We all have to deal with rejection in some form or other and probably many times during the span of our respective lives. In fact, in my case, any period of unconditional love and appreciation bestowed upon me was short-lived unfortunately – I just experienced this “being adored because I existed” outpouring of love and emotion, as far as I can remember, during the first three or four months of my life. Thereafter, everything seemed to “go south”.
In a child’s early school days, being part of a team and belonging from a value-add perspective are really important ingredients of socialisation and development, however, I was always one of the last to be picked for the team. I loved soccer, but couldn’t play the game. Somehow, I could vividly picture the shot that needed to be executed, but the ball and foot coordination made any attempt look really pathetic. Someone would always shout out a rather choice, but unkind, comment following the wasted opportunity at scoring, like: “Mills, you reject!” There, they used the word!
I was a lanky and thin teenager – okay, let’s call it for what it was: a scrawny teenager! My body parts didn’t seem to fit together as an integrated whole. It was like a whole lot of spare body parts were retrieved from a scrapyard and assembled because “we have to make another human”. Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful for my life, but I didn’t dare look in the mirror. I didn’t want to frighten myself. I “disguised” the body by wearing purple and green bell-bottoms and paisley shirts (hip in those days) when I went out, which wasn’t very often for obvious reasons.
Tertiary education was really great for studying and doing well as I was not part of any social crowd. I had so much time on my hands and with no distractions, I could ace the exams. I soon, however, found out that life, itself, was the examination and that life was not going to leave me alone exclusively to become an academic or some kind of remote lighthouse keeper – life always catches up with you and you find that you are forced to deal with its complexities and nuances. If you don’t deal with the complexity well this time, you are faced with it again at a later stage. You thus might as well deal with the situation in totality up front and learn from it.
So, how do you deal with rejection? Where do you find the resilience to overcome feelings of unworthiness? Perhaps the following may help:
- Your uniqueness is your asset – being yourself (accepting yourself, acknowledging your weaknesses, utilising your strengths and gifts, living your life purposefully and with zest) is the authentic route and therein is the seat of your power. Your distinctiveness can be used to contribute in ways in which others can’t.
- See rejection for what it really is – rejection is not really, probably not even usually, a reflection on who you are, what you have accomplished, written or said. People get turned down for a variety of reasons that have nothing to do with merit. Rejection often just reflects the subjective opinion of the one who is doing the rejecting.
- Understand success probability percentages ahead of time – know what the chances are of a particular effort achieving the desired results. For example, studies on responses to resumes being sent for advertised jobs reveal a two percent response rate. So, not receiving a response is not a reflection on the quality of your resume, but rather a lack of professionalism in the recruiting profession.
- Know that you will feel some pain if you are rejected – a University of Michigan study of Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scans found that rejection actually activates the same parts of our brain as physical pain does. This suggests an evolutionary advantage to experiencing rejection as pain, according to Guy Winch, psychologist and author of Emotional First Aid: Healing Rejection, Guilt, Failure, and Other Everyday Hurts. “This phenomenon is a legacy of our hunter-gatherer past, when we lived in nomadic tribes,” Winch says. Back when a person couldn’t survive alone without their tribe, “rejection served as an early warning system that alerted us we were in danger of being ostracised—of being ‘voted off the island’.” It seems that over many generations, experiencing rejection as painful had a survival advantage and our brains became wired with this default response.
- Give yourself time to process your feelings – Dr Pam Garcy, psychologist and certified life coach, notes: “Accept the fact that you are a human being with emotions and allow time to feel what you are feeling. Allowing yourself to have your feelings leads them slowly to reduce in intensity”.
- View rejection as evidence that you are pushing the limits – Amy Morin, “13 Things that Mentally Strong People Don’t Do”, notes: “Mentally strong people know that rejection serves as proof that they’re living life to the fullest. They expect to be rejected sometimes and they’re not afraid to go for it, even when they suspect it may be a long shot. If you never get rejected, you may be living too far inside your comfort zone. You can’t be sure you’re pushing yourself to your limits until you get turned down every now and then. When you get rejected for a project, passed up for a job or turned down by a friend, you’ll know you’re putting yourself out there”.
- Shift your perspective – Carolyn Joyce, relationship expert, notes: “Our ability to see things as “changeable” can have a strong influence on how we deal with rejection”. She quotes Stanford researchers who found that a person’s basic beliefs about personality can contribute to whether they recover from or remain mired in the pain of rejection. Their studies apparently revealed that individuals who have ‘fixed mind-sets’ and see personality as more set in stone are more likely to blame themselves and their toxic personalities for rejection. On the other hand, individuals who have ‘growth mind-sets’ see their personalities as something that can be altered or developed. They are able to look at the rejection as an opportunity to grow and change.
Having to deal with feelings of rejection is part of life’s examination, but rejection can be an excellent teacher. The hurt can stay with you for a while and that’s okay, but it is important to find ways to resolve those feelings and not be limited by them. Rejection might be a part of your normal life experience, but it doesn’t define you as a person. You have lots to offer!