Lesson 4 of 7 - optimize your relationships

Perspective on
Personal Rejection

How do you respond to it?

By Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/rejection.htm

Updated  02-13-2015

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      This is one of a series of brief articles on how to improve your interpersonal relationships. This article offers perspective on social rejections, specific options for adapting to it; and components for an "effective rejection." The article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this nonprofit Web site and the premises underlying it

  • self-improvement Lessons 1 and 2

  • perspective on self-love and self-confidence

      This brief YouTube video summarizes some of what you'll find in this article:


      Most kids and adults are social critters. Starting in infancy, we seek social acceptance and approval from relatives, friends, playmates, neighbors, and co-workers. Our evolving set of social relationships range from "not very important" to "very important," so the need for others' acceptance and approval varies from low to high.

      This need is affected by the clarity of our personal identity ("I know clearly who I am.") and our self esteem (low to high). Typical survivors of early-childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse ("trauma") enter adulthood with low self esteem (excessive shame), so their need for others' acceptance and approval is relatively high.

      In this article, a rejection occurs when one person steadily ignores or refuses invitations of friendship from another person. It may or may not involve cutting off all contact. Rejections can occur before a social bond (mutual caring) forms or afterward. Note the continuum between being indifferent to someone (having no needs, expectations, or emotional response to them), disliking and  avoiding them, and rejecting them.

      In our warp-speed, overstimulated families and societies, typical people are only vaguely aware of...

Why Rejections Happen

      Rejections occur when the stress from relating consistently outweighs any benefits. See if you've experienced any of these common surface reasons for rejection...

  • "I dislike your values and/or some of you're behaviors."

  • "I can't communicate with you."

  • "I fear you."

  • "I don't trust you."

  • "I don't like the way I feel when I'm with you."

  • "I'm offended and/or frustrated by you."

  • "You're only concerned with yourself. I feel ignored, manipulated, and/or used by you."

  • "I don't respect you."

  • "I can't be myself with you."

  • "We have no common interests."

  • "You disrespect and/or mistreat people I care about."

  • "You don't respect my opinions, preferences, and boundaries."

  • "I'm too frustrated with you. You deny these traits and/or you won't try to moderate them - even if I ask you to politely. I've lost all hope you'll (want to) compromise or change."

      These are superficial reasons for rejecting another person. The underlying real reasons are [unseen psychological wounds + unawareness + ignorance of effective communication and relationship basics] in both people. 

      Most relationships are a dynamic balance of pleasure, frustration, and irritation. Healthy people can endure moderate irritation from traits like those above without fully rejecting (cutting off contact with) the other person. If the irritation and stress from traits like these is too great and/or too frequent, and if all attempts to reduce the stress fail, then people "give up" on the relationship passively or vocally.

Implied Messages

      The opposite of social acceptance is "rejection." It's caused by behaviors that imply...

"I want nothing to do with you - you're not important to me."

"I'm not interested in you or your life - I don't care about you." 

"I don't like or approve of you."

"I don't want to spend time with or communicate with you."

"Go away - don't bother me."

These painful messages can apply to one adult or child, a couple, or a family, clan, or group. They can be one-way or mutual.

Impact Variables

      The psychological effects of being rejected range from minor to massive, depend on whether it was...

  • gradual or sudden (e.g. after some major trauma);

  • foreseen or unexpected

  • subtle or obvious

  • partial or full

  • consistent or erratic

  • explained or not

  • denied, excused, or admitted

  • assumed or actual

  • calm or conflictual and dramatic

  • rude, punitive, or respectful

  • temporary, conditional, or final

  • parental, marital, family, social, or organizational

  • individual or group rejection

  • (add your own impact-variable)

      Perhaps the most important impact variable is whether your true Self guides you or not. A false self is apt to feel victimized, shamed, and humiliated by interpersonal rejection, and a true Self will not. Do you agree?

      The mix of factors like these + your experience, neediness, and maturity will shape the impact of a social rejection from minor and temporary to "devastating" and long-lasting.

      Have you ever felt rejected by someone you valued? What did you feel - Shocked? Hurt? Sad? Resentful? Frustrated? Puzzled? Angry? Regretful? Numb? Depressed? Resigned? "Heartbroken"? Disappointed? Guilty? Combative? Several of these? Was your true Self causing your feelings, or were some other reactive subselves?

