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Facing Rejection

It isn't easy, it's seldom graceful, but it's doable.

Hannah Rose
Source: Hannah Rose

The lessons of rejection can be delivered in a myriad of forms: a relationship ending, a school denying your application, a job opportunity that was given to someone else, a conversation that ends abruptly, an omission of a compliment, a lack of emotional availability, and so many more.

But the common thread that seems to permeate through every experience of rejection is almost impossible to ignore: the deterioration of self-worth.

That’s the most dangerous part about the experience of rejection. We internalize it. We make it about us. We tell ourselves these narratives about how we aren't good enough, how we aren't worthy. But that's simply not true. We are always worthy, we are always enough. Maybe the relationship itself wasn't organic, maybe it's not meeting both of your needs. But that doesn't mean you are inherently flawed.

A few months ago, I awoke on the beautiful island of Kauai. I was elated to have a break from my busy yet fulfilling life; my only responsibility was to put on enough sunscreen to prevent my fair skin from burning in the sweltering heat.

It was there that I received a very anticipated email from Loyola University, the institution from which I was waiting to hear about my doctoral program admission status.

I inhaled, and instead of praying or asking the universe for an acceptance letter, I intuitively set an intention to be at peace with whatever decision was made.

That was the first action that I now deem as incredibly significant and relevant to my reaction.

I opened the email, fingers shaking subtly.

“The Admission Committee has carefully reviewed your application for admission to the graduate program in PsyD, Clinical at Loyola University Maryland.

After much consideration, I regret to inform you that we are not able to offer you admission. I recognize this message may come as a disappointment to you.

We appreciate your interest in graduate studies at Loyola University Maryland, and I wish you the best as you pursue your educational goals.”

My heart dropped. My finger hovered above the screen.

Without missing a beat, I took a breath, acknowledged a potential slew of self-defeating thoughts slowly entering my psyche, and mentally closed the door on them. Instead of catering to the insidious shame-narratives that can so easily penetrate my thoughts, I chose to listen to a deeply-rooted gut feeling—so subtle that I easily could have missed it:

I am going to be okay. Maybe it isn’t the right time. Maybe the program isn’t for me.

That was the second, and potentially most important action. We have a choice in how we respond. We need not react to every thought or emotion that comes up; we can simply notice them. No reaction needed, no action taken, just observe.

I exhaled, automatically proud of my chosen response of radical acceptance, and reached out to a few of my close friends to let them know about the decision.

That feeling of being proud of myself and my response completely eclipsed any residual feelings of failure or rejection.

If you had told me a year ago, maybe even a few months ago, that I would respond so sanely, so healthily to rejection, I wouldn’t have believed you.

Four years ago, the rejection I experienced after a breakup was palpable. It was the summer of 2015, the summer that I was in so much pain that I didn’t know how else to handle my emotions aside from writing.

That pain brought me to a place of grounding. It brought me to my writing, to my outlet, to my truth. But it wasn’t easy.

The first article I ever wrote was called “Why I’m Giving Up Intentions.” It’s ironic to look back and read it now, as intention-setting is such an integral part of my daily practice. But it was the first time I had ever written something, decided to submit it to a mindfulness website, and actually get published.

In that article, I wrote:

“The dull throb of rejection is still ever present in the darkest corners of my heart. I’ve tried to make it disappear with therapy, with spirituality, with deep breathing, with an overcompensating positive attitude towards the world.

Even him.

But what I’ve come to accept, after reading hundreds of articles, daily meditations and wisdom from those who have dealt with pain and loss and grief is that there isn’t an escape that works.

Escapes exist: substance abuse, new relationships, seeking validation through male friends. But an escape isn’t what I want. It isn’t what I need, down on a core level.

I need to feel it.

I’m not sure if it is a human tendency to want to run from pain to avoid it at any cost, or if it is a characteristic of my alcoholism, a reflexive habit to do anything and everything not to feel pain.

Here I am four years into my sobriety, a broken relationship and a painful rebound later.

