Rejection: a guide on when to take it personally

Photo credit Romina Farías

The dictionary defines ‘rejection’ quite clinically as “dismissing a proposal”. I personally like to think of it as “a turn in a new direction; a direction we choose”. If reflected upon wisely, rejection can actually be helpful. It steers us towards living more in line with our values, hopes and dreams of the person we’d like to be.

Rejection can be seen as a favour

We may be “too much” for someone: too outspoken, too intimidating, too passionate, too active, too relaxed… They may judge you, ghost you, shame you as a result.

Basically, if someone can’t handle your “too muchness”, and they make you feel bad about it, honey — they’re not for you. It’s a good thing they saved you the task of rejection.

It’s in these circumstances that we don’t take rejection personally. With compassion, we accept that they have their own baggage going on. They’re on their own quest, and we need to leave them be.

However, here’s the flipside: can taking rejection personally actually HELP us sometimes? When do we take on board the reasons people have rejected us as valid feedback?

Rejection teaches you about yourself

1. HOW you respond to rejection

Beg for someone to take you back, and ask a lot of questions?

Play it totally cool, pretend you don’t give a shit?

Spread rumours or do something to sabotage their life in order to get revenge?

Call all your friends and ask for consolation day and night, replaying the past over and over?

2. WHAT you’re rejected for

When to take rejection personally

Three magic questions

1. Did the rejection hurt?

If the rejection struck a chord, then that’s a sign part of us believes that their reason for rejecting us is valid.

Alternatively, if you genuinely don’t believe their judgements of you are true, your hurt is instead a sign of self-doubt. In moments where someone shares their views of you (“your outfit sucks”), you abandon your own views in favour of honouring theirs (“oh, maybe I’m not very good at fashion after all”).

All arrows point to building a stronger relationship to yourself so that when others give you their unsolicited advice and judgements you remain grounded. “Nah, this outfit is ACE.”

2. Have you heard this feedback before?

If you’ve been rejected many times over for the same reason, that’s a bit of a clue. I’m going to talk later about how important context is. Obviously if you keep getting rejected for your disability or niche preferences, then that’s not on you. That’s literal prejudice. For this question, I’m thinking more about your relationships and how you treat people.

3. If you put this feedback into practice would it take you more towards (or further from) the person you want to be?

Picture your life if you were to implement the feedback given to you — would it look better or would it take you away from your values and dreams?

What if things were going well?

Another question for you is, are you choosing emotionally unavailable people? Truth of the matter is, you may be functioning from your wounds too, following a pattern of being attracted to people that aren’t healthy for you.

When thinking about rejection, be honest with yourself. How do you truly feel? What has this experience dug up? I always advocate for doing the “inner work” sooner rather than later otherwise that bitterness will carry forward into your next dates and relationships.

Context, context, context

As a cis-gendered white woman I’ve grown up surrounded by ideals of how I should look and behave, especially around cis-het men. For centuries a woman’s body has existed to be gazed at and objectified. Her role has been solely to raise children and look after a home. When she steps outside of that — when she’s outspoken, independent, fierce, ambitious — she’s often invalidated or shamed. Add being a black woman to the equation and the judgement and marginalisation is of course a million times magnified.

Therefore, when I’m rejected because I’m seen as intimidating, too intelligent, too independent or whatever, that is when rejection is a favour. I’m not going to waste my time with someone who wants to keep me small and in a box. However, if those qualities of confidence listed above were to skirt into condescension, lecturing and self-entitlement, that would be a sign of when rejection is pointing at what we might consider changing within ourselves.

Examples of ‘helpful’ rejection

Judgemental attitudes

Mansplaining

Racism, sexism, homophobia, classism, ableism

Superiority complexes

Over-reliance on others and codependency

Toxic hedonism and superficiality

Emotional distance

Unfaithfulness

Dishonesty and chronic lying

Gaslighting

Close-mindedness

Lack of self-accountability

Extreme self-criticism

When you struggle to let go

What happens, though, if you thought this person was the most perfect potential friend or partner in the world? You’re devastated that they went cold turkey on you. This is how I think of it:

Rejection can be a sign that we simply weren’t ready to receive this person into our life.

We all have baggage. Perhaps you were still deep in the middle of working through yours when you met this person. It’s okay that your timing didn’t align. I know that’s a hard thing to accept, because it can leave us feeling like we’re inadequate. If I’m not ready today, WHEN will I be ready? If I’m not good enough for them, who will I be good enough for? Will I be alone forever? Those lines of questioning of course send us in an unhelpful headspin.

To resolve these feelings of not enoughness, see your encounter with that person instead as an encouragement. They presented to you as evidence of the amazing relationships ahead you WILL experience, which is especially hope-inspiring when you’ve experienced a succession of toxic relationships and eventually start feeling that’s all you deserve. It’s not — look at this person as an example of what’s out there.

Of course, please provide yourself space to feel deeply into what arises around rejection. Whatever comes is valid. It speaks to a history, to a story. However, once you’ve honoured your feelings and have started to feel stuck or stagnant (this is an indication it’s time to move on), I invite you to see rejection not as a loss but as an opportunity. An opportunity to get closer to yourself.

Registered Counsellor & Narrative Therapist specialising in relationships, LGBTQI+ topics, chronic illness, self-connection & finding purpose. mimkempson.com