I have been facing my demons again. Not my husband or The Hag (my name for his affair partner). More facing the parts of myself that felt pain when touched by circumstances around me and triggered by infidelity wounds. I now see more clearly how my infidelity fears are tied to my childhood fears and hurts. Facing our fears after infidelity is an integral part of our healing. This post is part 1 of a 3 part series on facing our fears after infidelity.
I can't change any part of my life history. But I can bring self-compassion and kindness to my memories of it. When triggered, I get to look at my trigger and ask what is underneath it. Perhaps to see if it is being amplified by unhealed or even unacknowledged wounds from my past. An important aspect of self-care involves facing our fears.
Facing my infidelity fears.
Fear destroys our psychology and immobilizes us from taking action. Fear is hard-wired into every human being — nothing we do in our lifetimes will take away fear. The secret is learning how to use fear instead of letting fear use you!
In this instance, I recognized I was triggered and could use that trigger to learn more about myself. When I took the time to reflect, what came up for me was how I felt bad or wrong if I spoke up for myself as a child. Why? Because the adults in my life made me wrong, they told me I was wrong. As a child, this made me feel insecure about speaking up for myself and intensely rejected. Mostly, I felt fear over what rejection meant.
As an adult, I can say that talking to me that way when I was a child revealed issues that belonged to my parents. But the programming they inflicted was still running on autopilot inside my head. Now that I realize that these previously unchallenged programs are there, it becomes my responsibility to fix them. And I love myself enough to fix them rather than keep the fear programming. That involves facing my fears, seeing how they impacted my life before, during, and after the infidelity, and healing them.
Did infidelity create a fear of rejection?
Infidelity didn't create my fear of rejection; rejection was a deep, scary, painful wound I was already carrying. And it's my childhood fear to face and fix. I own that fact, even though infidelity poked at that fear. And oh boy, it drove hard!
I don't believe that it's my fault that fear is there, but to the person I have become, that is a null and void point. Self-care has taught me that if I focus on or blame the past too much, I might miss my opportunity to grow beyond it.
The lesson self-care has taught me is that I can't stop at the point of seeing my 'why' I feel rejection; I need to heal it. And that's my self-care choice because I love myself too much to remain a victim of my childhood fears! As an adult, I hold power to see how I can use my fear of rejection to learn more about myself and grow from it. I do this even though it's not my fault that I have this fear.
FACT: Science has proven that when we feel rejected, our heart rate drops substantially. Our pupils dilate, and our fight or flight mode is activated.
Even now, when I feel rejected, I feel small, vulnerable, and frightened, just like a child. At that instance I became the little girl who lost her ability to trust that the adults were safe and wouldn't reject me. I go small, so I won't be visible, and I go quiet. My breathing becomes shallow, and my body pulls inward and slumps forward and downward. I try to take all attention away from myself and toe the line. My response is a learned behavior that no longer serves me. It's time to grow beyond going small and fearing rejection.
So what triggered my fear of rejection recently? Like good parents, we celebrated my daughter's 21st birthday by hiring a bar, putting up a generous tab, and sending out gourmet pizzas every half hour. It was cool. We also celebrated her passage into adulthood with speeches. Her speech was beautiful; it focused on how much she loved and appreciated her sisters. She acknowledged all the good things they have done for her over her life. And then her speech ended.
I love that she has sisters in her life, her best friends who are always there for her. I want that for her, especially since I don't have any sisters. But as her mother, I also wanted to be acknowledged. Standing beside my daughter in front of family and friends, I slowly realized that nothing was going to be said about me, her mother. Her speech had ended.
It hurt. It really, really hurt. That deep familiar sense of loneliness and isolation filled me again. I stood in a room filled with family and friends, and all I felt was alone, judged, and shamed. It took every ounce of my energy to continue hosting that party, as all I wanted to do was curl up small and hide. My daughter's slight triggered my familiar freeze response.
TRUTH: The feeling of "rejection" often comes from the MEANING we make up about a situation.
Self-care has taught me to face my fears and to recognize when my body's autonomic nervous system is triggered. So I needed to ask myself some meaningful questions. Was someone really rejecting me? Or were they just not thinking about me or available at that moment? Maybe something was happening in their life that I didn't know about then.
Not getting acknowledged by my daughter translated as a rejection to me, according to my childhood narrative. The story in my head was that if she had nothing to say about me on her 21st, she didn't appreciate anything I had ever done for her. My wounding concluded that I was a lousy mother who meant nothing to her. I should get overlooked as flawed and therefore rejected. And to make it worse, all our family and friends who witnessed her speech knew how bad I was too.
