How to cope with rejection without it turning into self-hate
January 23, 2016 7:46 AM   Subscribe

I can cope with rejection when its a case of different priorities or whatever, but the really hard thing for me about rejection is how hierarchical it seems, that there are some people who are better and more valued than others, and rejection basically means you're less good than the person who has rejected you. Not always but as a kind of general trend. How can I cope with this?

I think I'm a worthwhile person and have lots of good qualities but then when I'm rejected it's like I'm actually wrong about myself, and not as good as I thought? So it ends up turning to self-hate as I struggle to understand why no one likes me as much as I hope. It's like I'm working out this puzzle and the solution is that I'm just not a very attractive or likable person. And then I feel like I need to improve but I'm so weakened by being rejected it feels impossible. I just want to know how its possible to cope with rejection?
posted by ninjablob to Human Relations (16 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The hierarchical view is not doing you any favours. It's also actually untrue. People do not have a certain intrinsic value that can be higher or lower; that's simply not a thing. So I think that if you can manage that, it would be good to let go of that idea.

Being rejected means that you and the other person are in some way incompatible. It does not say anything about you as a person; it says something about how well you and the other person match. It does most certainly not mean that you are 'less good' than the other person somehow. I have no idea what that even means.

You seem to have trouble with self esteem. It's probably not a surprising suggestion, but yeah. Therapy might very well be the ticket.
posted by Too-Ticky at 8:05 AM on January 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

You have to screen your contacts better. Lots of times people who had an abusive upbringing stay in abusive situations after they leave home, because it is their comfort zone. They recreate their abused lives via internal dialogues and strong seeming people they are attracted to. Some of us had very strong oldernsiblings and accepted a perpetual ancillary role. Just reevaluate why you accept a lesser role, or need affirmation from people who squash (reject,) you. Find the mindset that attracts you to people and situations that reject you. Learn to like and be comfortable with feeling equal, and happy or even, alone and worthwhile. Grant yourself proper human rights.

If you meet someone and you feel needy and edgy and you think they will ultimately reject you, smile within yourself and meet your inner kid, because that is who sets it up. Walk away and learn about that impulse, where it comes from, and don't function with it. Be a nice parent for yourself, it will take time to unmake that path you always take.
posted by Oyéah at 8:14 AM on January 23, 2016 [10 favorites]

It is impossible to be objectively "less good" than someone else as a person. It is possible to be a rare type of individual who does not fit into societal expectations as easily as others. But this says nothing about your intrinsic worth except what you tell yourself it does.
posted by quincunx at 8:21 AM on January 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

This is ego at its prime - comparing itself to others and coming up short, or coming up better and then gloating. And if you come up short, you must be the most undesirable person who ever was (which is also a form of ego), instead of just an average person. You're either The Best or The Worst.

The Rx is to develop a balanced view of yourself: you will be better than some people and less than others at any particular skill. If you can accept this then you won't be so distraught when someone shows up who is actually better than you at playing the fiddle or balancing spreadsheets or whatever. And when you find someone better than you, try to develop admiration for their skill rather than turning it around and making it a hurtful plebiscite on your person. And any time you get a reality check as to where your skills lie (say you're 60% great instead of 95% great) then it is useful feedback for actually becoming 95% great.

Also learn to love yourself with flaws. You can be an average painter or spreadsheet person and still be lovable. One has nothing to do with the other. I play a lot of sports and my favorite sport I absolutely suuuuuck at. Like I really suck. And I still show up and play because why not. And people still like me even though I miss the ball. (When I don't miss, they cheer because they know how hard I'm trying.) Try to develop that attitude with yourself. In life all we can do is try our best, and work at getting better.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:28 AM on January 23, 2016 [8 favorites]

It is about how you frame a situation. You don't know what a rejector is thinking, and to assume the person is rejecting you because you are deficient is just a guess. Sometimes the person is a user and sizes you up and thinks, "well, I can exploit another sucker" -- really, is this someone you want in your life?

Or, maybe the person has the same defeatist mindset, and see you as being out of their league, and they are just cutting you off at the pass. They see you as superior, but can't handle it.

Then there are people who are just cruel by nature. The rejection is a ruse. They want to make you feel bad. Maybe for kicks, or maybe upsetting you and having you self-focused serves their purpose because you have something they want.

The less you focus on yourself and your real and perceived flaws, the better you can be at watching other people, getting to know them, and making better assessments. No one is perfect, and that is something all of us have to deal with.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 8:33 AM on January 23, 2016 [5 favorites]

So from reading your previous questions, it seems pretty obvious that you are very down on yourself; you're unhappy about where you are and where your life is going (and no judgment - man, we've all been there!) and of course so every time you get rejected, you attribute it to being 'less than' the person who rejected you. It's like that old saying about how when the only tool you have is a hammer, you see everything around you as a nail. There are twelve billion reasons why any one person might reject another given person, but when you're feeling down about yourself, you're going to jump straight to I'M NOT GOOD ENOUGH as the most salient explanation.

