When Gut-Stabbing Rejection Turns Out to Be a Gift
Surviving the rejection and discovering a better life and more peaceful you.
Posted May 13, 2021 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma
It hurts. The story is common, classic, and world-rocking. A partner whom you thought loved you up, down, sideways, center, and would never leave, suddenly discards you. You loved her. You trusted her. You thought your bond was deep, forever, and special. Disbelieving and trying to undo the feeling of rejection, you attempt all manner of methods to get her back. It becomes an obsession. Lose weight, don't get irritated, be a better listener, watch RomCom at her request, fight your introversion and attend the next social event with good cheer.
Whatever the reason for her departure—there is someone else, love died, a mid-life crisis, an addiction, stress that elicited an underlying condition such as narcissism or depression, or you have no idea—you suddenly find yourself untied and perhaps unhinged. In the depths of despair, it can be hard to see the light, know you can get through this and that you might actually be better off without this person as your partner.
Realizing that you may be better off requires a rigorous self-inventory and an honest look at qualities in them that troubled you, ones you brushed off. A crucial psychological task is to separate the panicky urge to remedy the feeling of rejection by trying desperately to get them back, from an objective assessment of whether this person is good for you. As much as you loved them or thought you did, maybe you were not growing and your vitality was dissipating. Perhaps communication never led to positive change in the relationship. Mirror, validate, reflect, and empathize just wasn't happening. Ruptures led to polarizations rather than repair, deeper understanding, greater intimacy, and joy. This gut-stabbing rejection may end up being a gift, especially if you are the kind of person who has trouble with separation and will hold on forever even if it kills you.
It sounds cliche but sometimes you really are stronger than you know. Especially if the duo-dynamic had you locked into a diminished persona or playing a role that seriously disempowered you. Examining your vulnerabilities, understanding why you might have set yourself up for this, and identifying your true desires can prepare you for a more peace-producing or enlivening next chapter. And the resurgence of your natural strengths.
Why did you stay? Maybe you fear being alone. Perhaps you are a persevering person who sticks things out too long. Maybe you love predictability, certainty, and sameness. Could you be too flexible and put up with mounting mini empathic injuries? Are you driven by the hope that your communications on the matter will lead to better things? It is good to have the resourcefulness to make things work, but one can go too far and lose important aspects of the self. Spine, soul, and spontaneity can slowly slip away without conscious awareness. Dependence, clinginess, overly tolerant, passive, and dutiful tendencies can cause one to turn a blind eye or engage in denial. Maybe you were collapsing inside—at the same time, you were holding fast to this person—because it was unfathomable that they could be the source of your discomfort in living.
Was it who they were? What they did? How they changed? Which qualities were difficult for you to accept? Were they always there but the difference now is that you are willing to see them? There are always grating issues but some annoyances are easier to tolerate than others depending on your disposition.
Talking to a trusted someone can help you with insight, self-compassion, acceptance, strength, and action. This might be a friend, family member, professional, or pastor. Honest, supportive, and insight-generating conversations can be curative but so can solitude. Listening to music, visiting a museum, walking in nature (Saint Augustine said, "Solvitur ambulando" or it is solved by walking) lets your mind meander, emotions rise, imagination kick in, and memories surface. When useful inner dialogue unfolds, you figure things out. Remembering who you are and what you love is grounding, even if there are tearful moments because of a loss or a change. Openness to other people, places, and things can offer spontaneous moments of delight and surprising new paths. The bottom line is sometimes you can live without something or someone you thought essential and you actually may be far better off if they interfered with the full expression of your healthy and able self.
Blum, Harold. (2004). Separation-Individuation Theory and Attachment Theory. Journal of the American Psychoanalytic Association. 52. 535-53. 10.1177/00030651040520020501.