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Ask the White Rabbit

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June/July 2012

Dear White Rabbit,

I recently was on the receiving end of being rejected by a friend. It took me 5 weeks to get over the feelings that this rejection brought up in me. It was a rough time and finally I came to the realisation that it had actually very little to do with the other person (who merely was the trigger) and mostly had to do with my own resolved issues. How can I resolve these feelings sooner?

I look forward to your reply - Dee.

Dear Dee,

Great that you were able to come to the realisation that your feelings about rejection had to do with your own unresolved issues, well done!

In order to enable you to resolve these feelings faster you will first need to change the way you perceive rejection. What is rejection and how does it translate itself into our lives?

Let's look at the meaning of the word 'rejection'. It comes from the Latin word 'rejectus' to throw away or to put aside or to send back. Other words that can be associated with rejection are discard, dropped, kept at a distance, barred, passed up, rebuffed, cast out, repelled, renounced, ostracised, excluded, eliminated, abandoned and jettisoned. All these words can evoke feelings of that range along a continuum from frustration, intense anger and resignation to despair.

The psychological consequences of rejection are loneliness, aggression, depression, feelings of insecurity and low self-esteem.

The psychologist Abraham Maslow said that 'the need for love and belongingness is a fundamental human motivation'. People need to have both stable and satisfying relationships, so rejection is a significant threat to this need. The majority of most human anxieties appear to reflect concerns over social exclusion. Being a member of a group is also important for our need to have a social identity. Our social identity and how we fit into our group is a key component of how we view our self-concept – who we are. The main purpose of self-esteem is to monitor our social relations and to detect social rejection.

In my opinion rejection is also about our perceived and/or real fear of abandonment. It is about being on the receiving end of the resulting loss that this abandonment brings. It is about losing a connection that we have with another person. This person represents something of value to us such as friendship or love. This value is important to us because it says something about us. It says that if we have friendship or are loved by another person then we are recognised as an object that is worthy of being a friend or being loved. Therefore when we are rejected we experience and perceive ourselves as being imperfect, worthless, useless or unsatisfactory.

Some of us are particularly sensitive to rejection. We can react to social rejection in different ways, depending on our temperaments (temperament is about the characteristics/traits of our personality that we are born with such as being introvert or extrovert). Here are 3 ways we can react to rejection:

The Anxious-Preoccupied Temperament: This personality type seeks high levels of approval and responsiveness from others. Their view of their world is less trusting and less positive. They believe that people are either totally good (idealisation) or totally bad (devaluation). They are constantly predicting and catastrophising the worst scenario that could happen to them in the future. They try and mind-read by assuming what others are thinking about them. This 'self-fulfilling prophecy' attitude often undermines their social relationships. They tend to make 'mountains out of molehills' by exaggerating the negatives and minimising the positives. They are highly self-critical and constantly put themselves down by blaming themselves for events or situations that are not totally their responsibility. They try and control their anxieties by becoming 'people-pleasers'. They constantly accommodate other people's needs to the detriment of addressing their own. This can lead to them becoming the proverbial 'doormat'.

The Dismissive-Avoidant Temperament: This personality type views themselves as self-sufficient and not needing close relationships. They avoid attachments. This avoidance is often triggered and informed by upsetting childhood memories that lead them to believe that their current situation is dangerous or unsafe to their emotional well-being and therefore should be avoided. They tend to suppress their feelings and deal with rejection by distancing themselves and adopting a 'dismissive attitude' towards others.

Fearful-Avoidant Temperament: This personality type has mixed feelings about close relationships. They desire them yet feel uncomfortable with emotional closeness. They often mistrust their partners yet view themselves as being unworthy of receiving love from their partners. Their emotional reasoning goes something like this – 'because I mistrust my partner I feel bad so I must be bad and therefore unworthy'. This mistrust is about making judgements about their partners. It often stems from upsetting and/or fearful childhood memories related to being separated or being on the receiving end of neglect from their caregiver. It stops them from examining the actual evidence in their current relationship. Because of the fear of loss this personality type will also suppress their feelings and will seek relationships that are superficial (less intimate) rather than those that are deep and meaningful.

So, how we react to rejection has got to do with how secure we perceive and feel about ourselves. Our self-perception includes our beliefs, our values and our attitudes. Our self-perception is formed and informed by how we related to our early caregivers. These self-perceptions affected our expectations of how we think and feel our world should be. The problem is that not all of us felt safe and secure growing up. Our self-perception and expectations got skewed because we were young. This happened because our cognitive faculties (ability to reason and make sense of our environment) were not yet fully developed. But the message it gave us about how we perceive ourselves made us feel diminished.

Here's a thought – others cannot affect us if we if we have a strong sense of self-worth and when we feel secure in our sense of self. How we achieve this is the challenge!

What we need to do is reconstruct our sense of self-worth so that we feel secure within our sense of self. We do this by first examining our belief, value and attitudinal perspectives as well as our expectations we have for ourselves and others. We then ask the question – how do these currently serve me? What is the pay-off and what is the cost of holding on to these perspectives instead of letting them go and experiencing a new-found sense of well-being and equanimity?

Finally, if rejection is a negative experience and validation a positive experience, then we need to ask ourselves – how can I now validate myself so as to improve and build my sense of self-worth?

There are many self-help books written on the subject of building up one's self-worth and self-esteem through validation techniques. Start reading and trying out these techniques, such as looking in the mirror and using positive self-affirmations; or the technique of 'SOS' that Change Matters is offering in our article called 5 Tips to End Suffering. All you need to do is write to us at changemattersinfo@gmail.com and request it.

I leave you with a thought-provoking 'prayer' written by Fritz Perls:

I do my thing and you do your thing.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations
And you are not in this world to live up to mine.
You are you and I am I,
And if by chance we find each other, it's beautiful.
If not, it can't be helped.

As Always

The White Rabbit

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