Skills: Beauty Lost, Beauty Found, Emancipate Yourself, Make Beauty Not War, Self-Compassion
from Contributor: Laura Eshelman
The past 18 months of my life have not been the kindest. In the wake of failing to find employment, several fallouts with friends, and getting dumped like a sack of potatoes, I’ve spared no efforts to exorcise the residual “owch”iness of rejection. Although writing a few letters mean enough to make Stalin cry and stubbing lit cigarettes through photos of my ex provided temporary relief for a while, I am still reticent to say it’s done a darn thing to help me move on. Whether it’s a romantic partner, a best friend, school or a job that’s told you, “Peace out,” rejection can easily become its own beast to battle long after you stop caring about its source because we too often interpret it to mean we are inherently undesirable, or inadequate. The harshness of the last year forced me to evaluate a lot of the unhealthy responses I developed to mitigate and protect myself from the pain of rejection—and I maintain that there’s little pain out there that compares. So, here’s a seven-point plan to help others out there. It might not speed up the process, but you might save some money on cigarettes.
1) Don’t feel obligated to minimize it. Not to be confused with re-evaluating your perspective. Getting stuck on ancillary details about your rejection, such as how long/briefly you held a position or knew the person (or people) who blew you off, does not help you lurch forward. It can be hard if it followed a long-term and personal commitment, but it can also be surprisingly painful sometimes even without that, and there may be a temptation to harp on yourself for how challenging the situation feels when it “shouldn’t”. Whether you were fired from a peon-type job that you held for a week versus a career several years in the making, there’s no biological rule for how much pain one individual to the next is “supposed” to feel as a result—no matter what we hear from third parties (and there’s plenty of those, with mouthfuls of nothing useful to say). Regardless of how much sense your feelings surrounding a rejection make, acknowledge them without judgment…and once you can do that, it’s time to move on to problem-solving.
2) Do something amazing. One of the most awful things about getting dumped, fired, snubbed, etc. is the sense of sheer worthlessness that you’re often left with in the wake. If you find yourself questioning your intrinsic value or even struggling with guilt, take a detour before you get to Wallowsville. Learn a skill, discover a new area of expertise, or get involved in something civic. Taking up a new or unique hobby doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, especially if it’s volunteering—and that goes for any Good Samaritan act, whether it’s an afternoon at an animal shelter or helping a friend move. Recently, I began volunteering with a local organization that works to reduce HIV rates by distributing contraceptives and other sanitary materials in low-income communities. In addition to having fun and meeting people who express gratitude for outreach, it’s also forced me to count blessings I usually overlook. It’s hard to sulk when you realize how lucky you are to be able to afford a simple box of band-aids.
3) Do something crazy. Sometimes the best therapy for going crazy is more craziness. Be careful with this one if you are emotional and/or prone to rash decisions (perhaps review them with a more level-headed friend first), but I’ve found that doing something like getting a dramatic haircut, a piercing, a pet, or going on a random vacation can cleave some distance between you and the origin of the rejection while waiting for time to do its job. This tip is the equivalent of a rebound after a break-up, because it can either be very good or disastrous, which is why I stress wariness surrounding spontaneity. But when craziness is carried out with a little measured judgment—contradictory though that sounds, I argue it is possible—it can be a great mood-lifter.
4) Build a pillow fort. This is both a literal and a metaphoric suggestion. Literally speaking, pillow forts are never bad ideas, especially if you are feeling at odds with the universe and/or have little money for entertainment. Symbolically, they represent a cushioned safety-zone from harmful elements, and a return to simpler times. Nothing makes me want to turn into a kid more than when the ‘real world’ shows its ugly side, and what kind of heartless element shuns a child? Sometimes this is a good method for self-acknowledgment when we’ve gotten distracted by something that causes us to put our own preferences on the shelves. The “pillow fort” strategy doesn’t have to necessarily involve childhood nostalgia, either—namely, it’s about re-affirming that you still deserve to feel comfort, no matter what has precipitated a rejection. Rediscovering lost, forgotten-about pleasures is my own preferred go-to. Watch an old favorite feel-good movie that you’ve forgotten the lines to, hit up a longtime friend who you haven’t talked to in a while, find an empty playground to take over, or drink something soothing from your favorite mug (as long as what you’re sipping doesn’t compound your problems).
5) Find meaning in this. Remember how Marty McFly’s hand started to disappear in Back to the Future after altering his parents’ pasts almost costs him his own existence? Not the most pertinent example, since that more to do with plutonium politics and magical DeLoreans than coming to terms with rejection, but I use it because most of our most treasured experiences and relationships come from delicate circumstantial happenstance. Take a moment to think about the people and opportunities that have sprung up in the wake of being ditched at some point in your life. Some of the richest friendships in my life are with those who offered allied support after others unexpectedly flew the coop. It’s a cliché adage, but doors don’t close without opening one or two others on impact. Sometimes in retrospect, rejection becomes less of a door slammed than a bullet dodged.
6) Be patient with yourself. At all costs. To anyone’s knowledge, yelling at an injury to hurry up and heal has never, ever worked. But nursing it can be especially hard if you feel you’ve gotten the short end of the stick, and some wounds are particularly prone to infection. If you’ve been laid off or fired from a successful business, or your old flame starts dating someone else, the temptation might be to decide that the world is out to screw you and to add an extra shot to your mug-of-something-soothing. I don’t think it’s necessarily unhealthy to secretly hope that your rejecters fail at life (and for your sake, I sure hope they do), but preoccupation with revenge fantasies or those abstract “why me”s definitely prolongs harm, like repeatedly picking at a scab. The best result you’ll get is a scar, and who wants a constant reminder of lost dignity? Which brings me to point seven…
7) Fake it ‘til you make it. This one sucks. Point blank. But eventually, after trudging through one day after another, going through the motions, and doing whatever necessary to keep your head propped upright, there will be a morning when you wake up and don’t immediately think about this latest rejection. Before you know it, there will be another morning like it. And another. The time lapses may seem long and arbitrary at first, but they will pick up succession until you can usually count on feeling normal and out of pain. Rest assured, you’ll get the wind knocked out of you again down the road, but always make sure that the people who leave you are the ones missing out while those who support you are cashing in. For instance, executives at Decca Records Company dismissed a small-time band in 1962 by stating, “They have no future in show business”; unfortunately for Decca, the band called themselves the Beatles, and that quote is now one of history’s most laughable. Living well is the best revenge of all—and it doesn’t have to be a fantasy.
About the Contributor: Laura Eshelman is a 2008 UNC Asheville alumna with a BA in mass communication. She is currently pursuing a master’s degree in criminal justice from UC Denver and holds a master’s certificate in domestic violence studies. Laura is an avid writer, political junkie, and an advocate for various social justice causes; at present, she is an intern with Witness for Peace Southeast and volunteers with NC Harm Reduction. She enjoys travelling, cooking, hula hooping, and long walks up steep mountains.
Image: Leah Joy