Rejection, Disapproval & The Hit To Self-Esteem

rejection1by Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.

9 Ways To Bounce Back After Rejection or Disapproval Comes To Call

I wrote this a long time ago, but it’s true today. And I’m sending it out to a few people who need to hear this.

I have not edited the original (and Michael was here so he’s mentioned). Whenever I read back on things that happened when he was here and well and I think of the STUPID things I was obsessing about instead of enjoying my life with him, I get angry. Don’t let people rent space in your head they don’t pay for:

Do not waste yourself in rejection, nor bark against the bad, but chant the beauty of the good. ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

When you have a history, as I do, of being abandoned and rejected early, the sting stays with you for the rest of your life. When I was younger I gravitated toward people who would reject and abandon me and treat me badly. That is what I knew and that is what I was comfortable with.

When I started to change things and to get beyond the foster child/adopted child/no one loves you syndrome, it took a lot of hard work and a lot of affirmations and talking to myself positively. It also took not letting others get to me if they didn’t like me or approve of me.

For 20 years I’ve worked on staying positive and staying around positive people. People who know me know that I’ve worked hard in my life and have come far from a pretty rocky beginning. My kids love me, my husband loves me, my pets love me. Even my ex-husband’s family loves me. I have lots of friends from my old jobs and law school.

I have, however, been the unfortunate recipient of people’s dislike for no apparent reason.

The “Mean Girls”

I worked in a firm where my office was, unfortunately, in a part of the building that had been exclusively the territory of a practice group that I was not a part of. My office was not only in the group, it was smack in the middle of it. And in front of my office sat the administrative assistant that we all shared. I didn’t choose any of that. I was assigned that office. From the very first day, when I wasn’t welcomed by the lawyers in the offices around me, I felt as if I needed to apologize for it.

The thing was that I had just come from a firm where I was friends with everyone. Some people didn’t like others, but I got along with everyone and think I was friendlier with a greater number of people. I had a lot of friends in law school and a lot of friends at the last mental health clinic where I worked prior to law school. That’s not to brag but to explain how unfamiliar I was with this icy reception I got at my new firm. I simply wasn’t used to it and it took me a while to “get it.”

At first, I thought I was imagining grown women acting like catty teenagers.  Even when I was a teenager, I had not experienced this atrocious behavior nor did I engage in it.  To me, bullies were cowards.  I remember going after a bully in high school because she picked on girls who could not or would not fight and I had enough of it.  It got to the point where she would flee rather than face me in school or out of school. She knew, for a long time, I wanted to kick her butt.  She avoided me at all costs, but also avoided picking on my friends. Well, now I was at a top law firm as an attorney, in my 40s.  I couldn’t just kick someone’s butt.  But boy, how I wanted to.

Because I was so closely quartered with the practice group, we would sometimes have to actually talk to each other to prioritize the assistant’s work flow, but one day it started to dawn on me that they just didn’t like me. Not only did they not like me, but they were actively making fun of me. Like mean girls in high school, there was the ring leader, the tall, pretty one named Rachel, and she goaded the others. I could almost hear snickering from behind closed doors. And my assistant, lovely woman though she was, clearly was taking their side and laughing at their jokes. I dressed understated as any other attorney would, black and grey suits with black shoes. My hair was professionally done.  I shower every day. I could not figure out what in the world they could possibly say about me or why.

I had never done anything to these people.  We were grownups, we were PROFESSIONALS, we were ATTORNEYS.  And yet this went on every single day. I never experienced this in HIGH SCHOOL or any other time in my life when bullying is typically displayed, so it really upended me to be facing it in my 40s, in a professional setting, and in a law firm at that.

After a few months of this, we were going to a firm retreat in California.  We were flying out of New York, and as I walked along the corridor at LaGuardia, one of the lesser mean girls (one of the deputy mean girls) stopped me and asked where we were supposed to meet our group.  I told her and then made some comment about the security screening or some such thing.  She looked down the corridor, anxiously, and then said to me, “Oh okay, I’m waiting for Rachel….”  In other words, mean girl Rachel can’t see me talking to YOU. Gotcha.  Boy, are we ever in 9th grade here.  No, wait, the girls I went to high school with – in the toughest part of the Bronx – were much nicer than these yahoos.

Another day the group sent out a firm-wide email asking if anyone could do this rather onerous thing, and I wrote back immediately, “Sure, I’ll do it.” I was trying to put aside how they treated me and not trying to ingratiate myself with them. I was right there, in the middle of the group, so it would make sense that I could do it and communicate with them easily. I actually liked the partner who ran the group and would not have an issue working on this project for him. It seemed like a very sensible decision for me and for them.

