Select Page


 Rejection Hurts 🙁

by Bonnie Katz, MA

Actors are very familiar with the feeling of hurt that comes from being rejected.  They deal with it on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, the pain of being rejected doesn’t fade with fame or success.  When someone says, “No, you’re not right for the part,” it never feels good, even if you’re Meryl Streep.  Knowing that rejection is the nature of the acting profession, actors must learn how to deal with it in order to stay resilient and survive.  In addition to career survival, it is important for your physical and mental survival as well.  There is evidence that rejection not only has a negative effect on your mental state, but on your physical state as well.  fMRIs’ (brain scans) show that the same areas of the brain becomes activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain.  In fact, a current research study showed that when people were given Tylenol before asking them to recall a painful rejection experience, those taking the Tylenol felt less emotional pain than those people given sugar pills.  Knowing the strong impact that rejection has on the body and mind, it is imperative that actors deal with it in a positive, productive way in order not to put their physical and mental health at risk.

Here is some information to better understand what happens inside the body and mind when you are rejected and why it feels so terrible.  Evolutionary psychologists hypothesize that during the primitive stages of life, it was fatal if a member of a tribe was ostracized because they couldn’t survive alone, on their own.  Because it was vital to survival, an early inner warning system alerted us when we were at risk of being pushed out of the tribe and as a result, we were able to correct our behavior in order to remain in the group.  The feeling of being rejected is so powerful that when we recall a past experience of it, it becomes more vivid than when recalling physical pain.  Our brain prioritizes experiences of being rejected because we are social animals whose survival is reliant upon belonging. Currently, it is well known that isolation can lead to depression.  Feeling loved, accepted, and connected to family and friends is a strong indicator of a happy person.  The need to belong is fundamental to our physical and mental health.

Rejection also causes your self-esteem to plummet.  When one is rejected from their work or romantic environment, there is usually self-blame and negative self-talk that follows.  The reality is probably that it just wasn’t a good fit. But, instead of taking the realistic view and moving on, most people play the negative, inadequacy tapes over and over in their heads.  They convince themselves that they’re worthless, and make themselves more prone to depression.  Negative self-talk also affects your physical health by lowering your immune system.

If this isn’t enough to motivate you to change your relationship to rejection, consider this:

Rejection temporarily lowers your IQWhen people were asked to recall a recent rejection experience, they couldn’t think clearly and scored significantly lower on subsequent IQ tests, tests of short-term memory, and tests of decision making.  Can you imagine how it can effect your performances during auditions if you think the casting director doesn’t like you?

There are ways to treat the mental and physical wounds rejection inflicts.  Begin with these five questions:

1.  What is going on right now?

Sometimes being rejected can send you into a spiral of stress.  During those times, it’s hard to hold on to what you know.  There is good reason for this because when you are distressed, the brain goes into survival mode making you want to attack, withdraw or go numb. Sometimes hearing a rejection can hit the shame button inside you and make you feel very small.  When all of those uncomfortable feelings get triggered, it’s useful to stay grounded in reality and not get lost in the stories you tell yourself.  For instance, when you don’t get a callback after a great audition, it is easy to get caught up in the fear that you are not good enough and will never get cast in anything.  But, what is actually happening in the moment?  Are you being hijacked by your mind?  Maybe you start to visualize yourself struggling on unemployment the rest of your life.  Or picture fellow actors having great careers while you lag behind?  STOP.  BREATHE.  WHAT IS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW?  The reality is you didn’t get a callback and everything else you are visualizing and saying to yourself are just fictional stories.  No matter how strongly you feel about your stories, they are not facts, they are just feelings.  Your mind has been hijacked by your impending thoughts of doom rather than just experiencing this momentary rejection.  See your thoughts clearly.  Differentiate between reality and scary thoughts.  Stop trying to escape the rejection by blaming, analyzing, and beating yourself up.  Your distress is rooted in the stories you are telling yourself around this momentary rejection.  Asking the question – “What is going on right now?” – can help you get some perspective, distance and an awareness of your storytelling.

