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How to heal from rejection (without getting down on yourself)

How to heal from rejection (without getting down on yourself)

“This is a moment of suffering. Life is not without suffering. May I be kind in this moment. May I give myself the compassion I need.” ~Kristen Neff

The handsome man that I was dating sat in the easy chair and told a difficult tale. He avoided eye contact as we were in my loft. As he spoke, I observed the symmetry in his jaw.

“I did something stupid,” he said.

I thought that he confided in me. This intimacy could bring us together. Perhaps his gaze had wandered, but he chose me. I leaned forward.

It was not someone I would have expected. His admission was ugly, and it went against my positive impression of him.

Adding to my cognitive dissonance, at the end of his tale I was stunned to hear the words, “and that’s why I can’t see you anymore.”

My hands were shaking. I put my wine glass on the coffee-table. We’re all flooded with stress hormones during separations because we’re social creatures. My body felt like I was drowning. I had daydreamed this man would be a buoy to reach for and hold me in safety during life’s challenges. He put on his jacket instead.

“I’m sorry,” he said, with genuine sentiment. He left and disappeared into the night. I was alone on my couch in a tidal wave of emotion.

I was simultaneously disappointed, disheartened and sad. I also felt betrayed. And, I was afraid of being alone. I was relieved by his revelation.

I’d been broken up with before, but this time there was no punishing blame put upon me, and the shame was all his. The first time, I was able to see rejection in a non-personal way. It had nothing whatsoever to do with me, my actions, or my value. It was about where he was at in his life, the recognition that I wasn’t in that same place, and the fact he didn’t want to take me.

It was not a place I wanted to be. His story was that, while DJing for a wedding at the weekend, he lost it. A woman kept pestering him to play a song he’d already played. He spat on her when she became angry and shouted.

His friends contacted the police and he was charged with assault. Spitting on someone is an offense. It’s also disgusting and degrading. Now, he had to deal with the legal implications. It was a responsibility he assumed on his own.

My brain said, “This breakup is for the best,” while my body processed the rejection as a bereavement. The fun concerts, record-shopping field trips and song sharing sessions were over. He was gone and with him, the hope of our budding love. The fantasy of dating in its early stages vanished instantly.

Alone, I sipped wine and watched a movie on my sofa. I don’t remember which one. I was numb. After that, my usual rejection coping went off script.

The Old Post-Rejection Story

There’s a standard RomCom break-up montage—you know the one. The story’s star is dumped, then she self-destructs. She gets drunk, sends the messy message she shouldn’t, wallows in her pajamas with unkempt hair, and eats pizza and ice cream until a bestie intervenes. She then goes to the gym and gets a fresh look.

What if, after you receive a rejection, you could just skip the self-sabotage part?

To sail through rejection, you’d have to see it as not personal, as I did with my crush. You’d also need to know it’s not perfect by perceiving people and situations as flawed, the way things really are. And you’d need to accept that nothing’s permanent and not be attached to outcomes. You’d enter and leave relationships gracefully, without any ego, expectations or baggage.

In other words, you’d be a learned Buddhist, or Eckhart Tolle. I don’t know about you, but I’m nowhere near there yet in my conscious evolution.

But there’s another way to process rejection as an adult that also sidesteps the hapless drunken humiliation and numb hiding. It’s so simple we don’t do it, or if we do, we don’t apply it enough. We have to love our selves.

Why Loving ourselves Heals

It’s taken me a long time to learn that self-love is not just cheesy sentiment. It’s more than a positive mental attitude or a meme from RuPaul’s Drag Race. Active self-love is self-soothing, and for those of us who’ve ever felt inadequately comforted, seen, heard, or understood (i.e., virtually everyone), this concept can be hard to grasp.

I didn’t fully appreciate self-soothing until a few years after that breakup with the handsome spitter, when I moved to a new city by myself. In the lead up to the move I was so busy planning and packing I didn’t fully feel my myriad feelings. It wasn’t until I arrived and unpacked that I grieved the loss of my friendships and familiar comforts I’d grown used to. It was like I’d broken up with a whole city.

