Avoid These Unhealthy Responses to Rejection
By Aimee Lutkin, featuring input from James Annear, LMHC
As Published in:
THIS ARTICLE WAS NOT WRITTEN SPECIFICALLY FOR BETRAYED PARTNERS. RATHER, IT WAS WRITTEN FOR THE WEBSITE NOTED ABOVE, BY THE AUTHOR NOTED (WHO IS A JOURNALIST AND HAS NO AFFILIATION WITH CORE), AND ADDRESSES REJECTION AND ABANDONMENT ISSUES FOR THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN REJECTED BY THEIR SIGNIFICANT OTHER OR BY A POTENTIAL ROMANTIC PARTNER.
THUS, WHILE THERE MAY BE HELPFUL INFORMATION FOR YOU, THERE MAY BE SOME CONTENT THAT MAY BE TRAUMA TRIGGERING AND/OR THAT MAY NOT FIT YOUR NEEDS AS A BETRAYED PARTNER, AS SOMEONE WITH PROBLEMATIC INTIMACY & SEXUAL ISSUES, NOR WHERE YOU AND YOUR SIGNIFICANT OTHER ARE IN YOUR RECOVERY AS A COUPLE.
So, you’ve been rejected. Maybe someone turned you down, maybe you got dumped, maybe your partner asked for “space.” How do you win them back? Don’t. In an email to Lifehacker, James Annear, LMHC, and co-owner of CORE Relationship Recovery in West Palm Beach, Florida, explained why people have so much trouble processing romantic rejection. Annear works with patients who are recovering from ended relationships, so he sees a lot of folks going through the exact same steps of grief:
How we take rejection has a lot to do with where we are tender to begin with, especially if we have not received what we needed growing up or in early relationships. Everybody has basic emotional needs: To be necessary (to be needed), to be lovable (nurture), to be worthy (validation), to belong (be connected) and to feel some sort of power/control over our lives (to be empowered). (Annear)
Annear says that when we react in unhealthy ways to rejection, it’s because we’ve become too reliant on external validation, or by trying to fulfill any of the above needs externally/by someone else). If you’re freaking out because someone rejected you, it means you need to work on the ways you find value within yourself. But there’s another reason so few people have these inner resources—we’re taught that rejection is just the first step to winning someone over in a rom-com fantasy. It’s not! Here’s how you accept rejection as the hard no that it is.
There are times when we don’t accept rejection because we’re in a weird transitory place—someone’s dumped you, but they still want to be friends. Someone’s dumped you, but they still want to have sex?! Maybe you see this as an “in” for a future rekindling, but Annear warns this is a mistake:
After a romantic involvement, holding on to a friendship may be possible but it likely will always have undertones of what could have been, one person feeling love while the other doesn’t, and so on. It can be very, very complicated and, generally, is not very healthy. It can disrupt the possibility of moving on. (Annear)
And when it comes to sex, that’s a big no-no:
As much as you might tell yourself that the sex was great and you just want that again, no strings attached; the sex was likely great because of the emotional attachment. It won’t [be] the same… or, if it is, you felt the emotional attachment again...You’ve re-invested your heart, had it rejected again and then disregarded for causal, meaningless sex that, if you don’t then set a boundary, might continue, setting you up for more rejection and feeling used. (Annear)
Be honest with yourself about what you’re doing when you agree to be friends with or have casual sex with an ex. If you think it’s the path towards a reconciliation, you’re almost certainly headed towards another rejection.
Believe them the first time
Communication is one of the most important parts of any relationship. Without it, we’re subject to all sorts of misunderstandings, resentments, and general misery. Communication requires making yourself vulnerable, and saying what’s in your heart; it also requires trust. When someone says something to you, trust that they mean it. If you need clarification, that’s fair to ask for—but not forever. Annear says reaching out again and again is a bad idea:
Reaching out after the relationship has ended. The question is: Why? What do I need from my former partner? We have basic needs that we look for externally, especially if they weren’t fulfilled early in life, that we need to cultivate internally. It is impossible to do that if we are constantly holding hope for or trying to re-ignite the ended relationship. (Annear)
If you keep messaging or calling someone long after the end of your relationship, you don’t need clarification. You need to move on.
Don’t try to win them back
Romantic comedies teach us that if you really want to be with someone, you should make a grand romantic gesture. Romance isn’t terrible in itself; when you love someone and they love you, taking time to luxuriate in that love and express it is nice. Well, it’s nice for you, if not for everyone watching. But if the love you’re feeling isn’t mutual, a romantic gesture is usually just creepy and weird.
If your (former) partner has specifically said, “I need you to do xyz and then we can talk about getting back together,” you know what you need to do: xyz. They’ve told you why the relationship went wrong, and you can take it or leave it. If they’ve just said they’re not interested, however, showing up with five dozens roses at their job is not cute. It’s stalking.
Let go of self-image
Part of the reason people have such a huge reaction to romantic rejection, according to Annear, is that we try to present our best selves in relationships:
When we meet someone, we present the best of us. Typically, this does not include what we consider to be our flaws. Things we are embarrassed about, think make us less than, or fear might be cause for rejection. (Annear)
Basically, when someone rejects what we think of as the very best of ourselves, it hurts even worse than when it’s over our flaws (real or imagined). If you’re recovering from that pain, Annear has advice for the future, when you meet someone new—drop the pretend and really be yourself:
As scary as this is, it is a way to actually meet someone who can accept you for all of you (it’s okay, probably good, if there are things you are working to change) and start a possible relationship off on the right foot: an honest one. Image management is a sales job - it’s natural and normal, but it isn’t presenting who you really are and is a setup for later rejection. There are no “perfect” partners - there are human beings, with their incredible gold and their flaws. Being heard, seen, honored and loved are the things we all deserve. We also deserve that from ourselves. (Annear)
You not only have to let go of the person, but of your fantasy self. If you really think about it, that might be what’s really so upsetting about rejection. Try instead to want to be loved as you are, by someone else.