There have been many issues in my life that I have wanted to understand; two of these are rejection and approval. I have always had a strong need for approvaL, especially from men. As a female, I would constantly do things to gain their acceptance; from my father, employers, partners and friends. If I was rejected I would strive to please them so that I would be loved and accepted.
Rejection for me, triggers experiences of "I'm not good enough, What's wrong with me, it must be my fault"; a questioning and a doubting of myself, and my abilities.
Much time was wasted in the effort of proving myself to people; that I am an intelligent capable female, with a mind of my own and full of untapped potential. Self acceptance and approval became very important to me and today I live my life my own way and am not as affected by the opinions of others.
As a result of my past experiences I began researching rejection (relations of denial) and approval. I gained some very deep insights from a process I designed which is now part of my consulting product range. Initially I performed the process on myself and consequently reached conclusions that had eluded me previously. It was an amazing process, and for many days I was very angry at what I had revealed. My life was laid out before me and I was not happy; I realised that others had been in denial of me for a long time. Consequently, I learned to be in denial of myself but, now I had the tools to change my life.
From this understanding I will outline the elements and outcomes associated with denial; how it arises - awareness of it - and how to change it.
Experiences of rejection are common in modern culture when we participate in the part of the culture that is relations of denial: the denial of emotions, the suppression of honesty, our vulnerability, and ultimately ourselves. Emotion and vulnerability are deemed as a weakness, but aren't they what make us human?
We often deny our humanity by suppressing our emotions and vulnerability in an effort to gain love and acceptance. Being unemotional and in control is considered acceptable, because it is considered rational and strong. Being emotional and vulnerable is considered irrational and weak. To be strong and in control can be a denial of our fundamental nature when it suppresses the expression of vulnerability and emotion. So how does denial happen? In my experience denial happens in everyday conversations; the conversations that deny a persons experiences,that deny their view of the world. These conversations usually involve one person claiming to be the authority on something; believing that his or her opinion is universally true or right. The implications are that we must view "the world" in the same way as the authority; that this is the only way and thus the only world.
Generally what follows is that other ways of viewing "the world" are considered wrong if they differ from what is claimed to be universally true or right by the authority. Statements like "You don't see how things really are". Or, "That's not reality, this is the reality and surely you must see that. Are you blind or something?"
Statements of this kind deny individual experiences. If a person accepts the denial, two things usually happen. They may begin to question and doubt their perception and knowledge, or they may start to defend their experiences by proving and justifying themselves.
Defending, proving and justifying are generally associated with the emotions of anger, resentment, frustration and bitterness. Accusations of blame and guilt are also part of the defending position - "I'm right, you're wrong" conversations.
When a person is defending themselves, the other is perceived as being in opposition - a threat. The perceived threat can be met with distancing by establishing boundaries as a form of protection from denial or rejection. Consequently, trust, intimacy and sharing will be lost through the fear of rejection.
Anger is very much a part of relations of denial, in fact anger is mutual denial. In most situations anger triggers anger, reinforcing mutual denial. Understanding cannot be reached through mutual denial as both participants protect by distancing themselves through establishing boundaries, thus generating and maintaining a lose, lose situation.
Experiences of denial in the form of rejection through anger can often be expressed as statements of "you're wrong, stupid, ignorant" etc., and will have consequences on self esteem; a doubting of experiences and knowledge. This pattern will become familiar if a person participates regularly in relations of denial.
Self doubt leads to insecurity and experiences of unworthiness, e.g. "What's wrong with me". Or, "I'm not good enough, I don't deserve to experience what I want in life". And, "No one cares about me and what I want; nobody loves me".
Depression, isolation, loneliness and abandonment flourish as low self esteem deepens and rejection intensifies. When the individuals insecurities are triggered, they may respond in anger as a means to protect against rejection.
As rejection and denial become increasingly familiar, love and acceptance are often pushed away - the "I don't deserve" pattern reappears in the form of denial.
A person with low self esteem will usually have a strong need for acceptance and approval; demonstrating the need for acceptance through satisfying and meeting other peoples needs before their own. To gain acceptance usually an individual will do anything, go anywhere, be what other people want them to be. They no longer trust themselves. They will try to fit the persona of other people who appear to be more worthy or successful rather than being themselves through self acceptance.
In our modern culture, people generally are being told what to do and how to think. As a result many people have lost the ability to think and act for themselves. They will constantly ask other people for their opinions, because they don't trust themselves and their own views on life. Consequently, they will then act on others opinions rather than their own.
Being told what to do and think arises when someone is claiming objective authority and is seeking obedience as a demand for control. Some statements of control are "you must do it this way, because I know more than you do". Or, "I know what's best in this situation, so it should be done this way". And, "I'm not interested in what you think, just do it".
*Being told what to do and think all the time erodes a persons ability to think and act for themselves, thus setting up dependence on the authority on what to say, what to do and what to think. As a result any form of spontaneity and creativity will be diminished as they seek to match their own views or actions with those of the authority.
As this occurs with increasing regularity, an individual will start to live their life through conforming to the authorities wishes and in this way can experience a loss of identity and purpose. They sacrifice their individuality to help the authority achieve. As their sense of purpose in life is lost, confusion and apathy can be experienced. They will now rely on the authority to set their direction and purpose for them; anything is better than feeling confused about what to do and what to think.
Now that we have the awareness and understanding of relations of denial, what other alternatives are there?
One alternative is responsible rejection, where we reject someone or something with responsibility, i.e. being responsible for our preferences, for what we don't like. For example, "I don't like what you are doing. Can you please go away and do it somewhere else". In this way we can reject responsibly without claiming to be the objective authority. Instead we claim authority and responsibility for our own lives, perceptions and preferences.
It is important to state our preferences. By stating a preference, it is clear to the person listening that our disliking is a personal preference and that we are acting according to our preferences.
Another alternative is to acknowledge each others experiences where learning and understanding occur through curiosity. For example, we can ask "why don't you like what I am saying?" "Oh, I don't like it, because it reminds me of another experience". "Oh, okay, so what was your experience and why did it remind you of me?" "Oh, that was because of what so and so said to me". "Ah, now I understand, that must have been very painful for you". To defuse a conversation in relations of denial, offer an acknowledgement as an alternative. For example, "Well, that's your experience and I acknowledge that but, are you interested in my experience?" If the person is not interested, then walk away from the conversation with responsibility. Another way to defuse could be, "I'm not interested in participating in this conversation (relations of denial). However, I am interested in sharing my experiences with you where we can both learn from and understand each other, what would you prefer?" To take responsibility for our preferences is to act with awareness. What we choose to say or do is done with responsibility, where we have choices as to who we want to interact with and how we want to interact with each other. After all, isn't it better if we choose to interact in acceptance and acknowledgement (loving and caring) where learning and understanding can take place, rather than in relations of denial? I hope this outline provides some understanding and insight into rejection and relations of denial and how we can change the dynamics. If we can begin to understand the dynamics involved in relations of denial and the consequences, then we can begin to change the ways in which we relate to and converse with each other.
Copyright 1996 Jane Cull. This material may be freely copied and reused, provided the author and source are cited. However, the author would appreciate being contacted should you wish to copy or reuse the material.