‘We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love, never so unhelplessly unhappy as when we have lost our loved object or its love’
Sigmund Freud, 1856 – 1939
My mother threw me out of the house when I was thirteen years old, so it was necessary for me to go and live with my emotionally aloof father and religious fundamentalist step-mother (she was prone to shout at me in ‘tongues’). Later in my adolescence, she manipulated my father into throwing me out of the house, too. The irony was that my step-mother had founded and ran a charity for the homeless, called Watford New Hope Trust, which still exists today. The irony seemed to be completely lost on her, however.
If we find we have relationship difficulties in adult life, frequently this can be traced back to the kind of childhood trauma I describe above. As a result of these difficulties, we may find that we perpetually repeat meeting with rejection in our adult relationships, mirroring the rejection we experienced in childhood.
Being rejected, for most of us, is a deeply painful experience, and, at the extreme end of the scale, can lead to suicide.
One reason why the pain of rejection can be so acute is that it reawakens the feelings of profound distress we experienced due to the rejection we suffered in childhood.
OUR EMOTIONAL RESPONSE TO REJECTION :
The kinds of emotional response being rejected by someone important to us entail include :
b) anger (eg ‘why has this person hurt me so badly?’)
d) fear (eg of future loneliness or of having to cope without the person’s emotional support).
e) hate (linked to anger, above, but can also involve self-hatred due to the lowering of own self-esteem in the face of having been rejected).
THE DIFFERENT WAYS IN WHICH REJECTION MAY OCCUR :
One important form of rejection can be termed ‘self-rejection.’ This kind of rejection has its roots in us having been rejected as children. Examples of such rejection may include :
– having a parent walking out on us,
– having a narcissistic mother (click here to read my post on this) who was too self-involved to meet the emotional needs of her children
– having an emotionally distant and aloof father
– having an alcoholic parent who consequently neglects us emotionally
– losing a parent through suicide
NB If the child has someone else in their life who provides a lot of love and affection the effects of the kinds of losses outlined above may be mitigated.
If, due to such early experiences of loss and rejection, we do indeed become self-rejecting, it can take the form self-damaging behaviour that makes us unattractive to others. Examples include : over-eating to the point of obesity, not bothering about personal hygiene, substance misuse, wearing deliberately unflattering clothes, or behaving in such a way that it makes it highly probable we will drive others away. Such self-rejection usually operates on an unconscious level.
CHILDHOOD REJECTION LEADING TO THE REPETITION COMPULSION :
If we have experienced a significant rejection in childhood by one of our primary caregivers and were unable to make sense of it, mentally process it or come to terms with it we may develop, on an unconscious level, a deep-rooted psychological need to perpetually repeat the experience of rejection. The compulsion to repeat the experience will tend to continue until we become consciously aware of what it is we are doing. This can mean, as adults, a pattern is developed in which we unconsciously seek out relationships with those who are bound to reject us, just as we were rejected as children.
For example :
– a gay man may try to establish a relationship with a straight man
– we may behave in such ways that we ensure our partner rejects (making impossible demands, extreme possessiveness etc) us
– we may form relationships with people who emotionally or physically mistreat us and who show little, if any, affection
Of course, there are many other ways we might put ourselves into the position whereby we will drive others to reject us ; however, underlying them all is a desperate attempt to come to terms with the primary, childhood loss. By re-experiencing it, we unconsciously hope to master it.
HOW DO WE BREAK OUT OF THE CYCLE OF REPETITION COMPULSION?
Psychologists have identified the following steps as being necessary in order for us to break out of the cycle of repetition compulsion :
1) the acknowledgement that we are stuck in a pattern of behaviour whereby we have been ‘courting rejection.’
2) the acknowledgement that we have been behaving in this way, up until now, due to the profound pain we have been caused by our childhood rejection (and of which, up until now, we may well not have been fully aware).
3) making a definite decision to try to alter our behaviour in such a way that the likelihood of further rejection is minimized (whilst accepting nobody can completely eliminate the possibility of meeting with rejection in life and therefore being prepared to take some level of risk with future relationships)
4) a concerted effort (ideally through therapy) to come to terms with, and fully mentally process, the original childhood loss
5) we need to come to terms with the realization that our future behaviour need not be dictated by our past experiences and that we are capable of making a proactive decision to stop self-sabotaging.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE (FAHE).