No matter what you do in life, at some point you will experience rejection. Bummer, right? Not all rejections are created equally, which means our reactions and the side effects can differ greatly. Some rejections we can quickly get over, while others are experienced as deep trauma that can lead to depression and isolation. More traumatic rejections can stick with us for a lifetime and inform our decisions and our life—if we let them.
It’s interesting to understand why our brains may be hardwired to experience rejection as pain. Humans have a deep and innate desire to belong. It was crucial for survival to belong to the tribe or a group, and not accepting others was used by our ancestors to curb unwanted behaviors to keep people in line. Those who didn’t find rejection painful were less likely to survive, so we evolved to feel rejection as a painful experience. Fascinating!
If television and pop music were real life, you’d think the only rejection we face is romantic. But some of the most traumatic rejections came from our own family when we were growing up—the lack of love or acceptance from a parent, which is what I relate to. I spent most of my life trying to prove to my father that I was worthy of his love. Despite my efforts, I felt nothing I did was good enough. It seemed that everything else in his life was more important than me, and that I was a burden.
As a child, searching for love honed my skills of being what others wanted me to be. If you’ve been following the series, you know that rejecting myself so I could please others led to living a life of should that was completely inauthentic and miserable. Although I experienced other trauma, this was the original trauma of my life, and I’m not alone. Many have had the same experience, leading to a deep fear of being rejected that is carried through their entire lives. Some feel a desperation for affection, which can lead to potentially harmful relationships. For others, the fear of being rejected manifests into an inability to build real connections with people—keeping others at arm’s length—and a fear of being vulnerable. You can’t really hurt me because I don’t let you in. I looked for someone who’d make me feel loved, became what I thought they wanted me to be, and neglected the only relationship that might achieve it—the relationship with myself. (deep sigh)
Dealing with traumatic rejection, be it from a parent, a romantic partner, or other life situation, takes time. It’s not something we let go of and move on from quickly. The bigger the pain, the longer the healing from it. Awareness and naming of the pain are important steps, which I talked about a few segments ago (go to madisonessentials.com to read “First, Acknowledge and Accept Your Pain”). Pushing away the pain of rejection does not make it better. The longer you ignore it, the bigger it can grow and the more time you spend unconsciously making decisions because of it.
Healing from rejection involves developing love for yourself and allowing yourself to feel the pain. You need to mourn. You may still have the person who caused the pain in your life, but the love you expected or thought you wanted from them will be gone. Coping with that reality means letting yourself feel the pain for a time before it can go. Everyone experiences grief differently, so you’ll need to be patient and compassionate with yourself, which is a struggle for many. Grief can come in waves—you can feel better for a time and then it can come back. That’s normal and okay. Be ready for it. It can be challenging to mourn the loss of something we thought we had. Rejection can really do a number on our hearts. Write about it, talk to a trusted confidant or a therapist, but allow yourself to take the time to mourn and heal.
It takes time to realize that the only one that can make you feel secure is you; you’ll never be able to receive love from others if you don’t first love yourself. Sounds like an impossible platitude? Well, it isn’t easy. Learning to love yourself is the most difficult relationship you’ll ever foster, but it’s the most important one you’ll ever have. Realize that you’re the only one that can fill that void. An important part of overcoming rejection is learning to not reject yourself, and to open your arms and let yourself in.
Sandy Eichel is a happy ex-should-er.