The Roller Coaster of Rejection – Science & Spiritual Psychology

Science has shown that meditation supports the formation of new neural pathways that rise beyond the addictive twin cycle of acceptance V rejection. In this, the pain of rejection (and the threat of acceptance) are both deeply relieved.

By Georgi Y. Johnson

When someone rejects us, the brain registers it like a stab in the heart. The pain of rejection can be so overwhelming that we can move far uot of our natural impulses to avoid the feeling. The pain of rejection sets the system in a state of emergency, which activates the raw responses of fight, flight or freeze. When rejection stalks the ecosystem between us, someone has got to go, and the tendency is to let it fall to the “other”.

rejectLong-term, unconscious strategies against the threat of rejection involves anticipation of possible threats, search and kill missions on possible attackers; and a degree of obsession with the warning signs imagined in the reactions of others. The threat of rejection can inflate egos structures in a moment, narrowing the horizons of perception and masking any vulnerability. Friends become arch enemies, colleagues become predators. In the rejection fields, it’s kill or be killed.

It’s all far removed from the easiness of relaxing into the welcoming presence of all we are. The fear can be so great that it gets dislocated in time and space, and takes on grandiose proportions in relation to contect. That is, we can spend hours in the comfort of our own beds in mental trepidation about the anticipated pain of rejection that might come tomorrow, or alternatively, that happened in the past.

Rejection is linked to trauma. Yet unlike a trauma, in which we break connection with an unwanted aspect of experience, in rejection between people, we are the rejected part of the whole. WE ARE THE TRAUMA.

The threat of rejection is a threat of expulsion from the tribe which in nature could mean death. All the four collective fears of traditional psychology are linked to rejection.

  1. The fear of death: in nature, when a herd excludes one animal, it will probably die alone.
  2. The fear of illness: illness is in nature is an underlying motive to reject one member of the herd – to isolate him or her, for the sake of the whole,
  3. The fear of insanity: collectively, we reject those considered ‘insane’, confining them out of sight, as if mental disorder were contagious
  4. The fear of sexuality: rejection games between genders and over the whole gender issue, coupled with vast fields of rejection and projection around sexuality, makes sexuality a forerunner in the horrific rejection game.

In this sense, the fear of rejection would appear to be a meta-fear – more powerful and over-riding even than the threat of death. The pain of rejection goes with physical sensations – we literally seize up and contract around the wounding, as an emergency containment measure. It has mental sensation – releasing stress hormones that over-activate the control centers and vastly inhibit the firing of mirror neurons – so-called ’empathy neurons’. Emotionally, the pain of rejection can feel like a hemorrhage of despair – we are literally bleeding out from the center of the chest.

The fear of rejection leads us to reject ourselves so that we at least retain a remnant of control. We reject our true feelings; we repress our voice; we adjust attitudes to conform; and rearrange our faces to please society. Life becomes a game of survival and isolation – but no-one ever fired a bullet.

Acceptance can antidote rejection, but also feeds the belief because what can be accepted today, can get rejected tomorrow.

The Opioid Swing in the Brain

According to a study conducted by the University of Michigan Medical School, that metaphorical stab in the heart registers in the brain in the same way as an actual physical stabbing. But subjects with a high resilience to the pain of rejection were found to be producing natural pain killers – chemical opioids – into the gaps between neurons in the amygdala, which dampens pain signals in the brain region associated with emotion, survival and instinct. Such opioids determine the amount of pain experienced and whether its cause is physical or emotional. Cognitive-based approaches found to reduce pain, such as hypnosis, acupuncture, distraction and the placebo response, have been shown to work through this system.
However, In March 2016, Science Daily reported that Mindfulness Meditation, unlike its holistic counterparts, reduces pain without the activation of pain-killing opioids. The researchers suggested that meditation, rather than recruiting opioids in the brain, reduces the pain experience through using different pathways of neurons.
Through meditation, we can kick the opioid addiction of which makes us depend on a constant narcisstic supply of acceptance and still be able to manage rejection!
The irony is that for as long as we invest in the external circumstance or authorities to give us the seal of acceptance, we create a shadow of potential authority. That same authority that accepts me today, can reject me tomorrow. The acceptance of me in itself depends on the rejection of others, or else it would be meaningless.  Our state of mind and heart is perpetually held hostage to the Mengele-like thumb of survival – thumbs up or thumbs down. While opioids might give a feeling of success, success makes failure a real possibility. We are caught in a spiral driven by a bottom-less pit of lack or non-safety at the core of the personality.
For a while, we can compensate the pain of rejection with the production of opioids. Scientists are even pondering manufacturing a medication to stimulate them for sufferers of depression and anxiety disorder. Yet this risks keeping us dependent on circumstance – addicted even, to the rush of feeling appreciated. We need ever increasing quantities of the reward chemical from the outside world –  literally to numb the pain. This can be a person we admire, or a source of reward in which we seem to receive public applause and appreciation. Yet the opioid source itself does not take away the pain, it simply kills its registration in the brain like an aspirin – temporarily. Physically seen, the knife is still in the chest!
The beauty of mindfulness meditation is that it brings perspective to the tyranny of pain, it relativizes the pain experience to the greater experience of life in the moment without employing  repression, suppression or denial. It introduces elements of space and time to any experience. It forms a neural pathway that literally transcends the stark duality of acceptance/rejection. Where thought, feeling and flesh is contracting, it brings space and timelessness to the dimension of experience, which can relax the contraction. When working with the in-breath and out-breath, it brings the rhythm of the miracle of being physically alive in the here and now. Pain loses its autocratic control over the system.
As with physical pain, so it is with the pain of rejection. The moment we allow ourselves to feel the feeling, to recognize the wounding, even without need for objectivity, we create space. That which can allow the feeling is always already free from the feeling itself, no matter how intense. A spaciousness emerges through allowance of our own sensitivity, which means we also become sensitive to beauty, to pleasure, to the blessings of the moment which are also here, together with the pain. In this, the tunnel vision of a traumatic state is potentially avoided, or at least reduced in its capacity to get a firm grip. The threat of being forever, existentially condemned which is embedded in the pain of rejection, is annulled.
Anything within us that could be rejected is not who we truly are, it’s simply an aspect of form. In this, the pain of rejection can even serve our process of liberation in signalling where we’re not yet free of identification and where we still cleave to imagined authorities.
Rejection is one of the deeper illusions connected to the belief in a separate self: the belief that we are ultimately severed from our physical origins; from others; and from the universe. We’re talking about a trance state that is tremendously hypnotic, collectively nurtured, and which is deeply ingrained in our intimate belief structures. Nevertheless, freedom is possible, of mind, heart and body.
The pain of rejection hurts, but it will not kill us. Through finding peace with the pain of rejection (or the discomfort of acceptance) we can cultivate new neural networks of resilience beyond the polarity of either-or; “me” verses the “other”; inside verses outside. By degrees, the need to pretend who we are falls away and we become free as our own authority. In this, there is less fear and  more clarity in allowing the flow of life through us. This is an inner empowerment on which the wellbeing of all of us depends.

“It is always the false that makes you suffer, the false desires and fears, the false values and ideas, the false relationships between people. Abandon the false and you are free of pain; truth makes happy, truth liberates.”
― Nisargadatta Maharaj

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