How to Be Kind to Yourself in the Face of Rejection
Rejection is one of the most painful experiences we endure as humans. Recent research has shown that experiencing social rejection fires up the same neural pathways in the brain as physical pain (you can hear more about this in my interviews with Dr Guy Winch and Dr Joel Wade on the Becoming Who You Are podcast).This means that although the times when we feel most rejected are the times when it can be hardest to experience self-kindness, the times when we feel most rejected are the times when we most need self-kindness.In this post, I'm going to share some of the things that hinder self-kindness in the face of rejection and how we can be kind to ourselves when we have a rejection experience (spoiler alert: trying to avoid rejection is not the answer, although many of us—myself included—still try anyway!)[Tweet "If you're avoiding rejection, you're not truly living."]
Why is self-kindness in the face of rejection so hard?
Because it's a refusal of acceptance and belonging. We are social animals, we need a solid and stable community of people around us to feel secure, and we are born hardwired to at least partially base our perception of ourselves on the feedback we receive from the people around us.That means that when someone rejects us, whether it's in conversation, for a date, for a job, or otherwise, our place in this world is momentarily called into question. We are being cast out or refused acceptance to the tribe. Ancestrally and in childhood, that meant death... so it's a big deal.While the nomadic tribal days of our ancestors are over and we're all grown up and capable of fending for ourselves, rejection still poses a big threat; it can lead to shame and all the feelings that come with that: frustration, anger, and pain (quite literally, remember).As Brené Brown writes in her book, I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn't): '...There's new brain research that is helping us understand that shame can be so threatening that, rather than processing it in the neocortex—the advanced part of the brain that allows us to think, analyze and react—shame can signal our brains to go into our very primal "fight, flight or freeze" mode. In this mode, the neocortex is bypassed and our access to advanced, rational, calm thinking and processing of emotion all but disappears. The primitive part of the brain springs into action and that's when we find ourselves becoming aggressive, wanting to run and hide or feeling paralyzed; sometimes, without any clue as to why.' Most of us respond to rejection in one of three ways:1. We assume the person, people or organisation rejecting us are correct and that there is something deficient or inherently wrong with us.2. We assume the person, people, or organisation rejecting us are idiots and we focus on this fact as a way of avoiding feeling the incredibly uncomfortable feelings rejection can provoke.3. We accept it sucks but, you know, stiff British upper lip and all that so let's not cry over spilt milk.None of these approaches are based in self-kindness.But what if other people are right and there really is something wrong with us?Just because someone else makes a judgement about us, it doesn't mean that they're right. Even if there is an element of truth in what they're saying, I guarantee you that there is nothing "wrong" with you that you can't work with, change, or learn to accept.But what if I get stuck? No one likes a dweller; isn't onwards and upwards the best approach?There's a difference between acknowledging and allowing yourself to feel the pain associated with rejection and launching into full-on dwell mode. We don't want to pitch our tents in victimhood, but we need to be able to accept what we're feeling to be able to move forward.But if there's nothing inherently wrong with me yet someone has rejected me, then why wouldn't I think they're an idiot?A rejection is a refusal and refusals happen for a lot of reasons. When we unpack an automatic assumption that there's something wrong with someone who doesn't want what we have to offer, often what we find underneath is masked hurt or fear. If we stay in a place of blame or judgement, we're not allowing ourselves to feel our authentic experience, and we risk forming false beliefs about other people, even the world.
How to Be Kind to Yourself in the Face of Rejection
1. Prepare a list of ways you can be kind to yourself in the face of rejection in advance. Making kind decisions when we're feeling overwhelmed, lonely and ashamed is challenging. By creating a list of the kindest things you can do for yourself when you experience rejection, you give yourself a much better chance of self-kindness when the time comes.2. Zoom out and step away from meanings.What are the facts of the situation? When you take a step back and take the emotion out of this rejection, is there anything you can learn for the future?3. What would you tell a friend in this situation? Often, we are more able to offer kindness to other people in these situations because we're not so emotionally involved. What would you say to your best friend, and how can you apply this same compassion to yourself?4. Use the opportunity to practice empathy for self and others. What really hurts about this for you? What fears does it provoke? What could be going on for the other person in this situation? Give yourself a hug and acknowledge how hard this feels. Then...5. Celebrate the fact you went there.You got in the arena and, regardless of the outcome, deserve a massive applause for showing up and doing it.6. Remember that when someone rejects us, it means that no matter how much we might have wanted that relationship, partnership, or arrangement, it's not a good fit.As painful as it can be in the short-term, in the long run rejection is a form of kindness.Yep, you read that right: rejection is a form of kindness. When people refuse us, what they're doing is making room in our lives for people and situations that are a better fit.