4. Significant Rejection Experiences
Chapters 1-3 focused on life's beginnings and early years and how they programmed into us a powerful not good enough feeling. Chapter 4 onward advances the storyline into young adult and adult experiences that may have contributed to this. In this chapter we will explore significant rejection experiences.
Who Wants Me?
The young adult years, from puberty onward, send us extraordinary messages about our place in the social structure. Who likes us, who does not like us. What groups embrace us, what groups shun us. How close we are to the center of attention, how close we are to the top of the social setting, how far and marginalized we are. How many free passes and opportunities we get, how many roadblocks and detours are put in our path (overtly or covertly). Who from the opposite sex shows us romantic interest, does the opposite sex even show us interest at all. All these young adult and adult scenarios answer silent questions about our self-concept: Who wants me? Does the world around me think I'm good enough? Smart enough? Interesting enough? Useful enough? Pretty enough?
Rejection is being refused, excluded, unrequited, or discarded by another person or group. The mere perception of rejection can be equally injurious, especially in a person's younger years or in times of greater emotional vulnerability. Rejection can be passive (ignoring, indifference, distance, absence, neglect, etc.) or aggressive (ridicule, harassment, bullying, violence, etc.).
Significant rejection is one of the most titanic ordeals a person can experience. Sound exaggerated? Rejection, or the perception of it, contributed to Cain murdering his brother. God points this out beforehand (Gen 4:7). Rejection from his mother and a music producer contributed to Charles Manson masterminding the murders of at least nine innocent people. Rejection, or the perception of it, is one of the main precursors to substance abuse, destructive relationships, sexual addiction, and countless other dangerous dysfunctions. On a less sinister level, rejection improperly managed imparts low self-esteem, low self-efficacy, insecurity, excessive compliance, loneliness, hypersensitivity, anxiety, panic, aggression, and so many other viruses of the soul.
No need to despair, though, anyone can recover from significant rejection and its effects to a functional degree. However, only in Christ and through the Spirit of liberty can a person enjoy the purest and most thorough form of recovery and freedom. Only in Christ and through the Spirit of liberty can the rejection-based not good enough feeling be undone to the greatest, fullest, free indeed extent.
Perhaps the greatest young adult shaper of self-concept comes from our experiences in the romantic realm. Few things impart a feeling of value and good enough like being desired romantically. And, few things impart a feeling of not good enough like romantic paucity or nothingness.
Several years ago, a man in his late thirties made a statement to me in conversation that illuminates the concept of this chapter. His entire adult life he was shown little or no romantic interest from women. He wanted badly to get married and, now approaching forty, he was still unmarried. His closing statement was, When you go long enough without anyone wanting to be with you, you start believing you are just not good enough. He simply verbalized what many adults say within themselves if they experience prolonged romantic paucity or nothingness.
The inclusion or exclusion of peers and social niches can also have this effect on self-concept. We all want to fit somewhere and have some dimension of community. When no tribe fully accepts us, we tend to personalize and internalize the rebuff as not being good enough or whatever enough.
The same mechanisms operate in a person's vocational life, especially in countries or sectors of society or families where vocational competition and success are utmost and urgent. Open doors, opportunities, pay raises, vocational ascent in general, impart a feeling of good enough, regardless of how legitimate or superficial that feeling might be, while little or no upward mobility in one's job life imparts a feeling of not good enough, again regardless of how legitimate or illegitimate that feeling might be.
I have had significant rejection experiences. Now what?
Recovering from rejection and eradicating a rejection root, and thereby dissolving the not good enough feeling rising from it, is absolutely doable and Biblical. If we do not do it, however, we doom ourselves to perpetual puppydogging for attention, approval, and acceptance that will continually haunt us and prove elusive.
Accurately (re-)interpret your rejection experiences.
Not all rejection is equal. Not all rejection is vicious. We tend to interpret all rejection as quote-unquote "bad". Few people develop the keenness to discern different categories of rejection and their truest meaning.
