One of the most painful emotional experiences is that of rejection. The feeling can be so visceral that we almost feel it coursing through our veins, taking over every single part of our body, mind, and soul. Rejection is almost impossible to be unaffected by and can rarely be avoided if one is living their most authentic life. The question is not, “how to avoid rejection,” but rather, how do we walk through rejection intact? How can we experience rejection, allow ourselves to show up for the wide array of feelings that come with it, and not let it completely demolish our foundation of self?
The core of rejection is that we have made ourselves to be vulnerable and have been turned away. So let’s first take a look at vulnerability, and why it is so difficult to lean into the discomfort of the unknown. The essence of vulnerability is that it encourages us to show up, be seen, and be heard without knowing the outcomes. It requires us to dive headfirst into a realm that is outside of our control, choosing to take a risk without being able to fully calculate what the end result will be. This is terrifying for most people.
Because we cling to feeling as though we have a semblance of control in our lives. Human beings are not only wired for connection, but they are wired for feeling more at ease in situations that feel controllable. The reality is that we do not have control over anything outside of ourselves. We can know this in theory, cognitively, but there is often a massive divide between the head and the heart in this specific instance. The head knows that we cannot control how another person feels, but the heart is terrified of being turned away.
When it comes to relationships, control gets thrown out of the window. In some dynamics, we will seek control by trying to change another person, but that is just as unhealthy as avoiding relationships altogether. We only have control in how we choose to react in response to life. We have absolutely no control over other people. This brings us to the basis of rejection: we are putting ourselves out there with another human being without knowing if they are going to choose to be with us, too.
So how do we walk through the debilitating experience of rejection?
We pause. Mindfulness is key in the process of walking through our difficult emotions and experiences. We start to bring a level of awareness to our negative self-talk. The most dangerous part about rejection is that we almost always internalize it as there being something wrong with ourselves. “If they reject me, I’m not good enough,” we think. “What’s wrong with me?” we question. “If only I was different in this way, maybe they would want to be with me,” we tell ourselves.
Yet these core irrational beliefs are crushing any self-worth we may have still had. We seldom tell ourselves, “Their loss. I know my worth and they obviously can’t see it.” We almost never laugh in relief and think, “Wow, maybe I dodged a bullet and that relationship isn’t actually what I would have wanted.” Scarcely do we remind ourselves, “I do not want to be with someone that doesn’t 100% want to be with me. So, maybe this was the best thing that could happen.” We don’t do any of that! We internalize our shame, take it personally, and create false narratives about our inadequacy.
The ABCD Model of Combating Core Irrational Beliefs
A very tangible way of changing our internal narrative is to apply a simple psychological concept, a facet of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy adapted by Albert Ellis. He calls it “Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy,” REBT for short, and it works wonders. REBT utilizes a simple yet practical approach to identify our negative self-talk and begin to challenge it. This is called the ABCD Model of Combating Core Irrational Beliefs. This is an acronym, which, when broken down, can change the way we view ourselves. This ultimately changes the way we view the world, as well as our place in it.
A – Activating Event
The “Activating Event” here would be getting rejected. One can choose any activating event (getting called into your boss’s office, relapsing after a period of sobriety, losing a job, getting in an argument, and so on), but we will focus on rejection. Let’s say that you ask someone out on a date after months of playing this scenario out in your head. You are attached to the outcome, telling yourself that everything is on the line. You finally take the jump, and he or she says no. Maybe they’re nice about it, maybe they appear cold and detached. Whether or not this is someone you’ve known for years or someone you just met in a bar or at the gym, it’s going to feel painful. The activating event is getting rejected.
B – Belief
The process of going from A to B feels like an automatic one, but it isn’t. The “Core Irrational Belief” can come so quickly that, without a deeper level of awareness, we don’t even know that it’s happening. When experiencing rejection, human beings typically jump to the same core irrational belief: “I am not good enough.” This may also manifest itself in, “I am unlovable, I am unworthy, I am going to be single forever,” or any other form of inadequacy. This core irrational belief will stay inside of us indefinitely, unless we learn to challenge it.
C – Consequence
When we develop a core irrational belief, we experience consequences directly related to it. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, Stephen Chbosky states that, “We accept the love we think we deserve.” If we do not believe we are deserving of love, we will attract people who treat us poorly, and inevitably we will accept that form of treatment. On the other hand, if we start dating someone who is healthy and loving and loves us, but at our core we believe we are not good enough, we will inadvertently self-sabotage and push that partner away. The consequences of our core irrational beliefs are many and varied, but they inexplicably validate that we are inadequate.
D – Dispute
Here is where we take the control back: We learn how to dispute the core irrational beliefs. We pause, which is sacred in the world of mindfulness, and ask ourselves, “Is this true?” “Would this hold up in a court of law?” “What proof do I have?” We stop, notice the belief that we are creating by internalizing a situation where we’ve been rejected, and we start to reality-check the belief. “Just because this person rejected me, does that eclipse my worth?” We can utilize close friends and confidantes to help us fact-check our core irrational beliefs.
E – Effect
When we begin to make a habit out of disputing our core irrational beliefs, we are able to see the positive effects of this change. We do not have to live up to a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are not victims. We are not martyrs. We are not destined for failure. Yes, rejection is painful. No, it isn’t always about us. We must be vigilant in our pursuit to smash any core irrational belief that still lives inside of us. Our worth cannot be contingent on anything outside of ourselves, including and especially getting the approval from others. We are strong, we are worthy, we are enough.
Once we stop rejecting ourselves, others cannot truly reject us with the same power we have given them before.
The Four Agreements – Don Miguel Ruiz
The Codependents’ Guide to the Twelve Steps – Melody Beattie
Rising Strong – Brene Brown
Hannah Rose, MS, NCC, ACRPS, LCPC is a therapist, writer, and public speaker. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Goucher College in 2012 and continued her studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she received her Master’s degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in 2015.