At a party, Jack sees a hot guy that he desperately wants to meet. Immediately, all his walls go up. Heâ€™s outgoing and friendly to everyone else in the room, but avoids making any eye contact with the man who interests him the most, and makes sure he doesnâ€™t go near him. He hopes some kind of lucky accident will bring them together, but when it doesnâ€™t, he goes home alone feeling sad and disappointed that â€śnothing happened.â€ť But at least he wasnâ€™t rejected.
Many guys have experiences like Jackâ€™s. Protecting themselves from the pain of rejection takes priority over taking the risks that connecting with others always requires, and the result is that they stay alone in self-protective cocoons. All of us have this fear to some degree. The question is how we can avoid letting it paralyze us.
I think a first step is to face and accept the fact that rejection is inevitable. It doesnâ€™t happen equally to everyone, but it does happen to everyone. If you approach other people at all, youâ€™re going to have to deal with it. Youâ€™ll never be young, hung, good-looking, or rich enough to eliminate this possibility altogether. But if it happens to everyone, there is a sense in which it isnâ€™t personal. Since no one is everyoneâ€™s type, there is no one who doesnâ€™t have to deal with being turned down. Hereâ€™s another way of looking at it that can make it easier not to take it so personally: If you arenâ€™t interested in me because Iâ€™m, say, a beefy, tall guy in my forties, and youâ€™re only attracted to thin, short guys in their twenties, your â€śrejectionâ€ť of me is, in an important sense, not about me at all. Itâ€™s information about you â€“ about what turns you on based on your life history and conditioning.
I believe that the reason so many of us do take rejection so personally is that almost everyone in our individualistic, competitive American culture seems to harbor some deep, secret conviction that theyâ€™re â€śnot enoughâ€ť of something they think theyâ€™re supposed to beâ€“not handsome enough, not bright enough, not educated enough, not funny enoughâ€“the list of presumed inadequacies is almost endless. But they all boil down to one deep, dreaded suspicion about oneself: â€śIâ€™m not worthy of being loved.â€ť Almost no one in our culture is free of â€śself esteem issues.â€ť So when we go out to meet other guys, too often we act from a sense of emptiness, even desperation. We feel like beggars, convinced that we need the â€śvalidationâ€ť of being loved to reassure us that we are lovable, after all. And if someone ignores or slights us, we take it as confirmation of our unworthiness.
The most general and practical method for inoculating ourselves against the fear of rejection is to work at building satisfying and balanced lives in the other areas of experience. If we carefully cultivate supportive, non-sexual relationships, weâ€™ll find that we have sources of comfort and safety in times of stress and disappointment. If we find work which we enjoy and know brings value to the lives of others, weâ€™ll build a sense of meaning and purpose in our lives which will keep us steady and more calm through the ups and downs of love relationships.
But equally important in coping with this fear is self awareness. This series has repeatedly stressed the importance of doing our inner work, of becoming intimate with ourselves, as a precondition for intimacy with others. Most people run from their inner discomfort, denying it, numbing out, pursuing distractions. But in my experience, the happiest people Iâ€™ve ever known have been those who have gone most deeply into their own suffering. When people stop running from their perceived
Inadequacies and stop to examine them, a remarkable thing usually happens. They discover that the things they most fear in themselves arenâ€™t solid realities, but ideas. And when faced, ideas can be examined, challenged, and changed.
Active spiritual practice is another powerful antidote to the fear of rejection. By â€śspiritual practiceâ€ť I donâ€™t â€śgoing to church.â€ť Iâ€™m referring to any activity which facilitates contact with the depth dimension in our own beings. My preferred paths to this kind of self awareness are meditation and yoga, but there are many others, including depth-oriented psychotherapy. When we connect with the light in our own hearts, we stop living our lives from a sense of lack and deprivation, and no longer feel like beggars in our search for loving relationships. Instead of looking for someone to heal our wounds by loving us, we look more for opportunities to share the overflow of love that is already abundant within. When the gifts we offer are accepted, weâ€™re happy. When they arenâ€™t, we may be disappointed, but arenâ€™t devastated, because weâ€™re grounded in a source of self-worth which no one can take from us.
Tom Moon is a psychotherapist in San Francisco. His website is www.tommoon.net.