girl getting rejected at schoolI often ask my clients in our first Individual Therapy Sessions about instances in their life where they experienced rejection. I often get a puzzled facial response, “Are you talking about a job or are you talking about my divorce?” It amazes me as a therapist in today’s day in age that the topic of rejection isn’t discussed more in therapy and in addiction therapy. I can recall the multiple instances of rejection I experienced in adolescence, in my teenage years, and in my adult life. I conduct group therapy for those suffering from addiction and every individual in the group therapy process will acknowledge that they have anxiety, that they isolated to the extreme, though when I bring up the concept of rejection, they look at me like I had a “Mom’s spaghetti” stain on my shirt the size of a basketball. I guess in today’s therapeutic world clients are used to only addressing “presenting issues” instead of “core issues”. As a teenager I have had an acquaintance commit suicide over the rejection of a girlfriend he had been with for nine months. I myself have felt rejection due to getting sober at a young age which greatly affected me in a negative way. I’ve had high school friends turn their back on me for the way I behaved due to the drugs I’ve used. The only way I knew how to handle this at the time was to “party harder”. My inability to handle rejection taught me negative habits. Every therapist training email, brochure, and pamphlet I get is on trauma (As a therapist I’m actually traumatized by how much every other therapist talks about trauma) though rejection is rarely discussed and if you do not have the proper coping mechanisms to perceive and cope with rejection, you will be traumatized.

Adolescent rejection compromises your sense of self by affecting healthy esteem and can affect children to the core.  Humans are naturally social beings and need to feel appreciated, accepted, and feel as part of a group. Rejection in adolescence will begin to form a restricted sense of self and is the foundation of a life lived in fear.  Social fear, fear of intimacy, lead to self-doubt, isolation, and often addictive behaviors.  Alcohol, cocaine, heroin, E, molly, marijuana, what’s your flavor of the month (Black Sheep; it’s a B-Boy Hip-hop Reference)? These substances are used as a “bridge” to overcome the lack of self-esteem and the self-doubt often caused by rejection. I often think about the many friendships I had in my adolescence that dissipated because of my addiction, the way I acted in my addiction, and how I treated people in my addiction.  At the time when these people turned their backs on me, I can honestly acknowledge I felt rejected, it hurt to my core, I felt like I wronged by them. Being addicted I couldn’t see reality in an honest manner. It brought up past feelings of when my first girlfriend broke up with me and when I wasn’t invited to a birthday party as a child. The rejection made me feel less than. My inability to handle rejection in a healthy manner put me in continual situations to experience further rejections. I think the honest recollection of how I felt about myself was, quite simply, a “reject”. 

We are born to be social beings, I know those in isolation in front of their tablets, computer screens, televisions, and video game consoles will disagree, but it’s backed my anatomy and science. Original studies on the neurotransmitter Oxytocin were centered around mother and infant bonding though more recent studies show that Oxytocin plays an undeniably important role in establishing and maintaining relationships. Once oxytocin is produced in the hypothalamus, apportion of the brain that keeps the internal functions in balance, it’s secreted into the bloodstream by the pituitary gland. From there it is directed to your spinal cord and extremities. Released into our brains, under the right circumstances (keep this in mind, lol, I’ll get back to this), oxytocin has the power to regulate our emotional responses and pro-social behaviors, including trust, empathy, gazing, positive memories, processing of bonding cues, and positive communication. Oxytocin provides us with a warm feeling when we are around others we care about, the more we engage in these social behaviors, the better we feel, but it can also work in the opposite way. If your experiences with rejection leave you with self-doubt and living in isolation, dis-trusting others a study by Robert C. Froemke, PhD, a neuroscientist from New York University states that,” Oxytocin seems to act like a volume dial, turning up and amplifying brain activity related to whatever someone is currently socially experiencing”. This most recent research states that people can find pleasure in isolation and retreating from others. I know my favorite place at the height of addiction was in my home on 13th and Turner street in Allentown PA,  playing DMX’s “slipping” repeatedly or some Alice in Chains song, while shooting china white heroin with a candle lit. I couldn’t handle others rejection, so I isolated, which only progressed my addiction. Dr. Froemke’s “Volume” example provides the fact that if you are happy alone the isolation will only progress because you are receiving a positive neurological response due to your isolation whereas if you are pushing your social boundaries you will most likely continue to do so because you will be getting a healthier positive neurological response from your behavior.

If I was to recover from my addiction to drugs and alcohol, I had to reframe my experience with rejection. I could no longer hide from being rejected.  Through therapy I could discover that my adolescent and teenage experiences with rejection were mainly due to my friend’s change in interest.  That past girlfriends moved on and had different interests. It was not that I’m a flawed person.  I took each account of past rejections in childhood and as a teenager and realized that in each experience it was my internal negative response that caused me the greatest harm.  Whether others moved on or intentionally hurt me my inability to care for myself left me with an inferior feeling towards myself.  As my addiction progressed, I understood why others walked away from me. I understood in recovery healthy boundaries and why others needed to detach from me. As my addiction turned into straight drug dependence, at that point, it was a dog-eat-dog world. Rejection was the norm, if you had resources everyone was your best friend, if you were down and out, people may connect with you to be an accomplice to some shady behavior. In that world it’s not unusual to front someone something, though that’s always with a price, when they are down and out, you best believe they will be at your front door saying, “remember when I……”.

In early recovery expect rejection. Trust me, close friends will fall off, you can’t take it personal. Sponsors won’t always pick up their phones, it may be that they are working or are with their family. Old-timers will criticize you; you may get fired; others will talk about you.  Look at this as rejection. Embrace the suck, realize you can handle this though take different action.  Rejection used to be internally ingested into negative feelings and thoughts about myself. Post-addiction I learned to be assertive.  I will tell my sponsor that I did call him, just so I can be accountable for my words, his response is usually, “Good job, I was out to dinner with my wife and promised her that night would be about her and I.” That’s closure. If an Old-timer criticizes me, I asked what I was doing wrong? “You were whispering in the back of the meeting and it was distracting because the lady speaking had difficulty projecting her voice because of the abuse she experienced in her past.” If someone talks about me or those closest to me, I will confront them. The assertiveness, the ability to take risks and welcome rejection, in correlation to exploring my past “staining” and “impactful” situations of rejection in childhood assisted me in being comfortable with myself despite what others said or did to me. I said I was powerless over drugs and alcohol but through recovery I gained so much more power in areas of my life I never thought needed to be addressed. 

I encourage you to put yourself in situations to experience rejection. Talk to that man/woman you would never speak to in the past. Share in a large meeting, which you would never do. Apply for a job you are completely un-qualified for. Play a sport you aren’t the best at anymore, be the worst on the field actually.  The only benefit you will get is that you are breaking the barriers of your fear of rejection and better yet, you will begin to experience less and less of the most over reported and misunderstood feeling of the modern day……anxiety. 

Side Effects of this article DO NOT include: Drowsiness. Dizziness. Headache. Kidney Failure. Depression. Constipation. Diarrhea. Dry Mouth. Impaired Coordination. Increased appetite. Decreased Appetite. Panic attacks. Insomnia. Erectile Dysfunction, Impaired Libido, Memory Problems, Poor or Impaired Balance, Slurred Speech, Trouble Concentrating, Irritability, Increased Sweating, Nausea, Vomiting, Upset Stomach, Blurred Vision, Weight Change, Swelling in your Hands or Feet, Muscle Weakness, Stuffy Nose like anti-anxiety medications