Rejection, Health, and Mindfulness

Updated on October 19, 2018
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Kim is licensed in mental health and addiction counseling. Her education is in business, counseling, and health administration.


Research confirms the link between rejection and a person’s risk for health problems, and suggests that mindfulness may be a way to reduce stress, cope with rejection, and improve one’s immune system. Mindfulness is the practice of being fully present in the moment or the “here and now.” Deepak Chopra, MD describes mindful living as the “highest form of human intelligence.” It is a state of mind and is also believed to increase attention span and boost creativity. Mindfulness skills can be learned and developed with practice.

Neurological and Environmental Differences

We all experience differences in our neurological responses to stress and rejection and in our experiences of rejection in our environments. Some of us are more sensitive than others to feelings of rejection, and have stronger emotional reactions than others. Some of us experience home, community, school and work environments that are more rejecting than others. We all belong to cultural groups that are more or less accepted by our society’s dominant culture. We all have experienced some form of social rejection. Our view of social rejection can determine how it affects us.


Psychoneuroimmunology is a branch of medicine that studies how emotions affect the immune system. UCLA researchers recently identified that how our brain responds to social stressors can influence the body’s immune system and health. People who are more sensitive to social rejection experience greater increases in inflammatory activity in their immune systems. This increase in inflammatory activity is adaptive in acute situations because it promotes wound healing and reduces risk for infection when there is a physical injury. It is part of our immune system’s natural response to potentially harmful situations. When physical threats have been associated with social rejection, inflammation may be triggered in anticipation of a physical injury. Frequent or chronic activation of inflammation in the immune system can increase risk for asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease and depression.

The Research, the Purpose, and the Findings

In the study at UCLA, researchers subjected participants to forms of social rejection and stress. They measured changes in inflammatory biological markers in saliva and changes in brain activity during an MRI that was programmed to light up brain regions associated with fear, stress, and rejection. Participants who showed high neural responses to rejection during the MRI also showed the greatest increase in inflammatory activity in their saliva following tests of social stress and rejection.

The purpose of the study was to help practitioners who work with people who feel rejected and teach them more effective ways to respond to rejection. The study was also designed to better understand neurocognitive pathways that underlie inflammatory responses to stress.

Dealing With Rejection

George Slavich, PhD., the lead author of the study suggested some solutions for dealing with rejection. One solution is to recognize that a negative thought is not the same as fact. In other words, because I feel rejected or think I am being rejected does not objectively mean that I am being rejected. Some people are quick to conclude that they are being rejected when there is no real evidence of rejection. Learning to ask myself, “where is the evidence that I’m being rejected?” can be helpful. If there is really no evidence, I can change my belief instead of continuing to believe I am being rejected.

If I am right, and I am being rejected, I can learn not to “catastrophize” or act in ways that will worsen the situation. Catastrophizing is the mental mistake of imagining that an unfortunate event is the same as a major catastrophe such as a hurricane, flood or national disaster, and reacting to that event is if it were a real catastrophe; telling oneself how horrible and awful it is when really it is only unfortunate, inconvenient or uncomfortable. If I think a situation is a catastrophe, I am likely to react in a way that makes the situation worse… and consequently, experience social rejection. If I think a situation is unfortunate or uncomfortable, rather than catastrophic, I can better manage any discomfort I might experience.

Mindfulness and Therapy

Mindfulness techniques can be used to learn to accept feelings of rejection and other strong feelings and to better tolerate them. The book, Fully Present, is an introduction to mindfulness as it is taught at UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC). In Fully Present, author Susan Smalley, Ph.D. explains how mindfulness can affect the brain and body and provides guidance for developing and practicing mindfulness.

Mindfulness is also a part of Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an approach to therapy that combines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and mindfulness. CBT emphasizes that our thoughts about a situation rather than the situation itself contribute to our emotional and behavioral responses. DBT has been shown to be most helpful to persons with Borderline Personality features who experience a great deal of difficulty regulating emotions, are extremely sensitive to rejection, and have a very strong reaction to rejection that often includes self-injurious behaviors. According to the study, individuals with Borderline Personality features are at higher risk for certain illnesses.

Practicing mindfulness can be helpful for managing mild to moderate responses to rejection and other social stressors. Combining mindfulness with CBT or DBT therapy is needed for severe sensitivity to rejection, especially when life-threatening behaviors are involved.

Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and Rejection


  • MacDonald, G and Jensen-Campell, L. (2010) Social Pain: Neuropsychological and Health Implications of Loss and Exclusion. American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C. Retrieved from
  • Slavicha, G. M., Wayb, B.M., Eisenberger, N.I. and Taylor, S.E. (2010) Neural sensitivity to social rejection is associated with inflammatory responses to social stress. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, 107(33), 14817–14822. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1009164107. Retrieved from
  • Smalley, S. and Winston, D. (2010). Fully Present: The Science, Art, and Practice of Mindfulness. Da Capo Press. Philadelphia, PA.
  • UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center. Retrieved from
  • WebMD. (2011). Pain, Social Rejection Have Similar Effect on Brain: Study Suggests Similarities in Physical Pain and Emotional Pain. Retrieved from

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2010 Kim Harris


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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      :) thanks

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      7 years ago

      Glad you like that SandCastles ..... or awfulize! Thanks for reading and commenting, and keep on seeing the humor (AKA humour:)

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I like that, don't "catastrophize”. It's good to see the humour in things too.

