Updated: Feb 1
We are all familiar with the war against feelings and fear of rejection. We also know the little battles within it- disapproval, faithlessness, mistrust, failure.
I’ve been rejected many times in my life. Haven’t you? The childhood friends we all have our little spats with, boyfriends or girlfriends, sometimes family members, teachers, bosses- eventually even husband or wives have, whether intentionally or not, inflicted rejection’s wound. Words, deeds, or the absence of them- neglect- each made marks upon us.
I know the Bible says God accepts me, He wants me, He calls me His. Romans tells me that nothing- nothing I can say or do, nothing anyone else says or does, nothing, nothing, nothing, can separate me from his love. So why does this not feel like enough for me? Why do I want so badly to be accepted and wanted by people- including those who fail me and don’t love me back?
My oldest son, Lukas, is a lot like me. Levi, son #2, obviously wants friends, and likes to be liked, but in general, he marches to the beat of his own drummer. He wears what he likes, acts how he wants to, and revels in his uniqueness. If you don’t think it’s cool, who cares? But Lukas, he does care. He wants his weird, embarrassing idiosyncrasies to blend in and his gifts to stand out. He wants to be liked back by people he likes. And when he isn’t, he hurts, and wonders why he isn’t good enough.
Being the mom that I am, I want to be there to pick him up and encourage him. When he feels awkward, I tell him, “Lukas, you are a great looking guy! You are so cool!” When he feels he’s failed academically, I say, “Hey, everyone messes up sometimes, but look at what you learned! Look at all these other awesome grades you made! Look at that test score!” When he comes in second or third instead of first, “Look how hard you ran! Wow, your time was even better than last time!”
But I bet you can guess what he does. He keeps focusing on the awkwardness, on the failure, on the “second-best,” and he says, “Mom, you have to say that… you’re my mom.” I will be the first to admit, I’m a super cheesy mom. But if my words don’t come out sounding cool- if I say them because I love my son and genuinely am proud of him, and not just to soften the blow- does that make those words any less true?
I do the same thing to my parents and grandparents. Despite that they may be older and wiser, despite that they may have seen an adult child or two who failed to make their parents proud, I cannot seem to believe and internalize their attempts to lift me up. I have no doubt they are biased towards me, so their words aren’t “actual” truth. But I know my mind is creating a paradox. How could it be that I believe they love me but I presume them to be liars? Are they protecting me from what they really think about me? Or, as I am truly proud of my son, could they truly think I am a worthwhile human being?
Strangely, we usually don’t internalize what our parents say until we hear someone else affirm the same thing (If you have a teenager, you’ll know this is true- they don’t believe you unless someone they think is smarter or more cool tells them the same thing!), yet those whose parents don’t tell them they love them, approve of them, and are proud of them suffer lifelong psychological damage. They never seem to rid themselves of the desire to please their parents, and the approval of others is never enough because they don’t have their parents’ approval.
As I’ve fought this battle, I’ve learned a few things about rejection:
Sometimes when we feel rejected by someone, they are simultaneously feeling rejected by us.
It’s all just a misunderstanding, and when we get brave enough to lovingly confront, we may be able to repair the damaged relationship.
Sometimes when we feel rejected by someone, they haven’t really rejected us–
we simply fear that they have. In psychology, there’s something called the spotlight effect. This says that we “overestimate others’ noticing and evaluating our appearance, performance, and blunders (as if we presume a spotlight shines on us.)” (Psychology, David G. Myers) Because we’re worried about how they rate us, if we rate ourselves poorly, we think they’re also rating us poorly, when they may not even notice!
Sometimes when we feel rejected by someone, God is protecting us.
In “The Girlfriend Revolution,” Susan Thomas asserts that true friendship is a gift from God, and sometimes that person we wish would love us is not a person who is healthy for us. God may not have gifted us with that person’s friendship for our own good. I don’t know about you, but I can apply this in hindsight to a few damaging relationships along the way.