Mean Girl Rachel wrote back, “Thanks, but let’s see who else answers and then we’ll flip a coin or something.”

What that sentence really said was:  anyone but you can volunteer for this because even though this is a somewhat sucky task, whoever does this is going to get some recognition of being a team player and someone who steps up to the plate.

I was hurt, angry, bewildered. I had no idea what I had done. I spent the next few days truly going over my positive self-talk and my affirmations and the “What you think of me is none of my business” mantra. Rachel was renting tons of space in my brain…in fact all of it. I would think back to what she possibly has against me. Wrack, wrack, wrack.  Wasted days and wasted nights. Like I talk about in GPYB, she wasn’t thinking of ME, I was thinking of her. Salt in the wound.

The bottom line is that I KNOW it is horrific to be rejected by someone who doesn’t even know you! I know what it’s like to  NOT get the approval of people for no damn good reason.  Or to not get approval when you’re  ONLY trying to be gracious and kind. And they’re being horrid.

The ONLY reason someone is not liking you is because he or she is a major arsehole.  But before your mind wraps itself around that unfortunate fact, you take a beating and so does your self-esteem.

After that email, I felt smacked in the face. I spent the next 24 hours on the “positive self-talk” bandwagon while still recognizing that it hurts to be rejected by someone for no apparent reason.

At the time I was teaching affirmations and positive self-talk at least once a week and doing workshops on the weekend and doing the exercises I assigned my students. Most of the self-esteem exercises in the GPYP workbook come from those classes, so you know we were working hard. I had good self-esteem and self-confidence. For most of the previous years I was TEFLON where people’s opinion of me was concerned. You couldn’t touch me…until this crazy lady came along…probably because I had to see her every single day.  Be grateful you don’t have to see your date every day (unless you work together and then it’s harder but you can do it.)

Sometimes it’s hard to bounce back from BLUNT rejection or disapproval or a message that says, “I don’t like you” or “I don’t approve of you.”  This is especially true if the person has no reason or has every reason TO like you…you’re doing something FOR them, you’ve only shown the NICE side of you, you’re trying to ease the burden or the strain and you get a smack in the face for it.  For me it pushes a lot of buttons that I spent years trying to overcome and DID overcome to a large degree. However, sometimes a particularly harsh experience will bring it all back, and I have to work HARD when I take a hit like that…but I do. And that is what you have to do. How?  Do what I did:

Overcoming a Hard Hit to Your Self-Image

  1. I recognized my hurt and anger about it. I didn’t WANT to have any feelings about it and maybe you don’t either. I had to journal about it.  I had to be whiny and have a tantrum as to how unfair this was. I didn’t ask for that office. I didn’t ask to share an assistant. I hadn’t done anything MORE than that for them to not like me. You may review a date or a friendship or other relationship and think you had not done anything for them to not like you. Remember the story in GBOT about the woman who had been talking for WEEKS to the guy who ultimately rejected her after the first date?  The guy was a boor and a bit of a jerk. And I do think that part of it was her physical appearance (not her being overdressed but he wasn’t physically attracted to her.) You can’t spend days and nights examining your every feature if someone else doesn’t find physical chemistry with you. Many perfectly attractive people reject other perfectly attractive people. You’re not ugly or horrific looking. DON’T GO THERE.

  2. In my case, they were acting like high school mean girl idiots instead of the professional lawyers they were supposed to be. Part of my journaling included how rude, crude and simply not nice human beings they were. They were void of basic human kindness and barely returned a hello to me when I saw them. I know that if you are dating, you may not go through this. You may have had a perfectly nice person who let you know they weren’t interested in whatever it is they’re not interested in (another date, a relationship, to stay through dessert….). So if you have been lucky enough (I know it doesn’t feel like luck) to have a person who doesn’t act like a two year old, you can skip this step.  But if you’re like the woman in the book with the jerky guy, you have to get clear that their behavior is ON THEM, not you. Although I always stress “focus on YOU,” sometimes you have to look at someone who acts like a horrible, terrible person and put the onus where it belongs: ON THEM.  And you can journal about what an idiot or rude, crude, not nice human being this person was. Get a very clear picture, either through journaling or visualization that this is not a nice person. Then ask, do you want to be with someone like that? No, you do not.

  3. I lived, ate and breathed the mantras, “What you think of me is none of my business.” and “Your opinion of me is worthless. You are a mean and terrible person.”  These are mantras and you have to get them ingrained in your head. Now and forever. Instead of thinking of that rejecting person, think these mantras. Redirect your thinking. Concentrate on these mantras and not the rejection.

