If you’ve spent any time at all in the dating game, you’ve likely rejected someone, and been rejected. Whether the rejection occurs within a few moments of meeting someone, or weeks, months, or years later, all of us feel a momentary sense of loss. Divorce, a breakup, getting fired or laid off at work, experiencing “cold shoulders” from family, bullying, and betrayal are all forms of rejection.
The work I do with people is based on the assumption that everyone can find their place in the world. Although each of us has an individual responsibility to do so, no one need be left behind. But part of finding our way is understanding just what happens when we’re rejected. Too often, people want to rush through the unpleasant feelings of loss and rejection and go back to feeling good. The best way out of these feelings is through them, which means to feel them completely before moving on.
A lot of research on rejection has been done recently in the realm of social psychology, and there is even a documentary that looks at rejection’s increasingly clear connection to bullying and violence. What we know is that the feelings of rejection are distinctly related to physical pain. People experience the feelings in different ways, but in most cases it’s a visceral reaction. By understanding what is happening, you can exercise control over your responses, which means being able to act more skillfully, and less impulsively, in the situation.
Interoception is the art of becoming aware of your body’s subtle feelings, and being able to interpret those messages. Where does it hurt when you get rejected? Do you feel it in the face, in the gut, in the forehead, in the heart? Let yourself feel it, and name the place on the body where the pain is strongest. Remind yourself that, although the pain may be visceral, your body is going to be OK. It may be just as real as physical pain, but it won’t injure you.
Now, on your next inhale, breathe into that part of the body. Imagine, as you breathe in, the air filling that part of the body where it hurts. Your belly should be expanding on the inhale as you’re visualizing the air filling the part of the body that hurts. On the exhale, try to feel the air exiting your body through a hole at the top of your head, and with it, the pain of rejection. Now check in with yourself again. Has the quality, intensity, or location of the pain changed?
“Don’t rush things”
Success in life, whether in business or in your social life, depends on finding your footing — being able to bounce back into the game after the sting of loss or rejection. I’m a big believer in a person taking all the time they need to recover from a loss. But the biggest way people get stuck is not to feel their feelings after a loss. Fully feeling your emotions as soon as you have the awareness and discipline to do so isn’t rushing things, it’s allowing your feelings to flow freely. And you may find, after doing this, that you might need less recovery time than you’d originally thought.
Next week I’ll address some of the social issues around rejection, and what people really mean when they say “Don’t take it personally.”
And for that documentary on rejection, here’s the trailer: