Adrienne: Whether it’s a party invitation that never came, a job we didn’t get, or a relationship that ended… all of us know the inevitable sting of rejection. That’s why most of us avoid it. But does avoiding rejection have costs of its own? Today, our Wellness Columnist, Scott McPherson is here to talk to us about the invisible prices we pay to be liked, and how we might find more happiness by just embracing a little rejection. Hi Scott.
Scott: Good Afternoon Adrienne.
Adrienne: Avoiding rejection sounds like a good idea on the surface. Is it really that bad?
Scott: The basic drive is fine. If we flip the idea over, it’s just ‘a desire to be accepted.’ As pack animals, evolution favoured our desire to ‘belong’ because we’re safer in groups. So our natural desire to avoid rejection is one of the feelings that helps keep a group together. It works because we all feel more secure inside of a group. But of course that’s also why it’s so painful when we’re excluded.
Adrienne: Okay, so our desire to be accepted plays a role in uniting us. And our fear of being rejected is part of that. When does that fear of being rejected become a problem?
Scott: When we have so much fear that we try to get into groups we don’t even belong in. Then it gets expensive. And a group can be big, or can just be a couple. So it really depends on how far we’ll bend ourselves out of shape to avoid rejection. People-pleasing can be an exhausting and hopeless exercise. And most of us can remember trying to be someone we weren’t for someone we loved.
Adrienne: Where is the line between being a constructive compromiser in a unified group, versus when we’ve crossed over to disrespecting ourselves?
Scott: We can tell by how we feel about the price we’re paying. If we feel ‘good’ about the price, then that means we feel that our inclusion in the group was worth whatever price we paid to belong. And sometimes that can include high prices. Because sometimes we feel like we deserved to be rejected. Those are cases where we can become better people by rising up to meet people’s ideals.
Adrienne: But what about the cases where we feel the price is too high? Or that someone rejected us unfairly?
Scott: In some of those cases it should be us doing the rejecting. For instance, I don’t want to be accepted by Neo Nazis. So just like we can learn from some rejections, other people can also improve themselves by accepting our valid judgments and by changing their behaviour, like with a white supremacist or a racist. But in other cases the other person isn’t really wrong in rejecting us, or we’re not wrong in rejecting them. We just see things differently. There’s nothing wrong in those cases except how we’re looking at it.
Adrienne: What’s wrong about how we’re looking at it?
Scott: Well, without noticing it, a lot of people function as though everyone should like us. But that would mean we would have to like everyone else, and most of us will admit we don’t. But if we think we’re supposed to be liked by everyone, then we’ll take all of our rejections too personally, which means we’ll give those experiences a lot of thought.
All of that thinking is where our suffering will take place. We’ll spend a lot of time thinking about how unfair a judgment is. And a lot of that time will be spent creating counter-arguments to the rejection. That often means a lot of emotional self-talk about why they are wrong, or why we are good. And it’s that plaintive thinking that’s the painful, insidious part. It can go on for years.
Adrienne: Can we make it go away?
Scott: The stings we deserve we don’t want to go away. Those remind us to be our better selves. And for the rejections that don’t include useful lessons, we can make those go away by accepting the rejecting person.
Adrienne: How do we do that?
Scott: We keep them in context. We have to remember, this isn’t just about ‘our’ impression of someone. There’s a bigger picture too. Other people might like the other person and agree with their rejection of us. Those people count too. There’s 8 billion of us. We have to leave room for healthy differences. We all know there are various personalities that exist, and that they fall into groups. There’s passive people, and aggressive people. Some are profoundly libertarian, others are more social. So there’s roughly about nine primary ‘ways to be’ as a human being. And most of us will get along best with our own group, and about six of the other eight. But no matter what kind of person we are, there will always be a couple personality types that have perspectives so far from our own that we just can’t see eye to eye. It’s not anyone’s fault really, which is why we shouldn’t take their rejection of us any more personally than they should take our rejection of them.
Adrienne: But how do we ‘not take it personally?’
Scott: By not thinking of the rejection in ‘me’ or ‘I’ terms. We should think of it as being about the groups. Because it is about the groups. Some aggressively minded person who thinks we’re crazy to adopt a cautious approach –they aren’t against us personally. Their experience just led them to champion an aggressive reaction. We only disagree because we’re in a group of people that learned a different approach, based on different experiences.
Adrienne: So you’re saying we tend to see ourselves as being wrong when we’re rejected, when really we’re just different?
Scott: Yes. We mistake other people’s reactions for reality. So it’s like when a social person gets rejected by a shy person. They’re not necessarily rejecting the social person, they’re often rejecting being in the social group. So we have to remember, there are rejections we deserve, that can help us be better people. And there are rejections we don’t deserve, but that are simply based on someone seeing us as an example of a ‘type’ of a person, rather than as just ‘us’ as an individual person.
So, just like we don’t want to date everyone at the bar, neither does anyone else. But no one is saying anyone is invalid. People are just matching up with the patterns that they understand and can work with. The other people we find confusing and uncomfortable. But that does not make them or us wrong because of those differences. We simply have to accept them as inevitable. We already do this in our jobs or other places where we’re forced to work with very different people. We just find ways to function like people from two different tribes. We just do whatever needs to be done as best we can and we move on. In short, we live and let live. Because in the end the problem really isn’t the differences. It’s that we think they shouldn’t exist, when they’re really a natural aspect of people having different experiences as they grow up. So we should all embrace a little rejection. It just means that we are prepared to be who we have grown to be, and we’ll let others do likewise.
Adrienne: Lots to think about. Thanks Scott. Interesting stuff.
Scott: You’re welcome. Have a great day everyone!
Adrienne: Scott McPherson is our Wellness Columnist. He teaches mindfulness in Edmonton. Find him at relaxandsucceed.com, and on Twitter and Facebook.
I’d like to take this opportunity to invite you to join me and host Adrienne Pan, for CBC Radio Active‘s Wellness Column, on CBC Radio One here in Edmonton. She is the perfect host for a column like this, and when he fills in Rod’s also great.
You can listen to the show from 3-6pm, via AM740, FM93.9 (in Edmonton), or elsewhere through the CBC Listen app, or via the web on Radio One at CBC.ca. If nothing external impacts us, we are usually on every second Tuesday, at 5:20pm.
Once the show has aired, if there is an audio version available I will add a link to it here. A listing of all of the columns is here. I will also attach a transcript of the column to the top of this post within a week or so of airing.
All of us will face various kinds of rejection throughout our lives. Whether it’s a job we didn’t get, a relationship that didn’t work out, or even just friends going their separate ways, as common as these experiences are, too many people have feelings of rejection and a lack of value that last for years or even decades. Today’s discussion is about why we do that, how we can stop, and what we could do instead.
That’s what we’ll be covering today. If you get to hear the show and haven’t before, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it. It’s on from 3-6pm, and they have a great team.
Take care everyone. Here’s to a grateful day for all of us.
A serious childhood brain injury lead Scott to spend his entire life meditating on the concepts of thought, consciousness, reality and identity. It made others as strange to him as he was to them. When he realized people were confused by their own over-thinking, Scott began teaching others to understand reality. He is currently CBC Radio Active’s Wellness Columnist, as well as a writer, speaker and mindfulness instructor based in Edmonton, AB where he still finds it strange to write about himself in the third person.