Did you know there’s an emotion so painful that taking Tylenol can actually help lessen the physical pain associated with it?

It’s called REJECTION.

So many of us live our whole lives trying to avoid it. But we don’t even really understand what it is.

Psychologists define rejection as the act of pushing something or someone away.

So if a romantic prospect turns down a second date, if you don’t get a job, if you’re trying to develop new business and the prospect says no – those are obvious forms of rejection.

But why is it so painful?

The answer lies in our evolutionary history. Humans are a social species. Evolutionarily speaking, we evolved in small groups where we needed the cooperation of group members to survive. To put it really simply: If your fellow group members rejected you, you were more likely to actually die.

So if you were really sensitive to rejection – if you could pick up on shifts in how other people were treating you – you were more likely to have time to adjust your behavior and get back in their good graces, and thus more likely to survive and pass down those sensitive genes.

Which is why when you experience rejection, it feels like you’re going to die. That’s because your primitive brain actually thinks that is what will literally happen.

People who feel the emotion of rejection regularly sleep worse, have poorer immune system function, and report overall lower health outcomes.

So we need to learn to deal with it if we’re going to survive – much less take any risks or chances in life.

I like to think of two categories of rejection: When someone says no to you, and when your brain has made the whole thing up.

When someone says no to you is the kind of I talked about earlier. You don’t get the job, you get dumped, you get fired. You’re actually being told NO.

This is actually the smaller category of rejection we experience, because most of these things aren’t super common unless you’re in sales or go on 5 dates a week.

But most of the rejection that we experience on a daily basis is not actually rejection.

Because your primitive brain thinks rejection is a literal threat to your survival, it scans for rejection all the time. And when you’re a lawyer, and you’re super worried about making mistakes and you’re prone to catastrophizing, you’re going to be scanning for possible rejection even more.

And what’s the first principle of brains? They see what they are looking for.

And because brains will interpret whatever they see to fit what they are looking for, if you’re subconsciously seeking rejection your brain will find it for you, even when it’s not really there.

If your colleagues happen to go out to lunch without you, you’re going to interpret that as rejection.

If you get edits back on a memo draft, you’re going to interpret that as rejection.

If you get any feedback about how you can improve during your reviews, you’re going to interpret that as rejection.

I guarantee right now many of you are inflicting the suffering of rejection on yourselves and you don’t even know it.

Now, here’s the real bottom line about rejection. The reason it hurts so much is that when you interpret someone else’s behavior as rejecting you, you are really rejecting yourself. The initial sting of rejection is one thing – it’s still caused by your thoughts and it can be fixed by changing them, but it’s not a huge deal.

What makes rejection so terrible is that when your brain thinks it perceives rejection, it uses that as an excuse to be mean to you. It starts listing all your rejections in life, it hypothesizes about what is so terrible about you that you deserve rejection, and it projects out in the future to more rejections. And we all know where that ends – living alone in a van down by the river.

So here’s what I want you to try the next time you feel rejected.

First, identify what actually happened in plain neutral language. “Partner assigned brief to X. I got a text that said Y. 3 people went to lunch together.”

Then figure out what you are making that mean. Ask yourself “how is this a rejection of me.” Or “Why do I feel rejected right now?” Whatever your brain says back to those questions is your interpretation of the situation. And that interpretation is what is causing your feeling of rejection. Be sure to notice any additional thoughts your brain is having, like “you never know how to make friends” or “you’re behind everyone else in your drafting skills” or “see, you’re terrible at this, this is the wrong career for you.” Notice how you are rejecting yourself.

The final step is redefine what happened. Come up with at least 3 alternative explanations for the other person’s behavior that have nothing to do with you. Actually make a list. Then read the list and see how you feel when you practice those thoughts. I guarantee they will feel better than whatever you were thinking before.