By Shivi Verma
Rejection delivers a debilitating blow to our self-confidence, but it can also help us discover self-love, self-worth and inner strength, says Shivi Verma
Curiously, the most enduring icons of world literature are the ones who faced rejection at the early stages of their lives. Be it David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, or Heathcliff of Wuthering Heights, these characters embody the trials and tribulations faced by ordinary mortals in their journey of life. The fairy tale of Cinderella catches our fancy because readers enjoy the poetic justice delivered to her after she faced cruelty and rejection at the hands of her stepmother and step-sisters. Rejection has the capacity to turn us into heroes and heroines, provided we know how to handle it.
And yet, rejection is painful. It hits at our very identity and belief system. It cripples a person’s ego and self-esteem, shattering his belief in himself and his abilities. It throws him into a vortex of negativity and self-doubt. Nonetheless, rejection also has the power to make people introspect, reflect and take responsibility for their lives. It compels them to go on the inner journey they may have carelessly ignored earlier. And through this, it also helps them access their own inner strength and self-worth. It teaches them to cultivate a self-regard and self-acceptance that can withstand the world’s withering opinion of them. Rejection has the capacity to transform people’s lives.
Our high opinion of ourselves, our worthiness, our role in the world, all has to go through the crushing, grinding wheel of rejection before we actually come into our own.
Why rejection happens
“Getting rejected is a part of life. It is how we react to it that makes a difference. It can also happen if a person has an inflated sense of self-worth. After encountering rejection people go through a realistic assessment of themselves. They begin to value their own potential instead of being influenced by popular opinion,” says Pulkit Sharma, clinical psychologist at Imago-Centre for Self, New Delhi.
Rejection also happens when we have an extremely low self-esteem. When we negate ourselves internally, the world too reflects the same attitude towards us. As a result, we chase people who reject us, and seek their approval to build our self-confidence. Conversely, we reject those who like us, since it makes us feel good. This traps us in a cycle of rejecting and getting rejected.
People can face rejection even in the tender childhood years. Girls especially, often experience rejection by their parents and grandparents due to the deep gender bias in our society. All of us remember the pain of being rejected by friends and prospective friends while growing up. Getting rejected by sought after colleges, desired love interest, interviewers while seeking a job, peer group, spouses after marriage, colleagues or even the rejection of an idea which we think can change the world, can severely hamper our self-esteem.
While there are many who find rejection excruciating, and may lash out vengefully through acid attacks and even murder attempts, there are others who use it to cultivate the strength and robustness they need to successfully triumph over it. At the end of the day, all they are left with is gratitude.
My own journey has been through a series of hurtful rejections, for which I feel extremely grateful today. After trying very hard to gain acceptance by the mainstream world of left-brained, corporate climbers, I finally accepted that I was different, and needed to do my own thing rather than follow the herd. Needless to say, the satisfaction and growth that has followed, as a result, is indescribable.
The pain of rejection
Says Kiran Jamwal, a resident of Jabalpur, “The first time I felt rejected, I was 18. A friend with whom I had planned to spend my entire life wrote that she was getting married. She shared with me all the details, which put me in a deep silence for a long time. I lived with this rejection for a long time, and it did affect my future relationships. I always anticipated another rejection. It took me years to understand that there was nothing she was doing against me. It was I who was feeling that someone else was going to be her partner, not me.”
Says Manju Sinha, “Ever since my marriage 20 years ago, I have been a loving wife to my husband and a devoted mother to my kids. But recently I discovered that my husband has been cheating on me for the past 15 years. This knowledge has devastated me. I regret not having a career to divert my grief into. I don’t know how to recover from the knowledge that the one you love prefers another. I don’t think I can ever get over this rejection.”
Explains Dr Dayal Mirchandani, “Rejection in love can happen due to caste or religious issues or of the beloved falling out of love. It can also be a case of unrequited love. Whatever the reason, rejection calls us to go on a fearless inventory of the self. People must work on their self-worth issues. Some people go on a guilt trip, severely chastising themselves for encountering rejection, and others refuse to acknowledge any fault in their own conduct and behaviour. Both are damaging. Analyse the situation and work on developing a healthy relationship with yourself. Weed out your shortcomings, if any. Practise forgiveness and acceptance of the discrepancies of the world.”
He adds, “Manju must recognise that she is human and it is okay to feel betrayed. She must accept that life is full of unpleasant events, and is under no obligation to turn out as we expect it to. According to a recent survey conducted by a mainstream magazine, 40 to 50 per cent of people cheat on their partners. These things happen in life. She must have a talk with her partner, and decide her future course of action, whether it is to part ways or to continue living together. She can go for therapy, heal her wounds, inculcate a spiritual outlook, and cultivate a support group for herself.”
Anshu Rathi from Seattle is one person who has transcended her experiences of rejection, and today leads a happy life. “I have spent my entire life dealing with this. As a child, I used to get rejected by my playmates, and treated as an outcast for reasons unknown to me. “Hey! You are not playing with us today.” “But why?” “That’s how we want it today.” Although I used to pretend indifference, inwardly I began to nurse many doubts about my looks, personality and smartness. I became very cautious in dealing with people. I became extra sweet with kids who I thought were hard to please, and would come down heavily on friends who were gentle and harmless. This psychology remained with me throughout my growing up years. At 25, I got married. In order to gain acceptance from my in-laws I again applied my old, people-pleasing tactics, but it would not pay off. I felt I was facing a stone wall. My ego was almost always at stake, and I was full of bitterness, dissatisfaction and confusion.”
