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The Experience of Rejection Sensitivity in Women's Intimate Partnerships: An Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis



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The theory of rejection sensitivity, suggests that early experiences of rejection (e.g. parental rejection, peer rejection) can result in the tendency to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to rejection by significant others in future relationships. An abundance of quantitative research has suggested that rejection sensitivity has significant implications regarding one’s thoughts and actions within intimate partnerships (e.g. Downey & Feldman, 1996); however, little is known about the lived experience of the women who are sensitive to rejection. The present research sought to move beyond the developmental perspective of the theory of rejection sensitivity (as presented in the first two chapters) by aiming to gain an understanding of how women experience rejection sensitivity within their intimate partnerships and how their thoughts, feelings, and behaviours have impacted their romantic lives. Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) was used to explore the lived experience of women who identified with rejection sensitivity. Data generated during two interviews with three participants was transcribed and analyzed using an interpretive phenomenological analysis approach. An over-arching theme of I won’t let it happen again: a journey of self-protection emerged that was representative of the women’s shared experience of protecting themselves from experiencing further rejection in their romantic relationships and was further illustrated throughout three secondary themes: I can control things so I won’t let it happen again, Wait…is it happening anyway?, and A continuous journey. Based on the present findings, considerations for further research and practice are offered. Given lack of research aimed at understanding the experiences of women who identify with rejection sensitivity, the value of the present study is twofold: This research makes a notable contribution to current literature, but also encourages women, and those devoted to helping them, to understand their own unique relationships with rejection sensitivity and navigate their own journeys with a sense of hope for mutually satisfying and beneficial romantic relationships in their futures.



Rejection Sensitivity, Women, Intimate Partnerships, Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis



Master of Education (M.Ed.)


Educational Psychology and Special Education


School and Counselling Psychology


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