Rejection Revisited

Sometimes topics keep nagging at me, even after getting my thoughts into a post and hitting the publish button.
I recently had an epiphany after mulling over my recent post on rejection. If you missed that one, you can read it here.
But here’s what I realized. Rejection is personal only if we make it so.
While writing that first post, my mind got snagged on the statement that rejection isn’t always about us, although it feels that way.
I began thinking of all the times I felt slighted or outright rejected, only to later learn more information that caste the situation in a completely different light.
It’s so easy to see circumstances as truth and forget that it’s only perspective. We rarely have all the information in any given situation. But we respond as if we do. And as if our interpretation is reality. I forget this often.
We can be wrong and not even know it.
Maybe you’re crushed to receive the thin envelope with a rejection letter from a degree program, and second-guess your decision to change careers and follow your dream. What you may never know is that the school already admitted an applicant just like you, but that applicant is an alumnus. The decision wasn’t personal; it was policy. But we don’t know those behind-the-scenes circumstances, so we can’t possibly understand the denial without feeling we didn’t measure up to the school’s standards.
Maybe you’re feeling hurt and left out because your friend is suddenly spending a lot of time with another woman you know and doesn’t invite you along. But perhaps she is getting support for an issue that she knows you’d have difficulty hearing about. An act of sensitivity and kindness might be motivating her behavior, although it feels a whole lot like rejection. A conversation might clear up the misunderstanding.
The truth is, rejection might have its roots somewhere other than in us more often than we realize.
This is an appealing perspective on rejection because it shifts the focus away from the shortcomings and failures we attribute to our efforts, or more damaging, to our beings. This new perspective buffers an ego that too quickly turns on itself when hurt.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve done this many times.
But what I’ve realized is, when we personalize a failure, we tell ourselves that we are the cause of our own pain. We actually double down on the hurt and disappointment by blaming ourselves for not being “enough” or being “too much”. It does not take into account the possibility that our perspective may not be the truth. Instead the exact opposite happens when we’re convinced it’s all about us.
This begs the question, why do we do this?
I don’t have a good answer for that, and maybe there are several dynamics that regularly cause a person to personalize rejection.
But certainly one reason may be an underlying lack of self-worth that is awakened when faced with rejection. If we forget, or don’t recognize how valuable we are, then any dismissal is like a flashing neon sign proclaiming our faults. It illuminates the secret insecurities we try to hide and makes them public. Rejection becomes a humiliation because the world is witness to the perceived inadequacies we tried unsuccessfully to hide.
Those vulnerable areas of our ego are like magnets. Place them close to a rejection and they draw it closer and hold it fast.
But there is also danger in adopting this perspective in total. In shifting our focus away from ourselves we could also miss an opportunity to grow. Instead of exclusively looking outward, self-reflection can reveal areas where improvement may be indicated.
Was my behavior appropriate?
Did I communicate my message clearly and compassionately?
Were my expectations reasonable?
Is there useful information in the rejection that I need to look at more closely and work on improving?
It’s a tricky balance of being objective about our circumstances, and self-reflective about our part in them. I certainly have not mastered this balance and usually teeter and fall on the side of personalizing rejection.
How about you? Does the sting of rejection send you into a tailspin of self-recrimination? Or are you able to see the circumstances objectively and move on more quickly?
And if you are able to do this, what’s your secret?
Please share your thoughts in the comment section below!

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