Recently, at the ripe old age of 55, I had an experience that took me time traveling back through the decades to the humiliations of high school gym.
I recently moved to a new town, and discovered what seemed to be a world-class yoga studio located right downtown. This seemed the perfect opportunity for me to take my very first yoga class, so I signed up.
It was a beginner’s class, of course, and the first session was fantastic: the teacher (call her Ann) was great at explaining, and she had us all practice our breathing, standing and sitting. I was stoked!
But the second session was a disaster, for me at least. Ann started us right out on some tough Pilates-type planking exercises, and I just couldn’t do them.
I tried, I really did! And Ann stopped by just long enough to tell me to use a brick for support before rushing off to help someone else. (It was a big class.) That helped some, but not enough.
Eventually, I gave up and simply did some stretches on my mat. Later I just sat like a doomed soul amidst a sea of successful plankers, waiting for the class to end.
I was humiliated and, by the time I got home, angry.
And I’ve been tempted, while writing this article, to give you a laundry list of everything I think the studio did wrong. Really tempted! But I’ll give them benefit of the doubt just in case my expectations for a beginner’s class were off.
Forbearance comes at a price though—in this case, a low-grade anger that, having remained unspoken, has never quite gone away.
So, the question then becomes that old chestnut: how do you let go of anger?
Fortunately, I’ve got some leads on that, thanks to my work helping people overcome procrastination, perfectionism, and other internal barriers to success. A prime cause of such barriers is traumatic rejection, and this episode definitely counts.
Marginalization, callousness, thoughtlessness and passive-aggressive withholding also are experienced as rejections, as are bias, carelessness, capriciousness, harshness, neglect, ostracism, ridicule and sarcasm.
Although neither the yoga teacher nor anyone else in the studio set out purposely to reject me, my experience contained several of these rejecting elements.
Rejections are complex events.
A rejection’s painfulness can be amplified if it happened in public, was gratuitously cruel or capricious, or if the “rejector” is famous or respected. Blindsiding is another common amplifier, and one that definitely contributed to my own pain in this situation.
It’s one thing to wipe out, as I did, in an advanced class, but to do it in a beginner’s? Totally did not expect that.
Because society is often clueless about the true nature and scope of rejection, many rejections are trivialized or go unrecognized. We’re also often told our rejections aren’t that serious: that we should “get over it.” This advice is misguided for at least two reasons:
(1) We don’t simply “get over” traumatic rejections and humiliations. Unresolved, they live on, and on, and on. One woman I know is in her seventies and still cries when recalling how her siblings cruelly teased her when she was left back in second grade. And a man I know in his eighties still talks mournfully about how his mother abandoned him to the care of her parents. “She never loved me,” he laments.
(2) Society doesn’t need more people with a thick skin. There are already way too many. We need more people with a thin skin—i.e., sensitive, open, alive, alert and aware of those around them. Society needs you to have a thin skin, and you need to have a thin skin, too, if you want to have real relationships and a meaningful connection with the world around you.
The problem with having a thin skin, of course, is that it leaves you vulnerable to hurt. So let’s see how to cope with that.
We heal by taking our power back.
The real problem with rejection is the lack of empowerment. Disempowered people have lost access to their skills, strengths, talents, capacities and perspectives; the experience of disempowerment can cause shame.
When I describe feeling like I was back in high school gym and being stuck on the mat waiting for the class to end, those are strong statements of disempowerment.
So the key to healing is to take your power back. You do this primarily by speaking, and acting, your truth.
If you’re lucky, you can speak your truth directly to the rejector using the classic non-confrontational, “When you did X it made me feel Y” approach. If he or she is a nice person you’re likely to get a heartfelt apology or at least a plausible explanation. Either way, you’ll probably be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.
Unfortunately, you sometimes don’t get an affirming response. And often you can’t even speak your truth because the rejector has power over you (e.g., your boss). In those cases, it’s important to speak your truth to yourself—journaling is good for this—and to trusted friends and family.
It will help if, during those discussions, you recall specific instances that neutralize the rejector’s statements or the conclusions you’re drawing from them. If you get an unreasonably harsh grade on a paper, for instance, you can recall other papers where you did better because you were graded more fairly.
Take empowering actions.
In my case, I got over the “too old/hopelessly unfit” feeling the class left me with by joining a gym where I can keep fit by non-yoga means. (It also offers some yoga classes for when I’m ready to try again.) Also, I’ve been practicing the breathing, standing and sitting I learned in the first session, doing occasional small sessions of YouTube Yoga and looking at some resources for yoga newbies.
It’s very important not to rush the healing process or question the amount of healing you need. This is especially true since many rejections are like icebergs: bigger under the surface.
Heal lavishly and at length, ignoring all the “get over it” advice, and you’ll soon find yourself back up to speed.
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