Friday, July 12, 2013

Rejection is Not an Emotion

So, I imagine the idea that rejection isn’t an emotion might sound like old news. For others, they are blinking and going…wait! I’ve felt rejected before! It’s terrible! It made me feel horrible!

Yup, well, horrible is sorta the same as saying I feel rejection. Horror can be an emotion. But horrible? I’m not sure.

You see, I’m in couples’ counseling with the spouse and we have a fabulous guy helping us restore lines of communication, etc. I mean, things break down after 33 years. Just sorta slides into a rut of sameness. We’re working on climbing out of the rut. It’s a good thing. (Don’t worry about us.)

The language of communicating emotions is a treacherous one. My poor husband is floundering like a fish out of water. He’s an engineer. Plus he grew up with the message that there are bad emotions and good emotions and that about summed it up. He feels good or he feels bad. That is about as deep as he goes.

After a particularly difficult session, I told him about the Emotional Thesaurus, and he asked me to get one for him. (He’s great about wanting to figure it all out.) Most complex feelings are buried so deep, he needs a backhoe to find them. If not something bigger.

While me? Oh, I pride myself on expressing what is going on. I am a word person, right?

Uh, no. I went through an episode a few weeks back that opened my eyes to how far away I was from actual experiencing my emotions.

The convo went something like this… (I’m also summarizing, it took a lot longer than this.)

“How did that make you feel?”

“I felt rejected.”

“No, how did you feel?”

I tilt my head, narrow my eyes, my brows knit. “I…I felt rejected…”

He changed his tactics… “What does rejection feel like?”


“OH. It…hurts.”


It took some digging but I found the base of my emotions regarding rejection. There are a lot of emotions that can stem from experiencing rejection, from hurt, to anger, to elation (you sick masochists out there!)

You never know where a lesson in writing and deepening a character’s reaction will come from. It might be in the middle of a counseling session! The word rejection is a distancing method from the actual feeling. It gives it a label and makes it easy to slot into a category of good or bad emotion. But! It isn’t going deep enough. Think about that the next time your character knows rejection. Choose the deeper path or the lighter path and make it feel right for that character.

I know this now.

Can you think of any other word we use to create distance from the actual emotion? What else should I, and others, keep an eye out for?


quantum said...

Maureen, you should keep an eye open for 'Trapped Emotions'

Trapped emotional energy can lead to all sorts of problems from physical pain to clinical depression. You have to deal with it or your life can become a real mess. Bradley Nelson in his book 'The Emotion Code' describes it beautifully and gives easy self help methods for handling it.

My wife tells me that I can be very insensitive to my own emotions at times. For example, when driving in heavy traffic I can get quite angry without being aware of it. Its probably the way that boys are/were brought up. In my school days it was considered 'sissy' to cry or display any weakness, so one strived to appear 'tough'. Its probably different now in our more enlightened age ... perhaps! LOL

Great topic for a romance writer!

Terri Osburn said...

I'm betting the word "fine" is one we should watch out for. In real life and in our books. How often do we say, "Really, it's fine" when it isn't?

I'm not as good at getting the emotion on the page as I want to be. This blog is exactly what I need, because later in the WIP, I have to show a character feeling rejected. Remind me of this one when I'm whining that I can't get it just right!

Maureen said...

Thanks. Q! I will look up the book. I'm doing a lot of non-fiction reading right now and this one sounds right up my ally.

Hey, sweetie, mind if I quote your review of A Caribbean Spell from Amazon to promote meself?

Maureen said...

Oh, fine is one blackhole. But it can also be played with and worked to show character. So many layers of possibility.
I'm fine - they really are!
I'm fine - they really aren't.
I'm fine - They think they are, but they aren't.
I'm fine - they really are but no one believes them.
I'm fine - they really don't want to fight, but they need to.
I'm fine - they really don't know.

And I'm sure there are more. And each one presents an opportunity to dive deeper into what is going on. Those moments might make you feel that you're giving it a pass, but what you are really doing is opening a door to all sorts of possibilities.

My therapist said rejection is a state of being, but not an emotion. It's like something that happened which instigates an emotion...but it isn't one all by itself. As I said, one big lightbulb moment!

