I recently learned my kids had not seen the Rocky movies. They’re adults. How did this happen? For all it’s criticisms, everyday people continue to love Rocky because he’s like us–a commoner, down on his luck, doing what he has to do to get by. We can get behind such an underdog because we’ve been there. We know what it means to struggle physically, mentally, emotionally.
The Worst Day of My Life
On Saturday, June 8th, 2014, I sat motionless on the taupe couch in our Suzhou, China living room, grappling for a coherent thought.
“Are you saying you want a divorce?”
He slowly lowered and lifted his head.
If you’ve been there, you understand how the initial shock of rejection tosses you into a sea of uncertainty. You flail to stay afloat, but fear and frustration pull you under. You can’t see anything except the chaotic fog in your face as you inwardly scream, “What’s going to happen to me?”
“How does it feel to dish out the ultimate rejection,” I asked.
“Now you know how I have felt all these years.”
I struggle with a condition known as Pre Menstrual Dysphoric Disorder (PMDD). At least two to three weeks out of a month, it sucks the libido right out of me. After twenty-five years he’d had enough and moved on.
There are a number of types of rejection, all with valid emotional repercussions. You can read a great article on the four types of rejection from The Uncollege Blog right here.
I don’t profess to be an expert, but I have experienced rejection a number of times in my life, and I’m still standing. I haven’t lost my faith, and I haven’t lost my hope that everyday holds opportunity for growth. Even my self-esteem is returning. Yay!! What I have to offer is true-life, real-world experience to help others cope with the emotional pain associated with rejection.
How Did I Stay Afloat After Rejection?
1. I Refused to Sink
After my initial fight or flight response wore off, and I was back in America safe and sound, I wanted to curl up into a ball under the covers and die. “God, can you please take me home?”
Didn’t happen for me either.
A restless energy traveled with me. I mowed the yard a lot, burned a huge pile of brush, walked, and walked, and walked.
I spent time with a good friend who didn’t allow me to wallow in self-pity or talk negatively.
Knowing I needed to be around other like-minded people, I joined a Divorce Care group. There are other support groups out there, but as a previous grief counselor, I knew I needed one that would push me toward a goal or destination.
2. I Walked Through the Pain
Maybe it’s better to say, I tentatively tip-toed through the pain because I didn’t want to uncover my eyes to see the dangers lurking ahead. A friend would tell you I bull-dozed through it. That’s because she wasn’t in my skin, and she also wanted to make me feel good. No matter how strong I appeared, I was an emotional mess on the inside. (Story of my life. More on that later).
Regardless what others think , if you walk through the pain, identify it, understand why it’s there, you will put it behind you. Ignore it, and it will stay with you and rear it’s ugly head in a number of ways.
Rejection hurts worse than a thousand bee stings. Okay, I’ve never been stung by a thousand bees. Um…rejection hurts worse than natural childbirth. Yes, definitely. For most of us, childbirth pain is somewhat forgotten after you hold that sweet little gift in your arms. Emotional pain rips at every fiber of your being until you can barely stand, and it lingers. But, you can’t really compare emotional pain to physical pain.
If you allow yourself time to examine what you’re feeling, and you don’t try to drown it with any number of STERBS (short-term energy relief behaviors), I promise you, the pain will ease. Read more about how Russell Friedman of The Grief Recovery Institute describes STERBS here.
3. I Listened to Those Who’d Gone Before Me
LISTEN. HEAR what people say. HEED their warnings and dangers.
In Rocky VI (Rocky Balboa), there is an inspirational scene where Rocky is talking to his son. He says, “The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It’s a very mean and nasty place and I don’t care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is going to hit as hard as life. But it ain’t about how hard ya hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward.”
Look for Rocky Balboa–Inspirational speech video on You Tube.
My mom went through two divorces and survived the death of her third husband. I watched her while growing up and determined I would be different. Only one man for me, and I wouldn’t raise my kids in a dysfunctional environment (writes with an eye roll remembering self-righteous tendencies #ignoranceofyouth).
When the word divorce came up, I ran to my mom because she had walked the walk. She understood, and despite her shortcomings, she loved me. Those Divorce Care leaders had also been there. Shoot, fifty percent of Americans have been there.
Healing takes place when we listen to others and then they listen to us.
It’s how we were created.
I worked for a number of years as a Social Worker in long-term care. Those dysfunctional parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles–even the ones still caught in their own web of brokenness–have knowledge that comes from experience. Ask them. Doesn’t mean you have to respect them, condone their behaviors, or build a relationship, but they will share their wisdom.
Don’t let the pain and negative voices dictate your brand new future.
You have to start over, but you get to choose how you organize all your baggage.
