I did not always have a fear of not being loved or accepted. