NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Wednesday, June 22, 2022

It's Not Always About You: How to Stop Personalizing Rejection While Dating

In a prior article, How to Stop Jumping to Conclusions and Personalizing Other People's Behavior, I discussed how earlier trauma can get triggered if you personalize other people's behavior. Most of the time, especially at the point when you're triggered, you might not recognize that your emotions have more to do with the past than the current situation because triggers can feel so powerful and immediate (see my article: Coping With Emotional Triggers).

Dating: Their Rejection Might Not Be About You
With regard to getting rejected by someone you're dating, it's very easy to get triggered, especially if you have unresolved abandonment or loss issues (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Rejection).

How to Stop Personalizing Rejection While Dating

To complicate matters, the person you were dating might not know how to communicate what they're going through, so you might feel left out in the cold as to why they don't want to see you anymore (see my article: 7 Reasons Why You Might Be Having a Hard Time Getting Over a Breakup).

But try to keep in mind that, unless that person tells you that you said or did something that offended them, they might not want to see you for reasons that have nothing to do with you, including:
  • They haven't given themselves enough time to grieve their former relationship.
  • They might like you, but they feel the two of you might not have enough in common.
  • Having nothing to do with you, they might feel too insecure and anxious to date.
  • They might feel overwhelmed by other things going on in their life and they don't have the time or emotional capacity to start a new relationship.
  • They might have their own unresolved trauma that is affecting their ability to be open to dating you.
And so on.

Tips on How to Deal With Rejection While Dating
  • Don't Take It Personally: Sure, it hurts when someone you like doesn't want to see you.  As previously mentioned, it can bring up a lot of your own insecurities, which might not have anything to do with the current situation.
  • Recognize That You Might Be Making Up Negative Stories in Your Head: When you have had a little time to step back from your hurt feelings, recognize that you might be creating a narrative in your head that has nothing to do with the situation. For instance, if your immediate reaction is to have negative thoughts like, "They don't want to see me because I'm not attractive enough" or "They don't think I'm good enough," recognize that these are your thoughts that are probably getting projected onto the other person (see my article: Feelings Aren't Facts).
  • Learn to Question the Validity of the Negative Stories You're Telling Yourself: When you're in a calmer state, ask yourself how likely is it that you were rejected because of the reasons you're telling yourself. If you have a problem being objective, talk to a trusted friend to get an impartial perspective.
  • Be Respectful of the Other Person: Although it's tempting to lash out, it's better to summon your best self, tell the other person you accept their decision, and let them go.  If they don't offer an explanation, accept that you're not going to get closure with them.  Don't try to convince them to see you or badger them for an explanation if you don't get one.  Recognize that most people don't want to be in the position of rejecting anyone so be compassionate (see my article: Coping With a Breakup When Closure With Your Ex Isn't Possible).
  • Get Professional Help From a Licensed Mental Health Professional: If the rejection brings up earlier unresolved trauma, seek help from a licensed trauma specialist to work through the trauma so these memories no longer get activated (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).
Fictionalized Clinical Vignette
The following vignette is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information removed, and it will illustrate how earlier trauma can get triggered by rejection and how therapy can help:

After dating Sally for two months, Tom got a call from her to cancel their upcoming date.  Since they had been out several times and he thought things were going well between them, Tom was surprised and disappointed.

Sally sounded nervous on the phone as she told him that she didn't see things progressing between them and she didn't think they should continue to see each other.  

She was somewhat vague about her decision. She only said she wasn't sure, but things just "didn't feel right" between them and it might be because she started dating again too soon after her breakup with her prior boyfriend of five years.  

Tom felt hurt and he asked Sally if there was anything he said or did that might have affected things between them.  In response, Sally said her decision didn't have anything to do with him--she just wasn't feeling like their relationship would develop into anything more serious.  She told him she was sorry if she was hurting his feelings, and then she said she needed to go.

After Tom got off the phone with Sally, in addition to feeling hurt and disappointed, he felt ashamed.  He was in his early 30s and he had never been in a serious relationship before.  He was hoping that things would get serious between him and Sally.  Before he got her call, he thought he saw the possibility of a committed relationship, but now his hopes were dashed.

He could feel that familiar sinking feeling coming over him and his thoughts turned negative pretty quickly, "Women just don't like me," "They don't find me attractive," and "They don't think I'm good enough for them."

Soon he was immersed in these negative thoughts, and by the time he saw his therapist the following day, he was feeling hopeless.  

"I just don't think I'll ever find someone who will want me." he told his therapist.

In response, his therapist reminded him that these were the distorted negative thoughts he often had when he felt rejected.  She also reminded him that these were old feelings stemming from his childhood relationship with parents who were too preoccupied to show him love or affection when he was growing up (see my article: How Therapy Can Help You Become Aware of Distorted Thinking).

Tom recognized that what his therapist said was true.  During that session, he was able to stand back to look at the situation from Sally's perspective and he realized that her rejection didn't have anything to do with him.

Until then, Tom had not wanted to do trauma therapy to work through his childhood trauma which often got triggered when he felt rejected.  But he told him therapist that he was finally ready to work through his unresolved trauma so he would no longer get triggered by them (see my article: How Therapy Can Help You Overcome Your Fear of Abandonment).

Now that most people are dating through dating apps, there's even more of a chance of getting rejected due to the sheer number of people on the apps and all the dating possibilities available to people.

Although your disappointment and hurt are real, the negative stories you're telling yourself might have nothing to do with why the other person rejected you. 

Take time to step back to get a better perspective. 

If talking to a friend doesn't help you because old wounds are getting triggered, seek professional help from a trauma therapist (see my article: Why Experiential Therapy is More Effective Than Talk Therapy to Overcome Trauma).

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have unresolved trauma that involves loss and feelings of abandonment, your unresolved trauma can make rejection much worse.

When you seek help in trauma therapy, you're taking steps to work through your traumatic history so you won't get triggered by it again.

Once you're free from your traumatic history, you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a New York City psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.