Practical tips on how to heal from the wounds of rejection:
1. Renew your mind
I like Romans 12:2 in the NLT- “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.” How do I change the way I think?
Damaging words spoken to me rotate around and around in my head like an irritating commercial jingle. How do you get an annoying song out of your head? You listen to a new song. I’m writing down on notecards every Scripture I come across that tells me the truth of who I am in Christ, and taping them on my bathroom mirror and the inside of the cabinet doors. I’m putting songs that lift me up on my Spotify playlist. I am determined to replace those hurtful thoughts with new ones.
2. Practice Self Care
I’m soooo bad at this. I’ve convinced myself that the only “right” thing is to care for everyone else at the expense of me. Yes, I know the “put your own oxygen mask on first”analogy, but walking out the actions is harder. So one decision at a time, I’m eating a little better, sleeping a little more, reading a few more books, working on a few more fun projects, and treating myself to a latte or a bubble bath a little more often. If I’m taking care of myself, I don’t have to “need” someone else to take care of me. I can simply enjoy the gift of their love when they do.
3. Focus on what is good
Philippians 4:8 says “Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise.” One of my mentors told me to write down all the things that are good about me. At first, I wanted to put a qualifier next to each one. “I am… but….” I felt the qualifiers were important, because as a good Jesus girl, I want to be humble and not self-serving. But in this particular exercise, the qualifiers were missing the point. In that moment, I needed to say “this is what is good about me,” rather than “here’s all the reasons those who reject me are justified in doing so.”
We could take this verse apart and say, what is true about me? What is true about God? What is true about the person who hurt me? What is honorable in my life? What is honorable about Him? Even, what is honorable or admirable about the other person? This doesn’t mean I’m losing my humility. In fact, in fixing my eyes on what is good in God and in others, I find that balance I’m looking for. My eyes get off of me, and onto Him, and I find it a lot harder to live and walk with the “Not enough” label on my forehead.
4. Ask God to help you see yourself as He sees you
My counselor challenged me to think about my own children- about how I see them. Yes, I know where their faults lie, and where they need to grow, but I see those things through the filter of my unconditional, crazy mama love. God really sees me that way. 2000 years ago He marked me with His great big stamp of approval. He says “I sent my only Son for you just so I could be with you!”
Does He have to say that? No, actually, I don’t think so. I don’t think He has to. But He does. He does.
Recommended for Further Reading:
“When People are Big and God is Small,” Edward Welch. This book explores the questions of our wants versus our needs in relationships, and where that becomes fear of man instead of fear of God. Welch explores both the psychological and spiritual sides of our need for relationship, but in an easy-to-understand format.
“Safe People,” Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This one addresses types of people that tend to hurt us in relationships and how to recognize them, as well as brokenness within yourself that might allow you to choose poor relationships. I felt like rejection had become such a pattern that I had to ask myself the question, “Is it me?” This book helped me see where it was and where it wasn’t, and made me feel better equipped to make good choices in current relationships as well as in choosing future ones.
“Boundaries,” Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. This book for me felt a little controversial, as far as I wanted to be cautious to create boundaries that were still God honoring, and recognize that in some relationships, God is calling me to give and serve and not expect anything in return from the other person. The subtitle is “How to Take Control of Your Life,” and I want God to be in control of my life. However, I do realize that I had given control to others, so neither God nor myself were necessarily in control. In relationships where I had been repeatedly hurt, the concepts in this book were life changing.
“Present Over Perfect,” Shauna Niequist. While not dealing with the topic of rejection, this book helped me explore the self-care issue, evaluating where I was pushing too hard, and thinking about where I needed to slow down and enjoy life and relationships more.
“Uninvited,” Lysa Terkeurst. Geared toward women, this book is full of practical teaching couched in personal illustrations. It deals with not just personal rejection from others, but also as it pertains to work/outside rejections, comparing ourselves to others, and how to process rejection. I must admit I’m only halfway through this one, but I always enjoy Lysa’s writing.