You’ve been through this many times — yet, it happens again.
You’re at this amazing party with lots of great music, food and company. You know you should be enjoying yourself.
But you can’t. You’re only half-heartedly invested in the conversations you’re having. Your mind is somewhere else.
That’s because there’s this person at the party that you fancy. And you’re desperately trying to make them notice you.
You manoeuvre to sit closer to them at the table. You go to the bathroom around the time when you expect them to come out. But when you finally manage to talk to them…
It’s a disaster.
They’re not interested in you at all. After an awkward small talk, they excuse themselves and start talking to someone else.
In that moment, you feel like your whole world just collapsed. As the pain of rejection washes over you, you realize that this is not the first time.
In fact, you’ve felt rejected more times than you can count. You know this feeling inside out. And you hate it. It undermines your confidence. It makes you think poorly of yourself. All you want to do is run away and hide.
It’s never easy to face rejection. However, the fact that you experience it consciously is actually great news. It means you’re ready to integrate it and use it as a foundation for a strong sense of self-love.
Do you want to see how?
The Real Reason You’ve Always Felt Rejected
As a child, the only way you knew how to experience love was to get it from your parents or caregivers. But because they weren’t perfect, they couldn’t always satisfy your hunger for affection.
In those moments, you felt rejected — even though it wasn’t your parents’ intention to hurt you. Because that feeling was breaking your heart over and over, you eventually worked out coping mechanisms to stop feeling it so strongly.
Maybe you learned to distract yourself. Maybe you blamed someone for causing you to feel this way. No matter the strategy, repeatedly covering up your feelings caused you to enter adulthood unaware of many difficult emotions.
At least, not aware of them in a mindful, non-judgmental way.
Most adults only know these two ways of dealing with emotional discomfort:
- Suppressing and distracting themselves from it, or
- Explaining their emotions away with a story.
Very few can simply accept their emotions as they are. That’s because it’s rare in our society to receive any kind of “emotional education.”
“We humans have proven ourselves remarkably physically adaptable to our environment. In the last century, we have also become mental giants. Sadly, we remain emotionally impotent, and the turbulent state of the world is testimony to the fact that it’s the playground of the emotionally undeveloped.” — Michael Brown
Through your coping mechanisms, you also learned to attach the way you feel to specific external events. For example, any time someone ignored you, the only way you knew how to react was by feeling rejected.
This led you to give up personal responsibility for the way you feel. How often have you told yourself or to a friend: “I can’t help but feel this way”?
In the moment, this may be true. You feel what you feel and that’s valid.
The thing you probably overlooked is that your attitude towards that feeling matters a great deal. It is in how you approach your today’s emotions that you sow the seeds for a different kind of experience tomorrow.
If that sounds enigmatic, bear with me. I want to show you an approach to emotions that will allow you to transform that heartbreaking experience of rejection into self-love.
Stop Rejecting Your Feelings of Rejection
“If we can have a more friendly, accepting relationship with the feelings that arise within us as a result of being rejected, then we can heal more readily and move on with our lives.” — John Amodeo
The most effective approach to emotional work I have found is based on a book called The Presence Process by Michael Brown. Here are its two core components:
- First, look at your emotions as a set of tendencies that are inherently yours. Some of them derive from your genetics and others — from societal conditioning. It doesn’t matter which are which. The key is to look at emotions as something you’re responsible for — even if they get triggered by external situations and people.
- Second, there is no division into “positive” and “negative” emotions. According to Michael Brown, any emotion is simply “energy in motion” — and therefore can’t be good or bad. You can experience this to be true when you realize that each emotion is felt as a bodily sensation that arises when the energy “moves.”
When you start seeing your feelings of rejection from this angle, your perspective will change. Look closely and you’ll realize two things:
- It’s often the fear of rejection — the anticipation of a specific experience — that bothers you way more than the rejection itself.
