experience rejection at some point in their life time. It is also likely that your life experience has already shown you that some people seem to handle rejection better or worse than others. Some of us have a strong emotional response and reaction when we are rejected, becoming emotional, even hostile, or emotionally withdrawn and depressed. Others amongst us take it more calmly, perhaps believing that it is, “Part of life”, and “An opportunity for learning and personal growth.”
It is clear that our personal experience of rejection is by definition subjective and influenced by individual differences including our emotional sensitivity to it and our levels of self-esteem.
Research studies by Geraldine Downey and Scott Feldman in the 1990’s showed that sensitivity to rejection differed quite dramatically between individuals with some people being much more sensitive to the experience of rejection; whether in their individual expectations of it happening, their individual perception of it, as well as their emotional reaction to it. Downey & Feldman suggested in their research that it is our early experiences of rejection by significant others that could explain why some of us have a tendency towards higher rejection sensitivity. Not surprisingly, the same research also found high rejection sensitivity to be associated with an individuals’ greater tendency to experience unsatisfactory and disappointing relationships.
Levels of Self-Esteem and Self-Worth
It might be natural for us to assume that we should all share a predisposition to liking ourselves and that because we have a positive view of ourselves, we should all have high self-esteem and self-worth. However, social psychology research shows us there are a number of factors which can influence an individual’s level of self-esteem; an important one being the views that we believe that others have of us.
An established social psychology theory known as ‘Sociometer Theory’  describes our self-esteem as an internal measure of the extent to which we feel socially accepted and/or rejected. In other words, this theory suggests that our level of self-esteem is defined by others. Based on this theory it might be logical to assume that those of us who suffer from low self-esteem and hold negative views of ourselves might be particularly vulnerable to social rejection.
Levels of self-esteem and sensitivity can make us differ in our response to rejection. In the next article, my final discussion on rejection, I give some ideas about how we can deal with rejection by developing and strengthening our self-esteem and emotionally buffering ourselves against the impact that rejection can have, even for those people with high rejection sensitivity.
1 Downey, G., & Feldman, S. (1996). Implications of rejection sensitivity for intimate relationships. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 70, 1327-1343.
2 Leary, M. R., Tambor, E. S., Terdal, S. K., & Downs, D. L. (1995). Self-esteem as an interpersonal monitor: The sociometer hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 68, 518-530.