Parental Rejection and Wound-recovery

      Perhaps the most complex and disruptive interpersonal rejections occur between parents and kids. A close second place would be rejection by a biological sibling. These ruptures are specially painful because they imply loss of family bonding, cohesion, nurturance, and support.

      A parent may "disown" (reject) their child for surface reasons like major disapproval, disappointment, embarrassment, disgust, guilt, frustration, egotism, ambition, and/or pride. Doing so causes many major psychological, social, and financial effects on most or all family members including any grandkids, for years afterward.

      Far less often, a psychologically-wounded parent  may terminate a toxic (shaming, critical, conflictual, angry) relationship with a child because their relationship impedes reducing the parent's own wounds ("recovery"). It may also significantly stress the parent's marriage, finances, and/or physical health. This may change if the adult child commits to their own wound reduction and invites reconnection.

      More frequently, a wounded adult child may choose to admit and reduce their wounds in mid-life, and decides that relating to a toxic father or mother significantly slows their wholistic recovery (and may wound their own kids). This is specially likely if the parent is unaware of being ruled by a false self, denies their wounds and toxic behaviors, and blames the child and or the other parent for family conflicts. Real rejection requires that the teen or adult child becomes convinced their is no hope their parent can hear what they feel and need (care), and doesn't want to seek respectful compromises.

      The real reasons family-members reject each other is that the people involved have (a) inherited all six psychological wounds, (b) are unaware of (or deny) this and what it means, and (c) are ignorant of effective communication and relationship basics. It also implies that all grandparents and parents were never shown how to educate and nurture their child/ren effectively.

      Pause and reflect on your past and current relationship with each of your biological and any psychological parents. Have you ever considered rejecting any of them? If so, was that helpful? If not, was/is the relationship reducing your wholistic health and growth? Either way, has your true Self been making your decisions about your relationship/s?

Abandonment and Divorce

      In a family context, spousal or parental abandonment signifies a specially-impactful type of rejection. It occurs when someone ignores their responsibility to care for a dependent adult or child. It can be physical (Maria's father ran away when she was four.") or psychological ("Maria lives with both parents, but they ignore and neglect her.")  Both of these can have profoundly harmful effects on young kids - specially those without high-nurturance support systems

      Psychological and legal divorce is epidemic in our culture. It always implies that one or both mates has rejected the other at least partially ("I love you but I can't live with you."). In a minority of breakups, one partner seeks legal protection from their ex because of harassment and/or unwelcome intrusions. These are signs that the partner Is ruled by a false self which can't accept and adapt to rejection by their mate.

Rejections Cause Losses

      Any interpersonal rejection causes a group of losses for all people involved. If it occurs before a bond has grown, both people lose the opportunity for friendship and shared experiences. If rejection happens after a one-way or mutual bond has formed, the bond is lost. That implies the concurrent loss of valued rituals, conversations, relationships, and expectations. ("I look forward to taking another vacation with you.") Psychologically-wounded people may also lose some of their identity ("I used to be friends with _____"), self respect, and personal security.

       Part of a healthy response to rejection is recognizing and grieving the losses it causes. Part of this grieving process is evolving stable, credible answers to questions like these:

  • why is s/he (or are they) rejecting me?

  • did I do something that caused this?

  • could I have prevented this?

  • is this rejection temporary or permanent?

  • will (the rejecter) talk with me about this?

  • what effect will these losses have on me and other people I value?

  • how will certain other people react to this rejection?

  • what can I learn from this experience?

  • what do I need now?

Survivors of childhood abandonment, neglect, and abuse often have trouble grieving well, until they decide to reduce their wounds, free their true Self to guide them, and leave toxic relationships and environments.

      SO - there are many levels of personal and group rejection, and many factors that affect how impactful a given rejection is. Is there a "best way" to handle significant rejections? See what you think about these...

Options for Adapting to Rejection

        Note - the underlined links below will take you to other articles. I suggest you finish reading this one before following any such links in this section.

      I propose that these are helpful ways to adapt to personal rejections:

  • KEY - check to see if your true Self is guiding you. If not, the following options may not help. If s/he is not guiding you, patiently study and apply Lesson 1.

  • choose to believe you can learn something useful from experiencing this rejection;

  • identify your current personal priorities, and review these ageless wisdoms;

  • estimate whether each rejecting person is ruled by a false self (i.e. is unaware of significant psychological wounds). Use this comparison for an initial estimate. If s/he is wounded, read this and this for perspective and suggestions.

