Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Rejection Sensitivity and Impulsive Aggression: Part 2

The act of being rejected, for people that are Rejection Sensitive, begins before the act has even occurred. People that are Rejection Sensitive are already on the alert for even the smallest sign of rejection. Not only do they fear it, but they expect it. Ironically the act of being on the alert can alter a person’s own actions and behaviors enough to actually insight the rejection they fear and are trying so desperately to avoid.

Thinking about it another way. Say, you come home one night from a fabulous evening on the town. You walk through the door and into an armed robber trying to steal your television. Immediately and automatically your fight-or-flight defense system kicks in. This is how a “regularly sensitive” person reacts. A more acutely sensitive person would be constantly on the alert, installing advanced security systems, locking and relocking their doors compulsively to ensure they don’t forget to lock them, getting a gun just in case and still, STILL, coming home every night as if they’re going to walk in on an armed robber stealing their television. That flight-or-fight system is almost constantly active. Hypersensitve. Quite some time ago I discussed the nuero-biology of Borderline patients and the results clearly indicated that those neural and chemical systems in our brain are triggered much more sensitively than is typically seen.

Regardless of the how, when a rejection actually occurs it’s like walking into your home with your own gun locked and loaded, ready to fire.  A fully automatic gun. And it doesn’t take into account whether the person is actually an armed robber or just an unexpected relative needing a couch to crash on. All the brain senses is an unexpected shadowy figure before the lights are turned on. Actual threat or perceived threat, it’s all still threat.

Unfortunately the fallout can be just as explosive, abrupt, and unexpected regardless of which it is.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on edge, wondering, worrying, that something would go wrong, that I would do something wrong, that would trigger the displeasure or rejection of someone I care about. I’m a compulsive prepper. I put the boy scouts motto of preparedness to shame. I worry that by failing to properly anticipate the potential needs of people that I could upset someone, or at least, not make them as happy as they could be, and thereby gaining the greatest amount of acceptance as I could.  This may be controversial to say, but like many things, it’s really more about me than about their reaction. It hits me in my sense of self-worth. It feels like a failure. Like I’m a failure. Which triggers my self-loathing, my depression, and in the past, like I didn’t deserve to live if that failure was large enough (Not an exaggeration).

When you look at it from that point of view, it almost makes sense that fight-or-flight defense mechanism would kick in to counteract those awful thoughts. If the brain can push back, lash out, blow up, in a way that makes it feel like it’s the other persons fault, and therefore not a personal failure… our sense of self-preservation is maintained.

Of course this all tends to take place on a subconscious level. No one thinks this through ahead of time or in the moment. It’s not a self-aware way to live. Often, people are unaware of how severely rejection sensitivity impacts their lives until they start to receive treatment for it, causing their perception of the world to radically shift.

Karen Horney was the first theorist to discuss the phenomenon of rejection sensitivity. She suggested that it is a component of the neurotic personality, and that it is a tendency to feel deep anxiety and humiliation at the slightest rebuff. Simply being made to wait, for example, could be viewed as a rejection and met with extreme anger and hostility. This concept was later refined and described as the tendency to anxiously expect, readily perceive, and overreact to social rejection. 

 As in so many areas of the psyche, causes for this are often traced back to childhood (though of course you can become more sensitized to rejection throughout your life). Rejection by a parent or caregiver in early childhood could make someone rejection sensitive. Even peer rejection in children is associated with increased rejection sensitivity. Teasing and other forms of bullying appear to be especially likely to cause later difficulties. Now consider how deeply the impact would be if you already had an inborn characteristic prone to sensitivity, like say, someone with BPD.

Even dear old Wikipedia notes that due to the association between rejection sensitivity and neuroticism, there is a likely genetic predisposition that makes people more vulnerable to rejection experiences and more likely to develop rejection sensitivity.

Rejection sensitivity impacts all kinds of areas in a person’s life. Rejection Sensitive people can be reluctant to express opinions, tend to avoid arguments or controversial discussions, are reluctant to make requests or impose on others, are easily hurt by negative feedback from others, and tend to rely too much on familiar others and situations so as to avoid rejection.

“Tend to rely too much on familiar others to avoid rejection.” This explains why the people closest to us, can often trigger our sense of rejection even stronger than strangers. To be perfectly honest, I’m not incredibly concerned about the rejection of people I’m not close to. Or concerned at all. Heh, I pretty much assume it, and it doesn’t really phase me. It’s only the people that I truly care about that concern me.  My self-worth is intermingled with the strength of my relationships.  Not that I have relationships, but the strength of them (Epiphany moment. Also, I recognize this as not being completely healthy. Meh.).

Remember when I was hosting my LOTR party and xRoommate said they’d be late and I automatically panicked? To me, this smacks of it. She’s my comfort zone in an arena where I’m not completely comfortable (i.e. in the presence of people I’m not completely comfortable with). Knowing I have one person I can rely on makes everything else easier. When that aspect of safety is removed, it’s like being bludgeoned over the head with uncertainty.  I was able to calm myself down by reminding myself that her reasons for being late weren’t directed at me, it wasn’t a result or an attack towards me, it was just life stuff that she needed to do. But I had to actually talk myself through it. Fortunately I’m getting better and quicker at being able to do this so I didn’t blow up in the moment.

When dealing with someone who has rejection sensitivity, like many if not most of us with BPD, it can be useful to remember that seemingly innocuous actions can be perceived as slights. It is sometimes helpful to stress that something is not a rejection if you sense that someone appears upset by it. 

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