Something in me has shifted. I no longer want to escape the pain. Something has finally clicked in the confines of my heart, and I know that the only way through the pain is exactly that: through it.

So I turn towards the pain. I sit with the feelings, both good and bad that wash over me like the waves [of the Atlantic] that I’ve watched these last few weeks bounding the beach in Ocean City, Maryland. Surrounded by hundreds of people; most of which are drunk and loving life to the extent that they are capable of.

And I am alone. I am alone and I am completely and utterly whole.”

Hannah Rose
Source: Hannah Rose

In another article I word-vomited in November of 2015, still reeling from this breakup, I wrote:

"I can’t eat. But I’m starving. I can’t tell whether it’s a potential bout of depression slowly making its way into my psyche or the subtle but unwavering dull throb of emptiness as a result of a string of failed relationships.

I guess using the word “failed” for my relationships doesn’t do them justice; I know they all serve a purpose, I know they all come together to make me who I am today and who I will be tomorrow.

It continues to amaze me how pervasive the ever-constant seeking and manufacturing of relationships is in society today. Almost every song I hear on the radio is about love or heartache, almost every TV commercial embodies the picture perfect and almost unrealistic expectation of what a marriage should be.

Day to day I ask myself and am asked by others what my love life is like, and I’ve never thought about answering it about how I am loving myself today."

So here’s my take on facing rejection.

It isn’t easy.
It’s seldom graceful.
But it’s necessary,
And it’s absolutely doable.

One of the key practices I’ve learned throughout my experiences with rejection is that I almost always will take the responsibility and the blame. It’s easier to think that I’m not good enough than it is to deal with the reality that maybe the relationship simply doesn’t mesh. It’s not organic. It isn’t right.

Maybe going into a 5-year doctoral program, which I impulsively applied to one day "just to see if I can get in," wasn't meant for me. Maybe I'm not supposed to be a psychologist! Maybe by sticking to my incredible job right now, I can actually find the time to write and fuel my fire for writing, public speaking, and training!

Who knows.

But here's what I do know: When it comes to relationships, I don’t want to be with someone unless they 110 percent want to be with me.

I never thought I was capable of having high standards in relationships.

But as humans, we are more than capable of growth and change.

Humans aren't hard-wired to be a certain way for their entire lives.

You aren’t “bad at” dealing with rejection; you just haven’t grown some specific muscles that target resilience and self-worth. Today, even when I get rejected (which I do, and I will!), I am still able to stay grounded.


Simple. When the rejection happens, no matter in what context, pause. Breathe. Pray, if that’s your thing. Acknowledge your strengths. Try to look at the situation as objectively as you can. Acknowledge the feelings of ego deflation and sadness. Feel the pain. Lean into the pain! Hell, write about the pain. And pull on your strengths.

I could easily have jumped down the rabbit hole of “I got rejected from the first doctoral program I applied to, so I’m obviously an idiot, incompetent, going nowhere in life, a failure, a reject, and a joke.”

But you know as much as I do, that’s simply not true.

My thoughts and feelings are not always based in reality.

Actually, they’re often not.

So look at your rejection for what it is.

Maybe, just maybe, you were able to dodge a bullet.

Maybe your relationship would have been a dumpster fire later on.

Maybe that school you wanted to get into would have prohibited you from an opportunity that you wouldn’t have stumbled across if you were too busy working on a degree that you didn’t necessarily want.

Maybe, just maybe, we don’t have all the answers.

And things always work out in the end.

If they aren’t working out, it’s not the end.

At least, that’s how I feel. And it works pretty well for me.

Rejection, I’m not scared of you.

Because if I’m not rejecting myself, then nothing can truly reject me.

I know that I’m enough today.

I know my worth today.

And I’ll be damned if anyone or anything can take that from me.

If you're still thinking, "But I'm not okay, still in pain, and don't know if I can face rejection,"

Just remember:

It isn’t easy.
It’s seldom graceful.
But it’s necessary,
And it’s absolutely doable.

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