Picture it: you’ve laid out the candles, carefully curated the playlist, made dinner (from scratch!) and are eagerly awaiting that knock on the door. The moment’s finally here and your sweetheart walks through. But, instead of a warm smile, you’re met with a look of distraction — or neigh — is that flickering irritation? Said sweetheart lowers their eyes, avoids yours, and lays it out: it just isn’t working. It’s not you. It’s them. And there it is: you’ve been dumped. Your cardiovascular cavity effectively obliterated into a gajillion tiny shards. Said person — now no longer a sweetheart, but a heartless monster — has since departed, and you’re left to pick up the pieces.
Every one of us has gone through some version of this scenario at some point in our lives (even, in some cases, multiple times). Rejection is always a jagged little pill to swallow and it seldom gets any easier with time. So what do you do, other than desperately try to make yourself fall out of love with someone that probably wasn’t right for you anyway?
In our latest episode of Sex Sessions, sexual health and consent educator Samantha Bitty explores love and rejection through the lens of economics. And in that lesson, she explores the way our “resources” impact our individual ability to connect and process rejection.
Stages of grief: What does rejection look and feel like?
The first step is to understand what’s happening. Research tells us that many of the symptoms people experience post-breakup mimic symptoms of drug withdrawal. This is, in part, because love triggers the same neural pathways that addictive substances do. Not giving your brain that rush of feel-good hormones causes us to feel rightfully down. Then, when there’s an added element of rejection thrown in the breakup mix, it can even feel physically painful.
Similar to the stages of grieving, the flurry of emotions that follow is another common experience. One study outlined seven specifically: hurt, jealousy, loneliness, shame, guilt, social anxiety and embarrassment. Throw in anger and sadness for good measure, and you’ve got quite a brew to work through.
There’s an evolutionary reason for our strong responses to rejection too: being rejected from our clan could mean life or death back when predators roamed about and we sought the safety of our village. The good news is that rejection (whether in bed, or more generally) won’t threaten our survival in any literal sense.
Ultimately, rejection is an affirmation that we are incompatible with a particular partner.
Rejection can look and feel different for different people, but you may experience it as:
- Being ghosted, overlooked or ignored
- Being turned down for a date
- Having a partner go soft or dry, mid-act
- Having a long-term partner break things off
- Being cheated on
How to overcome feelings of rejection
Ultimately, rejection is an affirmation that we are incompatible with a particular partner. As Bitty says, “Rejection has a lot more to do with [someone else’s] resources than it does with our individual worth.” Processing this rejection through the lens of cost of capacity and benefit can help us see the bigger picture; Bitty adds, “It isn’t really about us. It’s about them.” Really!
Here are other simple, gentle steps you can take to help work past feelings of rejection:
- Understand your feelings are valid — rejection hurts
- Remind yourself (again) that everyone goes through it; even the person who rejected you has themselves been rejected at some point
- Take the experience as an opportunity to learn something new about yourself (and others) and grow from it
- Remind yourself of your innate worth
- Keep things in perspective; someone’s “no” is another person’s “yes,” so keep going
- Reject negative self-talk
- Lean on your support circle
- Speak to a professional, if needed
By reframing the experience, you can also use it to fuel your creative side; one study found that rejection can help foster creativity and another found it bolstered intuition, so there are upsides to feelings of rejection.
How to reclaim your self-worth
Understand that your self-worth is not defined by another person’s capacity (or incapacity) to connect with you. Their own “personal resources” (i.e. desire, time, money, energy), may be limited for reasons that have nothing to do with you at all, so shift your focus off them and onto yourself instead. The
The University of North Carolina Wilmington suggests asking yourself the following:
- What words would you use to describe yourself?
- What value did you place on yourself or aspects of yourself?
- Were your descriptions generally positive, balanced or negative?
- Where did your messages around your worth come from?
Bitty explains that a lot of our feelings of “not-enoughness” often arise from heteronormative Eurocentric ideals (especially when it comes to beauty standards), so we must first dismantle these for ourselves.
Related: 11 ways to improve your self-love now.
More homework: reading assignments to continue your journey of self-understanding
- The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom by Don Miguel Ruiz
- The Ethical Slut: A Practical Guide To Polyamory, Open-Relationships and Other Freedoms in Sex and Love by Janet W. Hardy & Dossie Easton
You might also like: Sex Sessions: Unlearning and sex terms to know in 2021.