The word “rejection” was first used in 1415. The original meaning was “to throw” or “to throw back.”
I’m thinking a lot about rejection lately and the roles I’ve played in it both as survivor and as executor. This fascination comes on the heels of a conversation I had a few days ago with a dear friend about why feelings from years-old, scarred-over rejections still sting as if just cut. And I can’t help but think to myself and to my friend, that well, it sucks to be rejected. These are deep, primal emotions. Fear of rejection exists in wolf packs, lion prides, fish schools, modern organizations, tribal societies and more. People and organisms, all of us have ancient need to fit in, to be liked, and to be included. Abraham Maslow, father of “humanistic psychology” which looks at the whole person rather than a “bag of symptoms” devoted his life’s work to the study of our need for inclusion. What is harder still to understand is the self-destructive behaviors some people engage in after rejection.
Why do we hurt so much after rejection? Well, I think that it’s because at one time or another with these people or entities, we were on the same team, the same page; and we’d developed a sense of kinship, simpatico and most importantly, trust.
If you’re rejected from something that doesn’t matter to you, it’s not really a rejection emotionally. It’s more like an inconvenient curiosity; you can brush it off – “it just didn’t work out.” So in order to allow true rejection, we have to allow a true relationship because you can’t have feelings of unlove without love. It’s almost impossible to not feel sadness about being rejected from someone we respected and felt safe with. We can’t be rejected by someone we consider an “un-friendly,” someone who made us feel excluded.
I started to look at the online dictionary of “rejection” and that led to a “rejection emotion” report on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Rejection_(emotion)&useskin=monobook which was easy to read (because I could relate to it, and honestly, who can’t?) and totally fascinating from a practical and psychological point of view. (Especially a part about how people with crushing self-esteem consider being asked to wait a form of rejection.)
As I have matured, I have been both the rejected and the rejector and I have to say, that regardless of the perspective, being in those situations is really, really hard. I can’t help but be reminded of what Carl Jung said about the truth of needing to look in the mirror, so to speak, when we have decided to be vexed by traits in others because we often possess those traits ourselves. That’s terrifically humbling.
The looking in the mirror always makes me think of a great line between Phoebe and Rachael on “Friends” when they were screaming at each other over a mutual inconvenience: “How could you be SO selfish?!” It was brilliantly played and the audience got it immediately. It doesn’t matter who says it; both people are selfish.
Other times, while Jung’s point applies, the fates are already set. One person doesn’t bother to have all the facts. The judgment had already been made and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it ‘cept put on your jacket and walk away.
In those situations, I recall (when considering a bad date, or other social situation where it just wasn’t going to work out) sometimes the offending act is simply a convenient ruse to (still) play the blame card and pull the (r)eject handle. I remember one date in particular: “No Sale” showed up on my eyes like in the old Bugs Bunny cartoons. I was out of order. And that was that. On the receiving end of that – ouch: when I encountered similar moments and have been the rejected one, no matter how hard I say, “aaaaah, da hellwid’em…” it’s next to impossible to ignore the sting that somehow, in a very specific way (that they will likely never stoop to dignify me with a reason), I have dissatisfied. I have made that person’s ability to dislike me apparent. If I’m a stone I will move on with nary a thought but because I am not a stone, I sit and ruminate and get pissed.
I have another great friend who insists these rejections aren’t personal. They’re not about me. They’re about the shallowness of the other person (and this is meant as an objective observation, not trash-talking about the other person, because believe me, as much as I want to “go there,” by denigrating the person who rejects me, in the long run, if I ridicule that person, what the hell does that make me for feeling bad about being rejected? A person rejected by someone I consider a loser now. Nope, that doesn’t work… talk about a Catch-22).
Hashing things out, sitting, listening, hearing and exchanging requires depth, maturity, patience, empathy and a true interest in progress. Some people simply ain’t got that kind of energy. And to be honest, if it isn’t a good fit, it’s OK but do it with tact, not personal empty useless barbs and hiding behind excuses or technology (I wince from the facebook stuff – it has allowed an entire class of those who may have felt inferior in their high school days to display their cliqués and coolness in their now-40s, or, what’s worse: continue living in the faded Glory Days of their smaller waistlines, softer skin, fragile egos and better eyesight). I’m all for having a good time, but not at someone else’s expense, and certainly broadcasting it is, well, sorta pathetic. As one of my great friends said, “Ain’t we all got gray pubes by now? Aren’t we too old for this shit?!” Very true and she always makes me laugh when she says it because we’re both absolutely exasperated by it all, especially the facebook stuff, when she does say it.
But back to the Catch-22 because it fascinates me: if we pine for the person who punts, but also puke on the punter while still pining… what does that make us? A sap. A pukey-smelling, sticky sap (I did say “pine” and what do pines do when they’re cut? They leak sticky sap). Mocking those who reject us is pretty human, I think. While it’s certainly not something Spock would do, it’s understandable but also completely reactive.
So where is the resolution? What do we do to wash away the feelings from rejection instead of skewering those who hurt us? I’m not sure, but I am thinking of another good friend I spoke to this week and I hope he’s reading: remember, as much as it burns and twists in our hearts, we do need to remember that the rejection is probably (99 and 44/100) completely incidental, that it reflects a core character flaw and true weakness in the other person’s ability to deal with some form of self-loathing. So rather than work on the problem and the pain of facing old truths, the person acts up and hands out the pink skip rather than be handed one.
Another interesting point is that often, the one who rejects has a posse. Ironically, rejectors have lots of friends. Or probably more like it, sycophants (probably because they are afraid of getting the boot so they kiss ass because statistically, someone will be next). I wonder if it’s because the rejector can’t bear to be alone – even in the midst of rejecting! I’m thinking back on my moments of rejecting others, people with whom I shared deep histories, and it usually happened when I was alone. Every time, it hurt like hell: admitting that something is harder to keep up than let run its course is another lesson in humility because we are admitting we’re not up for The Work. But for others, they’re like mob bosses – it’s all superficial, fast, explosive and they can’t do it alone, so they either bring people with them or they have a posse waiting outside.
Like “Gaston” in “Beauty and the Beast,” these people could be so insecure that they will persecute a person (who dares to disagree and who could also inspire self-reflection and growth) and have their entourage to affirm their obtuseness. The possibility of being alone with our feelings in the moment of rejecting is so repugnant to some that their lemmings must be on stand-by for high-fives. It’s a mystery.
Then there’s the whole argument about giving power, mental power and energy to the people who cut us to the quick, even years later. Jesus could turn the other cheek. It’s a nice model, but it’s not the easiest, although I try to live up to it.
As I also say occasionally, “I’d rather quit than be fired.”
But that’s just my leather jacket talking. The truth is: I’d rather work it out than destroy it. I’d rather agree to disagree than feel insecure every time I’m around those people and their posse, because I still remember what it was like to be the lonely girl on the playground.
Re-ject-SHUN. It hurts. If you’re on the other end of the barrel, try compromise and taking turns and if it simply can’t be fixed: take the high road and say your piece, be upfront, be decent, be mature and walk away with no one waiting. It’s best to be alone regardless of your position. It’s time to reflect and learn not high-five and grumble-grouse with the brown-nosers.