“Shit happens, but it’s up to you to use it as a Nostril Burner or a Fertilizer.” – some guy on Quora.
I don’t really ‘buy into’ rejection anymore. It has ceased to exist as a concept for me.
It’s not that I don’t receive refusals from people, or get knocked back, socially snubbed and ignored – I do.
I just don’t experience these things as rejection.
I actually think that when you take F.O.R (Fear of Rejection) out of the equation, or at least stop being stopped by it, knockbacks happen with even greater frequency. I guess that is a consequence of living more fearlessly.
But I digress.
I wasn’t always of this frame of mind. I think I was helped along by a quite confronting rejection experience in my romantic life.
Three years ago I was 29, and I was in the middle of a character defining romantic relationship with a person I’ll call X. I loved X deeply, but being with him challenged me in pretty much every way. I also felt rejected by him – for everything from the way I dressed, to the way I expressed myself and behaved in certain situations. The rejections felt deeply personal, confronting and abundant.
One broken engagement later, I can see clearly in hindsight that X also felt rejected by me, and that our mutual rejection hell made being together impossible.
Here are some observations on rejection that I have distilled from the experience.
Lesson 1: Being caught up in rejection is physical pain – and you can feed it with how much energy you give it
Rejection actually feels like physical pain. Also, you kind of wear it around with you, letting it affect how you are being with friends and new people. And the more you act like a reject, the more it seems to be self-generating.
Something that didn’t help with the pain is the amount I would focus on my feelings.
I’m not one to be stingy about sharing my knockbacks; that can be a pretty cool way to connect with people in a meaningful way. It’s also less lonesome than pretending everything is hunky dory all the time.
However, using the language of rejection (drama, drama) is giving energy to it, basically making it a stronger part of your psyche. I found this all the time when I confided in choice friends about the way I was feeling in that relationship. I noticed that after a solid bitching session, the intensity of the negative emotions was prolonged.
This truly was a lesson in what I was giving attention to, and growing.
Lesson 2: Rejection is rocket fuel for resilience…if you let yourself feel it
That relationship taught me that I really needed to feel (rather than suppress) my negative emotions.
Because the alternative – pretending I wasn’t hurt – created larger, insurmountable problems further down the line. Like when I wound up completely losing it at this person I was supposed to be loving, and saying things that couldn’t be unsaid.
Pain of rejection – like other emotional pain – needs acknowledging and sometimes communicating before any good can come of it. I think that if we don’t let ourselves feel the pain of rejection, it gets squashed down and finds its outlet in other, more intense ways.
And are rejection feelings ever good for cultivating resilience. I notice now that I’m more confident in my ability to deal with uncomfortable emotions. The rejection was ripe training ground for the continuing assault of ‘nos’ that await us all when we are living full, rich and limitless lives.
My favorite definition of resilience is not just being able to withstand an experience, but being like a bouncy ball and returning to the emotional state you were in before it. In other words, being unaffected by negative experiences.
It takes practice and self awareness to accomplish this feat, but important to do. I think if we don’t do it, we end up carrying forward past wounds into new relationships.
Lesson 3: Our rejections are stories we tell
This is really difficult to get when you’re in the throes of personal rejection.
It involves taking a giant step back and re-framing things. Or, as I like to think of it, seeing things As They Really Are – without the shit-stained glasses. (If you’re interested, Byron Katie’s The Work is a really great tool for accessing reality).
Negative feelings are real, but the concept of rejection is ludicrous.
No-one can reject you because you’re not offering yourself up to be rejected. You already accept you.
I can see now that I was never really being rejected. X wasn’t always careful in his communications, but he wasn’t rejecting me. Only I could do that.
Lesson 4: Rejection and self-love cancel eachother out
And this is the crux of the matter right here.
Had we loved ourselves, like really, X and I wouldn’t have been so sensitive to one another’s acceptance and approval.
Of course we are always going to be a bit more sensitive to perceived criticism from the people we are in close relationships with. But having robust self-love ultimately trumps any hurt feelings.
What happens now when I don’t get approval from a person I love and admire – friends, family, romantic partners – is that it stings, for a bit. But frankly now everyone else’s approval is just a ‘nice to have’ and definitely not a necessity.
I really think that self-love is something that takes years, patience and dedication to cultivate. And I think that solitary time is when it’s done. However, it’s truly necessary work as there is no other way to live and love; life is too unstable without the foundation of self-love.
Read about ways to cultivate self-love here.
Lesson 5: Refusals can offer an enormous growth opportunity
(But this only happens when you are able to look at things objectively.)
If you are being refused a lot romantically, or in your career or whatever, then that’s a good time to contemplate behaviors and beliefs. I personally have done this and found it useful. I’ve even changed some things since being in that particular relationship (I think for the better).
I also know that once I was able to be objective about my failed relationship, I was able to see things from his side. In other words, my empathy and compassion improved (there is science behind this). The experience also gave me a bigger drive to have really honest and authentic relationships with people, even though sometimes that means being uncomfortable.
Lesson 6: I helped to create the rejection situation
Maybe you’re familiar with the idea that we recreate old childhood wounds in our relationships, so that we can heal unmet needs. (If you aren’t and you are interested, I recommend checking out the books and courses of Harville Hendrix). In a nutshell, the idea is that relationships should be challenging.
As a teenager, I felt totally rejected by one of my parents – and recreated the same debilitating feelings in my romantic relationship. If you’ve felt rejected in a relationship too, then maybe you can see how you contributed to that – either by making poor choices of partner, or by certain behaviors.
Rejection feelings were the catalyst for a powerful new clarity that has allowed me to see my own unmet needs, and those of other people.
A life without rejection
A life without rejection isn’t a life without fear – hell no.
Fear is just standard when you’re living a life where you’re engaging with people in a real way, showing them your true self, connecting and perusing dreams. Fear is always there whenever the stakes are high (and they should be high).
A life without rejection is a life of seeing rebuttals for what they really are – just refusals – and not letting that affect how you feel about yourself. In other words: freedom.
Do you have a story of rejection to share? I’d love to hear from you – in the comments below is good, or on the Facebook page.