That said, in answer to your direct question, "How do I cope with rejection?" I think that instead of imagining that there's one single hierarchy (clearly false) or that there are no hierarchies at all among people (also, in some ways, clearly false) it might be useful to you to imagine a sort of middle ground, in which there are multiple hierarchies, and the only one that should really matter to you is the one you've chosen to be on.

So, for example, I am a lady in my mid-thirties with no money and basically none of the usual markers of an established adult life (car, mortgage, retirement account) who is ambivalent about the possibility of having children. I'm also very smart (sez me), funny (sez me) adventurous, curious, passionate and deeply committed to my art. If I go on a date with someone who is looking for someone to get married and start a family with, and the next day that guy meets a lovely 26 year old teacher who's great with kids and cooks a mean chili, and he decides to date her instead of dating me, have I been rejected because I'm lower on some imagined hierarchy?

Well, yeah, I'm totally lower on the hierarchy of people who are choosing to live a different kind of life than the one I'want, but it seems dumb to throw a tantrum about losing a competition that I've made absolutely no effort to win. On the other hand, I totally could feel like I'd lost some competition if the next day, that guy goes on a date with another ambitious overeducated writer with strange life priorities who, like, is also way hotter and funnier than me and has recently published a bestselling novel. I would totally lose that competition, and I'd probably be really grumpy and sad about it for a while...but I would imagine it'd also be a little bit motivating and hard to be that bitter about, because, ya know, that lady won the imaginary competition, fair and square, and the only thing I can do about it is to try harder at living the kind of life I've chosen to live.

Obviously, nothing works out that neatly in real life. Everyone feels cruddy and pissed off after they get rejected! So normal. But also, I think insecurity & raging ego go hand in hand, and sometimes I can see that playing out in my emotional response - like, on the surface, I'm all, poor me, I'm so sad, I feel so bad about myself because I've been rejected but underneath there's like this raging tyrant who's bellowing HOW DARE THAT INFERIOR PERSON REJECT ME, THIS IS AN OUTRAGE, I DEMAND THAT ALL AROUND ME ACKNOWLEDGE MY INFINITE WORTH. And then it's like, okay, take a break, ego, sometimes people don't want to date you or hang out with you, you don't have to make a federal case out of it, you know? Take a deep breath, go for a walk, and wait for it to pass.
posted by pretentious illiterate at 8:52 AM on January 23, 2016 [25 favorites]

I think your view is skewed into an unnecessary binary. When viewing anything that requires a relationship it's important to remember it's .05% checklist. The Checklist is just the bare minimum of compatibility or threshold for being in a relationship with that person:

Sexual orientation
Views on career

Whatever is on that person's list AND on yours in reverse.

So it's possible that you both meet each other's checklist requirements.

Then there's the less quantifiable stuff. Is there a connection? Do you get each other's sense of humor? Are your other relationships deal-breakers?

People get to decide that for whatever reason, it doesn't work for them, and that's it. It's not rejecting you per se, it's just that it's not a fit for them and that's okay.

Do you ever reject anyone? Don't you think you should? Are you trying to fit a square peg into a round hole simply to be in a relationship? Be honest.

There's an entitlement in some of your asks, about jobs or relationships that says that as long as you're X, then it should all work out. Well X is just the beginning. Getting it right in relationships is tricky. That's why it's so hard for people to couple up and STAY coupled up. That's why people change jobs

I was 39 before I had a 'successful' relationship. Luckily we married and we're still together. None of that is a given.

So relax a bit. Yeah it sucks if you're into someone, and they're not into you in the same way. It's disappointing when they decide to move on. But you survive, and you find others.

The best thing you can do is to enjoy the fuck out of your own company. Do interesting things, hang out with interesting people, be awesome in your own right. Soon, you'll discover that not every Tom, Dick or Harry is right for you. You'll be pickier, and you'll feel better about letting someone go that isn't right for you. It's not rejection exactly, it's being selective.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:09 AM on January 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

rejection basically means you're less good than the person who has rejected you

This is objectively untrue. Rejection just means you aren't the best fit for each other. And that is regardless of what the rejecting person says or thinks, because you not fitting whatever criteria doesn't mean that there is anything wrong with you.

I mean, I'd probably reject George Clooney. Does that mean that George Clooney is less good than me? I could wish it but it wouldn't be true.

