April 2, 2021

When Rejection Trauma Triggers our Childhood Wounds.

 

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I could feel a fiery line on the left side of my chest, the burning heat rising to just below my collarbone.

Fire had taken over my body where my heart belonged. Below it, my stomach sank into a hollow blackness.

My body was now divided into two, and where the flesh in the middle should be, I could no longer find my skin, only the dense sensation of bones.

It was happening again: the anxiety, the disconnection from myself, the panic, the shame, the pain.

Before pulling away from the curb, his last words to me were, “I’d love to see you again.”

In the weeks of getting to know one another, the rhythm we had established was back and forth banter: fun, smart, flirty exchanges with instant, enthusiastic, charming, and amusing replies.

We couldn’t get enough of one another (I thought) as I dashed off another round of communication, a smile on my face.

No response.

I busied myself: dishes, other texts, scrolling Facebook, responding to emails, posting to Instagram, phone calls, cleaning, and sleeping.

Silence.

I talked myself out of assigning meaning to nothing. Nothing was nothing and meant nothing.

Right?

Yet, opening the text screen over coffee the next morning, nothing became something. I was being ghosted, and I would never hear from him again.

I could feel the familiar sensations of anxiety taking over, blooming into a panic. My thoughts now running faster and the pitch of my voice rising, I disconnected from my body, now the holder of unbearable pain.

Pain that couldn’t be acknowledged, even as I felt cleaved in half.

I contemplated calling a girlfriend, knowing before I even called that I would be getting well-trodden and well-meaning advice—some iteration of: “don’t give your power away,” “don’t let it bother you,” “you know that men need space,” and/or “you might hear from him later.”

Connections are about entering a vulnerable space, presenting our hearts in an effort to nurture and foster a relationship that might blossom. What happens when they abruptly go away? How do we grieve someone when we aren’t allowed to grieve? When their loss isn’t considered “real?”

Where connections fulfill us, trauma shutters us.

We have socially defined boxes of what is acceptable to feel sad or upset about, and the end of a relationship that’s not yet been defined is not one of them; it is not honored as a process or even seen as an event.

We are told we cannot feel.

We hold no space for being ghosted by an editor, a lover, or a friend. It’s a non-event to be blocked on Facebook, especially by someone we didn’t even know we had wronged. We are to feel nothing.

We laugh, we attune, we connect, we share space and food, time and texts. We hold hopes for the future and share confidences of the past.

Yet when we are ghosted or sent texts that abruptly say, “This isn’t working out, good luck!” we are expected to ignore it. To meet someone else, have a glass of wine, dance it off, go shopping, work out, stay busy, move on to other opportunities and people—never mention this time, this connection, or this person again.

We are to block and delete. Turn off the emotions, and close the space that was open.

It’s reinforced so often by others that we reinforce it to ourselves—saying mantras in the mirror to shut off our feelings, working on our “mindset,” and attempting to “stay positive”—rather than sitting in our feelings about being shut down, rejected, or ghosted.

I felt like I might break in half, as I told myself I was “overreacting,” feeling “too much,” being “ridiculous.” I tried to busy myself, believing that if I could keep the feelings in, suppress them, they would go away.

Instead, with a lack of self-compassion swirling through my veins, the pain now became visceral, lighting up the same pain receptors as if I were suffering a physical injury. My body burned, the back of my neck searing with heat, a column of pain that proceeded down to my mid-back.

The feelings felt familiar, having been with me since my youth. My childhood was not one of emotional wealth. Our feelings were to be muted and restrained rather than held, heard, and honored.

Not being seen, heard, and held for who we are is a trauma.

My parents loved me but did not have the capacity, the skill sets, or the cultural support for honoring their children’s emotions by looking us in the eye, acknowledging our feelings, or attaching words to the sensations in our bodies. It’s just not how things were done then.

Instead, if noises were attached to our emotions, we were shushed or sent away lest it was to bother my father’s ears. I learned to hold the feelings in my body—not let them leak out. I wanted to be loved, and being loved meant I could never be “too much.”

Trauma isn’t about what happened; it’s how we learned to respond to it.

As children, we develop coping mechanisms where pain exists that we were not allowed to acknowledge, discuss or feel. The only way to not feel what we cannot process is to close off, shut off, disconnect, and pretend. In this, we choose acceptance over authenticity.

Culture was now acting as my father—my grief was bothering its ears.

I chose the same coping mechanism; this one wasn’t to earn my parent’s approval but that of my friends and my date and to adhere to what was socially expected of me.

Rejection trauma is an unseen and undiscussed phenomenon. It triggers coping mechanisms from our past, and we shame ourselves for having human responses to inhumane things.

It hurts.

The trauma of rejection can suck it.

We are not alone in our feelings. Our bodies and hearts are in pain, and our feelings of rejection, sadness, and grief are real and legitimate.

We can feel the fire in our chest, feel the pit in our stomach, feel the grief bloom within. We can hold these in our body, express them from our soul and feel ourselves soften into the experience of pain.

We can share our pain with friends who can hear it and have an emotional outlet to feel safe and process. We can talk about our pain in terms of our feelings and not what someone did to cause them. We can develop the skill set to know how to process our feelings. 

We can feel what we weren’t allowed to feel as children.

We can normalize grief for the loss of small things, invisible things, ghosting, and abandonment.

We can feel it, name it, and own it.

We need to feel it, no matter what we learned to do as children or what we are told by our friends or repeat to ourselves as mantras.

May our traumas disappear faster than our ghosters.

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