I started a journey a few months ago–the journey to publication.
I’ve been published before, but poetry and articles are vastly different than a book.
Being the person I am, I did my homework going into it, and man, was there a lot to learn! I knew the journey would be arduous and fraught with rejection. I was prepared for it. Armed with my optimism and resilience, which I have an abundance of, I thought I’d be able to weather the difficulty with grace.
At first I did. I got the inevitable rejections, but I also got many full requests that acted as a buoy. I would plunge down, but my optimism would pull me back up.
But then something changed.
I found myself in a funk I couldn’t seem to climb out of.
Being a psychology professor, I pulled out my usual bag of tricks. I got outside. I focused on what I was grateful for. I exercised. I spent time with my family. I requested extra hugs and snuggle time. I escaped into books, played the piano, and sang my heart out.
Usually any combination of these would do the trick, but this time, none of it was working–and it was driving me crazy.
When I looked at my life logically, I was filled with gratitude. I like who I am. I like where I’m headed. And I like the people who are along for the ride. I had no reason to feel what I was feeling.
I knew the culprit had to be the rejection. Though I had expected it, though I am usually very resilient, something was different this time.
I got curious.
This led to a journey of discovery.
Rejection, from a biological standpoint, is one of the absolute worst things we can experience. Worse than physical pain. In fact, according to Psychology Today:
fMRI studies show that the same areas of the brain become activated when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. This is why rejection hurts so much (neurologically speaking).
In fact, our biological response is so similar to the experience of pain that Tylenol actually reduces the emotional pain of rejection.
Last night, I was feeling the malaise I’ve come to associate with my recent experience with rejection. I also had significant muscle pain. I decided this gave me the excuse to test out the research.
And it worked. Within ten to fifteen minutes I felt like myself again.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not recommending reaching for the Tylenol every time you’ve experienced rejection. What I am suggesting is that we need to recognize the very real effects rejection has on our Psyche and how we experience that pain in a very real, biological way.
In fact, our biological response could be defined as worse than physical pain in that it reaches into our future. Psychology Today puts it this way:
We can relive and re-experience social pain more vividly than we can physical pain. Try recalling an experience in which you felt significant physical pain and your brain pathways will respond, “Meh.” In other words, that memory alone won’t elicit physical pain. But try reliving a painful rejection (actually, don’t—just take my word for it), and you will be flooded with many of the same feelings you had at the time (and your brain will respond much as it did at the time, too). Our brain prioritizes rejection experiences because we are social animals who live in “tribes.”
As if this wasn’t enough to deal with, rejection also causes a surge in anger and aggression, it causes us to attack our self esteem, and it temporarily lowers our IQ.
And it doesn’t respond to reason.
Yikes. That is a nasty list of symptoms.
And as a Twitter friend reminded me the other day, rejection does not end when my books get published. Reviewers can be cruel. I have chosen a road of continued rejection.
So, what do we do when we have chosen a road filled with inevitable rejection? Do we just accept that this is part and parcel and a part of the price we pay?
I say no. Being aware is the first step in dealing with rejection in a healthy way. Being kind to ourselves, acknowledging the very real wounds, and seeking out relief in healthy ways can make a difference.
Ignoring it is not the right answer. We would not ignore a cut on our arm, would we? We would care for it. In the same way, we need to acknowledge the very real wounds caused by rejection and care for it accordingly.
The wounds are real so treat yourself to the same compassion you would extend to a friend in pain. You deserve it. And you need it.