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Rejection: Why you feel it and how to handle it.

99% of feedback can be positive but it will be the 1% of criticism that we remember, that makes us feel sore. Mostly when we feel they are criticising who we are. Ultimately we are reading the situation as though we have been rejected from our ‘in-group’. Thousands of years ago, for our ancestors, this feeling of un-acceptance, even shame, could have meant ejection from the tribe. Therefore, rejection has a survival function. However, in modern society there are so many standards to live up to, not to mention the artificially created bars set on social media, life can feel like a never ending failures or ‘not quite good enoughs’.

The feeling comes long before our rationale can kick in. It’s visceral, we can literally feel it in the body. Think about the last time you felt you’d committed a faux-pas; did you feel light-headed? Did your stomach plummet or gut twist? You don’t have time to remember that this might be your partner or sibling who loves you dearly, or that this isn’t the only community of which you are a member. The body senses a danger and this threat response is it’s way of saying “Hey! Do something different!”.

The good news is we CAN control the next step. Are you familiar with the phrase: “You are not responsible for the first thought, but you are responsible for the second”? Let me be clear, the goal is not about eradicating this response from our human experience. It’s not even about turning a blind eye and ignoring the ‘haters’. Remember, a dose of caring what people think about you is actually not a bad thing; it keeps us in somewhat in check and helps us to function in society which is really important for wellbeing. Rather, what we need to learn is how to manage this reaction so the next time you perceive you’re being rejected, you are quicker at putting the breaks on and getting some perspective.

So how can we go about this? We can start by asking ourselves and honestly answering some questions. Essentially, what these questions are going to do are help you to uncover your negative core beliefs. You’ll hear these sort of beliefs get talked about a lot in therapy and don’t worry, it’s totally normally to have a few of these lurking and threaded through our life scripts. There are many many routes to uncovering your negative core beliefs and it is often helpful to embark on this investigation with the help of a professional who can help navigate the terrain of your emotional landscape. For the sake of this article it is suffice to say many roads (our thoughts and behaviours) started in negative core beliefs.

The thing is, not only can negative core beliefs make you think unhappy thoughts and be unkind to yourself, they can also make your life very restricted. This is because what we often do is develop all sorts of rules and guidelines to ensure we never ‘mess up’ or ‘fall short’ again. These elaborate codes of conduct are constructed to protect us from ever feeling ‘not good enough’ ever again. Clever brain. Just as long as you are ALWAYS perfect, or ALWAYS helpful or ALWAYS …(fill in the blank) we don’t ever have to feel crummy about ourselves ever again!

Do you spot the flaw? Of course, none of this behaviour is sustainable, not in the long-term and if you are running around trying to maintain this structure it will come at a cost of your wellbeing in other areas of your life. And what happens when eventually, exhausted, we DO fall short of perfection? Well it simply reaffirms that negative core belief all over again.

So, lets get to the questions. Try to recall a recent episode where you perceived that you had been rejected in some way. Perhaps a colleague gave an honest critique of your work, or your friend turned down your restaurant suggestion (it doesn’t have to be big! Part of growing our awareness is recognising how these small slights can add up). Once you have something in mind, take a step back as though you were watching the scene play out on a stage. What is the narrator saying? What is the story you are telling yourself?

Now go a little deeper and ask, how old is this story? Where has it come from? How old were you when you first heard this story? And if you are really ready to start doing the hard work, can you check and see if this is even your story?! Or is it someone else’s that has been projected onto you, inherited or implanted?

Once you have a clear perspective of the story, it becomes a lot easier to recognise when your are slipping into the narrative again. What was once unconscious shaming of the self becomes a very conscious observation. It takes time and practice but you will become able to catch yourself and observe. It can help to imagine a new commentary for what’s going on, have a go at calling it out. This might sound something like “oh, here I go again slipping into my mum’s narrative that I am lazy if I am not busy all the time!”.

This acknowledgement is the first step for change. The next step is then your choice, whether to accept this narrative today OR to do something different, thereby breaking the cycle. Using the same example this might sound like “hmmm, well I am pretty tired and I know if I don’t rest soon I will be running on fumes. I think I would actually be more productive tomorrow if I take some time to re-charge now. Sometimes, being productive looks like resting too!”.

Of course, it’s not a one-and-done job and we’re bound to trip up and go backwards sometimes. But with consistent effort you can be amazed to literally watch yourself choose to step out of old cycles. Some tools to help you spot these patterns are regular journaling, making quiet time for reflection and of course, working with a counsellor who may be able to see patterns in your blind spot.

"Rejection is not fatal. It is merely someone's opinion"

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