In the wake of Valentine’s Day, it seemed useful to explore some of the shadow side of our eternal need for love. Not everyone gets a pretty card or bunch of flowers, not everyone’s love reaches another’s heart. Rejection is an issue we all experience at some time or other. Nobody likes being rejected, yet we reject ideas, people and things all the time. We often find ourselves attracted to someone who does not return our favour, or we might be on the receiving end of unwanted attraction. It’s hard to say “no” directly and we may resort to excuses, or silent and gradual withdrawal. I remember when younger, how hurt and frustrated I was by those unspoken rejections of friendship. I would then sadly carry on trying to please them and continue getting hurt. I’d obsess and pick at myself for all my weak points that might have been the cause. I believed, naively, that I had to be liked by everyone, concluding I must be wrong or had done something wrong if even only one person rejected me out of a roomful of people.
Some of us have lifelong issues of rejection: loss of a parent from divorce, abandonment or death can cause such wounds; as too can neglect or lack of affection. Maybe we had to fill our parent’s emotional needs whilst our own child needs were ignored. Whatever the cause, it can make it hard for us to trust and emotionally needy. We project our fears onto our partner convinced they are planning to leave at the first opportunity. We are on alert for any sign of rejection, real or imagined. Alternatively we may fear being smothered or swamped and avoid intimacy altogether (especially if we were used for our parent’s needs rather than our own).
It is ironic how often these two opposites dance together in relationship. The one who is insecure, needing constant re-assurance and the aloof one who fears possession and needs a permanent escape route in order to stay. Of course our fears may be founded and a partner really is planning to leave, or having an affair. They can then blame the other’s jealousy and demands as the cause. It’s a horrible dance especially in its extreme and highly destructive form. It can also drag on a relationship that otherwise works well. This dance can tend to rear its ugly little head in the bedroom; one feels aroused so the other withdraws, one loses interest, so the other gets turned on. Both parties feel the pain and frustration.
So what are the answers? Taking responsibility for our own issues and not taking responsibility for each other’s is certainly a sensible step, though not so easy to achieve. Learning not to take their behaviour so personally and stepping back from reaction takes time and self-discipline. I am not responsible for your feelings of rejection, or suffocation and you are not responsible for mine. We need to recognise and understand our own wounds. Finding non-blaming ways of communicating with each other around this is also vital.
Something that helped me was realising how I reacted to rejection by closing my heart off to myself. In other words, we internalise rejection. Learning to accept the part of me that I deemed unacceptable, or unlovable, was one of my hardest tasks. A friend lent me an album called ‘A Hundred Thousand Angels’, by a band called Bliss. The song lyrics licked softly at my wounds, named my fears and reminded me to love myself; I soon felt comforted and got over the loss so much quicker.
It is usually a younger aspect of ourselves: an inner child, or young person that we banish, because others rejected it. However repelled we may feel by certain parts of our personality, our journey starts with being willing to accept, even when we don’t know how. And acceptance does not mean liking, at least to start with. After a while, with patience, even the neediest part of us can transmute to someone we can learn to appreciate. Nobody else can fill the hole and if we keep at it, it’s amazing how genuine self-acceptance can heal our wounds. Those of us who fear suffocation also need to find the part of us who was so trapped that escape was the only way to meet our needs. We need to befriend those wounded aspects of ourselves, and explore new ways forward with them.