Are You Holding on to Rejection?

The flower buds won’t open. The bees won’t be pollinating the butterfly weed this year. No seeds will develop to allow the plant to grow again next year. The beautiful orange flowers have elected to remain hidden. The plant requested a relocation, and the gardener said no. The rejection was overwhelming, so the plant decided to stop growing.

Does this sound ridiculous? It should. Sadly, it’s something that happens to people every day. Research has shown that rejection actually causes physical pain, and the natural response is behavioral change to avoid the pain. If you touch a hot stove and get burned, why would you touch it again? Some may argue this is an extreme example. Of course we wouldn’t expose ourselves to a known danger. But what if the situation was trivial? Consider the following:

“Imagine you’re sitting in a waiting room with two other strangers. One of them spots a ball on the table, picks it up, and tosses it to the other. That person then smiles, looks over, and tosses the ball to you. Let’s assume your tossing and catching abilities are up to the task. You toss the ball back to the first person, who quickly tosses it to the second. But then instead of tossing the ball to you, the second person tosses it back to the first person, cutting you out of the game. How would you feel in that situation? Would your feelings be hurt? Would it affect your mood? What about your self-esteem? Most of us would scoff at the idea. Two strangers didn’t pass me a stupid ball in a waiting room, big deal! Who cares? But when psychologists investigated this very situation, they found something quite remarkable. We do care, far more than we realize. The ball tossing scenario is a well-researched psychology experiment in which the two “strangers” are actually research confederates. The “subject” (who thinks they are all waiting to be called for an entirely different experiment) always gets excluded after the first or second round of ball tossing. Dozens of studies have demonstrated that people consistently report feeling significant emotional pain as a result of being excluded from the ball-tossing game.”

If something as simple as a ball-tossing game with strangers can invoke measurable emotional pain, what is the impact of being rejected by a 30-year marriage partner? What are the implications of being rejected by an employer of ten years or more? What happens to people who are rejected continuously after searching for a significant other, a job, or chance to start a family? It’s no surprise that some people stop trying because the pain of rejection feels worse than the potential reward of acceptance.

So what differentiates the people who give up and the people who keep facing rejection and actually embrace it? Jia Jiang, in his TED talk, What I Learned From 100 Days of Rejection, reveals the secret:

After watching the video, some of you may think that Jia Jiang is promoting a sadistic method that only guarantees more hurt and less progress. What if, after hearing his method, you decide to think about a past rejection instead purposely and repeatedly putting yourself in the face of rejection? Perhaps a new perspective on an old problem will give you the encouragement and strength you need to deal with a future rejection in a new way.

We all have different levels of pain tolerance. Some of us need more time to heal than others. But we can all start the healing process the same way by acknowledging the pain is there and not judging it as right (we deserve it) or wrong (we need to avoid it). If we keep holding on to the rejection instead of embracing ways to turn it into acceptance, we will never grow. Let go and enjoy the beauty of that choice.

6_22_18 Open Butterfly Weed

©, June 22, 2018


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