‘Rejecting rejection’ is hardly the most arresting title for a blog, but the whole process of dealing with the constant invalidation that threatens to undermine us on a daily basis is not terribly exciting either, so we will look at this huge topic in a down to earth, no frills way. For example, as you look at this video you could easily miss the hidden invalidating message. That is the way much invalidation works. In effect it is saying that we should not get too carried away with a sense of our own importance – that we are really, really tiny in the order of things and that size does matter. In effect it depreciates and devalues us to a very low level of worthlessness. Sorry, it is a clever production with mind boggling statistics but I cannot endorse its conclusion.
Surely creatures who are able to observe, measure and describe such staggering phenomena deserve to be granted a pedestal of prominence in the Universe. In the order of things we are really quite remarkable. Greatness should not be measured by size but by capacity. We could argue that we are merely an insignificant speck of cosmic dust or we could fairly reason that we are the pinnacle of the existence in all this vastness. We are the only confirmed example of highly intelligent life. Which raises the question as to why we are so quick to denigrate ourselves? The answer is to be found in our ability to make comparisons. Let me explain.
Think back over the years to infancy and childhood and you will identify the foundations of much of our deepest fears and insecurity and the origins of low self esteem. Few creatures are more vulnerable and dependent than the human infant who is totally reliant on others for everything. One of the paradoxes of development is that some of the most important bits happen when the mind is most plastic and open to a wide spectrum of impressions and influences which have the potential to remain for the rest of life. During these years most of us are repeatedly channeled messages of, amongst other things, our inadequacy. The roots of inferiority and rejection go back a long way. We are surrounded by others who are more powerful, more intelligent, more experienced, more capable, bigger, stronger, faster . . got the message – learn your place and don’t get too big for your boots. If we are fortunate we may find reassurance in messages of love and affirmation of caring parents, but generally speaking society will leave us with an clear impression of our inadequacies. One inescapable phenomenon endures – our thinking and beliefs are largely shaped by the psychological and sociological agenda of others. None is so perfect and mature as to be totally free of the vulnerability of inferiority and few free themselves completely of pockets of self-doubt. The hopes and aspirations, fears and prejudices, opinions and beliefs, preferences and persuasions of significant others become embedded and remain ‘us’ until such a time as we challenge them.
Think about it. We are given an identity the moment we are born. ‘It’ is no longer a neonate, but the first sentence each of us ever heard probably included the word ‘boy’ or ‘girl’. We give ‘it’ a name which usually sticks with us for the rest of our lives. We are taught, disciplined, moulded and shaped within a family and a community to behave, talk, think and believe in a given way. To change the status quo of how life has defined us is both challenging and unsettling, yet all of us in varying degrees are driven by the desire to discover our identity and uniqueness.
It is here that the process of comparison takes on significance. With maturity we start to separate and question much of what we have accumulated throughout the formative years. We begin to compare ourselves with others and challenge the reality of the inferiority/superiority messages we have grown up with. We also commence creating our own self-portrait – a blend of the person we perceive ourselves to be, the person we would think we would like to be, and the person we really are. Now that really takes some nutting out! The two constants in all of this are the fear of rejection and the need to be ourselves, to be different. Although individuality is king (especially in adolescence), we also understand the importance of being accepted by the mob but we also want to be substantially different in order to stand out from the mob while not being defined or controlled by the mob – quite a juggling act.
Way to go
There is no joy or benefit in living with rejection and an abiding sense of inferiority. If we can somehow turn the focus away from the negativity of rejection and focus on how to be accepted and affirmed by others as well as ourselves, we can effectively reject rejection. In other words, the more affirming messages we receive of acceptance and adequacy, the less we will feel rejected. Hopefully, the dark shadow of rejection will fade in the sunlight of acceptance. At the heart of the phenomenon of social media is the principle of ‘Likes’. For all the promises of having countless friends the artificial social context of hyperspace is incapable of effectively meeting our core belonging needs. All too often the desperate need to accumulate ‘Likes’ can back-fire resulting in increased anxiety associated with a fear of being rejected, ignored, ridiculed and disliked. Affirmation needs a face-to-face dimension to test the authenticity of the the ‘Likes’. We all need ‘Likes’, but they have to be genuine.