  • Expand your awareness by reading and applying these articles on...

      More options for adapting to rejection...

  • Create or review your Bill of Personal Rights and remind yourself that every other person has the same rights as you do.

  • Review and apply these ideas about self-respect and mutual respect.

  • Review these options for analyzing significant relationship problem/s.

  • If circumstances allow, ask the rejecting person/s to explain their attitude about you and your relationship. If you've offended them in some way, consider these options on forgiveness. If they have a problem with your behavior, offer win-win problem-solving if you feel genuine mutual respect.

  • If ineffective communication has promoted your relationship problems, study and try these practical options.

  • Learn about grieving basics, and identify specifically what you're losing because of this rejection. Then study and apply Lesson 3 to help you grieve effectively over time when your true Self guides you.

  • If you're adapting to several rejections at once, learn about creating mutually-satisfying relationships with anyone by studying self-improvement Lessons 1 thru 4

      Do these seem like realistic options? If so, is there anything in the way of your trying them out? The most common barrier is unawareness of false-self dominance (psychological wounds), which can cause doubt, skepticism, and procrastination .

      If there are young people in your life, what are you modeling and teaching them about self-confidence, pride, and social acceptance and rejection?

      Now let's look briefly at...

What is an Effective Rejection?

      If you choose to reject someone, you can take proactive steps to minimize feeling anxious, ambivalent, guilty, regretful, and/or ashamed. Tailor these steps when...

  • a relationship consistently causes you too much anxiety, frustration, guilt, shame, pain, and anger, and...

  • your Self is usually guiding you, and...

  • all your efforts to improve the relationship have failed, then...

...you may choose to reject the person/s and end the relationship. Is there a "best way" to do this? I propose "yes." Premise - an effective rejection is one which...

  • leaves both people feeling heard and respected;

  • promotes self-awareness and growth in both people; and...

  • causes little or no residual doubt, anxiety, guilt, shame, regret, and/or  resentment.

       Consider these options for making an effective interpersonal rejection. Option - use what follows as a checklist...

 Before the rejection, you...

_ confirm that your true Self is guiding you, or you're working to achieve that; and you...'

_ identify what specific relationship needs of yours aren't being met; and you...

_ are alert for possible relationship addiction (codependence); and you...

_ repeatedly use respectful ''I"-messages to alert the other person to how their attitudes and behaviors were affecting you; and you...

_ steadily maintain and communicate an attitude of mutual respect despite your differences; and you..

_ intentionally avoid any Persecutor - Victim - Rescuer relationship triangles; and you....

_ try to genuinely compromise on any major values conflicts with the person; and you...

_ patiently try win-win problem-solving with any other conflicts with her or him; and you..

_ consider getting one or more outside opinions from people whose judgment you trust; and you... .

_ consciously review these ageless wisdoms and chose not to act impulsively.

      If you take these steps, then you can feel satisfied you tried every reasonable option to retain the relationship.

      And you can keep feeling calm and centered if...

 During the rejection, you...

_  keep your true Self in charge despite any stressful behavior by the rejected  person/s. This will allow you to...

_  view the rejected person's reactions with compassion and empathy, rather then scorn; and you...

_  stay clear on (a) the boundaries you need to maintain with the other person/s, and on (b) how to enforce your boundaries respectfully and firmly; and you...

_ have explained to affected people (like kids, relatives, and mutual friends), why you need to reject; and you...

_  have not allowed other people to sway you in your decision, despite pleas, threats, scorn, or criticism; and you...

_ have stayed balanced about your other life responsibilities and goals, vs. over-focusing on the rejection and its effects; and you...

_ proactively identify and grieve any significant losses that this rejection causes you.

      Note the underlying theme to all these options - personal and social awareness and self and mutual respect. Think back to one or more times you have rejected someone. Were you consciously aware of options like those you just read? Few people are - which promotes feeling guilty and/or ashamed, righteous, defensive, uncertain, or "numb."  


      This article is one of a series in Lesson 4 - ways to optimize your personal relationships. It explores the primal human need for social approval and acceptance, and the painful experience of being rejected by important people and groups. The article closes with (a) practical suggestions for adapting to significant social rejections, and (b) options for creating an "effective" rejection.  

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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