Thursday, November 1, 2018

The pain of rejection

According to several studies, "researchers found that the same areas of our brain light up in an MRI machine when we experience rejection as when we experience physical pain. That's why rejection can feel like a punch in the gut, or a knife to the heart; you're literally using the same part of the brain as when you hurt yourself physically"- I find that little bit of information mind boggling but believable nonetheless and also a very good explanation as to why as humans we have such a hard time dealing with rejection and such need to belong or feel like we fit in with someone or somewhere.
I've never been a "popular" girl but I've also never craved "popularity" and my personality sometimes is everything BUT likable, I get it, we can't possibly be liked by everyone. As I get older, I care less and less about what people think of me and more about how to be the happiest and most real version of myself without hurting anyone.  I will admit that finding that balance between genuineness and political correctness is very challenging and most times I fall short on either end...but I try!
With that said, an adult mind is VERY different than that of a child and I've learned (the hard way!) that even when I want to save my kids from painful experiences, sometimes they just have to go through them to learn the lesson and become thicker skinned.  Is it easy? Absolutely not...but most times we all learn so much about people and our surroundings in the process and I believe that makes all the pain so much worth it.
Some of you might remember THIS post, where I spoke about "popularity" and how people always seem to be involved in some unspoken and unhealthy contest that ends up hurting relationships more than it helps them. Well... sadly I seem to have too much to add to that topic and this time my anecdotes deal with rejection and plain cruelty that I often observe among children as young as Gaby.
A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered for a school event where the kids participated in a DJ Dance Party; as Gaby's class enjoyed the music, I noticed she was wandering alone and not really hanging out with any of her classmates; I know Gaby enjoys some solitude at times, but I consider her to be pretty sociable so this did not seem like herself. A while later I noticed that a couple of girls were waving at her and calling her to come towards them. As Gaby walked excitedly towards her "friends", I saw how these two girls handed her their trash and signaled for her to go throw it in the garbage can. I continued to observe the episode, which was followed by Gaby running back to where some popcorn and popsicles were sitting for the kids and then running back to the two girls to deliver some snacks to them.  Right after Gaby handed these two girls their snacks, they both sped off and left Gaby standing alone in the middle of the field.  She looked around to see if anyone was watching and just continued to wander alone until the party was over, often attempting to join other little groups and failing every time because apparently everyone was too busy doing their own thing. I thought the episode was a bit awkward but I carried on and didn't even mention it to Gaby.  Contrary to popular belief, I don't like to blow things out of proportion and I could have perceived the whole thing erroneously.... it happens..and kids will be kids...
Fast forward a few days and Gaby randomly makes a comment: "Mom, why am I so ugly?". Imaginary alarms started sounding off in my head and I froze for a minute.  My quick reply was "WHAT?" and she looked at me and said "I know I don't have many friends because I am really ugly and kids at my school don't like ugly people!" I thought of a millions things to say to her in that instance but for some reason I couldn't find the right words, because I knew that "you're one of the most beautiful girls I know" coming from mom wasn't going to cut it. I dug a little deeper only to find out that Gaby was being systematically rejected by many people in her class and targeted by what I can best describe as a "bully". I had been noticing for days that Gaby seemed withdrawn and quiet but I didn't think much of it because she is normally very taciturn; this was definitely different though, this was hurting her and for the first time in a while I didn't know what to do or how to make that pain go away.
Unfortunately things continued to escalate and this same person that was promoting the "Gaby rejection" randomly attacked her by yanking a book out of her hands, throwing it on the ground and subsequently kicking it far away from her. Neither Gaby nor I knew how to handle this situation because 1. We're not used to random acts of violence, 2. We're not violent people, 3. We like to assume the best of people and 4. We'd never dealt with this before. I decided to write an email to the teacher, who will hopefully keep an eye on the situation; I've also been praying a lot about it and I know God will always keep my child safe.
Aside from the school happenings, I've also noticed that several moms from Gaby's class (some of which I consider close) often organize playdates and outings and Gaby is never included or invited and while I don't take it personal, I know Gaby does and it hurts her a lot.  As much as I try to explain to her that not everyone is nice all the time, she still struggles with this and I struggle too when I can't find the right words to make her feel better.  I know rejection is painful and I know that rejection is also normal in many situations; I know kids need to learn to deal with rejection because it's part of life but knowing this, doesn't make this situation any better and that makes me sad!
I'm also a realist and I know that my child might very well be the "problem"; maybe she's not that friendly? maybe kids are drawn to more outgoing kids? maybe she's not likable? who knows.. I still can't justify kids being mean to other kids and I believe us parents have a huge say on that.
If you have children, please teach them to be kind; teach them that their actions have consequences and tell them that one look, one word, one day can make or break a person's self esteem. Talk to your kids about lending a helping hand, about ways to boost other people instead of putting them down, about how to be themselves without hurting others in the process and especially about the often unshakeable pain of rejection...

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