Haleigh said...

I love this Mo. In my day job, one of the things we do is track how often emotion comes up in mediation (around someone's court case). It took us forever to all agree on what is and what is not an emotion, for exactly the reasons you mentioned. For example, people in a conflict often say, "I feel betrayed" when 'betray' is an action someone else committed, not an emotion. Someone betrayed you, and you feel angry or ashamed or humiliated or hurt or sad or any number of things.

What never occurred to me was to translate that into character development. This could be really, really great :)

MsHellion said...

I've been taking a meditation class (stress-reduced based meditation or something like that. You're stressed; you learn to meditate)--and I think we've been exploring this (sorta kinda) over the last week or so.

Basically it was that THOUGHTS aren't necessarily EMOTIONS, in fact they rarely are. THOUGHTS trigger EMOTIONS.

Thought: "This editor rejected me. No one likes my book. I'm a big failure. I'm never going to be a big success at publishing."

But our teacher emphasizes these are just thoughts. Random. And mostly untrue, like 99% of the time.

For instance, the editor didn't reject YOU; he rejected the manuscript. You were not there. It's not true nobody likes your book; you like your book and you probably have lots of credible feedback that demonstrates that yes, people LIKE your book. You're not a big failure--failing would be quitting or never sending it out in the first place. Or never starting it because it's not going to amount to anything. It's the journey, not the destination. Once you get to one destination, you only find you're looking for the next one to be at without ever enjoying any part of the trip. And the success thing--completely out of your hands anyway. Maybe that MIGHT be true--but maybe that just means you need to reevaluate what success really is, what is important. Is it more important you die with the most money--or is it important you die having done all the things you wanted to do?

Anyway, by the time you've gotten to the bottom of the thoughts, you realize what you're actually feeling is DISAPPOINTMENT. And our teacher said, we're really bad about not wanting to stay with that feeling and letting us be disappointed. I imagine it's because we're afraid we'll be disappointed forever--but nothing is forever, which I think we tend to forget. Because when we're happy, we certainly don't like to go around thinking, "This isn't going to last forever." That would only make us unhappy. *LOL*

MsHellion said...

Okay, back with what you guys were saying...I guess I would feel SAD because I was disappointed. But she did say we were not good feeling comfortable with disappointment.

Maureen said...

Betrayed is another one that is great to work with, Hal. They really serve to distance us from the actual physical feeling. With my therapist, I fought him...but then, when I said, It hurt... burst out crying. It was no longer an intellectual or abstract thing, it was real.

And that is something we all need to pay attention to in our writing. And evidently, in mediation!

Maureen said...

Disappointment is tricky, I think. It hovers on the edge of being an emotion. When you consider that else would one feel, save for sad. Though that could be in levels. It could hurt...

I got to think this one through more. I agree with what you're learning in meditation. Unfortunately, we are only human and it's hard to escape the initial chain of thoughts that rise out of rejection/humiliation/or any of the other take-them-personal states that provoke reaction.

Janga said...

I think "fine" is a fascinating example because it can serve two, opposite purposes. Often it's just a phatic utterance, that is, it really says nothing but it indicates that we are willing to keep the conversation going. This is what happens when someone says, "Hello. How are you?" and we respond, "I'm fine, thank you. How are you?" Other times it's a way of ending a conversation or stopping one before it starts, as in "I'm fine. Just drop it." or "Don't worry about it. I'm fine."

I also think we use words that distance us not from a single emotion but from a whole complex of emotions that is too scary to confront. It's much easier to say "I feel grief" than it is to say "I'm sad, angry, hurt, frightened, and some other feelings I don't even have words for."

Terri Osburn said...

I think Janga just hit the key. We feel things we don't have words for. HOW do we express that on the page?? I know many writers convey this beautifully, but I've yet to figure it out.

Kathleen Ann Gallagher's Place to Reflect said...

Thanks for making me think. It does hurt to be rejected. It makes me feel like I'm not good enough. My pouting doesn't last long. I remember what it feels like to be accepted. I have to accept myself before anyone else can.

Maureen said...

