We’ve all been through rejection. It is one of the worst injuries. Both literally and figuratively. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have discovered that rejection triggers the same type of response in the brain as physical pain. We all want to be part of a group and feel accepted by its members.
In our everyday lives, we are solicited from all sides and we cannot accept all invitations to join various groups, committees, activities. We make choices and reject what is not right for us. Unfortunately, when we are rejected, we very often tend to take it “personal.” And rejection means lower self-esteem. However, this fear of rejection is good: it serves as a barometer to measure the quality of our interactions and allows us to make adjustments.
Rejection, evil of the 21st century?
Much of depression is attributed to this sense of isolation, to the fact that one feels separate or excluded. 200 years ago, we were born, lived and died in the same village, in the same family. We were a life member of these groups. That is no longer the case today. The social safety net is increasingly spaced out. We now live in a society of extreme complexity and are exposed to new situations and new people on a daily basis. This increases our risk of experiencing rejection.
True or false rejection?
Because there are many situations conducive to rejection, it is sometimes wrongly concluded that one has been rejected. It is therefore healthy to properly assess the situation before reacting. There are, of course, obvious cases of rejection. The scapegoat is the most obvious example. However, the perceived coldness of a person or group towards us may simply be a form of distrust or caution towards us, the newcomer. It can also be indifference or distraction.
The fear that paralyzes
The problem is that for some hypersensitive people, it is very difficult to tell the difference. For them, the fear of rejection is a huge problem. Their “social barometer” is not working properly and they are constantly receiving alert messages indicating that they are being rejected. They come to live in anticipation of rejection. They constantly adjust their behaviour, overdo it. They create a certain antipathy and have difficulty integrating into a group. And they end up attracting exactly what they fear most: rejection.
This disorder, or this misreading of the signals, testifies to a deep wound, which always comes from childhood. With time and repeated failures, one ends up isolating oneself in order to avoid rejection.
Another typical trait of the person who always feels rejected is rumination. She will pass and review the film hundreds of times of what happened, detecting rejection in every detail. Instead of trying to set the record straight or take action, she is paralyzed by a sense of helplessness and anger.
One of the most high-profile causes in recent years is the rejection of bullied children at school. Often shy and obliterated, these children serve as scapegoats and suffer serious, sometimes irreversible, emotional injuries. They will often develop a lifelong tendency to depression, will always feel separate, different and rejected. That is why it is imperative, as an adult, to intervene immediately if we believe that our child is being bullied or instigating it.
Taking back the power that belongs to us
To be afraid of rejection is to be passive and to expect from others a sign, an opening. It means giving undue importance to the opinions of others and to estimating oneself according to the way others look at us. It means, at the end of the day, being at the mercy of others, being their victim. So we understand that to change things, you have to take back control and give yourself back power.
It’s also about taking responsibility. To be in a relationship is to be actively involved in an exchange with the other. It is to speak honestly and listen carefully to avoid misunderstandings and the return to the vicious circle of self-pity and rejection. Being in a relationship requires an investment of self and work. There’s little room for passivity.
You also have to learn to exist without the gaze of the other. And that requires a good self-knowledge. We must learn to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, to accept each other as we are. Fear of rejection and self-esteem are intimately linked. Overcoming the fear of rejection is therefore a long and profound process.
In the couple
Needless to say, the fear of rejection can be a huge obstacle to the development of romantic relationships. And when a relationship is established, the dynamics can be destabilizing for the person with healthy self-esteem. The slightest delay, the slightest comment is interpreted as rejection. The partner who feels rejected constantly needs to be reassured about the feelings of the other. It is not easy. And the attitude to follow is not simple. We must at the same time reassure our partner about his ability to be loved by us and others without falling into complacency. Doing too much in order to calm the doubt reinforces the behavior of our partner and places him in a situation of dependence on us.