- The external trigger that causes rejection is not that terrible. The reason it’s so difficult to bear is that it reminds you of being rejected in the past — i.e. when you were a child — and how catastrophic it seemed at that time.
In other words: this person at the party who doesn’t care about you isn’t really that big of a deal. You know deep down that they aren’t the make-or-break of your happiness.
However, they still trigger an emotional memory from the past that you never allowed yourself to fully feel and digest. And, as Brianna Wiest put it:
“The thing about life is that our emotional experiences, if we don’t finish them, stay with us.”
The only way to transform your relationship with difficult emotions such as rejection is to finish them. This means that when they arise, you need to feel them consciously and without condition.
To do that, stop telling yourself stories about what happened, who hurt you and what they should do to make up for it. You need to stop distracting yourself with such mental interpretations.
Instead, you need to focus on the feeling itself.
Experience the emotional resonance of rejection that you feel in your body. Then accept the fact that you feel this way.
Unconditional acceptance of your experience is where self-love begins.
The Way Out: Transform Rejection Into Self-Love
When the feeling of rejection becomes so strong you can’t ignore it, you know you’re ready for a change.
The coping mechanism of blaming others for what you feel no longer does the job. The emotional discomfort is so strong and persistent that it makes things quite clear:
You’re the only person qualified to heal yourself.
When the experience of rejection comes to the surface, Brianna Wiest reminds us that this is actually a promising sign:
“What you can’t see right now is that nothing is really wrong. Actually, things are really right, which is why you finally feel safe enough to feel what you really feel.”
Apparently, you’ve arrived in the life circumstances that support your emotional growth. You don’t need to go around with unhealed wounds any longer.
Instead, you can take full responsibility for your emotional experience. This requires you to feel whatever arises, without trying to change it.
When your feelings get overwhelming, this is no easy task. Here’s a handful of tips that I found supportive when working with my own emotions:
- Focus on the physical sensation, rather than the mental story that may be arising. Keep your attention on your body as much as you can.
- Feel whatever is happening now — forget what you felt yesterday. Only by staying present with the emotion long enough will you see it transform.
- At the same time, give up any agenda for how you think the feeling should change. This is a process you can’t control — but you can have an intention to stay present and open to whatever arises.
- If the circumstances don’t allow you to process the feeling in the moment, take a mental note and come back to it later. When you find an appropriate, quiet time, open up to feel the “unfinished” emotion.
- Approach the whole process with self-compassion. Often, when we experience difficult emotions for no apparent reason, we’re inclined to beat ourselves up for not feeling happier. Don’t give yourself extra pain beyond what you already have to go through.
Keep in mind that what you’re doing is actually quite simple. Your only task is to unconditionally feel whatever you’re already feeling.
When you allow the challenging emotion to just be there, you integrate it. Integration means that you stop viewing any of your feelings as something “wrong.” Instead, you learn to see them all as valid parts of your experience.
Validating your own experience is how you give yourself the love and acknowledgement that you previously sought from others.
Know That You’re a Perfectly Lovable Human Being
Imagine that you enter the same party again. You’re still not immune to rejection — but you’ve accepted this feeling as natural and valid.
As you talk to a group of old friends, the person you fancy enters the room. You inwardly smile to yourself.
You recognize the familiar desire for their attention. You feel a blizzard of excitement blended with anxiousness. But you already know what to do.
You excuse your friends and go over to say hi. You know you’ll be fine, no matter what happens next.
You’re safe now — because you granted yourself your own unconditional love. And this is more than enough.
You start the conversation gently and naturally. You may say:
Hi, I’ve wanted to get to know you better for ages. You seem like such an interesting person. Do you want to grab a drink at the bar together?
Whether they agree or not is irrelevant for your self-esteem. But since you’re not desperate for their attention, they’ll most likely be happy to have a chat with you.
That’s because you’re not coming from the place of needing them to love you. You know how to give yourself the love you require.
All you’re doing is offering them to hang out with someone who knows self-love. And for most people, it’s hard to say no to that.