Remembering to look after yourself

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
I suspect we are all fairly comfortable dealing with the physical wounds, the bumps and bruises, that life deals out. We know what to do with physical wounds, we know when to reach for the antiseptic and band aids and then dispense the kindness and caring. Most of us would be horrified to hear an injured person being told to "Get over it", "Snap out of it" or "Stop moping, get your act together!", writes life coach Jan Aitken.

But when it comes to emotional wounds, we are often not so comfortable and can find ourselves falling back on those trite old comments because we feel a bit awkward or embarrassed dealing with emotions, our own and those of others.

One of the most common emotional wounds we all experience is the wound inflicted by rejection. If we think about it pragmatically, rejection is a part of everyday life. We make choices about what to wear, where to eat, what movie to go to, what route to take to work etc. In choosing one thing over another we automatically reject the others. When dealing with inanimate objects or concepts and when we are the ones doing the rejecting then all is well. However, when we find ourselves on the other end of rejection it can hurt.


In pre-history our ancestors relied on the tribe to ensure their safety, provide food and protect the young. To be rejected by the tribe meant death. While society has evolved, our physiological response to rejection has not.

Functional MRIs (brain scans) have discovered that when we feel rejected the part of the brain that reacts to physical pain is triggered - that's why rejection hurts more than we think it should, it causes real pain.

There is a well-known condition called Takotsubo cardiomyopathy or "broken-heart syndrome". It mimics the chest pain and changes to blood chemicals associated with a heart attack. It occurs as the result of severe emotional stress e.g., a sudden severe illness, the loss of a loved one, deep betrayal or being dumped by a partner.

As well as a physical response to rejection, we can find our dignity, confidence, self-esteem and self-worth taking a hit. It becomes a roller-coaster of emotions that carries us along for the ride.

One of the most perplexing responses to rejection is our ability to blame ourselves, to show ourselves no mercy whatsoever. We call ourselves names, lament our shortcomings, feel disgusted/embarrassed/humiliated. In other words, when our self-esteem is at rock bottom and hurting most, we kick it a bit more. It's unhealthy and self-destructive. Every single one of us has done it at one time or another and probably will again.

So, is there a better way to handle rejection? Yes, but it takes effort. It's helpful to get supportive friends and family on board to help you so they can be there for us when we can't be there for ourselves.

Here are some things to think about. -


Tempting as it might be to list all your faults in the aftermath of a rejection, and natural as it might seem to chastise yourself for what you did "wrong", don't! Review what happened and consider what you could do differently in the future. Thinking, "Perhaps I need to learn to relate differently, how can I do that" is helpful. Thinking, "I'm such a loser!" is not helpful. Get help, a counsellor or psychologist can be an objective, supportive ally.


When your self-esteem takes a hit, it's important to remind yourself of what you have to offer - yourself, others and your community. Affirm aspects of yourself you know are valuable. Make a list of qualities you have that are important or meaningful - things that make you a good relationship prospect (you are supportive or emotionally available), a good friend (you are loyal or a good listener) or a good employee (you are responsible or have a strong work ethic). Choose one of them and write a paragraph about why the quality matters. Again, get help from a counsellor or psychologist.


We are social beings, we need to feel wanted, valued and part of the "tribe". Rejection destabilises our feelings of belonging. Remind yourself that you are appreciated and loved. Even when you don't feel like it, especially when you don't feel like it. Talk to those who love and support you, it may only be for 10 minutes, but it's important in the long run.

The emotional wounds of rejection can be as serious as any physical wounds. Our natural response to being dumped, getting picked last or being ignored is to retreat to a corner, lick our wounds and become self-critical.

It's not always easy to move beyond this. Rejection is difficult, but keeping in contact with friends - those who support and love you - and knowing how to limit the psychological damage will help you recover and move on with confidence.

Don't expect to be done and dusted in a few weeks, be realistic, it may take you some months - and remember to be kind and patient with yourself.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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