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      Thank you Sun-Girl..... for checking it out and commenting. I appreciate it, a lot:)

    • Sun-Girl profile image


      9 years ago from Nigeria

      Awesome and interesting article you actually shared in here. Honestly, am really grateful for coming across this informative article in which i was immediately informed after reading from you.

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      LOL! Yeah. Ridiculous! .... a bunch of pseudo intellectuals, no doubt! No I actually attended a seminar on psychoneuroimmunology. It's good stuff. Thanks again for reading and commenting, Benji....appreciate it.

    • Benjimester profile image

      Benji Mester 

      9 years ago from San Diego, California

      Psychoneuroimmunology. Now that's a pretty ridiculous word. I'm not even going to try and pronounce it :) I can definitely see how there is a link between rejection and the development of certain ailments. Difficulty regulating emotions and being sensitive to rejection are definite precursors to stress and illness. Good thoughts.

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      Thank you tonymac. delightful?! I like that. glad you found delight in my hub. may your day be filled with delight:)

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Great and usefrul Hub. Thank you. I really learned a lot from this Hub, and in a most delightful way!

      Love and peace


    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      Oh, I bet! A person who is depressed is very sensitive to rejection. Thanks for stopping to read and comment Tony. I might have felt not selected if you hadn't, but that would be ok cause I can handle that!

    • Tony DeLorger profile image

      Tony DeLorger 

      9 years ago from Adelaide, South Australia

      Great hub. Have done a course in Mindfulness based therapy and found it invaluable with depression disorders.

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      Thanks dallas. I like that....and just not selected this time..... You can feel the difference; it takes away some of the sting. What a wise son you have! Thanks for passing along the lesson learned.

    • dallas93444 profile image

      Dallas W Thompson 

      9 years ago from Bakersfield, CA

      Great article. My son as an actor, taught me a valuable lesson. It is not "rejection, it is selection." Often times we feel, or take it personal when we are not rejected - just not selected...

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      I'll have to check out that cool water book. mindfulness is used in trauma work, and 60% of women in treatment for substance abuse and 40% of men in treatment have trauma symptoms. it makes sense to include mindfulness in CD treatment. meditation has been used, but it's often really a nap time in practice! Thanks for your loyal readership, vern and for your thought provoking comments (AKA soapbox)!

    • vrbmft profile image

      Vernon Bradley 

      9 years ago from Yucaipa, California

      Very informative hub. I always enjoy reading about mindfulness and I always enjoy reading your hubs.

      The issue of rejection keeps coming up, doesn't it? How important it is for us to have a solid foundation of acceptance when we are very very little, so we can deal with rejection, perceived or real, as a big person.

      I just picked up a book from my small library in my offie which I had totally forgotten I had. Called "Cool Water: Alcoholism, Mindfulness, and Ordinary Recovery" by William Alexander. I like what I have read so far, bringing mindfulness to recovery.

      I know there are an abundance of folks who have gifted us with "mindfulness" what? Dating back to the BC times. I am so grateful that in the last fifteen years, my life has been blest with mindfulness. My favorite book for mindfulness is Jon Kabut Zinn's "Whereever You Go, There You Are." It is a good book for men because each chaper is only about four pages, so it doesn't take much to read several chapters and have a sense that you are zooming through the book!! Wow! I am on Chapter four already!! I hear most men won't hang with a book for an extended period of time. That probably isn't true, but a stereotype that applies probably more to tactile learners than to men in general!!

      Anywho, I could relate better to CBT if they would just alter the premise slightly and be more accurate neurologically. Our thoughts do not cause our feelings. In fact most feelings come from a reservoir in the amygdala of very old feelings that are triggered by events that appear similar to an old event. The emotions fire off long long before (when you are talking 360,00 miles per second)our thoughts begin to register. There is NO thought process in the emotional reaction and that is the problem. The problem is the lack of dialogue between our thoughts and emotions, and a dialogue between our thinking brain and emotional brain would lead us to the awareness of whether or not the emotion fits the event or not. It is a pet peeve of mine. It makes so much more sense than to say your thoughts cause your feelings especially when we keep telling folks that no one or no thing cause your feelings. They are simply spontaneous reactions or responses that come and go very very quickly.

      Anywho, I am on my soap box again.



    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      I don't know that we should or even can always do and say the right things. I did try once, and failed miserably! I actually never left my laptop as planned. I got side tracked. I decided to play a game of scrabble, then got an email notification of a comment on facebook, then an email about a comment on hubpages, and before I knew it, I was reading hubs and leaving comments...although I haven't gotten to any of yours yet. Thanks for being a die hard fan e-man.

    • epigramman profile image


      9 years ago

      .....I've had my fair share of rejection and sometimes it leaves a bitter taste which has shattered my confidence on more than one occasion I guess we should all be mindful of one another and always try to say the right thing or do the right thing .....I guess life is a learning process and I'm still learning - and I certainly learn from you in a very enlightened way - and by the way how long will you be away from your laptop - I like having you around - lord knows good people are hard to find these days .......

    • kimh039 profile imageAUTHOR

      Kim Harris 

      9 years ago

      Thank you alekhouse. It makes sense that rejection would have a biological effect, but the scientific evidence to confirm the obvious is always nice! Deepak has been trying to tell us! I appreciate your taking time to check it out and post a comment alekhouse. See you soon.

    • alekhouse profile image

      Nancy Hinchliff 

      9 years ago from Essex Junction, Vermont

      Wow. This is really good stuff. There's nobody better than Deepak Chopra for learning to stay in the moment.

      Thanks, Kim


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