And, of course, the story that she resented and rejected me for staying with her father after he cheated on me began to play in my head too! Somehow, my brain takes everything back to my husband's affair. Ouch! Does your brain link everything to your husband's affair too?
I needed to face my WHY
After everyone had left the party, I packed away all the decorations and drove home sobbing. It felt like a massive wounding to me that she hadn't acknowledged me, and I needed to face my 'why.' Why should I react by feeling rejected by my daughter's mistake of forgetting her mother while nervously making her speech? She is my shy daughter, just giving a speech was hard for her.
The following day on a phone call with my own mother it was revealed why that rejection hurt so much. She brought up an accident where I got severely hurt as a baby. I was made wrong and labeled as bad for it happening. When I pushed back that one can't blame a baby, my character was judged unacceptable, and my siblings were held up as acceptable by her. There was that rejection of who I was again. Sadly, my fear of rejection started when I was an innocent baby.
I now have the self-love to see that no one, not even my mother, has the right to inflict that form of rejection on me, especially as a baby. And I was flooded by the many instances where this happened throughout my childhood and adult life.
I guess this partly explained why I don't feel like I belonged in my family. And I understand more deeply why I behaved the way I did when my husband and I had disagreements. And also why I tolerated things I should never have accepted from him. It definitely explained why all I ever wanted was to feel wanted, belong, and feel safe.
FACT: Rejection in our childhood can profoundly impact our self-worth and self-confidence.
For me, infidelity was my husband rejecting me too. His betrayal was one big, big, ugly wound that merged into my already painful childhood fears. I was unacceptable, so he chose someone else, not me. During and after his infidelity, he threw all his perceived faults and flaws about me in my face. Who I was as a person got rejected again! His infidelity poked at my biggest fear, rejection.
FACT: Mental Health Care refers to rejection as feeling shame, sadness, or grief over not being accepted by others.
Rejection can lead to chronic loneliness and depression; in life, most people experience some form of rejection. It can result in a temporary feeling of not being wanted, valued, or accepted. Or it can be experienced as extreme pain with ongoing suffering.
Yet my husband's infidelity, despite the rejection fear I felt, was not about him rejecting me. It was about him rejecting his own core values.
The faults and flaws he labeled me with, while painful to hear at the time, were nothing but excuses he made up to justify himself. They said nothing about me and everything about him. Yet because of my fear, it cut me deeply. His betrayal fed into my childhood wounds and fear of rejection. Infidelity amplified my fears about not being enough.
FACT: Ongoing rejection may cause deep trauma and lasting psychological wounds.
In children, this shows up as learning difficulties at school and also problems in forming friendships. I had a lot of difficulty at school and didn't learn to read until I was in my double digits. In high school, I got put into a remedial math program. My parents never expected me to succeed, and I felt dumb, which painfully fed into my fear of rejection.
Yet it took one teacher to see me, recognize my intelligence, affirm me and give me a different message about myself. I was 15 years old when this happened; that makes me sad. For 15 years, I believed I was dumb. The outcome of one adult giving me time and acknowledgment meant that I topped the school in several subjects rather than failing as my parents expected.
FACT: Depression is another consequence of ongoing rejection, along with stress and anxiety.
The consequences of living with a fear of rejection can show up for girls during their teenage years, often resulting in eating disorders or self-harming behaviors. I considered myself a failure and was extremely depressed both during my teen years and into early adulthood. Often I wanted to end my life and didn't understand the deep sense of loneliness I felt, sometimes crying for hours on end. I battled with the feeling that I had no one there for me in my life.
So what should we do with all this fear of feeling rejected? When we feel it after betrayal, our brain becomes an echo chamber, throwing thoughts and half-baked reasons around, hurting us even more. Yet the truth is that our beliefs about why we think people reject us point toward our own previous fears and insecurities more than anything else.
HINT: The key to healing our 'sense of rejection' is to seek an empowering meaning each time we feel rejected.
Knowing there is more to the stories we tell ourselves helps us move on from our fears. It's essential to take the time to discover our 'why' so we can learn more about ourselves and the way we react. When we find out our 'why', we can start to heal our insecurities, wounds, and fears. As we bring self-compassion towards ourselves rather than fearing that others are rejecting us, we learn to weather our infidelity pain in a more balanced way.
I hope that sharing some of my feelings about rejection in this post helps you face any fears of rejection you may be battling with. Keep reading about how much more I learned about my fears in the next two posts. We have had our lives impacted by infidelity, and we all have issues to overcome. Talking about them helps us realize that we are not alone in our shared human experience called 'life.'
Please reach out if you want to talk more about rejection or how to face your fears after infidelity. If you enjoyed this article, I would love you to leave me a comment in the box below. Click below to read the rest of the series on Facing your Fears.