Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Rejection Sensitivity and Impulsive Aggression: Part 1

Rejection is a natural part of the human experience. One most of us try desperately to avoid, but a natural part none-the-less. Rejections span the gamut of little disappointments to an epic sense of failure that can damage your self-worth.

Example 1: You’re a 6 year old boy that wants to share your blocks with the cute girl in the flower dress. You approach her with blue block in hand but instead of graciously accepting your gift, she punches you in the shoulder and goes back to her own Lincoln logs. Not what you hoped for but there’s another cutie pie in pigtails you can ask, so you move on.

Example 2: After years of emotional trauma and trying to make it work for the kids, you finally divorce your wife in a painful devastation of your sense of self-worth as you question your purpose in life and whether you will every be good enough for anyone ever again.

Now imagine having the emotional experience of Example 2 with the event experience of Example 1. That about sums up the Borderline experience. Good night folks, please tip your waiter. Just kidding. (You got that right?)

Being rejected is much more traumatic for some people than others. People who are highly rejection-sensitive have had painful experiences of rejection that make them concerned with how likeable and accepted they are. Or, if an expression of rejection, no matter how small it may seem, will ultimately result in abandonment.

One of the frustrating things for both Borderlines and our loved ones alike is that an apparently inane statement or “rejection” of just, nah, not today… can make our minds run away with themselves and wonder if we’ve done something wrong in a way that will lose us your love. This can produce a variety of responses from almost codependent clinging, trying to overcompensate by doing even more for you, avoiding what we may want in favor of only things we believe you want to avoid that “nah” again… to anger, that “Well I can’t do anything right now can I?!?” response, pushing away in the form of “Never bothering to try ever again because clearly we aren’t good enough,” and so on.

None of it is really rational, and it can be rather blind siding because who expects that reaction when you’re just not in the mood to go out for ice cream in sub zero temperatures, but depending on the fragility of our mental state, even small rejections can make us wonder if we’re succeeding or failing as human beings. For me I tend to respond with either: 1. I’ll be SO MUCH BETTER in the future, or 2. If I don’t try I can’t be rejected again…. Sometimes pushing away to an extreme of 3. If I leave/make them leave they can’t reject me at all, ever again. That’s the not-so-fun Push-ing of ye old Push-Pull cycle…. Here we begin to see the markings of that impulsive aggression.

But I’m rambling away with myself. Let’s break this down:

Rejection sensitivity is a psychological condition which is characterized by oversensitivity to rejection. It typically appears in people with various neurotic conditions like borderline personality disorder, and it can be extremely debilitating for people who suffer from it.

Someone with rejection sensitivity tends to be extremely sensitive to rejection, often perceiving rejection where there is none. For example, upon hearing that a group of friends has gone out without her, a woman with rejection sensitivity might think that the friends didn't like her, when this is not the case. Her perception of rejection, however, might lead her to be angry or aggressive, thereby putting stress on her relationship with her friends.

Individuals who suffer from rejection sensitivity also suffer from an abnormal amount of dread in situations where rejection is a possibility. They might be extremely distressed at the thought of asking someone out on a date, for example, or at the idea of meeting new people. This anticipation can set up a self-fulfilling prophecy, where the person with rejection sensitivity behaves strangely, thereby creating a situation in which he or she is rejected, confirming previous fears. [1]

When you have BPD not only do we fear rejection with the accompanying emotional turmoil, but we tend to expect it too. With all those emotions sort of prepped and at the ready, yanno, just in case.

Does this experience sound familiar?

“I have a constant edge-of-your-seat alertness for little clues that might mean someone hates me or doesn’t want me to be with them anymore. With my boyfriend, when we would be together doing something quiet like reading, every so often I would interject with a pleading and submissive, "Are you mad at me?” until it annoyed him so much he really would get angry! For me, though, the impression he was displeased with me was so real--all it takes is silence to make me feel like I’ve been rejected, and this fills me with panic.”

If you’re like me you don’t actually ask “Are you mad at me?”, you just wonder ceaselessly until the ruminations drive you a little more neurotic than usual. I’m not sure if it’s worse to express the concern on my mind, or just let it run away with itself.

Meh. I’ve been in this state of hyper-awareness for rejection/for whether I’m doing something to screw up, in regards to K and Twiggy lately. It’s very important to me that we’re able to rebuild our friendship, and I really am afraid of screwing it up, doing the wrong thing, not taking something into account that will make them more comfortable, saying something not perfectly which could be interpreted in a way that might possible be taken wrong, yanno, anything that might mess this up and make them realize I don’t actually deserve to be in their lives anymore.   I know, cognitively I know, that I would never purposefully do something to hurt them, especially I’m on constant alert, but, the fear is still there. Frankly, I don’t trust myself entirely even though I’ve been working very hard to be more mindful of myself and everyone else.  

Caring for people is frightening when you’re constantly on the alert for them to leave you.

And that’s just for perceived rejection! Actual rejection in life is pretty much impossible to avoid. And in a pretty unsurprising twist of fate, perceived rejection can lead to an almost self-fulfilling prophecy of actual rejection. But we’ll get to that tomorrow.  


  1. I try to reality check by reflecting on what the person/people actually said or did. But that is very tricky because the reality is that much of our communication is subtle and people are not honest about their feelings. That brief silence from your partner could actually be a sign they're getting bored with you.

    That's why all the advice that suggests we just trust people to love us -- i find very suspect (and quite impossible to implement.)

    I'm also beyond suspect of all the mental health advice that says "Reach out to someone". Well, what happens when a person with rejection sensitivity reaches out in desperation, and then is rejected for it? The situation just got much worse.

    Thank you for writing about it.

  2. Being able to reality check is an excellent skill that we definitely need to learn to develop.

    But as you continued on to say, the line between literal events, and the implications behind them is a tricky line to toe.

  3. Has your rejection sensitivity ever caused you to push someone you really care about so hard that they actually did reject you? How did/would you respond to that?

    1. Oh sure. Think of it in the sense of a classic Push move. I've pushed quite a lot of people away, depending on the person though, there was an equal yet opposite pulling back. It usually caused a massive freak out, and redoubled attempts to apologize, be better, and win them back.

  4. A girl I know (I'd define our relationship as friends) with BPD recently asked me if I was interested in hooking up with her casually for sex. I was slightly surprised by it and for several reasons I didn't jump at the chance despite finding her attractive. I'm wondering now if I've made her feel really rejected. I didn't outright say no, I just pointed out that it wouldn't be that simple for us to just start sleeping together. I don't want her to feel rejected by me, but I realise that isn't really within my ability to control, and to some degree never was.

    Any insight?
    Should I bring it up with her? or would that only make it worse?

  5. WHY do bpd peeps care if people who they don't even like hate them or not?

    I know a guy who hates certain individuals but it bothers him sooooo much that THEY don't like him. I told him WHY does he care so much if he himself hates them???

  6. "You’re a 6 year old boy that wants to share your blocks with the cute girl in the flower dress. You approach her with blue block in hand but instead of graciously accepting your gift, she punches you in the shoulder and goes back to her own Lincoln logs. Not what you hoped for but there’s another cutie pie in pigtails you can ask, so you move on."

    That was very mean of you, Haven. :p


Leave me a comment! It makes me feel good and less paranoid about talking to myself =)

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