A few weeks ago, a project I’d proposed was turned down, and after reading the rejection email I realized something very, very different was occurring. A deeply entrenched pattern, one that had yanked me about like a limp puppet for decades…wasn’t being activated.
This pattern was a response to rejection, something I experienced frequently growing up as a form of punishment and a means of controlling my behavior. If the adult didn’t like how I was behaving, they might explode with verbal and/or physical anger and then pull away, giving me the silent treatment for hours or days.
And thus, I learned very quickly that rejection was the absolute worst thing ever and must be avoided at all costs.
I’m imagining this pattern as a clunky machine with lots of gears and buttons, and when the master switch was flipped, there are two possible reactions, and only two:
I could collapse into a silent, fuming ball of shame and rage (rage that I could never overtly express, because the punishment would be severe), my mind scrambling through ways to never, ever, ever need their approval, love, or support, becoming perfectly self-sufficient and untouchably cool.
I would dissolve into a puddle of people-pleasing goo, contorting myself every which way, hoping, desperately, to fix my horribleness and get back in their good graces again, no matter how short-lived that might be.
As an adult, this manifested in ways less that I was about to call “more subtle,” but that’s hardly accurate–rather that the pattern was unfolding in grown-up situations, so it felt more sophisticated. (It wasn’t)
For instance, if a project proposal was rejected or I didn’t get hired for a job or a first date didn’t call me back, I’d either:
Immediately kick into Cool Cat Mode, where I hid my humiliation behind a veneer of nonchalance, while silently shredding the Other in my mind, inflating the smallest perceived fault to epic proportions so I could feel like I’d dodged a bullet–they obviously had no idea what they were talking about.
Suffice it to say, if any opportunities with this particular Other presented themselves in the future, I dismissed them out of hand, because that bridge, in my mind, was well and truly incinerated.
I’d obsessively analyze every interaction, trying to figure out where I’d gone wrong and how I could fix it. I’d orchestrate elaborate plans in my mind of how I’d recapture their attention and favor, plans that depended on every little detail working out according to the fantasy or the entire house of cards would flatten. Translation: My nervous system was JACKED for days/weeks/months.
The thing is, both of these routes kept me utterly disconnected from what I wanted…
…and this is what I noticed most of all in this recent situation when the pattern didn’t kick in. In the email, the other person offered options for how we might proceed, either by modifying the project plan or switching gears to another project entirely.
Again, in the past, those options would have been immediately dismissed, because it was too humiliating to ever interact with this person again, until the end of time (not extreme at all–hello, trauma brain!), or I would need to eradicate every last scrap of my own desires and needs and focus on delivering exactly what they wanted.
This time, what I felt instead was…space. Like my mind was a sun-kissed meadow, grass gently swaying in the breeze as far as the eye could see, butterflies dancing from one bloom to the next. No panic. No need to rush. Just space.
And in that space, I felt, so deeply…
…how much panic I regularly experienced as a kid, then as a teenager, and then as an adult. Panic that I wasn’t enough, that someone, any minute now, would discover this not enoughness and I’d never be able to shove it back in the box.
That desperately fearful stance made it damn near impossible to know what I wanted, what felt interesting for me to pursue, what was genuinely a good match for my skills and passions. All that mattered was not being rejected, either by regaining the other person’s favor or rejecting the rejector so hard that, somehow, the rejection would cease to exist.
I don’t know that I’d ever seen, quite this starkly, how far this frenzied, reactionary pattern could drag me away from what actually mattered to my capital ‘S’ Self. I mean, I spent years miserably pursuing a pre-med degree to realize my grandma’s dream, so entangled by the pattern that I couldn’t see the dream didn’t actually belong to me.
We might only get this life, who knows?
Do we really want to offer all our blood, sweat, tears, talents, imagination, and all the other things that make up a life (so many things!)…to another person’s dream? Especially when they can’t even experience it, not really, through us (vicarious living is an oxymoron). What an exercise in futility!
I cannot serve anyone by organizing my life around not being rejected. Neither can you, my friend, if any of this rings familiar.
On this Full Moon in Capricorn, this is what I offer up to the gods, to my guides, to the cosmos…
(read aloud if you want to join me)
I climb the craggy peak with the sure-footed goat as my guide. I take in the view, gather my bearings, and lean into the wind as it clears away the confusion of outdated patterns.
Anchored in Selfhood, I tap into what matters most, I align with my authentic values, and I release, tumbling down the rocky face to the valley below, anything that no longer serves, where it is washed away by the rains, gratefully welcomed into the Cycle of Being.
From this vantage point, my next step is clear, and I’m buoyed by the purposeful energy of this Capricorn Moon as I put one foot in front of the other, my dreams manifesting in tangible reality with each and every step.
So mote it be.
Happy Full Moon!
Hyperspaces of devotion. Haunting your own house. Warping spacetime.
These are just a few of the things we’re talking about in The Portal this month, all in service of making it much easier to achieve your goals. Join us here.