We can’t trust our feelings because they tell us we aren’t good enough, we aren’t valued, we’re a failure, we deserve more. Those are lies. My marriage failed, but I’m not a failure. One man didn’t want me, but that doesn’t mean all men would feel this way. It’s the same for you.
If you think about it, rejection in relationships boils down to one person’s desire to have something different because, for whatever reason, they don’t want what they’ve got. What are those reasons? You probably know some of them. Immaturity, selfishness, stupidity, inability to commit. Those deficiencies aren’t your deficiencies.
In the moment, it’s almost impossible to step back and rationalize this. So, listen to people you trust. Avoid negative people like the plague, and don’t listen to your negative thoughts.
Jumping to Conclusions, Overgeneralization, All-or-Nothing thinking, Disqualifying the Positive are four of ten cognitive distortions that Dr. David Burns, M.D. talks about in his book “Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.” (Harper 2009).
How it Begins
In Rocky VI–same inspirational speech as mentioned earlier. Rocky is facing his son and holds his palm up in the air. He looks at his hand and says, “You ain’t gonna believe this, but you used to fit right here. I’d hold you up and say this kid’s gonna be the best kid in the world…” The son rolls his eyes. Rocky goes on to say, “You let people stick a finger in your face and tell you you’re no good, and when things got hard, you started looking for things to blame…”
We point fingers. We talk negatively about ourselves to ourselves. We look in the mirror and say, “Only a face a mother could love…look at those wrinkles, that thinning hair, those scars, those moles. How could anyone find you attractive?
I woke up feeling this way one morning. I’d had a bad dream, and in that dream I’d been rejected. Lying in my bed, awake, I told myself: there is no hope for a 49 year-old, introvert, with PMDD and loads of baggage, to find love again. Your scars run too deep. It’ll take the rest of your life to feel confident, and maybe not even then.
Then I chuckled. Was I really doing this to myself while reading Dr. Burns’s book? I crawled out of bed and began taking notes. Here is what I discovered:
- By saying there is no hope for a 49 year-old introvert with PMDD to find love again, I placed boundaries on the word “hope”, and I defined it wrong. I told myself hope=good mental health and no self-doubt. That’s not true.
- Hope is what we desire to have happen. I hope to have good mental health. I hope to be confident enough to trust again. I hope to improve my self-esteem.
The way I talk to myself matters. Say these words out loud: There is no hope.
Now, say these words: I have hope.
Hear the difference? Feel the difference?
On page 62 of Dr. Burns‘s book, he states, “Train yourself to recognize and write down the self-critical thoughts as they go through your mind. Learn why they are distorted, and practice talking back to them so as to develop a more realistic self-evaluation system. ”
Where Did I Learn This Negative Self-talk?
If you do a search on the internet for “what influences our self-esteem” you’ll get an array of sites that essentially talk about the role parents and other significant adults play in the development of our self-esteem and self-worth. Not to mention how our peers pressure us as we navigate the hormone infested waters of puberty.
I remember in one Divorce Care session I told the group that there was not a single man in my life, outside my brother and my two sons, who hadn’t in one way or another rejected me. I stunned everyone speechless. The female leader finally said, “I think you’ll find the section on forgiveness especially helpful.”
Makes me laugh whenever I think about it. Bitter much?
Yes, it’s true. As a kid, I experienced a lot of rejection from the important adults in my life, and it didn’t feel good. I buried it, I masked it, and now I’m dealing with it. Now, I recognize that within each of those relationships there was also acceptance. It hadn’t been their mission in life to hurt me.
In 2009, I sat beside my dad on his hospital bed and touched the paper-thin skin on his hand. A child in a man’s body, he had been irresponsible and immature. He couldn’t speak, but in that moment, beyond the sound of the oxygen machine and the sickly sweet smell of death, a tear slipped out of the corner of his eye. As I wiped it away, I chose to believe my dad wanted me. That in his brown eyes I saw love, regret, and acceptance. No one could take that special moment away, except me. I allowed today’s bitterness to rob me of yesterday’s gift.
Dr. Burns, in “Feeling Good,” goes on to write, “Pinpointing the nature or origin of your problem may give you insight, but usually fails to change the way you act. That is not surprising. You have been practicing for years and years the bad mental habits that helped create your low self-esteem. It will take systematic and ongoing effort to turn the problem around.”
Rejection is painful. It knocks the wind from your sails, tosses you overboard, and threatens to drown you. How you respond determines if you sink or swim. In the final part of the Rocky VI video clip, Rocky tells his son, “If you know what your worth, go out and get what you’re worth, but you got to be willing to take the hits. That’s how winning is done and not pointing fingers saying, you aren’t where you want to be because of him or her or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!”
I agree with him. I am better than that, and so are you.
Today’s comfort assignment: Turn a negative thought about yourself into a positive. Feel free to share. Thanks for reading.
Now, who’s up for a Rocky marathon?