5 tips for recovering from emotional pain

When you brood over something, you're simply replaying the same thoughts without gaining new insights.

Story highlights

  • Rejection is so painful that it can even affect your thinking
  • Positive affirmations may be ineffective for people who have low self-esteem
  • Instead, try making a list of your best qualities
We sustain psychological injuries such as rejection and failure as we go through life just as often as we do physical injuries. But while we have access to ointments and bandages to treat cuts and sprains, we have no such tools to treat emotional pain.
In my book, I discuss the impact of seven common psychological injuries on our emotional well-being -- rejection, failure, guilt, loneliness, rumination, loss and bouts of low self-esteem -- and offer science-based treatments that ease the pain, accelerate healing and minimize long-term risks to our mental health.
Here are five questions people often ask about psychological injuries:
1. Why does getting rejected hurt so much?
Getting rejected activates the same pathways in your brain that get activated when you feel physical pain. In one study, participants who received Tylenol (acetaminophen) and were then asked to recall a painful rejection reported less emotional pain than subjects who received a sugar pill.
Rejection is so painful that it can even affect your thinking. For example, being asked to recall a painful rejection was enough for people to score significantly lower on subsequent IQ tests, tests of short-term memory and tests of decision-making.
Rejection is assumed to have developed as an early warning mechanism to alert us when we were in danger of being kicked out of our tribe, which in our caveman past would have been a death sentence. That is also why rejection makes us feel so detached and alone; it destabilizes our need to feel that we belong.
2. Psychologists are advocates of getting in touch with how you feel. If thinking about your feelings is good for you, how can brooding and ruminating be bad?
Guy Winch
Reflecting on how you felt after a painful experience often leads to the kind of understanding and insight that reduces emotional distress and allows you to move on. But when you brood over something, you're simply replaying the same thoughts, memories or worries over and over, gaining no new insights and making yourself more upset and angry.
Ruminating in such ways can be "addictive" in that stewing over such memories or thoughts makes them more distressing, which in turn makes the urge to brood over them even more compelling. These ruminative cycles not only increase your emotional distress in the moment, but over time, the stress hormones that are released into your bloodstream can put you at increased risk for cardiovascular disease.
3. Is it possible to prevent a significant failure from affecting your self-esteem?
Yes. Failure is damaging to your self-esteem because it distorts your perceptions; your goals seem out of reach, and your capacities seem unequal to the task. To prevent your self-esteem from taking a big hit, you have to overcome the feelings of helplessness that follow a significant failure.
Blaming your "lack