This week I’m delving into the painful experience of rejection. I don’t think there’s a single human being who hasn’t been rejected at one time or another. I hear stories all the time of how upset kids become when they aren’t picked for a sports team or when friends push them away because they’re just not ‘cool enough’. The pain they experience is excruciating and it can mark them for life.
The boy in the snazzy jacket
One story that stands out is of a teenager who had gathered the strength and courage to ask a girl out on a date and she said yes. He was over the moon. He asked his mother to make him a snazzy jacket as he was taking the young lady in question to the local disco and he wanted to look the part. His mother, who was very handy with a sewing machine, rustled him up a beautiful blue blazer with shiny buttons that made him stand out from the crowd. The boy thought the girl would feel special by his side. On the day they were due to meet he went to the meeting point donning his jacket proudly, trying hard to ignore the kaleidoscope of butterflies that had invaded his stomach. He sat by the bus stop as agreed. He waited. And he waited. She never came.
The devastated kid ran home, ripped off the jacket, threw himself on his bed and cried. He never received an explanation or an apology from the girl. His hopes had been severely dashed and replaced with a sense of shame. He refused to speak about it. Instead he internalised the rejection and allowed it to destroy his self-worth. He blamed himself, believing that he wasn’t good enough for her.
It took him ten years before he could ask a girl out again. Ten years living with the pain of what had happened to him, paralysed by the fear of further rejection.
Rejection isn’t always about you
If the boy had spoken to someone at the time who understood rejection he might have saved himself all those years of pain and fear. He would have been encouraged to consider that the rejection may not have been because of him. Perhaps the girl was herself nervous and couldn’t face her own fear of being rejected by him? Or there could have been a more simple explanation such as the girl not being allowed out by her parents or perhaps she was sick. Either way it was wrong that a message wasn’t communicated to him to let him know that she wasn’t coming. But it happened and he didn’t have the opportunity to learn from it.
Don’t Allow Rejection to Define You
And so we carry the pain of childhood rejection around with us, allowing it to hold us back from the opportunity that life has to offer. The rejection we experience in our younger years can play a major role in how we see ourselves in later years. Some of us go through life with a lower sense of self-worth because of it which in turn makes further rejection almost unbearable. Studies have shown that people who have a strong sense of self-worth experience less pain from rejection.
Rejection as an evolutionary tool
Rejection knows no bounds. It is believed to have developed as an evolutionary tool to warn early humans who were at risk of being pushed out from the tribe they belonged to. A painful rejection from others in the tribe was likely to encourage an individual to modify any unwanted behaviour in order to avoid further rejection from the tribe. Rejection from the tribe meant they were alone therefore greatly threatening their ability to survive. It had to be avoided at all costs. And from there we evolved into people who fear rejection.
Rejecting the self is our biggest problem
When I was nine years old I was falsely accused of stealing money from a teacher’s desk. My whole world fell apart when I realised that nobody believed I hadn’t done it. I was threatened with rejection on many levels. The fear of being rejected forced me to admit to a crime that I had not committed. The consequences were far-reaching. I lost my trust in the very people who were in charge of my wellbeing. And I turned on myself too. I hated that I hadn’t been able to defend myself. I had given in and told them what they wanted to hear. All because I was afraid I would be cast out. It was one of the most defining moments of my childhood.
Years later I experienced rejection on an epic scale when I was falsely accused of being a bully and publicly vilified for something I hadn’t done. I was forced out of a committee I had worked very hard for and treated like an enemy by the same people I had been trying to help. I could have stood my ground and defended myself but my lack of self-belief completely impeded this. Instead I ran away like a wounded animal to hide with my pain. I berated myself over and over until I believed I was bad, unworthy and a complete failure. I took to the bottle to numb some of that pain and tried to live in denial for a while. But waking up in the morning with a hangover only made everything worse, compounding the problem and preventing me from overcoming the cause of the pain. That was when I realised that drinking was actually holding me back. It was preventing me from facing my pain, learning from it and building strength and resilience. If you’ve been following my journey you will know that I found the courage to stop numbing the pain with alcohol, to embrace it and to be more accepting of myself.
Risking rejection for connection
It is tempting now to isolate myself and to hold back from connecting to others to avoid rejection in the future but I have learnt to accept that rejection is a part of life. My need for connection to others is worth the risk of rejection. Instead of fearing it we need to understand and accept it. But first we have to understand and accept ourselves. Like the boy in the snazzy jacket, we shouldn’t blame ourselves when rejection happens in our lives. Practicing compassion for ourselves will mean we are more compassionate towards others. Compassion softens us and allows us to reach out to others. I believe that people mostly respond in a positive way when they are asked for support.
Feeling empowered to accept rejection
I am better prepared for rejection now that I am being kinder to myself. I am not afraid to face my weaknesses and focus on my strengths. It won’t be long until I start submitting the manuscript for my novel to agents and publishers. The same manuscript that I have been working on for years, that I have sacrificed blood, sweat and tears for, not to mention the dollars I have invested in it through a mentorship programme and expensive workshops to learn the craft of novel writing. Yet I know that my manuscript will be rejected many times over. This will be due, in part, to the fact that my novel isn’t good enough for some publishers and partly because there is just far too much competition out there. I can’t do a lot about this but what I can do is ensure that I have written it to the best of my ability. Beyond that it is in the hands of others to decide whether my book gets published or not. But I will not let this deter me. I will not be deterred because I am determined to do the things that are important to me. I believe I am just as deserving of success as anyone else is. When rejection comes my way in the future I’m sure it will hurt, it’s never going to feel good to be informed that I haven’t been successful (this time) but I will not allow myself to be defined by it.
As always, I leave you with a quote from one of my favourite spiritual masters, Thich Nhat Hanh,
As long as we’re rejecting ourselves and causing harm to our bodies and mind, there is no point in talking about loving and accepting others.
I hope you’ve taken some positive messages away from my blog today. Feel free to share it with others. Thanks for your support.