“I’m afraid of what people think of me.”
I’ve heard this countless time from patients who are struggling with fear of being judged and rejected -- and with corresponding emotions like hurt, inadequacy, and anger, all of which grow weightier with time. These people often feel like there is a boulder on their chest, making it hard to breathe. If you can relate, what you may not realize is that it’s more like you are pinned below a pile of rocks than a single boulder. The difference is having many smaller emotions to contend with rather than one huge, overpowering emotion. This difference points to a solution: You can remove smaller rocks (or emotions) more easily than you can remove a huge, undefinable one.
As I explain in the book Bouncing Back from Rejection, you can take one emotional “rock” off your chest at a time by setting aside some quiet time to do this “Begin the Offloading Process” exercise:
Attend to your emotions. Close your eyes and focus your attention on your emotional experience. You are aware of feeling rejected or being afraid of being rejected, but pay attention to what else you are feeling. Some people find it helpful to focus first on their physical sensations, which can then connect them with an awareness of their emotions.
Identify the emotions. Label the emotions you are feeling. If you have trouble doing this, you might find it helpful to look at a list of emotions. Your list may include feelings such as rejected or abandoned, unlovable, hurt, betrayed, angry, or afraid.
Focus on one emotion. As you become aware of the emotions stirring within you, choose to focus on one. Do not try to do anything with the emotion other than keep your awareness on it.
Sit with your chosen emotion. As you stay with it, you might notice that it changes on its own. That’s OK. Perhaps that mild sense of being rejected by your friend is overtaken by being “peeved” and then angry. Next, you might feel afraid of your anger -- more specifically, you might fear that it will lead to outright rejection, an experience that has seemed to haunt you forever. In this way, the unfolding of your emotions increases your self-awareness and can even offer great insight. Keep paying attention until you feel that your work is done for the time being.
When you find that you get distracted while sitting with your emotions, remind yourself to refocus on them. You might need to do this several times. Many people also find it helpful to bring their attention back to their bodies and then notice that particular emotions arise from their bodily sensations.
After completing this exercise, you will probably still feel quite emotional. However, you will be better able to process your emotions and consciously take steps toward recovering from rejection. (For more on overcoming rejection, check out the brief video, Don’t Let Feelings of Rejection Stop You.)
You can repeat these steps for other emotions, though I don’t suggest you do this all in one session. It takes time and can be emotionally draining. You will most likely need to go through this exercise many times to identify, experience, and think through each significant emotion that is part of the “massive boulder” pinning you down. But each time you do, you will likely find that your experience becomes less overwhelming.