Rejection trauma results from growing up in homes where we were rejected and often considered worthless and a waste of our parent’s time. Perhaps we were told we were worthless, or our parents maltreated us using us for their own pleasure.

The result of having no support and being rejected is that we mature full of fear of rejection in our adult lives; including how we deal with our interpersonal relationships.

This article will attempt to sort out how rejection trauma negatively affects our interpersonal relationships and our lives.

The Causes of Rejection Trauma

There is no doubt that rejection trauma begins in childhood and extends its long reach into adulthood. Experiences of rejection, neglect and abuse can cause rejection trauma, also known as rejection sensitivity.

Trauma doesn’t necessarily need to be overt as a parent who is emotionally unavailable and disconnected or highly critical are also causes to develop rejection sensitivity.

Children who exhibit aggressive behavior often were expecting rejection and thus respond to the approach of a peer in anger, trying to avoid the pain of rejection again (Downey et al., 1998). Children who are bullied or ostracized from the group could grow to fear rejection more than other children.

Indeed, any type of rejection may make someone aggressively avoid experiencing that pain again.

The Long-Term Effects of Rejection Trauma

Rejection by a parent or both parents in childhood is akin to murdering the child’s sense of self and self-esteem. A parent’s acceptance and love for their children is of paramount importance for the correct formation of the child’s personality development, self-image, and how they learn to relate to other people. Without acceptance at home in childhood, adults are left empty-handed, unsure, ill-equipped, and frightened that the rejection will happen again if they trust someone.

We who were rejected in childhood often avoid forming any type of close or intimate relationship with others. We find the idea of allowing someone past our barriers of protection terrifying and thus choose to remain alone.


Not only can rejection trauma have an enormous negative effect on us as children, without therapy victims are left with scars that may last a lifetime.

The greatest long-term effect of rejection trauma is on our intimate relationships. Unfortunately, we can either be aloof and inadequately responsive or avoidant and push others away.

Evolutionary Changes That Trap Us

It is believed that evolution has fueled humanity’s fear of rejection and trapped us with our need to belong to a group. In ancient times, being a member of a group meant survival, and rejection meant death.

A paper written by Leary in 2015 and published in Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience describes how evolution plays a huge role in how we respond to rejection. The article examined seven emotions that occur when people perceive their relationships with other people as low or in jeopardy. These emotions include:


  • Hurt feelings
  • Jealousy
  • Loneliness
  • Shame
  • Guilt
  • Social anxiety
  • Embarrassment

The paper discussed how “human beings developed biopsychological mechanisms to apprise them of threats to acceptance and belonging, along with emotional systems to deal with threats to acceptance. (Leary, 2015).”

The paper concluded that while evolution forces people to behave so that they can maintain interpersonal relationships, it also alerts them to threats to those relationships. The author stated people need to watch for rejection to understand and enjoy their relationships better and avoid undue pain.

However, when acceptance is lacking, and we feel rejected, especially as children, we become hypervigilant, always looking out for the next rejection.

Acceptance plays a vital role in normal behavior between ourselves and others. Evolution has set humans up with the tools to understand and accept rejection, yet when childhood acceptance is absent, we are left clueless about how to behave and allow others into our lives.

The Effects of Childhood Rejection on Adults

Adults with rejection sensitivity will probably experience some type of relationship problem. This is because they often misinterpret events and rejections as events that threaten our acceptance into a group. Perhaps this group is only two people strong, but a person who experienced childhood rejection cannot bond correctly with their partner.

One might think that being in a committed relationship is impossible, but not so. While women are more sensitive than men to rejection, both women and men can and do form healthy relationships where they have overcome their low self-esteem.


In fact, for men with rejection sensitivity, forming a committed relationship can be helpful to them as they are lonelier and more rejection sensitive when not in a romantic relationship (Nowland et al., 2018).

Though the above is encouraging, both men and women who fear rejection because they experienced it in childhood can struggle to establish romantic relationships as they are busy avoiding others to keep from being hurt.

Ending Our Time Together

While we are busy discussing the effects of childhood rejection on adults, we must never lose sight of the fact that people will form healthy relationships. All hope is not lost because we have grown and are now adults.

Rejection in childhood is only the tip of the iceberg with discussing rejection trauma as evolution has caused us to be open to the kind of pain that rejection brings.

Never forget that these articles are meant to enlighten and also encourage you even when the topic is negative. There will be follow-up articles that will explore treatment and overcoming rejection trauma.

“I believe that rejection is a blessing because it’s the universe’s way of telling you that there’s something better out there.” – Michelle Phan

“You have people come into your life shockingly and surprisingly. You have losses that you never thought you’d experience. You have rejection and you have to learn how to deal with that and how to get up the next day and go on with it.”–Taylor Swift.


Downey G, Lebolt A, Rincón C, Freitas AL. Rejection sensitivity and children’s interpersonal difficultiesChild Dev. 1998; 69 (4):1074–1091. Retrieved from:

Leary, M. R. (2015). Emotional responses to interpersonal rejection. Dialogues in clinical neuroscience17 (4), 435. Retrieved from:

Nowland R, Talbot R, Qualter P. Influence of loneliness and rejection sensitivity on threat sensitivity in romantic relationships in young and middle-aged adultsPers Individ Differ. 2018; 131:185-190. doi:10.1016/j.



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Rejection Trauma

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