I still remember when I was 16 and my best friend dropped me for another girl because I wasn't "deep" enough for her. This girl was my soul mate, and when she rejected me for another best friend (whom I imagined to be far more interesting and complex than I), the injury and loss were immense.
I felt devastated, my confidence crushed. It is a great relief to be grown up, to have a number of close friends instead of one best friend, and most importantly, to not take rejection so personally. Or, at least, to be working hard at not taking it so personally.
When we take rejection as proof of our inadequacies it's hard to allow ourselves to risk being truly seen again. How can we open ourselves to another person if we fear that he or she will discover what we're trying desperately to hide-that we are stupid, boring, incompetent, needy, or in some way deeply inadequate?
Obviously we won't meet many people's standards or win their affection, respect or approval. So what?
The problem arises when shame kicks in and we aren't able to view our flaws, limitations and vulnerabilities in a patient, self-loving way. The fear of rejection becomes understandably intense when it taps into our own belief that we are lesser than others-or lesser than the image we feel compelled to project.
Rejection is a fast route back to childhood shame. It's not just that you went to a party and no one made an effort to talk to you. It's that you're essentially boring and undesirable and so it is and so it will always be.
If you engage in this sort of global thinking you may avoid intimacy entirely by never truly allowing yourself to be seen, or known. Or you may defensively reject people or situations because you fear that once you're seen for who you really are, you will be deemed unworthy and unlovable.
You may even believe that the person who does the rejecting is automatically superior to the person who is rejected. Relationships are not some sort of bizarre competition in which the person who gets out first, refuses to attach, or suffers less is proclaimed the winner. Rejection can reveal just as much and often more, about the insecurities and fears of the person doing the rejecting.
We might all wish to don armor (or at least a wet suit) to protect us from the feelings of shame, self-loathing, depression, anxiety, and rage that rejection can evoke. None of us is immune to the pain of rejection, but the more we grow in maturity and self-worth, the less likely we are to take it quite as personally.
When we acknowledge that rejection is not an indictment of our being, but an experience we must all face again and again if we put ourselves out there, rejection becomes easier to bear.
The only sure way to avoid rejection is to sit mute in a corner and take no risks. If we choose to live courageously, we will experience rejection-and survive to show up for more.