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I've received multiple requests to discuss a difficult dating topic - "dealing with rejection". This is a topic near and dear to my heart as well. The misconceptions, bad behavior, and hard feelings surrounding rejection can sometimes create deep wounds. I've seen too many good men and women suffer needlessly because of it. As a result, "rejection" is an important topic for successful and respectful dating and relating. It also has two sides:
- Managing the rejecting behavior of others, and
- Declining a request from others.
I will address "managing" in this article and speak to "declining" in Part 2. For now, I hope to reverse some of the misconceptions surrounding "rejection", and help individuals avoid the negative emotional experiences that often accompany it. Read on...and hopefully you will see and feel better.
(If you want skip the explanation and jump directly to the "take home points" go to Breaking Down Rejection Distortions and Feeling Better below).
To Begin - A Note on Language
At this point, some of you may be wondering why I am using such "elaborate" language to discuss the topic. Thus far, I've said:
- Handling others' rejecting behaviors (title).
- How to respond when other people are rejecting or disinterested (subtitle).
- Managing the rejecting behavior of others (text).
I have done so because saying "getting rejected", or "he/she got rejected", or even "coping with rejection" sends the wrong message. In fact, that language is part of the reason why people experience such negative emotion with this topic. The term "getting rejected" (and the like) falsely puts the blame on the individual for the "rejection". It holds an untrue assumption that somehow the person asking "caused" the rejection to occur, or it has something specific to do with a deficit in him/her. This is simply not true.
Most of the causes for "rejection occurring" are outside of the requester's control and not personal. For example, the individual asked may be declining the request because he/she already has a partner, isn't interested in dating, is in a bad mood, etc. None of these factors are the "fault" of the person making the request or say anything about him/her as an individual. Nevertheless, the current language "blames" and "labels" them negatively, leading to something called "cognitive distortions", unfair internalized images of themselves, and bad feelings.
Below, I will tease apart some of these false assumptions - beginning with a quick discussion of "cognitive distortions" in general. I again hope this helps alleviate current worries, fears, and negative feelings regarding rejection.
Cognitive Distortions and Rejection
Cognitive Distortions, outlined in Cognitive Therapy, are ways that individuals may systematically distort or alter incoming information (Beck, 1995). In other words, they are assumptions individuals make about the world that are not accurate. Such inaccuracies can be brought about through maltreatment or even by receiving incorrect messages (such as the language I discussed above). The cognitive distortions can subsequently result in the individual experiencing undue anxiety, depression, and negative self-feelings.
Some cognitive distortions applicable to this situation are:
- Overgeneralizing - thinking something is true "always" or "everywhere", based on a limited number of experiences.
- Personalization - taking blame or responsibility for an external event, when it was not under individual control.
- Labeling - attaching a value judgment or "label" to the self, after a negative experience.
Breaking Down Rejection Distortions and Feeling Better
Let's get something clear, dating is indeed "discriminatory". We are choosing and being chosen. No matter what the reason, not getting what we want can be a negative experience. BUT, those negative feelings are made MUCH worse by false assumptions about rejection (the cognitive distortions above). If those false assumptions are corrected, then the majority of negative feelings can be avoided.
For example, when rejecting behavior occurs, individuals sometimes are led to believe and think, "I just got rejected. They didn't like me.". This already contains many distortions and inaccuracies. But, compounded with harsh rejecting behavior from others, these self-thoughts may even include "I am a no-good, worthless person, etc.". The result is a very negative experience and perhaps a lasting poor self-image.
To help protect yourself against such negative and undeserved feelings, it can be helpful to counter the unfair cognitive distortions. To do so, keep the following in mind:
1) Each instance (approach, date request, etc.) is unique and different. Whether one or several people have demonstrated rejecting behaviors towards your request, you cannot logically generalize to "everyone" or "always". Each time, place, and person is distinctive. What is true for one is not true for all. The next person could be different. So, try not to overgeneralize. Stay hopeful. Keep an open mind.
2) Rejection is not your fault. Try not to personalize and take the blame. There are many reasons why someone can be disinterested and very few of them relate to you at all. This is even MORE true, in instances where the other person is needlessly abusive or shaming. That is clearly their issues, which they are trying to push onto you, and you are not responsible for causing. However, do stay open to civil explanations and respectful feedback.
3) Rejection says nothing about you as a person. This is where the phrase "I got rejected" is particularly troubling. "You" did not get rejected. The person saying no doesn't even know the essential "you". How could they reject it? You have not downloaded your personal life history into them. So, try not to label yourself based on one superficial interaction (or many). Be vigilant to not give anyone who doesn't really know you that much influence over your self-image. Certainly a 30 second chat, or even several dates, doesn't qualify someone as an expert on "you" to judge you.
Given all of that, a less self-blaming and distorted statement might be, "that individual person rejected the offer you proposed". Such a statement is more accurate (and more comfortable). It leaves open the facts that:
- Others might like the offer, just because that person didn't.
- That individual is responsible for the "rejecting" behavior, not you.
- There are many factors that may have contributed to their disinterest in the request that are not under your control or your responsibility.
- Most importantly - the interaction says NOTHING about you as a person. The "request" was declined...not "you".
A Note About Rights, Responsibility, and Feedback
It should go without saying, but I will say it anyway. The advice above is contingent on you making the request in a manner that respects the legal rights and stated preferences of others. You are entitled to make your request in a respectful and civil manner. But, you are not entitled to a "yes" response. Furthermore, you are responsible for respecting their choice. If you have kept within those boundaries, then what I have said above applies - and other's "should" accept or decline with respect and civility (more on that next time).
Finally, while the choice of others does not say anything about you as a person, it can be a source of information about achieving your dating goals. Constructive feedback sometimes accompanies a decline (or an acceptance) of an offer. All experiences may contain information about how an offer or approach could be "refined" - even if that refinement is just to look for "single", "happy looking", "respectful" people to ask.
Again though, the feedback and changes are about where, when, how, and with whom "the request" is made - NOT about your value as a person. This is like any other persuasive appeal. If an advertisement doesn't sell the product, that doesn't mean the product itself is bad. But, based on feedback, the advertisement could be modified to target the right people, at the right time, who are interested, with an appealing format. The product didn't change at all...only the advertisement.
So, love the product that is you, but look for feedback that might help you optimize your "advertisement".
Experiences of rejection are not easy. Sometimes they can be made worse by the behavior of others and how we even discuss it culturally. But, attending to how you are thinking about and internalizing the experience can help alleviate negative personal feelings. Remember that "you" don't get rejected - it is the other person that simply declines a request. There are also many reasons out of your control why someone says "no". You are further not responsible or at fault for the choices of others (within legal limits). So, their choice is not an indicator of your character or self-worth. Rather, keep in mind that you are a good and worthwhile person, no matter what. And, most importantly, disregard the haters ;)
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Until next time...happy dating and relating!
Dr. Jeremy Nicholson
The Attraction Doctor
Previous Articles from The Attraction Doctor
- Beck, J. S. (1995). Cognitive therapy: Basics and beyond. Guilford Press.
© 2011 by Jeremy S. Nicholson, M.A., M.S.W., Ph.D. All rights reserved.