Unjust rejection is the vicious kind. Someone rejects us because they themselves are vexed by their own rejection experiences or personal shortcomings. Think of how some parents reject their children (certain aspects of them) through excessive criticism and withholding basic validations. Think of children/youth and their propensity to exclude, ridicule, or bully, usually as a form of displacement because these things are being done to them somewhere somehow.
Healthy rejection is at the opposite extreme, and tends to happen more among adults. Sometimes people reject us because they perceive unsafe, shady, or destructive tendencies in us or in our life. Thus, using wise discretion, they distance from us partially or completely. Assertive individuals might even confront us openly before pulling away.
We need this healthy species of rejection. Yes we do. Why do we assume others should accept us unconditionally if we have elements that could harm them or their life? If we find ourselves continually rejected by different types of people, across several different settings, over multiple seasons of time, guess what?
Perceived rejection is when it is all in our imagination. Realize and understand you can feel what is not real.
They are genuinely preoccupied. They are carrying a private burden. They are truly busy. They really are tired. They are not rejecting us or anything about us. They simply cannot give us what we would like at that time.
Most adults have the cognitive development to reason through this and undo the rejection feeling (even though many do not and assume their perception is right). Children, however, cannot. They are hyperliteralists and one-dimensional. Their perceptions are assumed to be absolute truth. Therefore, parents and caretakers need to do their best to embrace and accept, while avoiding behaviors that could be perceived as rejection. When the latter is unavoidable, time and effort need to be taken to explain away the perceived rejection and give reassurance.
Heal those you have rejected.
When I was 21, the Holy Spirit began revealing His displeasure towards aspects of my character. He prompted me to make a list of every person I had ever rejected or hurt significantly. It was one hundred twenty-six victims long. Then He prompted me to go back to each one and humble myself, state my wrong specifically and without justifications, ask for their forgiveness, and make restitution where possible.
The next eight months were busied with in-person visits, phone calls, handwritten letters, and emails. I never knew a human being I thought to be so wonderful (me) could actually be so depraved (me). Each name was a nauseous encounter with the raw, real pain I had caused. I abhorred myself. I couldn't take enough showers to get Me off of Me.
But praise and glory be to the Sanctifier! I saw dozens of inner healings in these precious ones, and even two feuding families (which I caused) reconciled and resumed friendship. When I marked off #126, I felt as if my being had been in a washing machine over a hundred times. I wish I had the vocabulary to express how this recreated my deepest personhood.
One thing I did not expect was this: the spirit of rejection I had lived with for many years had dissolved significantly and was almost nonexistent. More steps would need to be taken, though, to complete the transformation miracle.
Matthew 7:2,5 (NIV): …with the measure you use, it will be measured to you…You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Proverbs 28:13 (NASB): One who conceals his wrongdoings will not prosper, but one who confesses and abandons them will find compassion.
Repent for owning the rejection of others.
Rejections will always happen, but we do not have to own them and absorb them into our personality. We can hold them at a scientific distance, analyze and learn from them, then release them back into nothingness. Whether we owned these rejections as innocent children or as foolish adults, we need to repent specifically and verbally reject them from our identity in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. Owning rejection is owning an idol.
Ezekiel 14:3 (NIV): Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?
Accurately reinterpret your rejections according to what is really true.
Remember, feelings do only one thing: feel. They do not reason or calculate. They do not analyze or interpret. They do not consider or reconsider. They feel and that is all they do--feel.
This means you will have to intentionally climb higher than your emotions to analyze the true nature of your rejection experience(s). Is it unjust rejection, coming from someone(s) simply passing on or displacing the ills they themselves have suffered? Is it healthy rejection, coming from others' perceptions that I could harm them or their life in some way? Is it only perceived rejection, and me overreacting via my own rejection expectation? Figure out and follow what is really true.
John 8:32 (NKJV): And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
Pursue a rejection-free life.
Pursuing a rejection-free life means two things: (1) consciously reminding yourself to accurately interpret rejection scenarios so that you never own any unjust or imaginary rejections, and, (2) generously granting judgment-free, but wise, acceptance of others. Live above receiving or giving inappropriate rejection.