19 Comments

THE PAIN OF REJECTION


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“Little Dancer” watercolor painting by kayti sweetland rasmussen

Our universal need to belong and to matter are as fundamental as our need to eat and to breathe. When we ostracize or reject another it is one of the most powerful punishments one person can inflict upon another.

Brain scans have shown that this rejection is actually experienced as physical pain in many cases. Pain is experienced whether those who reject us are strangers or close friends or family.

Imagine the pain and anxiety a child feels while waiting to be chosen as a team member. To be last in line, tells him he isn’t quite as good, not only as a team member, but as a person.

This reaction serves a function: it warns us that something is wrong. We don’t measure up in some important way.

Belonging to a group is a need, giving us better self-esteem and a sense of control over our lives. A belief that our existence is meaningful.

REJECTION

Ostracism threatens all these needs. Even an argument, verbal or physical is a connection; But when we alone stand on the outskirts of a group it is a uniquely harsh blow because it implies wrong-doing. Worse, the imposed silence forces us to generate more and more self-deprecating thoughts. You can fight back, but no one will respond, because we are invisible.

For most people, ostracism usually engenders a concerted effort to be included again, at least by someone. We do this by mimicking, obeying or cooperating with another group.

As a military child I went to a new school every year, in some cases more than one, making me a perpetual newcomer. Human nature cautions us against newcomers, and our automatic reaction is negative. A prime example is our prevalent attitude toward those who come to our countries from elsewhere.

Childhood bullying is an extreme example of rejection, and I survived several bouts of bullying. My mother’s comfortable, easy, soothing words always leaned toward “They’re just jealous.” Right. Even a third grader wouldn’t buy that excuse.

Children can be bullied for many reasons. The victim is smarter, the victim is dumber. The victim comes from another country or town or has either more or less in the way of clothing, food or athletic equipment. They can be either too chubby or tt skinnyIn other words, it really doesn’t matter how good or how bad you are, some kids are natural targets.

The little dancer staring out her upstairs window today may wish to be included in the group playing below, but chances are she would not be. Her goal is to dance.

We all have to find our own path into acceptance and a good life. Maybe the little boy forlornly standing on the edges of the playing field will find himself standing on a stage accepting the Nobel prize for finding the cure for cancer someday.

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19 comments on “THE PAIN OF REJECTION

  1. A beautiful painting and an evocative and important piece.

    Steve

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    • Thanks Steve. How little we think about the trials our kids may be having when we send them off into the world. The strong survive, but usually with a few small nicks.

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      • Song by Linda Rondstat:

        I’ve been washed by the rain, Driven by the snow And I’m drunk and dirty but don’t you know that I’m still willin to keep on moving…

        Out on the road late last night I seen my pretty Alice in every head light but I’m still willin to keep on movin.

        Steve

        Sent from my iPhone

        >

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      • I used to like Linda Ronstat, but I don’t remember this song. It speaks volumes though doesn’t it? “Get over it and get on with life.” Thanks Steve.

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  2. Always with a few nicks, Kayti, always. I was a military kid too and went to three different high schools. Woo boy, you know I learned to adapt chameleon-like survival skills. I learned some things are universal in high school – the nicest kids, the ones who invite you to eat with them at lunch, are usually not the popular ones. Oh, I’m sure we could write a book, couldn’t we? I never was bullied but my younger brother, Mike, was tortured in high school. The poor guy, I swear traces of that treatment remain with him to this day.

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  3. I went to four—one was only for a couple of months. We do develop survival skills, also skills in meeting new people. It is funny about the nice kids inviting you to eat with them—they usually are NOT the popular ones with whom you would like to hang. I still see a group of women from high school days, and wish I had known them better in years past. Kids are cruel, there is no doubt about that. I feel sorry for your brother. The nice thing about growing up is learning how to figure things out. You have the skills to “sock it to ’em”!

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  4. A very insightful summing up of what bullying and excluding can do to young people. Great ending how the lonely youg person ended up on stage accepting the Nobel price.
    It is at times an unbelievably hard battle to get through life from beginning to end without a scar or two.

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    • Yes indeed. I worry when I read about so many young people ending their lives. I remember talking to a young student of mine who was recently home from Viet Nam. He didn’t feel life was worthwhile after all the death and dying he had seen. Yet he still wanted to be an artist, and he wanted an education. Catch 22. I often wonder about him.

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  5. Just to play devil’s advocate for a moment, I worry equally about parents today who refuse to allow their children to experience any sort of rejection, failure, or pain. When I was growing up, we developed immunity to disease by living in the world, and we developed immunity to nastry or indifferent treatment by living in the world, too.

    I’m not saying it was easy. It wasn’t. I had some very rough patches during my adolescent and college years. And yet, through it all I learned to stand up for myself, because my parents made it clear that it was important for me to stand up for myself. They always were there, if things got out of hand, but they were supportive rather than protective.

    After all, it was my dad who taught me how to make a fist properly, so that I wouldn’t break my thumb if I hit someone. I’ve only had to make use of that knowledge once, but when I told Dad the story, I was as proud of myself as he was of me.

    I guess what I’m trying to say is that there are two sides to the bullying coin. One side is called “how to stop bullying,” but the other side is called, “learning how to cope with bullies.” Heaven knows there are plenty of bullies in the world today, and they’re not all on the playground. It’s important to learn how to cope with them.

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    • I couldn’t agree more. My first experience with a sort of bullying was at 4, when 2 six year old took me into the ravine which later became the San Diego Zoo and left me.
      I’m told the police found me, and my father taught me to make a fist too, and told me
      I would get no sympathy if I didn’t defend myself. In my case it was more a case of being an outsider, for which there is no help except to stay longer. (grin)
      Dr. Advice daily points out some young athlete in the newspaper and says”No one will ask HER to get the coffee. He’s convinced that women’s sports is a path to success in the business world.

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  6. Wow, Kayti! You’ve just recreated the dominant experience of my life too. “Ostracism threatens all these needs. Even an argument, verbal or physical is a connection; But when we alone stand on the outskirts of a group it is a uniquely harsh blow because it implies wrong-doing.” I was ostracised within my family and have lived my life inside the context, “I’ve done something wrong”. The impact on my life has been immense. My curriculum every day is to accept myself exactly as I am.

    I feel for the little girl you were and the woman you are today and all the women in between. You give so much to the world, so much love. Thanks for an authentic and important post, xx

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  7. This is the second post from the same day (for me) on this topic, Kayti ! – and yet they’re different in approach … But both entirely correct.
    (My father managed to help me overcome my ‘differentness’ in terms of being fat, when I was young; and his words stayed with me for life.)
    Lovely artwork !

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  8. No we aren’t taught how to parent. We just follow our own parents, and on and on, repeating the same old same old.

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  9. A great post Kayti. Inclusion is such an important need in life. I’m glad you survived your bullying. You are right when you say some kids are natural targets. Such a hard problem to overcome.

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  10. It is a problem which is everywhere, even in the workplace, and on Facebook. The studies I have read regard even the “silent treatment” as a form of bullying. Anything which excludes someone specifically could be construed as teasing or harassing. I guess people just need to get stronger and more self confident.

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  11. I loved the hopefulness of this piece. It’s true that often in surviving bullying we learn to survive period! Well written. Thanks for sharing.

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