Saturday 22 July 2017

Rejection reframed

It's crucial to remember it's always a personal opinion and not a universal truth

Threats were issued by the dissident republican group, known as ONH, to the child and her two brothers last week (Stock photo)
Threats were issued by the dissident republican group, known as ONH, to the child and her two brothers last week (Stock photo)

Sometimes it's a letter starting with the words 'we regret to inform you'. Sometimes it's a text ending in 'take care'. Either way, the lurching feeling in the pit of the stomach is always the same.

While the peaks and troughs of life condition us to cope better with most adversities, rejection is one of those experiences that doesn't seem to get any easier.

The rejection letter from the HR department? Best to just tear it into a dozen pieces and throw it straight in the bin. The party you didn't get invited to? Best not discussed.

Because rejection has its roots in social approval - or lack thereof - shame is an inherent part of the process. When we feel cast out or cast off, we also feel unworthy and unwanted. Thus we have learned to keep the experience of rejection all to ourselves.

These feelings aren't just culture-borne, they're hardwired, explains psychologist C Nathan DeWall.

"Humans have a fundamental need to belong," he says. "Just as we have needs for food and water, we also have needs for positive and lasting relationships.

"This need is deeply rooted in our evolutionary history and has all sorts of consequences for modern psychological processes."

This is probably why not getting past the first round of a job interview can feel just as it did when you got picked last for the team during your school days. You might have matured in the intervening years, but unless you learn how to overcome rejection, it never really loses its sting.

Still, the process of overcoming rejection doesn't happen overnight, as Jia Jiang, author of Rejection Proof, discovered when he embarked upon a 100-day rejection experiment

Inspired by the Canadian entrepreneur Jason Comely who invented 'rejection therapy', Jiang decided to start putting himself into situations that confronted his life-long fear of rejection.

"You go out and look for rejection and every day get rejected by something, and then by the end, you desensitise yourself from the pain," he explains.

While the experiment taught the author to become bolder and braver, he also began to realise that "rejection is an experience that is up to you to define".

This is the trouble with rejection. We attach a narrative to it. We either over-generalise by concluding that we must be unhirable or undatable, or we over-analyse by agonising over the exact reason why we were overlooked.

Otherwise, we simply refuse to acknowledge it as a disappointment. Best to just pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. They didn't deserve you anyway...

Yet neither approach is particularly helpful. The former fosters an inferiority complex, the latter a superiority complex and, when it comes to the crunch, both paths lead the same way: towards a fear of getting rejected again.

If, however, we allow ourselves a chance to sit into the feeling for a moment and accept that it is traumatic and unsettling, then we have a better chance of dealing with the pain and learning from the setback.

During Jiang's experiment, he learned to always ask 'why?' after he was rejected. "Sometimes if you attack the why, meaning if you solved that why, you can actually turn a no into a yes," he explains.

He also learned that if you don't ask, you don't get. "By not even asking, we are rejecting ourselves by default - and probably missing out on opportunity as a result." The overarching lesson, however, was that rejection began to feel "less like the truth and more like an opinion".

Rejection comes in many guises - romantic, platonic, familial, professional - but it's crucial to remember that it is always a personal opinion, not a universal truth.

Likewise, it's important to remember that we can project our own insecurities on to the rejection. In these cases, it's more about the relationship you have with yourself than it is about your relationship with the person who has rejected you.

Notice too that rejection often happens in cycles. Sometimes it can take months to get a job or an apartment or a date. If you're in the midst of one of these cycles, it's worth asking if you are unconsciously anticipating rejection and thereby acting accordingly.

Jiang eventually found rejection easier, largely because he realised that it's irrational to derive one's self-worth from other people's opinions.

As self-development author Byron Katie says: "It's not your job to like me - it's mine."

Still, while we shouldn't be held captive by other people's opinions, we also shouldn't undermine the immediate impact of rejection.

People have a tendency to isolate themselves in the aftermath of rejection, even though social connection is proven to help them feel better. Make time for your nearest and dearest if you've just suffered from a rejection, and make sure to talk it out instead of bottling it up.

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