Rejection need not be personal

I’ve been thinking about how other people can be perceived as visitors to our consciousness, our sensory awareness. And we are visitors to others’ consciousness.

Some are regular visitors, some are occasional. Some people’s visitations are predictable, some unpredictable. For instance, we encounter the people we live and work with more frequently, and with greater predictability, than friends who live and work elsewhere.

Sometimes we have no choice about who these visitors are; for example, we have no choice who our family members are, and our partners and friends are only so because of their cooperation. Sometimes geography dictates the frequency of visitations; for instance, my family lives in Canada whereas I live in the UK, so we are only occasionally in each other’s physical presence and great expense is involved, which further hinders opportunities. Sometimes people move away. Sometimes people die.

Sometimes we don’t share physical realities with people because we simply don’t want to. Sometimes there isn’t a particular desire to see or smell or listen to or touch a particular other. Sometimes a desire wanes. We don’t mind about this.

Sometimes we’re the ones who are not wanted in another’s sensory world, even though we might desire them in ours. We mind very much about this. We’ve all encountered the pain of loss and of being unwanted and it starts early: maybe a school friend changes allegiance, sometimes a lover loses interest, or a hoped-for lover is unwilling from the start.

To be the one who is unwanted is painful, and to be the one without the interest can be irritating when another is putting pressure you to have a particular sensory experience – the experience of their humanity.

I’m pondering why this is so? Why do we want particular people in our field of awareness? Why do we want to be in the fields of awareness of particular others? When the other doesn’t want us there, why do we have such difficulty accepting it? Why do we try to persuade them otherwise – we seem to believe that if we can make ourselves appear prettier or smarter or more interesting or whatever that they will be inspired to spend their time in our company – to share sensory experiences – share physical realities – with us. And yet, we know from our own experience that if we are uninterested in another there is nothing they can do to impress us. Often the outcome of such activities is a more determined rejection. Why, then, do we not learn from ourselves that trying to persuade another to want us is an exercise in futility?

We encounter so many others in our travels who we can look upon, listen to, smell and touch. It’s illogical that we fixate on particular humans. It’s illogical that their rejection causes such pain. Yet, poets, lyricists, fiction writers, philosophers and psychologists have been lamenting, since humanity could write, about the anguish of this aspect of the human condition.

Can we train our minds not to fixate on particular people, but to appreciate all the human sights, sounds, smell and textures that come our way, that visit our consciousness?

Can we train our minds not to mind being unwanted – an unwelcome visitor – in another’s perceptual environment? If we can’t think of a logical reason why it matters so much, why does it continue to matter?

In a Buddhism-influenced blog I read recently it said something about not taking things personally because others’ opinions and desires are the product of their own mind and life experiences and therefore we do ourselves an injustice when we believe someone else’s opinion of us (in this context, that we are ‘undesirable’). That makes sense. So, when the response to us offering ourselves to another is rejection, we can choose to decide that we are not undesirable per se, but only to that particular person, and that’s only because their life experiences have not set up in their mind a predisposition to finding desirable whatever it is they perceive in us.

We can think of it as offering steak to a vegetarian. It simply means they don’t fancy what we are offering them: the sight of us, the smell of us, the sound of our voice, the texture of our skin. Being logical, is that really such a terrible thing? Doesn’t it simply mean that what we are sending out into the sensory world does not match what they wish to partake in? It’s just an incompatibility. Surely the problem we need to address is the emotional attachment we have to – the importance we place on – the idea that particular people must like us and want us in their sensory world, that it’s some sort of catastrophy if they don’t.

The blog also said something about not making ourself a victim. That, too, makes sense: the idea that when we feel pain at a rejection we make ourselves victims of that person’s opinion of us.

And it said something about being kind, gentle and compassionate to ourself. This is something most find difficult to do. We’re trained by our culture to feel inadequate as a byproduct of being taught to strive for personal perfection, ie we’re never good enough. And we’re trained to strive to be admired in the eyes of others, thereby making ourselves dependent on others’ opinions of us. In the context of this post, I’m thinking there must be an element of self-loathing present if we feel pain when someone rejects us; after all, if we believe ourselves to be likable and desirable, surely it wouldn’t matter if the odd one or two people disagree.

The thing is, we are all unwanted by others sometimes. It doesn’t make us unwantable per se. The trouble is, sometimes being unwanted matters very much, because the person who doesn’t want us is someone we perceive as special and we very much want them to want us. It’s a pain that’s hard to bear.

Finally, it said something about forgiving the past. What happened happened, and ruminating on ‘what if’s won’t change it; you just trap yourself in that past and allow it to hold power over you.

So, when we are rejected, we can choose to believe it is has nothing to do with us; that we don’t need that person to like or want us because we like ourself independently of them (we might as well; after all, unlike them, we have no choice but to be with ourself!); and not waste time wondering what might have happened if we had acted differently (did we wear the wrong clothes, did we say the wrong things?).

These ways of thinking – ways of believing – are all extremely difficult for the Western-trained mind to do. It means thinking differently from how we’ve been taught to think. It means abandoning our reliance on other’s opinions for our sense of self-worth, and yet to be so free means we risk ostracism because if we do what pleases us we run the risk of being ‘different’ and we all learned in the schoolyard, whether by personal experience or observing non-conformers,  what that means: sometimes ridicule, sometimes hostile persecution. And we would be courting rejection on a grand scale!


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