Oh, rejection—that unbearably deep, gray, clawing-out of the heart, that solid weight burying any sense of joy or self-worth.
That overwhelming pain that colors not only each interaction in the present, but seeps into the past and future and infects them with miserable new interpretations. That’s how I feel it, certainly, when someone rejects me.
Last week I had a difficult conversation with a friend that left me feeling rejected. This perception was totally out of proportion to our actual conversation, yet that terrible, overwhelming weight in my belly and heart persisted.
I was trying to ignore the pain, preparing instead for a presentation I was to give on Gestalt theory. One of the exercises I had decided to do involved projection, the way that we see our inner selves in the outer world.
In this exercise, you make two lists. The first is a description of the traits of a person you cannot stand—their most repugnant and unforgivable qualities. The second is a list of what someone who doesn’t like you would say about your weaknesses. My two lists matched perfectly. Sometimes the world is a white screen onto which we project our own shadows.
And then I had a blazing Road-to-Damascus moment. As I stared at my lists it came to me with precise clarity: it was not rejection I was feeling from my friend. It was my longing for the part of me that is allowed to reject, the long-lost capacity to claim clearly what I do and do not want.
I was experiencing the longing for my own rejection.
All the pain fell away instantly. This was mine. I saw over the span of years how many times I had failed to stand up for the things I most wanted, not wishing to reject other people, other ways. I saw how I had accepted situations that I knew were utterly wrong so as not to subject others to feelings of rejection. I saw how my refusal to claim the power of rejection had hurt me and those I love.
Rejection is, at the most basic level, a choice. It is a choice for one thing and against another. It is a decision not to involve oneself further in something. It is, sometimes, a personal judgment about what one does and does not value.
What an empowering tool to wield in life! To be able to discern, with clear eyes and heart, what to nourish and not to nourish with your precious energy and time. To choose, firmly and without looking back. No wonder I missed this part of me so, longed for it when my friend’s words reminded me how completely I had excised this power from my life.
I had the chance to test my new theory when, later that week, another interaction set off that familiar grey experience of rejection. Thankfully I’d been writing quite a bit about what I’d learned, and so this time I was able to recognize quickly what I was doing.
So I dove in. I noticed the way I wanted to universalize this one painful interaction, the way I wanted to shut down and bury myself in the comfortable defensive reaction of running away. But this time I caught myself. I saw what was going on.
I was rejecting myself, shutting down my own experience and reactions.
So, very gently, I asked myself what it was that would feel best. And the answer was to go ahead and let myself feel, this time.
I did. It was terrible. It ripped through my whole body and it went on and on. I lay on the floor of the forest and covered myself with leaves. I sipped tulsi and lemon balm tea. I held tight to centering stones. I wrote, and walked, and communicated, and hurt, and I did not stop.
And then it ended, with the clear clean feeling that perhaps this pattern can change now.
I wondered, with this new clarity, if perhaps I have sought out experiences of rejection so that I can externalize the deep rejections of self that I perpetrate every day.
What a big, awful, wonderful mirror this world is!
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Ed: Bryonie Wise