By Sharukh Vazifdar June 2010 Rejection hits all of us at different times in our life. If we can learn the lessons it holds for us in the maw of its pain, it can vault us to greater self-esteem and acceptance Priyanka Kumar (name changed), a stylist in Mumbai, was devastated when within a month her three-year relationship with her boyfriend broke down, she lost her job, and her pet dog passed away. She had been pushed out of the space she shared in two crucial areas of her life. She remembers lying in bed with the thought that nobody wanted her going round and round in her head, and tears streaming down her cheeks.We all face rejection at some point in our lives. Starting from childhood, the pressures of parents, school and friends urge us to fit in or be left out. Later on as we mature, we experience rejection at more significant levels. The person we like or adore may not like us back, or the college we apply to may reject the application. We might be ostracised from our family or our society for a certain belief or action. Sometimes a parent favours one child over other, creating a permanent scar on the rejected child’s mind. The newspapers often carry pictures of a cat nursing baby rabbits or a dog sheltering infant guinea pigs, after the tiny ones have been rejected by their natural caretakers. How many jobs did you apply for, only to be shot down for some reason or another? Another example of rejection is the numerous talent shows on television where participants compete against each other for the winning prize. Almost certainly, the loser breaks down because of the hurt of being spurned in public.Because we cannot control the action of others, almost all of us have to face rejection at some point of time. It is therefore paramount that we learn to deal with it positively. Instead of being dragged down, can we use rejection to grow in confidence and acceptance, to strengthen our self-worth, and to refuse to give up?What and why?As human beings, we all have a need to belong, to fit in, whether that is through a relationship, or by conforming to societal norms, or even at work. We also need to give and receive affection to be psychologically and physiologically healthy. A major part of our social identity is derived from our various social networks and association. To be popular, to have friends, to be sought after by the opposite sex, to gain professional respect by one’s peers are all strong psychological needs. So much so that we would rather compromise on our values and principles than face the pain of rejection. How many marriages are based on loveless compromises, fuelled by the fear of rejection and loneliness.If rejection is a part of our lives, why don’t we deal with it easily? Why aren’t we taught how to hold our ground when being shunned? As with most of our real lessons, this isn’t taught in school. Only life teaches us this invaluable wealth by putting us through the rough and tumble. Our fundamental error is that we expect everything to go our way, and everyone to be as we would like them to be. And so when life ruthlessly yet necessarily shows us a slice of reality, it hurts. Rejection reduces us in our own eyes and affects our self-esteem causing us to doubt our capabilities and capacities. It shakes our image of ourselves, and puts us out of ease with ourselves. The ego smarts when refused. No wonder it hurts so much.EffectsPriyanka recalls her state of mind after her crisis. “I felt as if I was all alone, with no one to care for me or look after me. I didn’t know what to do. Even simple things such as making a cup of coffee in the morning was a challenge, and a few times that was my only food intake for the entire day. There were also times when I felt suicidal. Seeing these signs, a dear friend rushed to my side and literally mothered me,” says Priyanka.Our capacity to deal with rejection is intimately linked with our sense of self-esteem. A person with sound self-esteem will bounce out of the hurt relatively fast with no permanent damage. However, for those with a more fragile sense of self, rejection can be a devastating experience and often lead to retaliation. We have read about spurned lovers lashing out with acid attacks on those that rejected them, sometimes even murder. Often, the anger turns within and the person resorts to self-destructive behaviour such as addictions or, in extreme cases, to suicide.A bad experience of rejection could also lead to depression. Shalini Mehta, a housewife from Bangalore, remembers the nightmare she went through while seeing prospective grooms. Finding her curriculum too challenging, she had dropped out after the 12th standard. This proved to be a handicap when trying to get married. All her prospective grooms had either a master’s degree or a doctorate, and were not interested in marrying an undergraduate. After being rejected eight times, Shalini distanced herself from everyone. She did not step out of her house for a year, and spoke no more than the essential. Her skin turned dark and she began to look haggard. Her parents could not bear to see her this way and forced her on a month’s vacation to Shimla. After this she started opening up, becoming more social, and within six months fell in love with a doctor, who saw deeper than just her qualifications, and is now happily married.The way outIt sometimes helps to see it from the other person’s point of view. “I feel rejection is the other side of selection. When we select something, we often reject other options. We greatly mould ourselves, our personalities, and our identities with what we choose to reject. Similarly, out in the world, you either reject or get rejected in the selection processes of people. However bad you might feel when you get rejected, remember there is always that other person who gets rejected when you get selected,” says Jyotsna Morris, a primary teacher for the Teach for India program.Self -belief and faith can help you weather the storm and sometimes emerge triumphant.Ariana Verma (name changed), a journalist from Mumbai, had been close to a friend for quite a while. Their friendship developed into love. But while Ariana acknowledged it and openly told him her feelings, he did not. “For almost two years he kept avoiding saying how he felt. I could see it in his eyes, but he did not,” says Ariana. He kept saying that he didn’t feel the same way, and that she deserved better. “He was still the same person with whom I shared my life, but for some reason he did not want to accept what we had,” she adds. “Every time the topic came up and I asked him if he loved me, he said ‘no’. This constant rejection hurt me a lot, and I spent many nights crying.” She remembers losing almost a kilogram a week of weight! Eventually the couple agreed on a separation period.“That’s when he realised how he felt and that he had almost lost me,” recounts Ariana. Once he discerned this, they got together, and have been so since. What kept her going was the fact that she loved him, and despite his refusal to acknowledge his feelings, she wanted to wait until he realised it.Michelle Pavri, a fashion designer, feels that we all get rejected at some point in our life. How we react to these rejections is up to us. “We can face them with a positive frame of mind, and assume that may be this wasn’t meant for you and something better is in store,” says Michelle. “It’s up to us how we handle the other’s view of us. We can recognise that their opinion of us is just that, and not necessarily the truth. Perceiving this frees us and we can stand up for our self, for who we feel we are.”Since she was living in another city from her family, Priyanka relied on her friends to support her both emotionally and financially during her rough patch. She slowly started letting go of her past, allowing it to affect her less each day. “What brought about a drastic change in my life were affirmations and positive thoughts. My best friend kept praising me and showering me with love. I felt so cared for and nurtured by her, that it helped me realise my own beauty. In the eyes of the Creator, there is no rejection, only loving acceptance My self-image, which had gone for a toss earlier, was now beginning to get grounded and after about six months I completely recovered,” says Priyanka. In those months she realised that just because others had rejected her, did not mean that she was insufficient or incompetent in any way. Her self-reliance and selfworth, which were weak before the crisis, were now reinforced.It also helps to recognise that you have acted to the best of your capacity and that the other has done the same too.“Rejection can be an opportunity to try harder, and it can also be an opportunity to know yourself better. Either way you need to learn the lessons rejection has to teach you. Self-esteem is what sustains us, without which we reject ourselves before others do,” says Raj Sheth, an entrepreneur and businessman.Sometimes it helps to distract yourself from the hurt by immersing yourself in constructive activities such as work or social work. Once the wound has lost its raw sting, you will be better able to learn from it.“When I was having problems studying, wondering whether the course was for me or not, I distracted myself with other hobbies. For me it wasn’t evading the issue, but more like a tactical retreat. Later, when I was more focussed, and could think objectively, I addressed the issue and faced it with a calm and centred mind. I realised that if I didn’t do so, I would never be able to get over it,” says Anand Balasubramaniam, a graphic designer.Psychotherapist Ameeta Sanghvi
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