  4. It might sound “witch-crafty” (a client I suggested this to told me this) but you can add the mantra, “You are powerless over me and I banish you from my mind.”  You can work with that (reword if you like but keep it POWERFUL), but it really helps to BANISH the ugly (ugly behavior) people of the world from your brain and your life.

  5. I reminded myself of the AWESOME people who did know me and did like me. This is SO very important. People in my life thought I was open and honest, hardworking and trustworthy, loyal and smart, a good friend and family member. You have GOT to make this one of your priorities to think about and write about. When rejecting person comes to mind, replace with one of your bffs or a client or customer or boss who said good things about you. When journaling, think of different scenes in your life when you were given kudos or a list of people who love you and would do anything for you. And go there when rejection or rejecting person comes to mind. Stay out of the garbage.  Go walk in the sun where your supportive crew live. Imagine yourself with your closest friends on a warm, summer day.

  6. I did my affirmations as GPYB, GBOT and the workbook instructs. Before I met these ladies, I only had to do a few a day and not every day. When my self-esteem took such a hit, I had to go back to basics and really up the number I did every day. I had to develop new ones that had more to do with my current situation but also what it triggered from long ago.

  7. As explained in GBOT and the GPYP workbook, do mantras and acceptance statements. It is so important to accept reality as it is…do not try to get someone to like you…do not grovel…do not try to reel them back in.  Just say, “I accept that x doesn’t like me…they don’t like me…I accept that and I move on.”  I should NOT have volunteered to help them.  It did seem like I was trying to get them to like me. And maybe it really was. Well, never again.

  8. Visualize you taking power. Visualization is in both books, but imagine you “owning” the world. I would visualize me coming into work, head held high and walking purposefully down the hallway, not in an angry way, but in a confident way.  And after a few weeks, I was!  I walked with confidence while I went past each office thinking, “You can’t have a piece of me” and “You can’t have a piece of me.” and for the “ringleader” I would go by and think, “Who the hell do you think you are anyway?  No one, that’s who.” And I stopped saying friendly hellos.

  9. Remember who you are and where you come from and what you have overcome. I knew these mean girls had not been through ANYTHING like I had been and probably hadn’t done anything for anyone as they were so catty and nasty. When you’ve lived a difficult life and recovered from it, you are GRATEFUL and POSITIVE.  These people were negative and I knew that they could not have possibly overcome the obstacles I did. REMEMBER WHERE YOU COME FROM. Journal about it, make affirmations about it.  Remind yourself of your strong, powerful self.

After I did all this, it only took a few weeks and the tables had turned…my confidence was back and my “who the hell cares what you think of me because I’m FABULOUS” attitude was REAL.  You might have a setback in your self-esteem but go back to basics and have a bounce back!!!

I know that staying positive and being okay with yourself in the face of rejection or disapproval is hard. It’s very hard. But what others think of you is none of your business and their opinion is worthless in the general scheme of things.  Anyone who doesn’t like you for no damn reason is not worth your time or trouble.  There are people who don’t like ANYONE, who don’t like someone because they’re unhappy and want someone to be in their sights – to avoid looking at their inner ugliness (trust me, Rachel was a beautiful woman on the OUTSIDe and perfectly butt hurt fugly on the inside).

I have no idea why Rachel decided to not like me. But the important people in my life like me and I like me. I’m honest and open and hardworking and trustworthy and loyal and smart and a good friend and family member. I count to the people who count.

I just keep telling myself that over and over again until the funk lifts. And it will.

Rejection and disapproval DOES NOT define you. Don’t let it. Instead, allow it to be a filter that guards against people who do not appreciate everything about you that deserves appreciating. Celebrate rejection…it keeps those who will never love you the way you deserve to be loved…away.Positive self-image in the face of rejection is HARD. Yes it is…but it’s do-able. Keep telling yourself those positive messages. You will come out of the funk.



Copyright Ⓒ Susan J. Elliott, J.D., M.Ed.
All Rights Reserved No Duplication is Allowed Without Explicit Permission of the Author and a link back to the original content

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About Susan J. Elliott

Author, Attorney, Grief Counselor, Media Commentator, Motivational Speaker, Relationship Expert, Breakup Coach BA English Mount Holyoke College, magna cum laude, High Honors, Phi Beta Kappa M.Ed., Counseling Psychology, Cambridge College J.D. University of California, Berkeley Licensed to practice law in federal and state courts in NY. Licensed but Inactive in Texas and District of Columbia Creator of the Getting Past Your Past and Getting Past Your Breakup programs, seminars, workshops, bootcamps, videos, blogs and podcasts Author of Getting Past Your Breakup, Getting Back Out There and the GPYP Workbook
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