Anshu’s suffering mutated into a journey of self-discovery. The pain of not being accepted by her in-laws made her turn to spirituality for answers. She tried various methods but found her final answer after seven years when she read the book, You Can Heal your Life by Louise Hay, where she very strongly advocates loving oneself.
Through this book Anshu finally understood the importance of loving your own being, in order to be able to truly love others. According to Louise, when one finally attains this understanding of loving oneself, there no longer exists the need of safeguarding oneself from rejection. “You get better equipped to be able to handle it, if there is any. But according to my experience, either such people get slowly removed from your life, or your own joy at discovering your essence, diminishes the impact of being rejected. Today, I proudly announce that I love myself and share wonderful relations inside my family, as well as with people outside without having to pretend. I can be my calm and balanced self everywhere. I have healed my life like never before, ” proclaims Anshu.
Nobody knows rejection better than Indian brides-to-be. Decked up and paraded before innumerable prospective grooms and their families, they get turned down for the most whimsical reasons before being finally accepted by one approving man. Malini Mehrotra, a petite, attractive girl, was rejected by a series of well-placed boys because of her dusky complexion. Coaxed by her well wishers to lighten her skin tone, she began applying various concoctions on her face, but soon fell into sadness and depression. “I would envy girls with a fairer complexion. I felt that a fair skin was the only desirable qualification to be had from God,” she recalls.
For Malini, her father proved to be her guiding angel. He encouraged her to focus on being happy and confident in the present moment, instead of brooding over rejections. At his behest, Malini enrolled for a driving class, started sheltering and nursing hurt animals in her compound, and applied herself to learning to play the sitar. Miraculously within a short time, a young, qualified boy selected her for marriage. When Malini confided in him her anxiety about her dark complexion, he said, “Never ever mention that to me. My search was for a cheerful and good-natured partner, all of which I have found in you.”
Malini too focussed on loving herself and her positives. If you cannot change that which you are being rejected for, it is better to focus on your strengths and be liked and approved for them.
Rejection also teaches us not to take things too personally. The person rejecting your job application may be doing it because your qualification does not suit his requirements, and not because he does not like you. Tele-callers are used to being rejected left, right and centre by irate people. Sales and marketing persons routinely face rejection of their proposals by their clients. Says Pankaj Shukla, deputy general manager of Life Positive, “Initially, rejection by clients used to hurt my ego a lot. But as I progressed I realised that it was part of my job. Now when I approach people I know that I can be rejected. I depend on self-motivation, self-improvement and brushing up of my skills in order to keep going. I never take it personally.”
Recalls Punya Srivastava, correspondent for Life Positive, “I was in the 11th standard, vying for the post of literary captain. I had been consistently good in languages and was always appreciated by the teachers. The interview panel consisted of my favourite English teacher, who knew me enough to judge me, being aware of my strengths and weaknesses. So I went hoping to get selected. But I was shocked when I was shown the door after just two questions. That was one of the most heartbreaking moments of my life. I felt quashed and humiliated. I felt betrayed by what looked like her apparent rejection of me as a person.”
This rejection left an indelible scar on her psyche. She became wary of making mistakes, and getting rejected by someone she deeply adored. Consequently, she also left a job because she took her manager’s words personally. It was only after her uncle and aunt sat her down and explained that not everything said by another person should be taken to heart, that she saw sense.
“It is only when you realise your worth that confidence surges. I have ceased being a people-pleaser. Though in any discussion with friends and dear ones my first thought is ‘will this offend them?’, I have started taking that little risk and coming clean before them,” she adds cheerfully.
Says Pulkit Sharma, “I’ve had patients who would become violent on being rejected. Their tolerance of pain was very low. The modern generation reacts very badly to rejection. The present culture is focussed on deriving maximum pleasure and avoiding pain. We do not teach ourselves that we may encounter pain and that pain is a part of life, and we need to learn to live with it.”
Pulkit recommends certain exercises to overcome the despondence of rejection.
Rejection helps us to know ourselves better, fills up the gaps in personality and come out stronger. The crucial ability of self-evaluation and self-assessment gets kickstarted only after we get rejected. Rejection also makes us humble, sensible and balanced. It impels us to scan our inner self and discover our true self. It attunes us to our deep inner call, and helps us soldier along even when nobody believes in us.
Almost all the great success stories began with rejection. But they were turned into successes because the rejected person refused to accept someone else’s verdict of themselves or their achievements. Abraham Lincoln was rejected by people eight times in elections before he was finally elected the President of America. J K Rowling’s Harry Potter series was rejected by a dozen publishers including Harper Collins and Penguin before one small London publishing house took it because the CEO’s eight-year-old daughter liked it! Our own Amitabh Bachchan climbed his way to his towering success on the strength of innumerable rejections for his voice and his height!
So take heart. All is not lost. Indeed, all may still be won. Let rejection be the pole you need to vault into self-acceptance, success and happiness.
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