For years I couldn’t understand what my issue was. Why in the world did I get so emotional and angry over certain situations and react with an internal reaction that became my own Hiroshima time and again? Things that some people would just shrug off became situations that would crush and devastate me.
One day a label for the issue came to me. Summed up in one neat little word, it was a messy package to unpack: Rejection. I had major rejection buttons, easily pushed and resulting in long-term effects whenever someone got to them. Rejection was playing a huge role in my life.
As I became aware of this issue in my life, and my responses to it, I started to become acutely aware of it in other people’s lives as well. I noticed that many of the situations that resulted in anger and annoyance, withdrawal and hurt, could actually be traced back to that one word: Rejection.
What does rejection look like?
Sometimes it’s blatant and there is no question that it has just taken place. Other times, it appears in more subtle forms…
It’s the cashier in the store who treats you like you’re stupid and a complete inconvenience.
It’s your husband not listening to what you’re really saying and then critiquing anything he does happen to catch.
It’s a person leaving a nasty comment on your blog because they don’t like something you’ve written.
It’s a Facebook status that passively-aggressively attacks you.
It’s the family member who you hear is talking badly about you, your husband, and your children behind your back.
It’s the woman who looks you up and down with a snotty look on her face, as if to say, “I wouldn’t dare look like that in public!”
It’s the teenager who screams at you, “I hate you! I wish you were dead!”
It’s being single at the age of thirty, wondering why no guy seems to want to make you his wife, and the person who talks to you oh-so-politely, but then lights up as soon as another person walks into the room and walks away, leaving your conversation hanging.
It comes in the form of a parent who left you for a new life when you were a teen, the spouse who had an affair with a co-worker, and the friend who stopped returning phone calls. It shows up in the snub at church, the backstab, and the missing invite to a wedding.
Whatever from rejection takes, it ussally hits our hearts with deep impact and can result in heart wounds that may take a long time to heal. Sadly, our reactions to rejection can be just as damaging as the initial rejection itself.
These initial reactions usually involve anger: “Gosh, what a witch she is!” we’ll say, “I’m better off without her in my life. Who needs a friend like that anyways!”
Some people with rejection issues belittle people constantly, finding fault with them and their lives. They always point out what is “wrong” with people, even, at times, confronting them on issues that don’t even really matter.
There are the people who respond to rejection by just being plain nasty. As soon as a rejection button gets pushed, their emotions are out of control. They are writing nasty things on their blogs about the people that hurt them, engaging in email wars, and blazing a trail with phone calls and letters about the person and situation at hand. Rejection raises the battle flag and woe to any bystanders that happen to get caught in the crossfire!
Still others attempt to control. They try to control people and circumstances in an effort to keep rejection from happening to them again. They control by being aggressive so that others are too afraid to be honest with them. They control by having to be involved in every possible situation, so they can ensure that no one is talking about them behind their backs. They try to control by emotionally punishing those around them.
And then, there are those of us that run away. We withdraw. We shut off our hearts. We convince ourselves that our personalities just prefer to be alone and that people annoy us. ”I’m an introvert. I need my space,” we tell ourselves and others. While some of that may be entirely true, we also use that introvert personality to avoid all social situations that could possibly bring about rejection. We hide in our safe cave at home and interact with others very rarely. No socializing means very little potential for rejection, and that is the safest way to live –- or so we think.
We usually respond to rejection with hate and anger. After all, isn’t anger much easier to deal with than actual hurt? Hurt makes your physical heart skip a beat and even produces a physical pain in your chest. Anger — that’s just safer to feel. We write the other person off as a jerk and the more people we can get to agree with us, the better we will feel about what that person did to us. The crazy thing is, often it’s major rejection issues in the other person that made them act the way they did in the first place. Their rejection caused them to do something to us, that resulted in our rejection. It’s a vicious cycle.
