One sunny day, when I was 14 years old, I was rejected by my high school crush in front of all my friends. It was a particularly vulnerable period of my life, because at the end of that year, my family would be moving to a new town. We had fallen on financially difficult times.
Until then, I’d been a happy, playful young girl. Optimistic. Hopeful.
But that day, at lunchtime, the object of my crush, haughtily yelled out at me, “We won’t miss you when you leave.”
And in the space of a heartbeat, the bright, bubbly feeling I had when I looked at him was sucked back inside of me and became a twisted ache in the softest part of my belly.
I laughed along with the group, and that’s when I started to pretend. Pretend I got the joke. Pretend I didn’t care. Pretend I hadn’t felt that painful cut of rejection. It’s also when I became certain that I didn’t matter.
Hurt. Shame. Strategies.
This was not an unusual moment, as life gives us ample opportunity to experience rejection. But it was a potent one. It was a moment where rejection and my self-worth became inextricably linked in my body. It was a moment where I started to believe that when someone didn’t want me, it meant I didn’t matter. Period.
And this is the real danger. That with every rejection, we believe what we concluded back when we were young.
~ That we don’t matter.
~ That no one cares.
~ That we are un-loveable.
~ That we are not enough.
~ That we are easily replaceable.
So we develop strategies of protection – numbing, hardening, shutting down. We exercise them in our bodies in the way we hold our chest, dull our gaze, squeeze our experience.
We engage these strategies to hide the hurt and contain the shame. We hope they will keep us safe and upright.
But over the years, as we hone these strategies, they tend to weaken us. With every numbing, hardening and shutting down, we not only distance ourselves from our hearts, but we end up holding the shame in place. We fortify the harmful beliefs we tucked away, when we were younger and not chosen.
These strategies limit the capacity of our hearts, the risks we will take and how much of ourselves we will express in this world.
Undoing the hold of the past
I went back to that moment on my high school campus. I felt how the sentence, “we won’t even miss you when you leave” landed in my body. My legs felt watery and weak. My knees became rigid. I felt the burning ache in my belly and held it in place with tight hips, stomach and rib cage. I shielded my chest and heart. I held my arms close. I squeezed my throat.
I held back the pain and the shame of being rejected.
For a few minutes, I chose to believe what I had heard in that moment ~ that I didn’t matter. I felt how it had become something I believed over the years, and I’d lodged it in the depths of my belly.
As I committed, in this practice, to feel what happened in my body in that moment and what has happened many times since, I felt the deep cut of rejection and the heat of old shame.
It felt watery and moving. I followed this feeling with my awareness. I let it spread until I could deeply let go in my belly. I breathed until I could feel my chest soften and open.
I felt the grief of our impending move away from the only town I’d ever known. I felt the loss my father felt at losing his job. I felt the embarrassment of being told “I didn’t matter” during a time where my young heart was learning a new skill. I felt the sadness of being treated so callously.
I let this wave of rejection and old shame wash through my body, until the end. Until my body no longer needed to squeeze itself around this moment from my past, and I no longer needed to pretend.
Through the tissues of my body, I unlinked the pain of rejection and what it said about me back then. I healed an old cut.
Rejection is a part of being human. Our hearts won’t always be in sync with those around us. But these moments don’t have to have the final say of our value, our loveability, our self-worth.
Through our bodies, we can heal these old cuts and gain back the dignity we lost in those younger moments. We can separate the pain of rejection from what we thought or believed back then. So, today, if someone doesn’t meet our smile, we don’t get a text back or a great love leaves us, we can have the courage to feel the pain of the moment, deepen the capacities of our hearts, and also know that we matter.
This embodiment practice will bring awareness to the areas of our bodies that we so quickly harden and tighten when we are rejected, and give you the option to soften and trust that you can.