Rejection. No matter what form it comes in, it always hurts.
Big or small, we’re all familiar with the very uncomfortable feeling that pops up when we feel left out, ostracised or ignored. At times, the simple act of having to wait for someone to reply to a text can be enough to spark the feeling of rejection, and before we know it we’re anxiously pressing the home button on our phones to see if they’ve replied. And then there are the blatant displays of rejection – like being told by your partner that they don’t love you anymore, or falling out with a friend and finding yourself ostracised from the group.
Rejection leads to really strong physical sensations in our bodies, we can really sense it when it’s there – the tightening of our throats, the contracting of our stomachs, the tensing of our bodies. It also leads to really strong urges (like grovelling or begging), which occasionally lead us to sacrifice our self-respect; especially if we’re enticed by the belief that following these urges will reverse the reality of being rejected. This means that when we are in the clutches of ‘rejection’, we often tolerate things from others or act in ways that we’d prefer not to…
So why is rejection so painful? Well, you can thank evolution for that one. Rejection is actually an extremely effective survival instinct. As human beings, our number one priority is survival. Take Grug the caveman as an example. Grug, is much more likely to be eaten by a sabre-toothed tiger if he wanders off alone. But if he’s in his pack, he’s much more difficult to catch, so he does whatever he can to avoid isolation or rejection from the group, in order to stay safe. Hence the intensity of your urges and the potency of those physical sensations, they’re trying to keep you alive!
But these reactions aren’t so helpful in modern society. We aren’t defending ourselves from wild beasts anymore, so emotions such as rejection don’t make as much sense to us, often leading us to feel confused about their presence, intensity or function. This can result in us trying to control the emotion, by pushing it away or getting rid of it by doing what the emotion wants us to do, even if it doesn’t lead to an effective outcome.
So, how can we deal with rejection effectively when it invariably shows up?
Here are three simple steps:
1. Be curious about your emotion. Try to describe it non-judgementally. Work out why it’s there - ask yourself, “What is it trying to do for me?” Emotions aren’t cruel; they’re just desperate to keep you alive. So reframing the experience of this emotion is really important. How much easier is it to tolerate your feelings of rejection when you say to yourself, “Oh, so the reason why I am feeling so uncomfortable is because my emotions really care about me”? This is a far better approach than getting caught up with “Why do I feel so awful, I can’t stand this!” If you think like this, chances are that you won’t believe that you can cope, when in fact you most definitely can (if you are reading this then you’ve already undeniably survived a difficult emotion in your time!).
2. Embrace the emotion. Emotions are persistent when you mess with them, so the more you try to fight with them or push them away, the more persistent they become. Fighting with an emotion rarely makes it go away; in fact, it usually makes it worse. Instead, practice accepting your emotions, just allowing them to be there. If they feel really uncomfortable, take some long deep breaths, and tell yourself that it’s going to be ok. The more you allow your emotion to be there, the sooner they usually pass. While emotions are persistent, they’re also a bit flaky. They tend to move on unless something keeps reactivating them. Notice if you are doing something that is perpetuating your emotions like flicking through old pictures or stalking your ex on social media.
3. Breathe into it and remind yourself that it’s ok to have emotions, that they always pass, and that you can cope with them.
You can use these skills with any emotion, not just the feeling of rejection. Allow yourself to practice with more easily tolerated emotions.
So the three simple steps to remember are…
Step One: Be curious about the emotion, notice it non-judgementally describe the emotion as it is and see the survival function of it.
Step Two: Embrace the emotion, allow it to be there. Don’t fight with it or struggle with it, just create space – you are bigger than your emotion. An emotion is just a small part of you.
Step Three: Breathe into and around the emotion. Remind yourself that emotions are natural, that they always pass, and that you can cope with them.
If you stop to do this before sending 10 grovelling messages to your ex – I’m pretty sure you’ll get a better outcome (for everyone involved).
May you keep happiness in sight x