I recently came across this article on the American Psychology Association website that discussed the pain of rejection. In the article the author discussed research studies that have shown how painful rejection from certain groups and social classes are to people in general.
My response to the article is straight forward, rejection by itself is not painful. What makes rejection painful is our interpretations of rejection. If you are raised to believe that you must always be accepted by others, or that it is bad for others to reject you, then naturally you are going to experience emotional pain whenever you experience rejection because you believe something bad and terrible is happening to you.
What I have found with people who struggle with dealing with rejection is that they usually lack a healthy narrative regarding their sense of identity. Often, the worse the person’s fear of rejection is, the more scarce his or her sense of identity is.
So what do I mean by a sense of identity? A sense of identity can be described as a person’s concept of what beliefs and values he or she adheres to combined with his or her heritage. I have noticed that people who have a solid grasp of what their beliefs and values are have no issues accepting others rejection of them. People who don’t have a solid grasp or understanding of what their beliefs and values are, more likely to give into social pressure to conform to certain trends or fads.
The problem with societal trends, is that in other to fit into that particular group practicing the trend, you have to conform to certain attributes that are our of your control to change and are often based on vanity. So if you find yourself struggling to deal with rejection, there is a high likelihood that you have bought into an artificial narrative created by someones who did not have you in mind. You may have bought into this narrative because you admired the people who practiced the narrative, and there is nothing wrong with that, however in the absence of a solid sense of self, you find yourself dependent on others to define who you are. This is an impossible feat, because the only one who can define and accept you unconditionally is you. This means that in the absence of self acceptance is self rejection, and your experiences of rejection from others will only serve as a reminder of your rejection of self.
When we first come into the world, the first people we socialize with are our parents. Our parents and guardians are tasked with accepting us unconditionally, thereby role modeling for us unconditionally self acceptance, as you can imagine there are a number of things that could go wrong with this process. The reality is that parents who don’t have a strong and healthy sense of self, have very little to teach and pass on to their children in regards to the formation of a healthy identity. I have also noticed that parents who have not passed on a healthy narrative to their children, are often strong advocates for discouraging any and all types of rejection in society.
People who have been fortunate to have developed a healthy sense of identity in their younger years, their experiences of being rejected are not only few and far in between, but not painful. The reason for this is because of the phenomenon that there is someone for everyone. Even when faced as a minority in a certain environments, people who are genuinely accepting of themselves, often will establish relationships with like minded people.
For clients who have had little experience in living out a healthy narrative, I guide them through the formation of healthy narrative that embodies a dignified sense of identity. So what does a healthy narrative look like? In my next post I will discuss what a healthy narrative consists of.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and life coach.