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20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem--page 19
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.

Step 19. Redefine Rejection.

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Many people with low self-esteem engage in “impression management” which is the attempt to influence how others perceive them. Instead of being genuinely who they are, they act in a way to get approval from others: agreeing with others when they have a different opinion, dressing or acting in certain ways to conform with others, trying not to be noticed in a negative way. Interestingly, even people who appear to not care about approval because they are acting in ways that might give rise to disapproval, if you examine their primary group, their behavior may actually be approval-seeking. I think a good example of this is terrorists or people who belong to violent extremist groups—they are still seeking approval from within their group even though they may cause harm to others. However, such a behavioral contrast occurs in less dire ways: teenagers who seek approval from a peer group while rebelling against parents or people who persecute or mistreat those with different beliefs.

Learning to redefine rejection allows you to act according to your personal beliefs and desires rather than acting based upon the approval of others. Redefining rejection is to consider that rejection can be a good thing because it means you are a unique and genuine person. No one can be liked by everyone. If so, you are trying to seek approval. And approval-seeking is a trap. A trap of mediocrity and invisibility. When I was young, feeling that I had never gotten the approval of my mother, I sought out approval from others. I sought the approval of teachers by being a good student. But then I lied about my grades to friends “Oh, I did OK” because I knew other kids didn't like straight A students. But as a young adult competing for limited opportunities I learned that to truly excel I couldn't hide my capabilities just because some people might not like me. And it's not that I was irrational in this belief—some people don't like those who excel. However, instead of being distressed about the occasional person who didn't like me, I learned to pat myself on the back and say “Good--it means you are being genuinely who you are.”

Some people don't like those who have a different opinion. Some people don't like those who look different. Some people don't like certain personalities. Some people don't like those who live their lives according to a different belief system. Generally, other people don't like those who make them uncomfortable (by having different opinions or beliefs, looking different, acting different, etc). Whatever the reason, you will find that if you are genuinely who you are, somebody won't like you.

Thus, being rejected means you are willing to take social risks. Sometimes the social risk may be approaching someone you don't know and starting a conversation. Sometimes it might be doing a better job than someone else. Sometimes the social risk may be some of the behaviors you have been practicing in these 20 Steps to Better Self-Esteem: smiling, saying “hello,” acting with confidence. Why are these social risks? Because, instead of blending into the background, you give others the opportunity to respond to you personally and that response could be approval, indifference, or rejection.

There is nothing wrong with being rejected some of the time. Obviously, if it is all of the time by everyone, you may need to look further into the cause to understand why your behavior is causing so much rejection. But if you are acting spontaneously and genuinely sometimes you will be rejected. Usually, it is about the other person or just a lack of fit or a difference of opinion. That is okay because we are all unique individuals. You are being genuinely who you are.

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