Cathy Terranova Blog

I have experienced a hell of a lot of rejection in my life. 

I asked eight different guys to prom my junior year of high school and they all said no. One said yes, but then told me the next day that he thought I was joking and then he said no. Finally, I went with my friend Paul, who was at the time head over heels in love with another girl. 

I’ve seen rejection in my career, my love life, and even my own family. I’ve had people call me family just to walk away years later. I feel like every part of me has been seen and dismissed in some way. 

I wish that rejection got easier. That the wounds were smaller each time. Unfortunately, in my experience, rejection is something that builds on itself. I just keep internalizing the rejection deeper and more completely, until I believe that I’m not worth any acceptance at all. You can think you’re over an old feeling of rejection then something new happens and it’s like that memory stands up and yells, “I TOLD YOU SO” right into your face. 

There are so many wounds that I can look at and understand what happened. There are times that I know in hindsight I was so wrong that someone walking away from me was the best thing for them to do. It hurts, but I get it. Other times leave you digging around for clues combing over every aspect of yourself and inspecting every flaw until you find something that makes sense, even if it’s just to set your restless mind at ease. Usually, it’s when people silently slip away that I end up doing my best work of clawing away at myself and picking apart everything that is wrong with me until I feel so worthless I can’t help but understand why someone would stop returning my calls and messages. 

One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard has also turned into one of the sharpest voices of self-criticism in my head: 

“If you keep coming up against the same problem, chances are, it’s you.”

I heard that from a recovering alcoholic when I was eighteen. 

It’s the truth in many ways but it isn’t always a deep down internal malfunction. Sometimes it’s that we trust people that we shouldn’t have. Sometimes problems arise from old patterns we don’t know we need to break. Sometimes bad things happen no matter what we do.

But what I’ve done over the last few years is unwisely apply that piece of truth to every ounce of rejection I’ve faced. 

“You keep getting rejected, it must just be you.”

I told myself that there was some crazy blight on my personality or ways of thinking that I was unable to see. No matter the level of self-searching or therapy, it was undetectable. 

It was just something that some people could see that I couldn’t, and it was bad enough to make me unloveable. Anyone who told me otherwise just hadn’t come face to face with it yet.

It isn’t so plain as me simply being bad, but we can go back to that bit of advice; “chances are, it’s you”.

Life brings us lots of challenges. Looking at all the rejection in the last few years I’ve been able to narrow down a lot of where I went wrong and what I need to change about how I interact with the world. There are old patterns of behavior that reflexively play out in my life that I’ve been able to see more clearly thanks to therapy and journaling. Taking a step back and forming relationships with others more slowly has helped me see some of my issues in real time.

One is that I tend to make excuses for others when they treat me poorly. I don’t want to make a fuss and then it lets people take advantage of me more and more. 

Another is that I have a hard time not taking responsibility for others’ emotions. I tend to want everything to “be okay”. I feel responsible if people are unhappy even if it isn’t my fault. This can also be called codepedency. Unlearning those behaviors has been tricky and uncomfortable and I have certainly not mastered any of it, but I’m getting better. 

What does this have to do with rejection?

Well, a lot. People walk away from us for their own reasons. Part of my problem is I even want the people who are bad for me to stay. I’m so scared of feeling rejected that I’ll put up with anything.

I had a falling out with a close friend after a major incident. Once I started unpacking the friendship I realized that it was very unhealthy and very codependant. There were so many times when I had forgiven things I should have at least said bothered me. There were other times when I had done things that breached trust between us and it was never resolved. There was disrespect on both sides and enabling all around. It was just a bad time. There were so many things that eventually led to me feeling rejected. Some of them were my fault and some weren’t.

Rejection is usually boiled down to someone not choosing you anymore, but what I’ve seen is that there is so much more to it then that. Our junk overlaps other people’s unresolved issues and it can make life a shit show. We can’t just boil it down to us being good or bad, worthwhile or worthless. 

In my marriage there was so much I enabled and ignored. I did a disservice to my relationship with my husband to not stand up and say, “I feel disrespected” or “Hey! That hurt my feelings!”.

I have done that over and over again in so many relationships because I didn’t want to rock the boat or cause problems. Ultimately, it led to people walking away from me. Some people walk away because they don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings. They think if they say what you’ve done they’ll lose you anyway, so why not just avoid you forever because then they don’t have to have the fight? I get it and I’ve done it.

