Reframing rejection, strategizing recovery and keeping it real
November 25, 2016 7:06 AM   Subscribe

I've taken multiple, significant hits recently in relationships, work and other areas. They are all forms of rejection, which I do not do well with regularly. To have so many land in a relatively brief time span has left me very wounded, betrayed, embarrassed, angry and insecure, with so much of my confidence eroded it's scary at times.

I've retreated from just about everyone, abandoned social media, and just work then go home. I don't want to invest one iota of myself into anything. I've backed out of several major events I had committed to because I can't handle the prospect of engaging with others and being reminded in any way of the things that happened. Also, in my current state, they will know I'm not "being myself" because normally I am the exact opposite of closed-off and superficially brittle (the way you are when you are faking it til you make it). Someone will call me on it, and I can't deal.

I'm occupying my time- not wallowing or brooding when I'm by myself. However I recognize I'm hiding and avoiding triggers, which can produce a false sense of equilibrium. One of these days I'll come face to face with something that pokes me right in the feels and the emotional dam I've built will burst. But I'm doing my best to control my environment to manage that risk. (Maybe if I hide long enough, the intensity of any reaction I may have will be less.)

I know conventional wisdom states that you can't live in fear, and if you don't take risks, etc. you're holding yourself back, blah blah. But I will never be good at the consequences of rejection. When I have given deeply of myself to significant people and situations (which is the only way I know how), it's always personal. It's not ever gotten better through repetition. So I know in a sense I am doomed to revisit these feelings. But I don't want life to beat me down. I don't want to be someone who stops caring. I also know that not everything will always go my way. Most of the time there is more of a balance, and there are successes mixed in which keep things steady. This time it just feels really, REALLY personal.

One voice says, "Wait it out- things will right themselves and this will pass. Stay true to yourself, because if you stop investing and putting all of yourself into your efforts, you'll actually decrease your chances of success because you'll stop being true to who you are."

Another voice says, "Seek moderation. Invest less. Care less. Stop going all in. Hedge your bets, so when things don't work out it won't hurt so much. Put more layers of protective detachment between you and your risks. Hold back."

Are you like me? What, if anything, helped you manage being like this?

My goal here is less about solutions for the immediate scenario and more about strategies for the long term. I'm over 40 (ahem) and I don't want the second half of my life to be wasted, whether it's 1) Because I adopt a more detached mentality and stay on the surface, or 2) Because I stay the way I am, inevitably putting me back into the rejection/recovery cycle because it's just the nature of the beast.
posted by I_Love_Bananas to Human Relations (6 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
My heart goes out to you. I'm so sorry you're having a tough time - rejection is a very difficult thing for most people. It's hard to have several line up at once.

You may never be "good" at rejection but seriously, who is? I think both of your voices have some truth - wait it out and take some time to heal. If on reflection you feel you may have given a lot where it wasn't fully appreciated, then it's okay to be more picky in the future. There's some middle ground. You can be careful about what you commit to and slow to do so, but fully commit once you do. (Assuming I've understood your quandary).

Short therm therapy might b helpful - a safe place to process all this. Good luck and hugs to you.
posted by bunderful at 7:21 AM on November 25, 2016 [2 favorites]

Can you let some water out of the dam while you are alone? Let yourself rant and cry and write angry things?
In my own life I have one area I used to care about vet deeply and when I got tired of the rejection I decided to pull back and wall myself off. That area is now a private pursuit for me.
In another area I keep persevering despite the failure and rejections. They have made me double down my efforts.
I only have so much emotional bandwidth, so I have to decide base on my values and then make a commitment to either disengage or stay engaged.
Hope this helps, sorry for your suffering.
posted by SyraCarol at 8:18 AM on November 25, 2016 [3 favorites]

You might try writing fiction and blogging to try to vent, sort your feelings and figure stuff out. Or journal if blogging is not your thing.

I like writing when others have crapped on me because I get to sort my feelings without dealing so much with them. If you try to hash it out with soneobe else, even a therapist, you have to still deal with a relationship to someone else. Instead, you need to deal with your relationship to yourself.