However, rejection carries many emotions with it besides anger: “Invalidation”, “unworthiness”, “unloveable”, “inadequate”, “unwanted”, “stupid”, “loser”, “can’t do anything right”, “always the one wrong” –- we can all insert our own things in there. Although we initially react with anger, the truth is that underneath the anger is a deep hurt. Rejection can cast a dark shadow on our day and make all of life feel very wrong. It’s a horrible feeling.
One of the things I’ve learned about this issue in my own life is to first recognize it for what it is. Too often in the past I would react in some of the ways I mentioned above out of anger instead of stopping to look at just exactly what was taking place.
For example, I would feel immediate anger about a comment left on my blog and then proceed to write about what was said, both defending myself and belittling the commenter, for days on end.
For real life rejections I would immediately go inside of myself and say, “People are jerks and I’m done with them! That’s it! I’m just keeping to my own little world!” And then I would stew over the situations for days on end. My emotions would be in an uproar, but I wouldn’t understand why.
Now, I’m able to define it. I’m able to say, “OK, that person’s comment pushed my rejection button and I feel hurt right now. I’m also experiencing those old failure, I’m-nothing-but-a-loser feelings as well.” Just defining exactly what I’m feeling instead of reacting with pure anger helps in some unexplained way.
I’m also learning to stop and ask myself, was that person treating me that way because they felt rejected themselves? Going back to the blog –- did they leave a nasty comment on mine because somehow, something I said made them feel as if I rejected a viewpoint they hold to?
Now, not everyone is nasty to us because we have unintentionally made them feel rejected. However, many times, in friendships, especially between women, the nastier a fight gets, the more rejection is probably being felt on both sides. The trouble is, again, that neither person can label their feelings as rejection. Instead, they just react with anger, which leads to actions that, in turn, lead to more feelings of rejection.
Defining the feeling of rejection and understanding the other person’s possible feelings of rejection can go far in diffusing the situations that result.
I have also learned, and continue to learn, to examine my unhealthy responses to being rejected. Going off on my blog about the person who hurt me usually just leads to more rejection in the end, as people “stop by” and defend the person that hurt me in the first place -– usually attacking me in the process. I am learning that silence and a refusal to take a person’s bait, no matter how badly I want to respond, is one of the best things I can do in an effort to protect myself from further rejection.
When we are rejected, as tempting as it is to lash out, attempt to control, withdraw, or hurt back, the healthiest thing we can do is acknowledge our rejection and then respond with the opposite reaction. Keep silent, relinquish all attempts at control, continue to engage people, and even pray for those that have hurt us.
Lastly, I have learned to embrace truth. Sometimes, no matter how cruel a person is, there will be a grain of truth in what they say to us and about us. As painful as it is, it is beneficial to examine what is true and what is not. If any truth exists, then it is up to us to acknowledge that truth to ourselves and to set about making it right in our lives. A feeling of confidence and well-being comes with the maturity of being able to admit when and where we are wrong, and doing something about it. The individual may have meant to hurt us, but what they did instead was help us become an even better person in the end.
For the other 90% of what a person has said that isn’t true, that is what we have to let go of and not rehash in our minds. Instead of focusing on the lies that their actions tend to raise in our hearts (those feelings of being unloveable, undersireable, etc.), we need to focus on truth, such as that we are worthy of being loved, we aren’t failures, and we are worth more than what that person has done to us.
It’s easy to let the lies take over, but it’s those lies that make the rejection button even more easily pushed. Building up our own self-worth is what will help us overcome rejection when it happens instead of responding in a way that sets us up for even more rejection. The way we build up our self-worth is to rehearse truth about ourselves, not lies.
I have come far in my journey of rejection issues, but I still have a ways to go. I don’t withdraw and hide for months on end anymore when I’m rejected, though I do still get hurt and want to run away. Other times I want to run at the mouth and try to defend myself, getting everyone to see my side of a situation. But I’m learning not to do any of these things. Instead, I’m learning to call it what it is, respond in a healthy way, and move on with my life.
Rejection is inevitable. How we respond to it, doesn’t have to be.