Yeah, Janga...these words are almost like spacers. They don't say a whole lot, but they leave room for saying a whole lot. If we step into it.

Grief is a good example.

Maureen said...

Kathleen, I find rejection hurts. For some, it energizes them, it pisses them off and fires them up to keep moving. It isn't an end all, that is for certain. And dealing with the opposite, which is accepted is a good way to look at it.

How does acceptance make you feel? Loved, secure, comfortable, fortunate...but the further away from the central state, the words grow more and more nebulous, until once more we find ourselves at asking... What does fortunate feel like?

Spiral patterns...make one dizzy! But offer so many options! When writing and in life.

Terri Osburn said...

This has me thinking a lot today. I think I'm better with rejection than acceptance, which sounds crazy, but stay with me. When I get rejected, I think "I'll show them!" It pushes me. When I get accepted, I think, "Crap, what if I screw this up? What if they find out I'm a fraud? When are they going to change their minds?"

This also pushes me, but I move forward with more doubts than with a flat out rejection. Man, am I wired weird.

Haleigh said...

I love Hellie's point that we tend to be uncomfortable feeling negative emotions, when sometimes, we just have to let them ride. We also tend to think of negative emotions, in ourselves or someone we love/care about, as things to be fixed, rather than things that just are. I have to regularly remind myself that someone around me (or even myself) expressing negative emotions does come with an obligation for me to do anything about it.

And I like Janga's point about having a whole host of emotions at the same time, some of which we can't name

Haleigh said...

When I get accepted, I think, "Crap, what if I screw this up? What if they find out I'm a fraud? When are they going to change their minds?"

Jesus, you could be living in my head

Terri Osburn said...

*fist bumps Hal*

Maureen said...

Get Out Of My Head!!!! (with a Charleton Heston voice.

I think the thing about negative emotions is they aren't negative, they just are. No bad, no good. Like the lyrics of that song. There ain't no good guy, there ain't no bad guy, there's only you and me, and we just disagree.

I love how rejections energizes you, Terri. While success is terrifying. Maybe that is what it takes to push you?

Hal - The whole fix it thing is a plague. My DH is in constant trouble for trying to fix my emotions. He just needs to listen to them and accept them. There is no emotional hammer to solve a feeling!

Janga said...

That need to fix things is just the standard male response. That's one of the big differences in male and female communication styles that Deborah Tannen and others have written about. Tannen says that men see themselves as problem solvers and focus on solutions to the problem while women focus on community, sending the message "We're the same; you're not alone."

Terri Osburn said...

That's true, but some females have the same need/instinct to fix things. *raises hand*

Maureen said...

Yeah, Terri is a fixer.

The male problem...sigh. Yeah, so you feel sad and the DH is convinced he has to make you better so he hauls out his hammer and ends up making things worse because there is no fix. My DH is getting it. And resisting the male command to "Go out and FIX!"

It's double worse when you're married to an engineer.

MsHellion said...

But the Fixers (male or female) are not exactly comfortable with the "uncomfortable emotions" like sadness, grief, anger, or the other ones that feel "bad" rather than good. They don't like to feel helpless or not in control (even if it's not theirs to control) and by "helping", they're at least not standing by, watching everyone cry. They want to do something "productive". Experiencing the pain of the uncomfortable emotions doesn't feel productive to them. Why would you want to feel them for longer than it takes to acknowledge it?

I mean, there are some who make you acknowledge that what you're feeling is sadness and that is okay--but at the same time, as soon as they get you to recognize what it is, they sorta want you to get over it. Right then. Anything longer than 5 minutes to 5 days is way too long to be wallowing about this.

But I guess that has nothing to do with the one experiencing the "badness", because mostly they're uncomfortable with the thought of, "What if this was happening to me?" and THAT'S what they don't want to think about.

MsHellion said...

But this could just be my experience with trying to be a "fixer" at times rather than allowing people to just be.

Maureen said...

Those who feel what fixers want to fix...well, if they want help fixing, they need to ask. The fixer can offer and then be turned down or the help accepted.

That's the rub. No forced fixing. Period.

It's good that people can make an awareness of emotion the trigger to work on it. But the trick is to be aware of the deeper cause. Because fixing the symptom won't last. (As those of us who suffer chronic depression can attest.)

