I wanted to write a piece on rejection because I recently had a conversation where it hit me just how unaware most people seem to be when it comes to the link between rejection and self-blame but also the disproportional relationship between the two. My experience when working with people (especially those dissatisfied with their single life) is that they very much go hand in hand. The person I had the conversation with perceived herself to have been rejected and it was apparent that she viewed herself to be the cause of it. She had all kinds of explanations and theories to why she’d been pied but not a single reason involved anything other than something “wrong” with her. I can’t begin to tell you how common this is. When things don’t work out or in struggles to meet someone, it can leave a person feeling utterly rejected (and usually powerless). But obviously rejection isn’t restricted to only this. It doesn’t really matter in what area of life it occurs, the pain is the same. Whether it be in work, with friends, partnership etc.
What I’ve noticed is that the closer something is to our heart the worse is the sting of rejection. That is, the more important something is to us the worse it feels if we perceive “it” as pushing us away. The emotional pain level can also be determined by how strongly the area of rejection is to our self worth. Do I believe that the rejection is implying anything about my value or who I am negatively? The point I’m trying to make is that the experience of rejection is subjective. There are multiple factors that determine our inner evaluation of a situation, which then results in an emotional response. What one person evaluates as being rejected another may have an easier time brushing off. For example, a man watching a fellow coworker get a promotion instead of him, might feel extremely rejected while another person couldn’t care less. A woman getting stood up on a date might feel turned down as a person whilst someone else might not get affected at all. Now, we have the same situations but different reactions to it. So shouldn’t that indicate that the experience of rejection isn’t objective? It might be easy to agree with this logic when everything is fine but in the midst of the emotional turmoil that rejection can trigger, it might not be so simple. Being aware that rejection isn’t an objective truth and keeping it in the back of the mind, might soften the blow though.
The experience of rejection is painful and it’s easy to fall into the trap of self-blame. I think it all starts with us desperately seeking a rational explanation to the event. But where do we find the cause of the rejection? I would say more often than not, it’s by searching internally. This strategy can only end up in one way: by drawing negative conclusions about ourselves. It’s like there is an automatic presumption that rejection is the result of a flaw within us. The mind is very creative and an expert in finding the answers to why the action of someone else or circumstances not in our favor, is due to some shortage within us. It’s much easier to completely disregard that there might be other factors involved. Factors that have nothing to do with us. I think one of the main reasons we “choose” this way of thinking is so we can “fix” the problem, to either get “unrejected” or to prevent it from happening again.
So what can we do when we feel rejected and start blaming ourselves?
I feel like there are two things that need to be highlighted. The first is to remember that someone else’s actions towards us doesn’t automatically implicate anything about our value (regardless who they are or what they do). The second is, when rejected at least consider the possibility that there might be reasons outside yourself for the experience. What I aim at when working with clients or myself, is to make aware the premises leading to the feeling of rejection. It’s like drawing a map, what road has been taken to the destination “rejected”. It’s also so crucial to separate the tight correlation between rejection and self-blame. This can be done by providing alternative valid explanations and viewpoints that are not related to us.
Don’t get me wrong, I believe it’s important to be conscious and strive to become an upgraded version of ourselves. But there is a difference between that and assuming there is something wrong with us. Once in the black hole of rejection pulling ourselves out of self-blame might not be the easiest task. But blaming ourselves is probably the opposite of what we need when feeling rejected. I believe self-soothing, compassion and understanding are essential for our well-being at those times. One approach I’ve found helpful is to honestly (and vulnerably) talk to a trustworthy individual. It’s so much easier to access the bigger picture when you have an outsider give their perspective. Therefore I highly recommend opening up to a good friend, therapist or coach, it can be the best antidote. And of course you’re always welcome to contact me.