If a hospital said to me, "we've brought in the President of the United States to conduct your biopsy analysis," I'd say "No! I want a specialist lab technician!" But that doesn't mean the lab tech is somehow a better person than the POTUS.

Reassess your assumptions.
posted by zennie at 9:10 AM on January 23, 2016 [7 favorites]

rejection basically means you're less good than the person who has rejected you

This is simply not true. I've rejected some wonderful human beings that I was (and am) deeply impressed with - smart, caring, accomplished, handsome, funny people making a difference in their communities - that I simply wasn't attracted to or instinctively felt that we would be incompatible in some ways that are important to me. Or because I was scared.

You might be interested in this story about Jason Comely. After his wife left him, he realized that his fear of rejection was constraining his life. So he began to seek out rejection, on purpose. Some of the stuff he tried seems a little crazy to me - walking up to a stranger in a parking lot to ask for a ride across town. I don't recommend that. But the basic idea here, of gamifying rejection to make it less scary, seems to have worked for him.
posted by bunderful at 11:21 AM on January 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

To illustrate how misleading your hierarchy view is, look at the person at the absolute top of the hierarchy. Probably some Hollywood superstar.
That person has been rejected by other people.
Despite being everything you wish to be, that person has had to go through the whole process of being rejected, just like you.

There is no Get-Out-Of-Rejection card. For anyone.

If anything, it's how you deal with rejection that is where the wheat separates from the chaff. Rejection is not personal.
posted by anonymisc at 11:30 AM on January 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

ProTip: Every time someone (including your inner dialogue!) tries to tell you it's a binary/hierarchical/dualistic/This-or-That type world? IT'S LIES!

Lies, I tell you :))

I could go on and on about this. We're so conditioned! It makes us good little consumers who are easy to control on a mass level. But it's not true. In all the myriad ways this view is presented to us, it's not true.
posted by jbenben at 11:35 AM on January 23, 2016

I try to tell myself, "it's not rejection, it's redirection" -- meaning, there is something out there that IS perfect for you, you'd fit right in, and it would be easy... and this isn't it. What might look like rejection is actually the universe's way of not wasting your time.
posted by selfmedicating at 12:21 PM on January 23, 2016 [6 favorites]

Something that helped me was focusing on the people that weren't rejecting me; people that like me, enjoy my company and want to be around me. What I had been doing was spending so much time obsessing and having anxiety attacks based on assumptions I had about people I felt had rejected me, that I was neglecting the relationships with awesome people who likewise thought I was great.

Switching my focus did wonders for me. Now I have a great circle of friends that I feel comfortable and relaxed around because I know they want to be with me. And while I still can fall back into my old way of thinking from time to time, at this point if I meet someone who doesn't seem interested in hanging out with me, I feel really confident in being like - okay, seeya! and not having it shake my self-esteem.

Go find your people. They're out there.
posted by triggerfinger at 12:35 PM on January 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Something that helped me was focusing on the people that weren't rejecting me; people that like me, enjoy my company and want to be around me.

Triggerfinger has a good point here. The whole romance thing got a lot better for me after I found my people. Partly because I already had this excellent source of love, acceptance and friendship; partly because I had friends who would give me (when asked) their opinions and perspectives, which helped keep me from going all the way down some dark, sad mental paths.
posted by bunderful at 3:15 PM on January 23, 2016

This is your primate brain in full overdrive, trying to protect you and make you secure by figuring out your status in the group. These instincts can serve you well. They can motivate you to advance your career skills, earn more qualifications, strive to achieve to compete at a higher level. But they can also harm you if you take them as the objective source of truth about yourself. Just laugh a bit when you feel this way and know that it is your monkey brain trying to figure out its place in a tribal system that doesn't actually exist.
posted by deathpanels at 5:49 PM on January 23, 2016 [1 favorite]

there are some people who are better and more valued than others, and rejection basically means you're less good than the person who has rejected you

Well, there are are sorts of reasons someone might reject you. Maybe they are only attracted to people who are of a different gender than you, or want someone who doesn't drink at all/likes to go drinking on weekends, or are only dating people who are also vegetarians/people who like barbecue, or really want a partner who is into bridge tournaments/extreme sports.

Maybe you really do feel there is a hierarchy, and that vegetarians are better than people who barbecue every weekend or vice versa, or that one gender is objectively better than another, or that people who have some hobbies are superior to people with other hobbies.

If that's the case you should work on your own perceptions of others, and learn to stop seeing other people as needing to fit into a hierarchy. Learn to not rank people by their perceived worth.

If you don't feel some of those people are better than others, maybe they don't see you as better or worse than others either.
posted by yohko at 2:01 AM on January 25, 2016

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