What is Rejection?


In the August article, you read about the worst of the abuses, rejection. What really is rejection?

Rejection is a refusal to accept or acknowledge. It is a refusal to accept, to touch, to hear or to consider important. To reject someone or something is to discard, push aside or discount.

In his landmark book entitled, “The Rejected,” Dr. John Joseph Evoy, a psychologist at Gonzaga University, who only counseled with clients who reported rejection as their pain, he states:

“Rejection was their emotionally toned knowledge that they were not loved and wanted for themselves – by one or both parents” (p. 14).

On page 10 of the same book, Dr. Evoy writes:

The greatest terror a child can have is that he is not loved, and rejection is the hell he fears. I think that everyone in the world to a large or small extent has felt rejection. And with rejection comes anger, and with anger some kind of crime in revenge for the rejection, and with the crime–guilt–and there is the story of mankind.

Perhaps you felt rejected on the ball field when you were the last one picked for the ball team, or maybe you weren’t chosen at all. Could you have felt rejected because you weren’t invited to the birthday party of a classmate? Did you feel that of all the siblings in your family, you were the one least loved and accepted by a parent or grandparent? Were you called a nickname that was derogatory or unpleasant? Answers to these questions can give you a hint about rejection in your experience.

There are blatant comments that definitely tell you that you weren’t wanted: “I wish you’d never been born”, You were an accident.”, “We really wanted a girl/boy, but we got stuck with you”, “I never really wanted children, but your mother tricked me, and here you are.” And then, of course, there is the outright abandonment when either parents just leaves and does not keep in touch with you. There’s divorce between parents and one or the other parent says they’ll see you often, but their promises are like ropes of sand.

The first two years of life plus the in-womb experience are the most impactful time in the life of a human being. It is during this time that an infant studies his/her parents. They are careful to listen not only to words spoken, but to tone of voice and inflections in the voice. They meticulously study facial expressions and learn quickly what different facial countenances mean. They react with laughter, blank stares or with pouting and tears. The relationship between parents, whether loving and caring or angry and distant has an extreme bearing on an infant/toddler’s sense of well-being and security.

Ronald P. Rohner, Ph.D. a professor emeritus of the University of Connecticut has studied rejection among at least 200 cultures worldwide for over 50 years. He has developed a way of testing willing participants to determine their level of rejection. Several years ago, we were invited to participate as presenters at an international convention on acceptance and rejection in Istanbul, Turkey. There were several hundred professional participants, and many of them reported in their own language, the percentage of people in their country who related that rejection was a wound they had experienced. Our work however, was not to report statistics, but to tell our personal recovery story and to present to the group our “Journey” recovery program.

​Dr. Rohner has become a friend and we have discussed rejection at length. He has determined that there are four major criteria by which children and adults alike have determined if they have experienced rejection in their character-forming years or during adolescence. By the way, character is the sum total of our thoughts and feelings, and they are the impetus for our behaviors. Here are his delineated four criteria:

– Warmth and Affection – were these present in your childhood/adolescent years from your birth parents/grandparents?

– Hostility and Aggression – was this present in your childhood/adolescent home from parents or siblings?

– Indifference and Neglect – Did you feel that you didn’t matter? No regular meals, no routine bedtimes, baths, snuggle time, etc? Was their time devoted to you to do the things that interested you? A sense of routine offers security to a child.

– Undifferentiated rejection – (cannot be observed by others, but is felt by the child)

Look these items over carefully and then honestly decide which of these contributed to the feelings of rejection that you may experience. In the next article, we will look at what rejection causes in the life of many who have experienced it.