(And how to overcome it.)
As social beings we all want to feel a sense of belonging in the world. Beyond food and water, and other basic needs to survive, we need belonging in order to thrive. So when we are told that we don’t belong, whether in work, a social group, or someone’s heart, our very sense of self can be shaken to the core.
We all react differently to rejection.
When it comes to matters of the heart, some are able to easily brush it off and move on, simply having a higher tolerance for emotional pain; or they may be so defended and out of touch with their emotions, that they are unable to form intimate connections in the first place.
For the rest of us, rejection burns like an open wound, but the root of our pain usually runs deeper than the present situation.
For those who have experienced a great amount of loss and emotional pain throughout their lives, being rejected by someone we trust and care about can feel as excruciating as the very first time, whether rejected by a parent who abandoned us, or a first love who broke our heart.
Like most emotional reactions, there's a chance that we're not necessarily reacting to the current circumstance, but rather to the original source.
This accounts for the inexplicable pain we feel after the ending of a seemingly insignificant relationship, as we are suddenly again experiencing feelings that we have spent our whole lives trying to bury.
Although quite common across cultures and genders, women especially struggle with what psychologists refer to as the Impostor Phenomenon — feeling like a fraud who is going to be 'found out' at any moment.
Regardless of accomplishments or accolades, deep down in the core of those who experience this, are feelings of inadequacy, or not being good enough, loveable enough, or simply not being enough, and a fear of this being revealed. A friend of mine described it perfectly when her fiancé left her:
"My dream come true had turned into my biggest nightmare: finally opening up and showing myself fully to the man I loved, only to be told he didn’t like what he saw. All my years of avoiding closeness and intimacy for fear of that love not being returned was now actually happening; like finally getting on a plane after conquering my fear of flying, and the plane actually going down! Every negative thought, insecurity or seed of doubt ever planted in my mind about myself and my ability to love and be loved was now being validated."
To her, she had been 'found out'. Although the Impostor Phenomenon and other forms of insecurity and self-doubt are usually based on irrational, false beliefs, when we are rejected, these beliefs can feel very real, and very painful.
Rejection in life is inevitable, and we will all experience it at some point or another. So how do we cope when it happens? Below are five ways to start:
1. Defer to those who know and love you.
At the moment of rejection, it’s not uncommon for feelings of self-doubt or worthlessness to kick in and become re-activated. Although, intellectually, you know that these beliefs are BS, the pangs in your heart tell you otherwise.
This is when it's important to be around those who love and care about you; the ones who will remind you, when you forget, that "it was their loss" and "they didn't deserve you anyway!"
You may not be able to take that in right away but the reminder will be there when you need it.
2. Remember that nothing is permanent and that this too shall pass.
One of the blessings, and curses, of life is that everything is impermanent. This includes painful emotions like sadness and grief, as well as relationships, and even ourselves.
Endings still suck, especially when you're not the one who wanted it. It's a blow to your pride and your sense of self. Just don’t allow it to be a blow to your ability to love again. Just because it happened before does not mean it will happen again. When it hurts, just remind yourself that this too shall pass.
And it will.
3. It’s most likely not about him/her.
Remember that pain in the present moment may not really be about the present circumstance or about the person that seems to be evoking these feelings. More likely, they are a reaction to our sensory memories of the original wound. The reality is you will likely be over the rejecter sooner than you realize.
Remind yourself of past hurts that you eventually got over. Those moments you told yourself, "I can’t believe I cried over that jerk!". Chances are, you’ll eventually be saying the same about this one.
4. Where there is pain, there was love.
In my recent article on break-ups, Break-up to Breakthrough: The Healing Power of Heartache, I discuss David Kessler’s work on grief, whether through death, divorce, breakups or other types of loss.
By re-framing and recognizing that "where there is grief there was love", we are reminded of our strength, and the beauty of our hearts. The ability to love is not afforded to everyone, so if you were able to experience it even once, consider yourself lucky.
You are likely to experience it again. Let the pain be a reminder that yours is a beautiful soul.
5. Remember: they did you a favor!
Being with someone who doesn’t want you is painfully lonely, and can eat away at your self-worth. The constant reminder of not being wanted, or loved, will only perpetuate any feelings of inadequacy you may already be harboring.
If they don’t want you, why would you want to be with them? By showing you the door, they are showing you themselves, so thank them for that.
6. If all else fails, there’s always Ben and Jerry’s.
Let’s face it. Sometimes life sucks. When we don’t get what we want, we hurt, and we'll do anything to feel better, even if for a moment. With the exception of self-destructive behaviors, there are times when it's okay to allow ourselves the pleasures we would normally avoid.
These are the little things that make us feel good, like that pint of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream, or the pair of shoes we’ve been putting off buying. It’s okay to indulge once in a while, especially during difficult times.
As long as we eventually get back up, put on our big girl pants (or big boy pants) and go back out there and resume kicking ass in the world!
Allison Abrams is a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and a mindfulness specialist with the NY division of Leading Minds Executive Coaching. If you are an individual interested in learning how therapy can help you achieve your goals, contact Allison at GoodTherapy.org. If you work for an organization that can benefit from executive coaching and mindfulness, contact Leading Minds Executive Coaching.