Being vulnerable may lead to rejection. Or it may lead to the most amazing relationships (or opportunities in general). No one likes to be vulnerable and get rejected, but it’s the only way to truly live.

Be totally guarded all the time, and actively avoid anything that may result in mental or emotional pain, and you’ll probably have a pretty boring life.

Learn to embrace a healthy level of vulnerability, and the pain that may come with it, and life will reward you.

One thing to remember is that human beings connect through vulnerability. That’s our core way of connecting.

Zoe Buckman

Why being vulnerable and getting rejected hurts

Being vulnerable hurts. Getting rejected hurts even more. Why? Consider the following four points.

Dig deep and understand why it can be so terribly frustrating, and painful, to open up and express your emotions — and then experience some type of rejection.

Understanding alone is key. It’s only after you become aware of the stories, the processes, the images of your mind that you are able to better deal with your feelings.

1. Vulnerability means being yourself

From the day you were born until this exact moment you have been living in a society. This means you had to adapt, to hide some of your traits, to never express part of your true nature.

Not only that, you were probably rewarded. You got a good enough job, friends, social approval. So you learned that by staying on the safe side, life could still be pretty good. Which is true to a certain extent.

The issue is that, after decades, you do it on autopilot. You have learned to behave in a very controlled way and no longer imagine doing the opposite. You find it hard to break the emotional walls you have spent years building.

2. Vulnerability means taking action

Doing nothing is easy. I think we can all agree on this. You could live a life where all you do is the absolute minimum, watch things happen to you, let others decide what your existence should be filled with, and never really live consciously.

It’s harder to take action, to go for the things that you want, to risk it. Keep in mind, this applies to all areas of your life — your career, relationships, friendships, spiritual awakenings, personal growth in general.

Doing nothing is easy and safe. Vulnerability always has an element of effort and risk. Rejection is one of those risks. But you have to realize: the biggest trade-off happens when you are not vulnerable, when the thought of pain is so strong it prevents you from chasing happiness.

3. Identity and self-worth

Let’s say you have learned to identify as a successful individual, a person who gets things right, someone who is loved and appreciated by others. By being vulnerable, and potentially getting rejected, that image in your mind may break.

So in a way, that ego, that fragile identity you are so dependent on, may collapse as well. That’s what may happen if you give yourself permission to be vulnerable, to make mistakes, to be exposed.

The solution to this is simple (though obviously it’s easier said than done): write a different story. Know that any idea of success implies vulnerability. Know that, as a human, you must be imperfect. You must experience rejection at some point.

4. Rejection = physical pain

Rejection hurts, and when we describe our experience with rejection, we often compare it to physical pain. We say getting rejected is like getting stabbed, that it breaks our heart, that it leaves scars that don’t heal.

Well, it turns out this isn’t just us being good with metaphors. Science tells us rejection does, in fact, trigger areas of the brain that would normally get activated when we experience physical pain.

If you ever got rejected and it felt like a stab through the heart, now you know why. It wasn’t “just you” — it was your brain as well.

Vulnerability is good; rejection is good

Yes, being vulnerable and getting rejected is painful. No, you don’t have to let that steal your enthusiasm for life.

Consciously choose a life where you allow yourself to be vulnerable and potentially suffer because of it.

Because here’s the thing — you are going to suffer anyway.

Really. You are going to suffer anyway. If you don’t give yourself permission to get rejected, you are not going to live life to the fullest.

And that can really hurt. Not living life to the fullest, not going after those relationships, those opportunities — the pain of that can be a hundred times worse than rejection.

So… which one do you choose? Which attitude would you rather have? Once you see the bigger picture, it’s easy to pick vulnerability. And the occasional rejection.

And keep in mind: the more often you choose to be vulnerable, the more often you will experience rejection.

Rejection hurts, but when you change your perspective it won’t hurt as much.

Again, easier said than done. I get it. I struggle with being vulnerable, most people struggle with being vulnerable. And you don’t want to take it to an extreme.

You have to find a balance, and it takes practice. It costs you mistakes. Embarrassment. Awkwardness. But in the long run those will be the much better trade-off.

How to deal with the pain of rejection

  • Embrace rejection. Here’s an interesting exercise: next time you ask someone out, or initiate a conversation with a complete stranger, or share your views or ideas — expect rejection. It will still be uncomfortable, but there will be much less tension (and less disappointment, if you do get rejected).
  • Never depend on anything. Just like confusing what you want with what you need can lead to lack of fulfillment, the thought of being dependent on something or someone steals your energy. Learn to feel complete, to feel that you are enough. If you get rejected, you will still be complete, you will still be enough.
  • Practice self compassion. Be your own best friend. Know that any form of rejection, be it at work or in your love life, can lead to pain. The worst thing you can do is add even more pain by telling yourself that you’ve been dumb. You have not been dumb — you have done the right thing.
  • Be proud of yourself. Our natural reaction would be to lower our sense of self-worth whenever we get rejected. The more we experience rejection, the lower our self-esteem. Do the opposite! Each time you allow yourself to be vulnerable, and get rejected, be proud of yourself. Wear it as a badge of honor.

There is no intensity of love or feeling that does not involve the risk of crippling hurt. It is a duty to take this risk, to love and feel without defense or reserve.

William S. Burroughs