The Eighth Step to Radical Self-Care from a Trauma-Informed Survivor is learning techniques to navigate rejection.
“I really wish I was less of a thinking man and more of a fool not afraid of rejection.”
– Billy Joel
One of the hardest feelings for people to learn to navigate is feeling rejected. Rejection is one of the human experiences that begins and can be felt from birth. Studies done with infants decades ago demonstrated that something as simple as parental inattention can make a baby feel rejected and can impact their ability to bond throughout their life. Rejection has been one of biggest triggers of my recovery as a person with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD). Social media is an often stressful and complicated forum for me. Losing friends, being blocked by them, is normal and commonplace on social media, and that can feel a lot like rejection. This is especially true when I am ghosted and never learn why the rejection happened. People make mistakes. One of the signs of maturity in humans is our ability to clean up after ourselves when we make them. Another is to listen when others try to do the same. Social media takes away much of the possibility for conversation and healing to take place. When people mess up, they are simply rejected, ejected, and blocked, often in real life as in the virtual world. Which is wrong on every level. People deserve more than to be cast aside. When members of a community lose their ability to speak and love one another across times of difference, we all lose.
When I was six, my parents separated and during one weekend visitation with my dad, he kidnapped my sister and me. During those weeks and months, it felt like my mother rejected me. When we were finally back together, she had met someone new, and that furthered those feelings of parental rejection. When all contact with my dad and his family was cut off, it cemented the feelings that I was unwanted, unloved, and unlovable. Years of therapy later, I can name that my feelings in that time came because my needs were not being met, and that it was not my fault because I was the child who needed protection. But every time I am rejected in my adult life, the little girl inside of me still responds, and that has led to a multitude of hurt in a world where we are rejected often.
In You Are the Beloved: Daily Meditations for Spiritual Living, Henry Nouwen names the way rejection by others can easily lead to self-rejection, a condition that can follow us throughout our lives. “Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection. Success, popularity, and power can indeed present a great temptation, but their seductive quality often comes from the way they are part of the much larger temptation to self-rejection. When we have come to believe in the voices that call us worthless and unlovable, then success, popularity, and power are easily perceived as attractive solutions. The real trap, however, is self-rejection. As soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking, "Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody." ... [My dark side says,] I am no good... I deserve to be pushed aside, forgotten, rejected, and abandoned. Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the "Beloved." Being the Beloved constitutes the core truth of our existence.” If not addressed, people with C-PTSD can develop such a chronic fear of being abandoned by others that they can no longer bond with others in a healthy manner. This is called attachment disorder, and while it is commonly diagnosed in children, it is becoming increasingly common to name it in adult survivors. Rejection triggers shame and shame leads back to every place we have ever felt rejected, but especially to that place when we first experienced the trauma of deep rejection as a child. When that happens, it is critical to find ways to walk back the feelings flooding our bodies. One technique that has helped me in those moments is called tapping and follows the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) which was created by a therapist in the 1950’s. Gary Craig followed ancient medicine and acupuncture techniques to map a series of points on our bodies that can help us relax and recover from the negative self-talk that rejection (shame) triggers. It allows us to feel the energy in our own bodies and move back toward a place of wholeness where we can move on from whatever triggered the physiological and emotional response. On their new television show speaking of mental illness Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex revealed to Oprah Winfrey that he used tapping as part of EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) to help him process the trauma and traumatic images of his mother’s death. Other well-known people, including his stepmother, use the method to navigate fear of flying and other intense emotional responses. Tapping helped me and it has helped others, but it might not be the tool you need. In that case, finding a different tool or therapy can help you overcome the deep hurt experienced through rejection. In the meantime, one of the critical steps of learning to live with rejection is learning to stop chasing after people who reject you. Even if you made a mistake, even if the rejection was predicated by your own words or actions, let people go. Too often we get stuck in a cycle of believing that every person we meet is someone who will be in our lives forever, then feeling hurt when they leave, only to chase them down and feel the hurt of rejection all over again. People come in and then back out of our lives, and it is critical to let those who want to ghost you and walk away leave. Take the time to process the rejection and to set that aside, focusing on the ways the person was important in your life for a time and cementing the memories of the good over the bad end of the relationship.
That does not mean it doesn’t hurt – it does, and it might continue to hurt for a bit. Hurting should not be feared because it is often how we move to the next plane of healing and recovery.
“Your suffering needs to be respected. Don't try to ignore the hurt, because it is real,” says Bryant McGill before continuing. “Just let the hurt soften you instead of hardening you. Let the hurt open you instead of closing you. Let the hurt send you looking for those who will accept you instead of hiding from those who reject you.”
And if you were ghosted on social media or in real life?
As you continue to focus on positive self-talk to navigate your hurt, remember that this is really not even about you or anything you might have done. In the end, experiencing the rejection of ghosting is about the other person. Lacking the maturity to actually ask a complicated question or to have a difficult conversation, they perform the adult equivalent of sticking their fingers in their ears and chanting -la-la-la. They are still just as obvious as Clifford the Big Red Dog hiding behind a tree, but they walk away thinking their leave-taking went unnoticed. Hold your head up and wave good-bye to their back as they slink away.
Navigating rejection is not easy. It is more of a hike up the side of Pike’s Peak than a stroll through Central Park, but it can happen. We all need people and support. Everybody hurts when they feel rejected, but it doesn’t mean you do not matter.
You matter. Even when you mess up, even when you make a mistake, even when you do nothing wrong but blame yourself for the wrongs others do, you matter. You are loved, and even during recovery from trauma, you are Beloved. And you deserve to thrive.