Here are three dimensions. They are not black and white and may merge at times, but they serve as a simple model to understand the mechanics of acceptance
We learn to live with the messages of rejection and inferiority and content ourselves with a trade-off between being part of the group and being regarded as an okay person, even if we might score on the ‘average to inferior’ side of the equation. There is no stigma attached to being average and there is no rule that says we should be the brightest star in the crown. The group at least provides acceptance and allows us to belong somewhere. Inevitably water finds its own level as we engage with others similar to ourselves as we find our place in the companionship of this affinity. Don’t underestimate the power and efficacy of belonging to a group. It provides security in numbers and often shields us from the barbs of those invalidators who capitalise on our sense of inferiority. Social groups, clubs, sporting groups, workplaces, schools, churches, even Facebook, are essential havens for people seeking friendship and acceptance. While we may find that we lack the skills and the stamina to continually battle to hold the high ground on the top of the heap we discover that safety in numbers is a fair compromise. Not everyone needs or wants to be the life of the party or the stand-out celebrity.
The seriously sad situation is that of the person who is so damaged in an abusive relationship that they do not have the emotional and physical resources to extricate themselves from the black hole of rejection. There is only one path out of this hell and that is find the courage to ask for help.
Improve your approval rating.
This really works .. up to a point. Endless words of advice have been given on how to be a more attractive person. From beauty to athleticism, talent, humour, assertiveness, wit and intelligence, developing your potential, packing your own chute . . it is a long list based on the recurring principle that we can add value to ourselves and become a more attractive and likeable person. We intuitively admire and are attracted to people who scrub up well. The first of the great rewards of excellence and achievement is that we begin to feel good about ourselves. There is a justified pride in a job well done, in having purpose and making a difference. The second reward is equally important. Others are much more likely to value and appreciate us. So, why not spend time in personal growth and reap the benefits? There is no question that this journey can and does change us. We grow in confidence and approval as we think and act positively. The more skilled and proficient we become in dealing with life in its many forms, the more likely we are to realise our potential and be surrounded by many who affirm us. It is a great win-win.
But there are also a couple of snags that lurk beneath the surface for the unwary. The first is to confuse character with personality, and the second is to depend on personal growth as some form of a technique to get others to like you. The polish of personality may make a person attractive but it is not a true estimate of their value. To rely on personality and technique as a manipulative tool to persuade others to like us is to set the wheels in motion for eventual rejection. No-one likes to be conned and personality minus character eventually risks revealing itself as a inferior, transparent veneer. An while we are on it, conning yourself is not a good idea either. Gazing into a mirror and repeating a mantra about liking yourself ain’t going to work.
Value adding (character growth) requires thought, effort and time. It is a metamorphosis that doesn’t come quickly or easily and one never really ‘arrives’, but the inner transformation is real and the results are worth it. This theme will be developed as this blog unfolds.
At the core is the concept of coming to love yourself as you grow in character and integrity. It is impossible to truly love yourself and reject yourself at the same time. Furthermore, as you become ‘loveable’ others will accept and love you too. So the business of value adding not only resolves the problems associated with a sense of inadequacy, it also brings and abundance of love and affirmation.
The sticking point for many is that the idea of loving ourselves contradicts everything we have been taught in the past. We were brought up to consider the needs of others first and not be be selfish. In fact, the Seven Deadly Sins are all rooted in putting yourself at the head of the queue, something which we know intuitively is a formula for rejection. The self love being described here is not selfishness and it is certainly not narcissism. The starting point is simply an acknowledgement of our worth as a human being and the decision to enhance that value through growth of character. It is a commitment to ourselves to become the person we want to be and has little to do with becoming what other people want us to be. It is about being able to live with ourselves and and like ourselves . . genuinely. If you can be at peace with yourself, you will be at peace with the world.
Rather than elaborate at this stage I will suggest a kick-start. Try this short circuit and see how you go. Here it is – BE KIND. Be kind to everyone. Be kind to the cat and the dog. Be kind to yourself. Just be kind. It may take time, but if you hang there you will notice that things will change. Give it a go. You may be surprised at how difficult it is, but also be prepared to experience how transforming it is. There is much more to come.
Next: How much are you worth?