In order to cope with the pandemic, on my own and without any support, I immersed myself in neuroscience. I read as much as I could about burnout, anxiety, resilience, and anxiety. In the process I discovered Kristen Neff’s groundbreaking research on fierce self-compassion.

I learned the reason rejections and losses are so painful is that the separation triggers all the times we’ve felt bereft before. Our bodies sound alarms when we feel this. Our minds spiral when we react in a fight, flight or freeze mode. We might blame or shame ourselves, twisting “this isn’t working,” “things change” or other impersonal reasons into harsh feelings of “I’m bad,” “I’m unworthy,” or “I’m not enough.”

If we act with self-love and compassion instead, we acknowledge the pain and sadness we’re feeling. We comfort ourselves like we would a sobbing small child—with soothing actions that calm down our activated nervous systems.

Why We get it wrong about Self-Love

Our attempts to self-soothe in adulthood often only numb pain, rather than healing it. We numb ourselves with escapist binge-watching or video games. We reach out for another glass or something stronger. We overwork until we are exhausted. Sitting with difficult emotions we’d rather avoid is too uncomfortable and scary.

The worst thing that we can do, is take our unprocessed feelings and attack someone else. That’s when feelings turn into reactivity and abusive behavior, like spitting on someone or harassing them with tirades of vitriol. That’s when hurt people lose it and hurt others.

It follows that the best thing to do for yourself, your family, friends, community, and the rest of the world is to fully feel and ride our emotions to shore. In order to do this, we must be present and aware. We also need to know how to soothe ourselves by taking care of our feelings. That’s healing.

Self-Love Techniques that Really Work

It’s important to be in your body and not judge yourself or check out. I’m still a novice at self-soothing, but so far, the methods that work for me are:

Wrapping my arms around myself or rubbing them.

At least three times, breathe in quickly followed by a sighing exhalation.

Standing up and shaking my shoulders, arms and legs or dancing to it

-Noticing as many details of my environment as possible (colors, sounds and smells).

Breathing steam from a cup of hot tea or a warm shower

Listening to soothing music

Lighting a Candle to Watch It Sparkle

Walking for exercise

-Doing gentle yin yoga

When I think about rejection I either shut down or spiral into rumination. It can be helpful to tell someone what happened. This will help you make sense of the situation and validate it. But the only words that truly salve the sting are loving reassurances we tell ourselves, like: “You’re okay. I’ve got you. You’re safe.” In this way, repeating positive affirmations can help too.

Remember It’s a Process!

It is important to remember that self-soothing requires time. In our rushed, busy-is-better culture we don’t gift ourselves with time-outs enough. That’s why we’re so often on the edge and reactive. When we self-soothe the moment that the rejection begins to sting, the stress cycle is broken faster. It takes less time to heal by self-soothing than we’d normally spend ruminating, numbing, or fuming.

You might find new ways to communicate with others when you calm yourself down. I didn’t date the handsome spitter again, but by not taking our breakup personally I didn’t build up a wall of shame or blame against him either. We became good friends and went to concerts together up until I moved.

All things change. Even the worst of things will happen. The death or departure of loved ones. Opportunity is fleeting. Material possessions can break or fade. There’s grief in losing the familiarity of a home you once lived in, even when it’s time to move on. Remember you’ve still got yourself to live with.

Love yourself and you will attract more love. Loving yourself is the rescue buoy that’s always there. It’s the soft soothing comfort and calm power you’ve always longed for.

See more The following posts will help you to understand the importance of this post.

About Suzanne Alyssa Andrew

Suzanne Alyssa Andrew has been a book coach and author for over a decade. She helps seekers and writers to express themselves with the frequency and energy of their soul. No matter if you are new to creative expression, or a seasoned professional, she will teach you how to create more with clarity, joy and light. Listen to her guided Meditations on Insight Timer. Learn more at suzanneandrew.com.

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The Tiny Buddha published the article How to Heal Rejection Without Getting Down on Yourself.

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