2. Can I see this as my path?

When you ask this question, you are being a “Conscious Actor,” who chooses to use this experience as part of your path towards growth.  You have no control over the no’s you will hear in life, but you certainly have control over turning them into yes’ …..  -Yes, I will find something positive in this. – Yes, I will use this to become a more skilled actor. – Yes, this is good practice at something I need to work on and get through.  -Yes, I can handle this with dignity and graciousness.  Yes, yes, yes!  The choice is yours.  Are you going to let it shut you down or are you going to use it to grow stronger and more confident?  Can you see this as your path to becoming a better actor?

3. What is my most believed thought about myself?

This question will require some soul searching and honesty, but is well worth the effort.  Every investment of time, energy and money will be tossed to the wind if underneath it all, you feel worthless.  Negative self-belief is like a magnet that attracts rejection and uses it to confirm your inadequate feelings.  You become susceptible to creating – the classic self-fulfilling prophecy.  For example, when you don’t believe in your talent, you might use rejection to confirm an old belief from the past. You’re most likely to turn not getting a callback into,  “This only proves that my Aunt Harriet was right when she told me at 8 years old that I would never amount to anything.”  These sneaky messages from the past will sabotage your dreams quicker than any rejection from a casting director will!  To protect yourself from self-sabotage, know what your most believed thought about yourself is.  Only then can you change it.

4.  What is this?

This question cannot be answered by the thinking mind.  This answer can only come from your direct physical experience in the moment.  When you hear a rejection, immediately pay attention to what is happening physically in your body.  (visit body-scan for more hands on guidance with this). Become aware of your posture, feel the overall quality of physical sensations in the body.  Feel if there is any tension in the face, chest and stomach.  Include awareness of the environment, the surrounding sounds, quality of light, temperature.  Feel the body breathing in and out as you take in the felt sense of the moment.  Stick with the “whatness” of your experience rather than the “whyness.”  Habitually, you may go straight to your defenses, trying to protect yourself from the pain of hearing a rejection.  In order to break this old habit, you need to do something different.  Staying focused on your physical experience is a good way to stop your mind from going off into any negative thinking.  Instead of getting busy trying to defend yourself from the pain or going into old, untrue stories, you are going to be open and curious about the physical sensations presently occurring in your body.  Remember, you’re not asking what this is about, which is analyzing.  You’re simply asking what is this? Awareness in the body will always anchor you into the present moment.  Unlike your thoughts, the body never lies.  When you hear rejection, take a breath, go inward, feel the physical sensations in and around you and ask, what is this? 

5. Can I let this experience just happen?

This is not an easy task because our instinct is to want to fix, soothe, or escape. Wouldn’t you rather do something that will actually build inner strength and help you handle the inevitable ups and downs of being an actor?  Pushing away negative feelings tied to rejection makes them last longer because you have not dealt with them.  Remember, you can’t heal what you can’t feel.  When you let your experience be as it is, you are putting more space around it and making it less claustrophobic.  This allows your anxiety and stress to dissolve quicker. When you connect to your body and feel what is happening around you, you are saying there is more to life than just this rejection. When you let the experience just happen, you are being kind to yourself because you’re letting go of self-criticism.  You are engaging the limitlessness of the heart rather than the self-limiting judgment of the mind.

By asking these five questions – you are building an active strategy to meet rejection.  Each question will bring you closer to breaking out of your self-imposed storyline prison and help you to build inner strength, confidence, and endurance. Take better care of yourself by meeting your rejections head on with honesty, information, determination, and, above all, kindness.


Bonnie Katz, MFT is a licensed therapist in private practice. Her goal as a therapist is to help clients reach “optimal mental wellness”, so that they can feel happiness, fulfillment and joy in their everyday lives. For more information on Bonnie’s therapy practice, visit her website. Like The Conscious Actor on Facebook


I’ve created The Conscious Actor Inspiration Journal; to help actors develop awareness of what inspires them. Beautiful pages filled with inspirational quotes to help keep you strong minded. For New York actors, the journal is available at Drama Book Shop Los Angeles actors may pick up the journal at Samuel French Bookshop

Conscious Actor articles are not a substitution for professional psychotherapy.