Rejection, Neuroscience & the magic that is Tylenol

February 13, 2014
Reading time: 3 minutes
Happiness, Purpose, Relationships, Self-Worth


(Yes, I am blessing Tylenol, me, the same person who didn’t take any drugs in birthing my 4th child.)

Not all dreams come true.

It’s a hard fact of life and not one that I would encourage anyone to dwell on. We all know that life is full of disappointments and dreams that didn’t manifest, and a large part of my teachings are to refocus all that energy into the next thing, the thing that is going to be possible because of the dream that never was. So many blessings and people come into our lives because of our change of course, possibly even leading us closer to our true purpose.

“God blessed the broken road that led me straight to you,” is a lyric from a Rascal Flatts song (country music is an entire genre devoted to setting heartbreak and disappointment to verse.)

I don’t know about you, but my heart breaks a little for the athlete who has trained their whole lives only to miss the Olympic team by one slot, for the bride left at the altar, and the friend who is so talented and yet just can’t seem to catch a break. Rejection, especially public rejection, is an overwhelmingly negative feeling that often leads to a spiral of self-doubt. We’ve all been there, had our hearts set on a particular job, been picked last for the team, shared something we wrote, ran for an office, asked someone out on a date and when we didn’t get our desired outcome, our mind filled with awful rejection-fueled thoughts.

  • I’m not good enough.
  • I feel so stupid.
  • Why did I even try that? I should know better.
  • What was I thinking?

“Rejection…makes the loss of someone [or something] you weren’t even that crazy about feel gut wrenching and world ending.” ―Deb Caletti

The simple definition of rejection is that someone declined what you offered. That doesn’t sound so bad, when put that way. Not everyone is going to value the same things you do. That’s reasonable. Rejection doesn’t mean that what you are offering isn’t valuable or worthwhile, but just that you haven’t yet found the right recipient. If you care less about what people think, you won’t feel so rejected, because it’s not personal. In fact, most rejection isn’t personal at all! Yet, knowing all of this, why is rejection still so powerful and have the ability to produce such negative emotions?

It’s your anterior cingulate cortex.

Neuroscientists have discovered that unlike other kinds of emotions, intense rejection travels the same neural pathways as actual physical pain. Scientists surmise that early on when a person was rejected from their family or tribe they were unlikely to survive on their own, therefore the brain developed a very intense warning system to dissuade us from behaviors that would lead to being ostracized. It turns out it works, a little too well!

Even normally self-confident, well-adjusted, emotionally stable people can question their sanity when assaulted with the negative emotions that come with a rejection. Rejection can be so overwhelming, how are we expected to ever put ourselves out there again, risking more rejection? You aren’t losing your mind, you aren’t worthless, and you don’t lack talent. Your brain is just running really old software that is trying to keep you from being deported. It’s really that ridiculous! Being armed with this knowledge can help lessen your distress the next time you get rejected — and if you are living life to the fullest, actively seeking your purpose, then you can bet there will be a next time.

Rejection motivates me to try harder and prove all the naysayers wrong.  I feed off it. My internal dialogue is, ‘There is NO WAY this is not happening. I will show you!’ It’s about taking power from what could be a set-back and using it to fuel your next charge. I was watching Russian Olympic figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko being interviewed after winning a gold medal at the Winter Olympics. Many questioned whether he even deserved a spot on the team, he’s older than the other competitors and has underwent two knee surgeries and two spinal surgeries in the past two years. Many critics openly questioned his ability to perform. During his interview he was asked what he had to say to his critics in light of the gold medal he had just won. He looked straight into the camera and replied with a charming grin, “Thank you very much!”

However, if you find yourself stuck in the rejection spiral, unable to use that rejection as fuel, there’s always Tylenol*. You heard me. Just as Tylenol dulls the sensation of physical pain, it also lessens the pain of rejection. I haven’t tried it myself, but a friend did and she said once it kicked in she suddenly had access to her usual levels of equanimity and went on with her day without further negative effects.

*WARNING: Tylenol does have adverse side effects. The naturopath in me had to say that!

What would you attempt if you knew there was no chance of being rejected, that you could literally not fail?

You owe it to yourself to try. 


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