By Hande Walker, MA, LLP

Most of us have experienced that gut-wrenching feeling in response to rejection, abandonment, or feeling unaccepted. Why do we try so hard to avoid these experiences at all costs? For very good reasons, of course.

Did you know that the same brain regions are getting activated when you are rejected (social pain) and when you are in physical pain? Florence Williams talks about the impact of heartbreak on the heart, digestive, and immune systems in her book. It is very interesting to see that emotional pain is not just something you experience psychologically, but that it causes a myriad of physical symptoms.

We are wired to feel accepted, to be loved, and to belong. Think about being picked last when choosing teams in high school. Being ghosted by a romantic partner. Not being invited to your friend’s wedding. We’ve all been there! Feeling hurt, lonely, guilty, embarrassed, depressed, angry, hopeless… How do you respond to such situations? Perhaps you find culprit within you and think “ I am too weak to be feeling this way. It should not feel that bad or this painful. I was only dating them for a few months”. Or are you in denial, proclaiming “I’ve never really wanted this job anyway”. Maybe you avoid relationships and fear attachment? Running away the moment you sense that things are getting serious?

Sometimes relatively insignificant life events can trigger past hurts and attachment injuries with primary caregivers. For instance, if you got rejected in a social situation, it may bring up past memories of emotional neglect. The messages you’ve internalized from childhood can resurface as a result of current life experiences. Then the question becomes “What are these messages you’ve internalized that are impacting the way you relate to others today? What meaning did you make to the childhood abuse or neglect you’ve been through?” That you are not deserving of love, you do not matter, or are not worthy?

 Although it is natural to feel sad, depressed, embarrassed, and even temporarily lose your confidence as a response to rejection, it may be helpful to seek help from a mental health professional if it is causing you to avoid relationships or preventing you from connecting with others in a deeper way. Therapy can also be really helpful in identifying these negative core beliefs established in childhood and prevent these deeply instilled beliefs from being self-fulfilling prophecies.

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