Maureen said...

I hope we all be seeing this not only through our personal eyes, but through our writer eyes. I know with emotional hang ups, they are multi-layered. Like an onion, or a parfait. They really do just keep on going and like persistent little seeds, they push their way up to the light of our daily lives again and again and again.

They are part of us, make us who we are. Formed us.

And I do think if we can delve into this layer of complexity with our characters, we will create something real. Really real.

Terri Osburn said...

I know I don't dig deep enough in my characters, but I'm working on it. Part of my current hero's motivation is the need to fix something major for the heroine. She's clearly damaged or bruised or whatever and though he only has suspicions about the source, he can't resist trying to fix/help/clean it up.

Maureen said...

From what I've read, your hero is a gentle fixer... Does she even know he is working toward 'fixing' her? That right there would be a fascinating dynamic to explore.

When she figures out he's trying to fix her, will she blow up? Be touched? Declare herself unfixable?

Will he accept he can't fix her?

Looking forward to discovering all this!

Terri Osburn said...

Excellent questions! Lessee...

He keeps telling her he'll protect her, she just blows it off, since he has no idea what he's supposedly protecting her from. And doesn't believe he could.

He made her admit that she needs his help on something minor, and you'd have thought he was making her rip out a kidney.

Let's just say, when he finds out she went off without letting him help, or even telling him she was goin, I'm going to need this emotional stuff in my tool box.

And by golly, I just got a major epiphany for this book. Thanks you!

Janga said...

Ter, I understand. My sister is a fixer too. And I have a male friend, a big, burly guy (one of the world's best huggers), who is one of the most empathetic people I know. He is totally lacking the must-fix-it response. But I think Tannen's characterization holds true generally.

Terri Osburn said...

Agree, Janga. The fixer thing is something I wish I didn't have. And I could use more empathy.

Marnee Bailey said...

This entire conversation has been fascinating. The fixing, the "fine," the whole idea of being uncomfortable with disappointment and that no emotion is good or bad and that all of them are valid.

Love all of this.

Maureen said...

How about that? I struck gold with a topic! Been a while since that happened!

Terri - Cool! I love epiphanies!

Regarding empathy. It's one of those things that falls beyond sympathy, which most of us can muster with some ease. Empathy takes it deeper.

Janga - I adore people who are great huggers.

P. Kirby said...

With me a vaguely agreeable "Uh-uh" with a little faux cheerful lilt on the end, is like "fine," and quite often code for "fuck you." I "uh-huh" people at work a lot.

Hurray for Terri's epiphany!

quantum said...

Hey, sweetie, mind if I quote your review of A Caribbean Spell from Amazon to promote meself?

Glad you liked it Maureen. Feel free! *smile*

Terri: some females have the same need/instinct to fix things. *raises hand*

I have known many female scientists and they all have a tendency to try and fix problems. I believe that there is an even stronger need to understand problems so that they can be fixed efficiently and effectively. Same is true of engineers. Of course it might be this tendency that attracted them to science/engineering in the first place.

On the whole I think most males like analysing things. Taking stuff apart to see how it works then putting it together again with improvements. Could be that I only see a limited subset of the species though. LOL

MsHellion said...

I like to analyze things--people--probably from having to analyze all that fiction in college. You analyze the characters--so you're analyzing people like some armchair therapist. Which I admit I like to do, even though I'm wrong at least 50% of the time. Doesn't matter if I got most of it wrong--I'll seize on the one thing that was right. "So she was insecure! I knew it!"

You'd think I'd like mysteries more with this vein of snooping I have to figure things out.

I'm loving Pat's "uh-huh" response. Totally using that in my next meeting.

Maureen said...

Pat - You have your own secret language...very cool!

Quantum, Much obliged! Now, I'm one for wanting to understand a situation. From every side there is. I don't care so much about solving most's more fascinating to explore how and why and where... Save for things about myself. I want to solve some of those puzzles, and others? I leave to the cosmos!

Sure, Hellion - Uh huh... ;-) Only 50% of the time? Gods, I'm often massively wrong! But sometimes my wrongness is more fun than being right.