Let’s be clear about one thing from the outset: you CAN handle rejection. By which I mean, rejection does NOT have to precipitate a meltdown that ruins your life.
I know, I know. It may absolutely FEEL like rejection will, in fact, ruin your life.
It may even feel like the ONLY rational— or possible— response to rejection is, in fact, to melt down.
I’m not saying that what you’re FEELING is wrong. I don’t, actually, believe that FEELINGS are either “right” or “wrong”— they just are what they are.
Feelings are kind of the human mechanism’s reflexive response to thoughts.
We might have a thought— or maybe not even a thought, perhaps just an impression— and, in response, our lizard brain gives us a jolt of “this is good news!” or “this is bad news!” feeback.
We call those “jolts” of feedback “feelings.”
So feelings aren’t right or wrong. They are reflexive.
We don’t ask for them— we really do just get them handed to us by our central nervous systems.
Thoughts, however— thoughts can be reality testing as “right” or “wrong.”
At least, they can to the extent that they are summation of checkable facts.
If I have the thought, “I have a cat named Abbey Road who is sleeping within arm’s reach of me”— that thought is testable. It can be empirically verified. I can use my senses to confirm or disconfirm it.
I can look for a cat. I can reach out with my arm and feel for a cat. I can say her name— “Abbey Road!”— and see whether she looks at me with her big, blue, Siamese cat eyes.
Granted, not all thoughts are as easily testable as that thought about my cat.
We humans very often have thoughts that comprise not statements of fact, but value judgments that stem from our perception and understanding of fact.
I might have the thought, “I’ve only written a page and a half today— I’m absurdly lazy for a supposed writer.”
One part of that thought is testable— it’s entirely possible to check how much I’ve written today— but the other part of that thought is, by definition, subjective.
Your mileage on whether I’m “lazy,” based on today’s output, will vary.
Why am I telling you any of this?
Because to understand our relationship to the concept of rejection, we have to be SUPER CLEAR on what thoughts and feelings are and aren’t, and what they mean or don’t mean.
You know how I said, in the previous chapter, that at least one of the reasons why people respond so strongly to the experience of rejection is because it “triggers” them?
Chances are, there are some people who had a reaction to that assertion— perhaps positive, perhaps negative.
Some people might have had the thought, “Dr. Doyle is waaaaaay oversimplifying what happens with rejection.”
Others might have had the thought, “Dr. Doyle is just plain wrong. This is all about ego. Why is he talking about trauma and triggers?”
And still others might have had the thought, “Yup. Homeboy nailed it.”
Which of those thoughts is correct?
All of them. None of them.
They’re all correct for the people who thought them, because they are thoughts of the subjective variety. When held up against a person’s understanding of the world and their value system sure, my assertion that rejection “triggers” people can be either “right” or “wrong.”
And yet: here in the real world, EXACTLY OPPOSITE things can’t be simultaneously TRUE, can they?
It sure seems they are.
But that brings us back to that FEELING that rejection is the end of the world. That the ONLY possible response to rejection is to spiral, to melt down, to wither up.
Depending on a number of different variables, you may or may not FEEL any of these to be true.
But the “truth” of ANY of those feelings depends, to quote Jedi Master Obi Wan Kenobi, on a certain point of view.
Here’s what I know: rejection, in and of itself, does not kill anybody.
People’s REACTION or RESPONSE to rejection might put one in danger of death. But rejection itself is not lethal.
It may be unpleasant.
It may— and probably is— triggering.
It may feel overwhelming.
But the words and behaviors that actually comprise rejection WILL NOT kill you.
That statement isn’t one of those “it depends upon your point of view” things.
You can survive rejection because rejection is not, in itself, fatal.
No matter what it feels like. No matter what your lizard brain is saying.
We have to start from this premise: rejection, itself (i.e., independent of any behavior associated with rejection), is not a danger to my life.
Notice what pops up in your body and brain when you read that.
Do you suddenly get worried that I’m about to spend the rest of this book telling you that rejection simply “isn’t that bad,” oblivious to the fact that, sure, it may not be LETHAL, but it sure feels horrible?
Do you suddenly worry that I’m about to tell you to “suck it up,” that everybody gets rejected, that the solution to handling rejection is to simply develop tougher skin?
(If you are having a reaction like that, check it out: this is what getting triggered feels like.)
Easy does it. In telling you, in absolutely clear terms that REJECTION IS SURVIVABLE, I’m not minimizing how painful rejection is.
(After all, I’m the guy who is writing a whole book about how to handle rejection specifically because it IS so painful.)
It’s just important to start out from a reality-based place where we can establish a baseline for the DANGER associated with rejection.
What’s that? The “danger” of rejection?
Just because rejection, in itself, is not lethal, doesn’t mean that it’s not dangerous.
Rejection is plenty dangerous, emotionally— in much the same way that any trigger is potentially dangerous.
When an event sets something off inside of us that yanks our focus away from where we would otherwise choose to place it, I consider that a danger.
It’s a danger to our values, to our goals, and to our stability.
So don’t think I’m in the business of minimizing rejection. Don’t think I’m about to spend chapter after chapter telling you to grow up or develop a thicker skin. That’s not my jam.
So we’ve established that you can physically survive rejection, with your life intact— but what about emotionally and behaviorally?
Well. Let’s talk about that.