When we choose to slip out of others’ lives we need to realize that they will probably notice and they will most likely feel very deeply rejected anyway. Either we hurt their feelings and maybe work through it or we hurt their feelings and never work through it. I’ve also had to make the choice to not work through it because I didn’t see a way to break out of the same patterns with that person if I stayed in relationship with them. 

Being alone for the last four years has shown me that I do very well by myself. But what keeps me wandering back into the world of dating isn’t actually the desire for a partner, it’s the desire to disprove all the old feelings of rejection that float to the surface when I have a bad day or face a setback. I’m guilty of wanting someone to want me just to show that there’s someone who won’t reject me flat out. I’ve cried over guys I didn’t even like very much just because after two dates they said they didn’t want to be with me. All I could hear was that same old voice saying,

“You’re worthless. No one will ever want you. This just proves what you already know.”

The truth is that I haven’t had real feelings for anyone since I was married. In those moments of rejection, my heart isn’t breaking for anyone but myself. The feelings overwhelm me and push me over an edge that I’m constantly skirting anyway.  

Rejection hurts deeply, but it also unfairly splits something very grey into a black and white matter. 

I’ve had four different men choose not to date me because I can’t have children. They don’t want to foster or adopt. They want someone who can take their DNA and make a baby. I can’t do that and it’s something I can’t change. My body can’t do it safely. As hard as this fact is to believe in those moments, not being able to carry a child for someone doesn’t make me worthless. The pain makes the grey into something black and white. It makes me want to believe that there is something wrong with me, that I’m broken in a way that means I can’t be loved. None of that is true. 

When I’ve lost friends the grey of enabling behaviors and toxic traits turned into the black and white of if I can keep friends, I’m good and if I can’t I’m bad. That’s not true either. 

When I experienced the painful loss of family, and people who called me family, it made me believe that I won’t ever belong anywhere; that I was lost and alone and would always be that way. That’s simply not true. A lot of what happened in those situations had everything to do with them and very little to do with me at all. 

Life is messy and frustrating. We lose things we wish we could keep and we keep old issues and feelings that we wish we could lose. Rejection says something about a moment, not a person. 

I have had friends come to me years later and express remorse that we fell out of relationship. There are more than a few friends that I thought were gone forever that I suddenly have again.

When I was younger it was easier for things to be black and white, good and bad. It was easy to look at myself as worthwhile or worthless. I haven’t experienced my last bout of rejection. Ten times from now there will still be more rejection ahead of me. I found myself crying a few days ago about being rejected by someone I could see myself having real feelings for. I kept thinking, what does this say about me? What does it say about me that in four years I haven’t been able to get anyone I like to go on more than a couple dates with me? What does it say about me that I keep getting rejected by man after man, friend after friend, family after family?

But let me rephrase that question: What does it say about me that even after facing all of that rejection, I keep trying?

What does it say about me that I have the strength to try to love again? What does it say about me that I still try making new friends? What does it say about me that I keep writing, even if no one reads it?

I have a friend who I’ve known since I was six years old. She is one of the most creative people I’ve ever met in my whole life. She is a talented illustrator and has faced enough professional rejection to make most people give up. She doesn’t. She just keeps creating. What does that say about her? Her art is still beautiful, her comics are still funny and charming, and her talent is still very real. No rejection letter can ever take that away. 

We are all our own works of art. We might be messy or dark or abstract. People might not “get” us or we might still need some work. But no bad review can take away that we’re still something special. Even if no one would buy us or hang us on display in a gallery, we’re still a piece of art.

If watching pop culture for thirty years has taught me anything it’s that acceptance and praise are here today and gone tomorrow. Just because we’re loved one minute doesn’t mean we won’t be rejected the next. When I look in the mirror, I’m constantly working on self acceptance and an internal contentment that doesn’t depend on who thinks what of me. It is hard work, but it’s work I do just for me. The world doesn’t care if I love myself, but it means the world that I do.

Rejection can tell us who to steer clear of or show us how we need to work harder or better. It doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. What’s most important is that we don’t let it define our worth or how we see ourselves. I know that it’s difficult, but what does it say about you if you just keep trying? 

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family, rejection