Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Pain, The Brain, Why Rejection Hurts and What You Can Do About It

By Bonnie Randall 

Special Guest Author

Writing is hard. Putting your writing ‘out there’ for consumption is harder. Placing your writing in front of an agent with hopes it will ascertain representation? Terrifying. Rejection hurts—far more than you might guess.

This week’s article is me speaking as the counselor as opposed to the writer, and the focus is self care and self awareness, specifically surrounding the pain felt upon experiencing rejection.

First off, it is important to understand that when we talk about pain in general, there is very little that sets emotional pain apart from physical pain. In fact brain scan data inform us that when we are rejected or shunned, the same areas of the brain are activated as when we feel physical pain. (Specifically, the anterior insula and the anterior cingulate cortex). In other words, emotional pain is no different than a tangible, physical injury like a cut, bruise or fracture; the emotional wound may be invisible, but it’s nonetheless as real—as evidenced by the brain—as its physical counterpart.

This also helps make sense as to why we often do feel physical pain simultaneously with our emotional wounds. Consider writing—an art not only wrought from our emotions, but also a creation we form an intense bond or attachment to. Given this strong emotional attachment, It should come as no surprise that when this art is rejected, the creator often feels the pain—literally—in their chest; an ache or a tightening. The word heartache, therefore, is far from an abstract concept; it is a literal description of a very literal experience. So too is the churning we feel in our bellies upon being rejected. Embarrassment, resentment, and anger (all of which are emotional components of the bigger feeling we call ‘rejection’) are gut feelings. So again, no shock that sometimes we feel queasy or even nauseous when we open that email from the agent we’ve set our hearts on and see a ‘No’. Your feelings and your body are not mutually exclusive entities.

But…How To Heal The Wound?

Just like a physical injury needs a compress or a bandage, an emotional injury needs first aid too. Here are some self-care remedies to ease the pain:

1. Honor Your Feelings

Don’t minimize your experience with rejection, and don’t let anyone else minimize it either. You’ve just endured the equivalent of a physical blow (and a brain scan would confirm this). You cannot see the injury, but that doesn’t make it any less real.

2. Treat Your Wound the Way You’d Treat Any Physical Injury

You cannot use heat or ice to balm it, but you can baby yourself a bit. Take that bubble bath you enjoy. Go order that great meal. Purchase that treat you’ve been wanting (if you can afford it and only if the expense incurred will not escalate stress in other areas). Like the tenderness you’d bestow on your ankle if you broke it, or your finger if you cut it, be gentle with yourself. You are hurt.

3. Get Support

If you are a writer at the stage where you are querying pieces of fiction, then you certainly have at least one or more writer friends in your circle. Reach out. Be honest about how devastated you feel by being rejected. Believe me when I say that every single one of your writer friends will have felt what you’re feeling. So commiserate. Cry. Bitch, loud and long. It’s okay to have a pity-party sometimes. Just don’t set up shop and live there.

4. Laugh

Ever stub your toe so hard that you hop around in agony…laughing? Yeah. That. Laugh. Laugh at how your story has found, by virtue of being rejected, one more way to rip your heart out and command all of your attention. Laugh at how absurd it is to feel bad for your imaginary characters who’ve now been rejected. Laugh at how personally you are taking something that is totally not personal. Laugh. Humor heals.

5. Don’t React

Remember when I said resentment and anger and disappointment are part of the construct of rejection? Yeah, well, it’s perfectly okay (and expected) to feel these emotions, but it is career suicide to act on them. So do not—NOT—write a snarky, hate-filled, ‘screw you’ email to the agent who rejected your writing. Do not make a caustic phone call. I’ve read scores of testimonials from agents saying they’ve been the target of a writer come unglued, and it is not pretty (nor is it ever acceptable to be abusive). Just…chill. Treat all that resentment and anger as if it were swelling ’round a physical wound. Put some ice on it. Let it settle down. Reacting will do nothing other than dig a hole you’ll find hard to climb out of.

