The pang of rejection

Kanisa George -
Kanisa George -

Kanisa George

HOW MANY times have you been left out of a social event? Or overlooked at work when the question of leadership or skill set arises? Sometimes you put your best foot forward, give it all you’ve got, and you’re just unable to cut it: “Sorry, you’re just not what we’re looking for.”

In almost every phase of our lives we face rejection. And no matter how small the rejection may be or who dishes it out, the sting can leave a lingering pain for a long time. And it’s not just the emotional fallout we’re left to grapple with. Sometimes rejection can manifest in ways that mimic physical pain. Rejection, or what some define as social hurt, like seeing an ex with their new partner, isn’t just hurtful metaphorically.

According to scientists, the ache is real. Studies have identified that the brain processes social pain similarly to physical pain, and they believe it’s an evolutionary response to our innate need to be protected and increase safety by belonging to a social group. Compared to instances of physical pain, the brain responds similarly to social pain, reinforcing the theory that there is an overlap between physical pain and social pain.

Rejection of a more obvious nature can no doubt cause significant harm to the receiver and, to some extent, affect the one who seemingly holds all the power. Very few of us take pleasure in turning someone down, and, as best as possible, we try to avoid it altogether. But at some point in our lives we will be forced to dish out rejection, and our only recourse is to engage in honesty and kindness.

In romantic relationships, micro or tiny rejections over time can lead to much bigger issues. These tiny rejections aren’t as obvious or intentional as others, but if left unchecked they can ultimately cause the demise of one’s relationship.

Motivational speakers preach that rejection should be a means of improvement and not a way to feel dejected. But this might not ring true in a relationship context.

A micro rejection is a small, often unintentional rejection that embodies tiny moments of turning away from your partner. They are subtle digs that can affect your partner's mood and level of involvement towards your relationship, leading to a massive pothole-sized disconnect.

Dr Kim Blackham found that the number one cause of divorce is disconnection and growing apart, which doesn’t happen overnight. She equates it to a cumulation of micro-rejections, seemingly small and insignificant ways partners reject each other, often unconsciously, over days, weeks, months, and years.

Most couples, based on Blackham’s experience, are often unaware of the extent of their micro-rejections and the consequences to their partner and their relationship. Because our relationships are enhanced through connection, small positive interactions that persist consistently, micro-rejections are like a gut punch to its foundation. Some examples of micro-rejection involve withholding affection and physical touch like kissing, hugging or a mere touch of tenderness.

When this is done consistently, not only can your partner feel deprived of physical and sexual intimacy and connection, but these feelings of rejection can destroy your relationship.

Some partners are also guilty of being distracted. Whether constantly engaging with their phone or other activities, failing to be an attentive, present partner is a heavy form of rejection that can make your partner feel unwanted.

Repeatedly ignoring your partner's emotional needs is another form of rejection that can lead to immense hurt and isolation. Failing to support your partner's emotional needs can weaken your connection and potentially result in support being sought elsewhere, giving rise to emotional infidelity and outside relationships.

Most of these seemingly inconsequential acts, in the end, boil down to partners feeling unheard and not prioritised. One writer likens it to this: each time our partner reaches out to us, it is an opportunity to connect, offer support, and help them feel safe. If we don’t respond to their advances, we miss the chance to connect, grow and foster intimacy. Once intimacy is lost, relationships become vulnerable and head downward toward dissolution.

Making a conscious effort to identify the ways we may be inadvertently rejecting our partner might be just what’s needed to strengthen bonds and get things back on track. Practise self-awareness and open dialogue whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of rejection, and take hold of those opportunities to connect and engage when your partner reaches out to you. Also, be vocal if you’re the one reaching out without connection being given in return.

It’s all about communication. It’s all about validation. It’s all about connection.

Reach out, connect and actively receive. Don’t let the pang of rejection ruin things.


"The pang of rejection"

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