Coping With Rejection

Rejection in any form tends to be painful. Especially when you have your heart set on something or someone. Rejection when you love someone is the most painful of all. When this happens you are faced with the task of having to grieve a loss or else turn ‘bitter.’ Bitterness is the feeling that takes over when your heart has been broken and you’re having trouble healing the loss and moving on.

A ‘broken heart’ means that the emotional connection you are feeling between your lover and your self, whether real or in fantasy, has been broken by disappointment. When a person has turned bitter, he or she is not letting go of the desired connection even though it has already been broken. Bitterness is a painful emotional state, and the pain is being prolonged by a refusal to let go and heal the heart.

Chronic bitterness can create emotional problems for a disappointed lover. One problem is the damage that can occur to the lover’s self-esteem. Self-esteem in a nutshell is how you feel about your self. To be more precise, how much you ‘esteem’ or respect and admire yourself. Technically speaking, for maximum health and well-being you should be one of your biggest fans and take special care of yourself as a very precious human being. However, the maintenance and development of your self-esteem should be kept a very private personal project. You should never ‘farm out’ the maintenance of your self-esteem to any one else. Not even to people you love who love you. Why?

Because if one day he or she stops loving you, for personal reasons of his or her own that have nothing to do with you, your self-esteem takes a critical nose dive and you get sick. In my experience, low or poor self-esteem is one of the primary causes of chronic love-life problems, emotional and physical illness, and interpersonal abuse and mistreatment. Put it this way, self-esteem is your emotional regulator.

The health of your self-esteem will determine the health of your psychological, physical, and social life. Here’s the formula: how you feel about yourself should never be simply a reflection of how other people feel about you. There should always be an independent feeling you maintain about yourself regardless of how others feel about you.

If a rejection by someone you love or desire takes place and your self-esteem is damaged by it, you’ll probably feel there’s something wrong with you. It is common to feel depressed in this state of mind. You could feel like your motivation to do things is low, sleeping is disturbed, your concentration and focus are off, you’ve got little energy to do things, and basically you’re chronically unhappy. If these symptoms worsen or start interfering with work or other vital activities, you should obviously see a doctor.

Regardless, you’ll have to repair your broken heart, rebuild your self-esteem, and eventually get out there in the world again. Expect that in this state of mind you won’t feel much like doing anything about your love-life. This loss of motivation and expectation of further rejection is an unfortunate side-effect of love-life rejections and disappointments.

Also, watch out for the feeling of wanting to punish the person who rejects you, or an innocent person, for the pain you are feeling. That will only make your suffering worse, guaranteed. If you stay away from future love-life prospects and stop taking the risks necessary to meet new people and fall in love, the possibility of staying in a state of chronic unhealed bitterness increases and it’s harder to come back from it the longer you’re in it.

Let’s talk about a few ideas that could be useful to you the next time you face rejection (hopefully you won’t but you might). First and foremost, the rule is, the chemistry of love is beyond your control. Nobody, and I mean nobody, can control love. You can’t make someone love you. This reality should make you think, OK, if I want to take my chances with love I’ll have to live with the fact that its a risk. To be in love is a risk.

You can’t make love start and you can’t stop it from leaving. The only thing we can do is take care of it while it is in your life and hope that it stays for the long haul. In the meantime, you make sure your self-esteem stays healthy so that you can weather the ups and downs of an active love-life. You want to make sure you emotionally and physically survive a rejection in love because you are a precious person worth saving.

Of course we should consider the issue of other people’s opinions and beliefs about you. How powerful do you make them? Notice I asked how powerful do you ‘make’ them, not how powerful are they? It’s what you believe about what people think and do that makes it powerful. If you believe, really believe, that another person’s love is vital to your survival, it will be so. Your chances of emotionally and/or physically surviving a rejection or loss will decrease. Should anyone ever have that kind of power over your life? You know me by now, I say an unequivocal NO!

Without a foundation in a healthy sense and value of oneself as an individual, love will become an emotional struggle because we’ll always be trying to get a lover to make us feel good about ourselves. People frequently disappoint when it comes to this kind of thing. Here’s a controversial idea: your love for yourself must always be the foundation of your existence even before your love of anyone else. Now that doesn’t mean you’ll go around living a selfish and self-indulgent life, and the hell with other people. Real love for oneself is always in tune with and the origin of the love we have for others. Think of it this way, loving yourself is exactly like loving someone else. The only difference is the location. You are the closest to you. Whatever love you have for others will go out into the world from there.

If other people have negative feelings about you for their own personal reasons, what they feel and think will not damage your self-esteem. You may feel bad about their feelings but you won’t ‘take what they feel to heart.’ How you feel about yourself  is off limits. Your self-esteem should not part of the equation when it comes to dealing with the thoughts and feelings, beliefs and opinions, of others. If you are rejected, you will feel bad but not damaged. This is the kind of emotional balance that is needed to overcome and survive rejections in love. Otherwise, you will become one of the broken bitter hearts I commonly encounter in my practice.

Couple of other thoughts, I know you don’t want to hear this but, rejections like mistakes are useful when it comes to learning and strengthening oneself for life. If we always got what we wanted, can you imagine? It’s not healthy to get what you want whenever you want it. And if that’s your problem you’re headed for a little therapeutic disappointment. Rejection and disappointment will be an essential element in the creation of wisdom.

What I mean is, you’ll need to get through an experience of learning how to cope with disappointment (rejection), adjusting your expectations about yourself and other people along the way. By the way, in a true love situation, humility, compromise, and sharing with your lover will be an essential and ongoing practice that you have to get used to to be in long-term love.

Also, I want to mention that your past experience with love-life disappointments and rejections will obviously influence your experience of rejections in the present. If you’ve had a hard life with a lot of losses that are not fully resolved, chances are those experiences will be in the background negatively affecting your reaction to a love rejection. If you know this you will be less likely to over-react. Getting treatment for past experiences that won’t leave you alone is a good decision.

Sometimes all that is needed is to talk about negative experiences in detail, giving them some time and attention, so that the emotions can roll out of you and you can settle the experiences back down into your ‘inactive’ memory where they belong. The hard part is tolerating and getting through the emotions that are going to come up. Remember, emotions are always moving (e-motion) and they have a beginning, middle, and end. You can’t heal the heart without letting yourself sit through the emotions.  Dr. T. Jordan




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Dr. Jordan

Dr. Thomas Jordan is a clinical psychologist, certified interpersonal psychoanalyst, author, professor, and love life researcher.

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