You may have heard people say that ‘depression is the common cold of mental health’.
By this they mean that depression is so common, it’s almost like catching a cold – it’s just so prevalent in society. While there is much truth in that, I want to suggest that there are many factors behind the depression, and for me, one truly stands out: rejection.
What is Rejection?
Rejection comes from the Latin rēicere, which means “to throw back”. It is essentially a judgement of worthiness; a decision that something is simply not worth any value. Notice that a judgment comes first; an opinion that concludes that something is not worth the price, that it is simply insignificant.
But what if that ‘something’ is us? Who would reject us, ‘throw us back’ and declare that we are of little value? Here are some common ones:
- Our parents can reject us.
When we need them physically or emotionally, and they are too busy or absent, that is rejection. When we ask for help or comfort, and they ignore us or get angry at us, that is rejection. When they hurt us physically, emotionally or sexually, that is rejection (as well as abuse). And because love and rejection come from the same source, it is deeply painful. It’s also painful because when we are young, our interpersonal tapes are recorded by what we receive (or don’t receive) from our parents. Those tapes can last a lifetime, playing over and over.
- Our partners can reject us.
After the deep pain of parental rejection, partner rejection is not far behind. This is because after our parents, our partners draw out of us some very deep emotions. We have an intimate physical and emotional attachment with our partners and it is usually they who know us so personally and intimately. Consequently when they reject us, it goes to the core of who we are. This is especially true for when we were hoping that our partners would help soothe some of the pain from our parents.
- Our friends can reject us.
Especially when we are young, or in our teenage years, rejection from peers is also painful. Bullying (experienced both when young and as adults) can be terribly traumatic. When this pain is added to the pain of rejection from our parents, it cuts to our very soul. We have all heard the tragic stories of young people who have taken their own lives because of the deep pain that rejection brings.
This brings me to my last key rejection area:
- We reject ourselves.
Remember that a key message that rejection brings is, “I am unlovable or unworthy”. We can only hear these painful messages for so long before we start to believe that we deserve that rejection, especially if those seeds were planted in our childhood years. Then the depression, anxiety, self harm, substance use etc, all come knocking and offer us ways of coping with that pain. That critical voice in our heads just won’t shut up, and we really start to loathe ourselves, and start to binge on self-hatred. This can escalate into serious suicidal thoughts and actions.
How Rejection Impacts Relationships
Regardless of the source of the rejection, it can start to affect our relationships with others in three key ways:
- 1 – We get angry and attack others
No-one likes to be rejected and so that ‘angry child’ part comes up, and as a defence against that pain, we attack the other person with our words, or sometimes with our fists. Here we ‘reject the rejection’, and throw it back at the person who may, or may not, be rejecting us. Sometimes they are not rejecting us; it’s just our perception. But even if it’s only the individual’s perception, there can still be devastating consequences, such as the man who wrongly thinks he is being rejected and resorts to violence.
- 2 – We despair and withdraw from others
Rather than reject the rejection, we accept it, but this time we avoid people. We accept the rejection, but lose hope that anything will change and to cope, we avoid people or places that might send any message of potential rejection – intimate relationships, the workplace, or family members.
- 3 – We resign and give in to others
This is another form when we accept the rejection, but rather than avoid, we hang around for more. This often happens when there is also some manipulation or abuse occurring. A part of us feels inferior to the person (partner, boss, parent) and we wrongly believe that we are ‘damned if we do, and damned if we don’t’. So while we hate the rejection we are experiencing, there is nothing left in the emotional tank and so we just give in and believe that our miserable life is as good as it gets.
Steps to Overcoming Rejection
Overcoming rejection and the shame and self-loathing that it creates is not easy, but it’s crucial that we heal the past and take back what has been stolen.
Rejection is one of those universal themes; everyone who breathes oxygen has experienced rejection at some point and we will never stop experiencing it. So it’s important to face the rejections of the past, and learn to deal with the rejections of the future. And here lies the key to healing rejection; relationship. I have a saying:
People are hurt in the context of relationship; they will be healed in the context of relationship.
In other words, deep healing is almost never done by yourself; deeper healing is almost always via a relationship with another human being (who also has experienced rejection!) and who has the skill to go back in time to heal the wounds of the past and to help you write a new Chapter of your life. Taking the next step to trust someone in such a relationship is also not easy. But when you do, you are already starting to erase those old messages.
Author: Dr David Ward, BSocWk, BA., Grad Dip (Couple Thpy), M.Couns., MPhil., PhD.
Dr David Ward is a psychotherapist with over 20 years’ experience, providing therapy to adults, adolescents, children, couples, and families. His areas of professional interest include the use of EMDR therapy to help with recovery from domestic violence, child abuse, PTSD, depression and anxiety; family therapy; and working with victims of spiritual and ritual abuse.
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