It is possible to stay you and also learn to better navigate the social landscape. How that happens is poorly suited to being summed up in a single answer. Expect it to take time. But I find it an enormous immediate relief to write instead of bottling it up, even though resolving it more deeply takes substantial time.

posted by Michele in California at 8:27 AM on November 25, 2016

Our brains are marvelous at marking events that are highly prioritized, either positively or negatively. Once you have a negative event, the powerful emotions created are physiological markers swirling around in your body. Your brain is busy protecting your being from this by reacting to the negative imagery and self-talk. It's a terribly reinforcing process which I think most if not all people are familiar with. Why can't I let go of a terrible memory or event, why does it persist in torturing me? The more you focus on it, the more synaptic pathways get created and reinforced with negative physiological markers, and the bigger the pathway becomes.
The Buddhists have their answers to this question, however, short of becoming a meditation master, in day to day life, these types of problems persist.
I think the way to repair this is to find ways to deconstruct the event in the brain and give it new markers that are less provoking. Associate it with positive statements where possible. Watch uplifting movies or comedies that divert the brain away from the sturm und drang inside.
When I find myself totally hijacked by some obsessive focus on an upsetting event memory, I visualize a bulldozer coming into the picture and bulldozing the entire visual stage, the whole visual of the event and pushing it into a memory hole, a deep one. Then I light it on fire and walk away.
Actually works.
posted by diode at 11:46 AM on November 25, 2016 [4 favorites]

The rejection/recovery cycle isn't bad, it is normal and human and it is fine to feel bad and hide away now and again. You may need to change your boundaries around what and where you take risks, but don't cut it out altogether.

That said, it sounds like you could use some better tools to work through it, because it's wearing you out. Brené Brown researches vulnerability and resilience, and her work might help give you a framework for what you're going through and some suggestions to cope. Personally, I need to get some of it out of my system by journalling, and eventually that writing will come back around to what I learned and that I'm not the biggest screwup ever, YMWV.

I also turn to Buddhist thought for this, When Things Fall Apart is a book that gets recommended a lot, but most things you find should cover dealing with and accepting events and emotions that you don't like.
posted by momus_window at 2:39 PM on November 25, 2016

Oh dear. That sounds rough, I'm sorry you had to go through this.

But I am not at all surprised, because you are not alone! Most of the people I look up to have been rejected or capsized by setbacks. Even very lucky people suffer for, like, at least 30% of their lives. Welcome to life.

As a matter of fact, I went through a rough patch like this too. It was horrible at the time, but now I have a clearer perspective of the world. I think I'm qualified to answer this question. So for me, at least there were a few aspects to my situation:

Emotional aspects
I for one experience emotions INTENSELY. During my 'dark ages' (intense emotions = tendency to hyperbolize, evidently, haha) I felt violent waves of shame, sadness, frustration, self-loathing, anger, apathy, and just a general sense of like ickk blergghh whyyy. Followed by 'you are being unreasonable, just focus already.'

Looking back, those feelings HAD to be felt. They would just get louder and angrier if I tried to suppress or invalidate them. I think you should respect your emotions - you were hardwired to have them, they serve a protective purpose. They have your back! I'm not saying break open the 'dam', but if it you need to cry, then cry and listen to what your emotions have to say. When you have time, describe how you are feeling to a friend or wade into the murky reservoir of painful emotions. Just breathe slowly, listen to your emotions, and respect them. And give yourself permission to be sad. Also maybe set aside some time for pure uninterrupted therapy/panic time - most rejections take a lot of time to process.

I think you should separate your value and your dignity (both unconditional parts of being a human being) from those rejections. You are valuable, beautiful, worthwhile! You're a human being with sentience, rights, and the capacity to love! Nobody can take that away from you.

I have wonderful brave funny smart friends that get rejected by selfish, entitled and just small-minded guys (sigh). I find it ridiculous, because from my perspective, on those occasions the rejectee is way out of the rejector's league. Sometimes you just have to figure out what your gifts are and let go of the rest. E.g. I am kind of tall, and very empathetic, have a colourful creative intuition, and have the ability to ego-suspend. Those are my gifts. However, my face is not perfectly symmetrical, I bloat easily, and my family can be really embarrassing. That's perfectly fine! Figure out what you are, what you aren't, and just appreciate your lumpy self. You is smart, you is kind, you is IMPORTANT! (The Help reference).

There are other examples. So my friend hates coffee and often 'rejects' coffee as her choice of beverage. But I think coffee is amazing, I will never understand. Just because one dude prefers tea to coffee does not mean that tea is better than coffee! They have different strengths and weaknesses.

Actionable steps
Sometimes rejections tell us that we need to work on certain skills - e.g. I realized that I wanted to be more organized and more observant after my rejections. I have taken steps to improve those skills ever since.

Figure out what you want, what is realistic, do some research, do some calculations! Then ask your heart, then make an informed decision about what your goals are now, and set aside time to take each step.

TLDR; give yourself time to work through the emotions, you are unconditionally valuable, and do some research!
posted by Crookshanks_Meow at 8:43 PM on November 25, 2016 [9 favorites]

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