6. Keep Writing

Tackle your new project. Go ahead and write that snarky letter (but do NOT send it. Instead, burn it—very therapeutic). Rework or tweak your synopsis and query letter (when you’re ready). Do research for your next novel and write notes as you go. Write something. Write anything. You are a writer, and that means if you neglect your craft you are neglecting you—and that too is a form of rejection, and you are far too fragile for more rejection right now.

7. Congratulate Yourself

Yes. You read that correctly. You just got wounded doing something few people are courageous enough to do. So like the skier who broke a leg trying the Black Diamond run, or the vocalist who got his heart ripped out by Simon Cowell after being brave enough to audition for American Idol, you now have a scar you can talk about, a scar you’ve earned through hard work, learning, discipline, perseverance, passion and love. You’re a writer—and should be damn proud of it.

Bonnie Randall is a Canadian writer who lives between her two favorite places—the Jasper Rocky Mountains and the City of Champions: Edmonton, Alberta. A clinical counselor who scribbles fiction in notebooks whenever her day job allows, Bonnie is fascinated by the relationships people develop—or covet—with both the known and unknown, the romantic and the arcane.

Her novel Divinity & The Python, a paranormal romantic thriller, was inspired by a cold day in Edmonton when the exhaust rising in the downtown core appeared to be the buildings, releasing their souls.

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About Divinity & The Python

Divinity - Where deception and desire both hide in the dark...

The Cards Forecast Work

Shaynie Gavin is so much more than the sexy siren who mixes cocktails at The Python. A carpenter with a business plan, Shaynie is trying to amass enough funds to launch her own dream - Divinity, a place where up-cycled furniture from the past is sold alongside Tarot readings forecasting the future - and all in a setting that could not be more perfect: a former funeral parlor. Shaynie's belief that Divinity is attuned with the passions, the loves, and even the lies of its departed souls, allow her to feel satisfied when the cards she draws there reveal Wands, the Tarot's symbol for work. And yet...Shaynie would be so grateful if the Tarot would also, just once, illuminate a Hellnight from her past. A lost evening whose scars still slither over her skin, Hellnight haunts Shaynie. Yet when she calls the question of that chilling evening into her deck...

The Cards Forecast Love

...and love appears in the form of pro hockey star Cameron Weste. Weste is haunted by scars and superstitions of his own, and he wants Shaynie's Tarot to answer far deeper questions than she first guesses this sexy Lothario to be capable of. Who knew Weste was this intense? The Tarot, apparently. And yet...

The Cards Forecast The Devil

When Cameron Weste lands in her life, a stalker surfaces too, dropping clues to a connection between Shaynie, Cameron, and her lost, brutal Hellnight. Suddenly every card warns of deception, and nowhere feels safe. Shaynie and Cameron have to fight for their love - and their lives - as The Devil, their stalker, is determined to turn the Death Card for them both.


  1. Great advice. I think that stage of writing is the most brutal. If you can make it through that, you should be okay to face the fire of reviews.

  2. Thanks for this post. As I think about sending my "baby" out pretty soon--I hope I remember to congratulate myself when I receive the inevitable rejections!

    1. Carol, I am going to be floating in that boat right beside you because I'll be querying my new novel by the end of this month. Here's to managing whatever outcome we're dealt!

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  3. Thank you for that. It was right on time :)

    1. Best wishes as you launch your project into the inboxes of agents!

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  4. Great post! I love the idea of celebrating the rejection, I'll be planning a pity party just in case :)
    It's also important to remember the rejection is subjective. Anita Mumm did a great post about this:

  5. It really *is* subjective, and not to worry: I throw myself many pity parties at regular intervals ;)

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  7. I loved the information on how the brain processes emotional and physical pain. Thanks!

    1. I'm glad you found it interesting, Laura. I am enamored with all things connected to brain architecture and, in my day job, I work closely with the Alberta Family Wellness Initiative to deliver the 'Core Story' of brain development, the video for which (that you may find interesting) is here:

  8. Good points, Bonnie. Our writers’ group holds a monthly rejection meeting at a restaurant. We share our rejections and the occasional acceptance with a lot of support and fanfare.