The month of February was supposed to be a very exciting one. I was hired by a private women’s club to talk on the subject of emotions.
Having an external organisation invite you to speak is always a sign that your expertise is being recognised and that you are fulfilling a need. These were the thoughts floating in my mind as I prepared my talk, along with thoughts like: I hope I don’t disappoint etc.
But, two days before the day of the talk, the organisers called.
Not enough people had signed up so they were canceling the event. The lady was very apologetic, even embarrassed. She told me that, maybe, the end of the lockdown measures and kids’ school exams were to blame. I would still get paid, she said, and she hoped we could organise something at some other time.
The experience of rejection is an extremely unpleasant one. You feel it in your guts - it is physically painful.
And there is a very good reason for that. Back in the days, rejection meant exclusion from the safety of the community, which in turn meant certain death.
That’s why we evolved to find it unbearable. In other words, our ancestors who didn’t mind rejection didn’t make it into our gene pool (eaten by wolves?).
And to make things worse, feelings of rejection are almost always intertwined with feelings of shame. As Dr Harriet Lernet puts it, “rejection (...) taps into our belief that we are lesser than others.”
I feel I am being rejected because I am not good enough, I am not worthy of being loved. There must be something inherently wrong with me to explain why I am experiencing this rejection. I am ashamed that I am being rejected.
My own feeling of shame was exacerbated by the other woman’s embarrassed tone. Was she embarrassed because her organisation could not get enough attendees? Or was she feeling shame on my behalf? I don’t know, but either way it didn’t help.
Shame is a particularly problematic emotion because it encourages us to hide. It encourages inaction. It makes us want to disappear. Shame is a socially useful emotion to discourage people from committing crimes or doing bad things to each other, but it is not helpful in most other situations.
Over the years, I’ve taught myself to be curious about my emotions. I ask myself why I’m experiencing a specific emotion. I then ask myself if there is a purpose to it, and whether I should listen and act on it. Or, on the contrary, whether I should change the thought process to change the emotion.
In this situation, while my reptilian brain was telling me I was about to die (!), I knew that it was an old, archaic programming that is no longer relevant in the environment we currently live in.
I know that experiencing rejection is just that: an experience. In the words of Dr Harriet Lerner, it is not “an indictment of our being.”
It’s easy to prove that it’s an experience and not an objective fact because it is entirely possible to feel rejected when no one is actually rejecting us, and vice versa you can reject someone without them feeling rejected.
“The only way to avoid rejection is to sit mute in a corner and take no risks” but to be honest, I’m pretty sure that even then, you’d experience it.
The best cure against our fear of rejection is to show up. The more we avoid what we fear, the more the brain thinks it’s right to fear it (otherwise, why would we avoid it?).
In fact, had the decision been up to me, I would have shown up and done my talk for the few people who did sign up. Heck, I would have done it if only one person had signed up - that person would have shown up for me after all, why shouldn’t I do the same.
PS - I am already preparing another talk for another organisation :)
Emotions evolved to help keep us safe. More often than not, however, they can become dysfunctional and hold us back. But when channelled the right way, our emotions can help us express ourselves better, build better and stronger relationships and help us make better decisions that are aligned with our values.
Is the fear of rejection holding you back? Are you looking to be in better control of your emotions?
You can book a free discovery session with me.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject: Discovery Session