Author (Greek version): Christina Vaizidou

Psychiatrist – Psychotherapist

Translation: Maria Ourani

Many times, when memories take me back to the past I remember various streets and bars in Thessaloniki, and my memory pauses as every time I laugh thinking about the moments I fell, tumbled or got rejected. A literal stumble! A magnificent one! We danced and we stumbled, we laughed and we tripped, we hugged and we tumbled. One thing is for sure; we fell and most definitely got hurt!

We have experienced, from another metaphoric point of view, many tumbles and rejections overthrowing us from our throne; at some point in time we lost our personal security because we were rejected by a friend or a love interest, long before we were perhaps forced to experience this  rejection on a professional level too. Once I told a friend, who wondered whether she should express her feelings or not, that she shouldn’t think about it, not hesitate at all simply because the only thing she’ would lose would be her tranquility (and a little of her dignity and pride) which can anyway be restored.

Yet, where has this tolerance of rejection gone now? Why are younger generations so afraid to express themselves or to be exposed? A text with no reply, a call left unanswered or a job we didn’t get, a glance with no reaction, a friendship that didn’t turn out into what we expected and disaster waiting just around the corner! Rejection lurks in different areas of our lives. Sometimes, the mere idea of it affects us and constrains us; a phenomenon occurring more and more in younger generations.

Certain paths of our brains activate whenever we are rejected, the same way these brain paths activate when we experience physical pain. Thus, the question that arises is related to tolerance but also the emotional and mental extensions we experience during pain.

Growing up in a healthy mature family environment, allows us to experiment together with our parents on the acceptance-rejection model. A child, that experiences acceptance within the warmth of the family, will build a deep feeling of security, self-esteem and self respect which will later on minimize the automatic mental extensions of a possible rejection. Simultaneously a child learns the meaning of limits, interpreted as the first reprimands of its life and to accept them while trying, demanding and continue living.

The person who grows up in an environment of rejection learns love “by circumstance”. Therefore very often this person is condescending and passive. The fear of rejection mitigates insecurities and it can even abolish the need of this person to have equality in relations or claim anything. Thus we come across many people with repressed feelings and personal needs that are buried,  and these people experience the possibility of resistance, lack of taking initiatives, lacking the ability to claim or being able to leave from any type of relation as something hard to do or even impossible to accomplish. This person becomes entangled and is immobilized with the plain aim to never experience rejection again.  The term “authentic personality” refers to the child’s emotions, needs and wants that have not been confirmed by its own parents. The child interprets this parental behavior as rejection and as a solution it uses the creation of a false personality. The child adopts therefore behaviors assuming that they are acceptable, according to the messages it receives. This personality gradually develops and is defined by the family, social and cultural surroundings and expands to all the aspects of the person’s life. This person from a point onwards is unable to distinguish who he/she really is and as a result, the original outlet turns into an invisible prison.

Nowadays many people live in isolation or have a sterile daily routine with no risk or plenty human contact in order to avoid experiencing proximity, which can bring this terrible rejection (“no”). One explanation is this of the environment of parental rejection, as mentioned above. Another explanation relates to the way our personality develops and partially explains the differentiation observed in younger generations: due to lack of time the children grow up without limits. Technology especially contributes to this fact as well as the feeling of omnipotence of “here and now” that the children gain through it. They don’t learn the meaning of reprimand, of disappointment, of frustration, or rejection. If alienation is added on the level of human contact and social interaction, then we can more easily compose the puzzle and understand the situation. Children that learn consent (“yes”) become adults at some  point in their lives and without having learned to flirt, to claim, to plan, to lose, to listen to reprimand, to cry, to stumble and fall and to get up again, in general find themselves suddenly in reality, living in the real world. The real world is full of surprises and the unexpected.

Emotional extensions are connected to feelings of melancholy or depression, feelings of shame but also anger or aggressiveness.  Rejection causes discomfort, defeat, a feeling of helplessness and an unbelievable misery.

In the cognitive level, rejection can seriously harm our self-esteem and influence the need to belong which we are looking for. Simultaneously our egoism is injured. We feel that we are not worth it or even that we shall never be able to find what we want.

How can we become more resilient to potential “attacks” of rejection? From a young age we must try, we must seek, we must not be afraid to expose ourselves. Only if we try for example to paint we can understand whether we can draw or not, only if we express to someone our feelings we can learn the pain of love, to claim, to lose to raise your head and suddenly see something spectacularly beautiful in front of you. The life then has a meaning that we have defined totally on our own.

What happens when we finally “stumble and fall” from rejection (hence this is bound to happen)? We shall get up and we shall rise!

  1. Love yourself. Only then you and nobody else will be able to define the range of your abilities and expectations, in order to avoid hurting yourself every time someone rejects you. Besides, self-knowledge and self-confidence is the “cure” to rejection, because your confidence is reflected in your companionships.
  2. Think realistically: Rejection is not always something negative about your personality. You simply don’t respond at a given specific time to the needs of another person. If for example, you confess your love to someone and that person is already in another relationship or isn’t willing to create a relationship with you, that does not mean that you are worthless but you are something different at that given time.
  3. Free yourself from past traumatic experiences. The next relationship or experience is not identical to the previous one!
  4. Give yourself space and time. Often, when we retrospectively try to remember how much we have been hurt in similar situations, we tend to remember a less intense feeling. “Facts, not memories. Memory can change the shape of a room. Memory can be altered. It is an interpretation, not a fact…” (Memento, Christopher Nolan, 2000)
  5. Experience feelings no matter how painful they are. Think whether you have to lose or not. Learn from these feelings.
  6. It’s not the end of the world! No matter how many feelings and thoughts a rejection may bring there is nothing that cannot “pass”!

Some years ago, whenever a friend asked me about anything with the possibility of a mere risk of rejection: “Should I do it or not?” clearly my answer always was: “Yes, a thousand times yes! What do you have to lose? Peace of mind and maybe a little of your dignity and pride. So, what? You can restore them anyway!” As years go on, we still continue to stumble and fall and be rejected, in bars and concerts. One rejection may follow another, one may drop from the sky spectacularly or occur sideways …only for us to get up and rise again!

Suggested reading

Pond, R., Richman, S., Chester, D., & DeWall, N. (2014). Social pain and the brain: How insights from neuroimaging advance the study of social rejection. In Advanced Brain Neuroimaging Topics in Health and Disease-Methods and Applications. InTech.

Eisenberger, N. I. (2011). Social pain: Experiential, neurocognitive, and genetic correlates. Social neuroscience: Toward understanding the underpinnings of the social mind, 229-248.

Mellor, D., Stokes, M., Firth, L., Hayashi, Y., & Cummins, R. (2008). Need for belonging, relationship satisfaction, loneliness, and life satisfaction. Personality and individual differences45(3), 213-218.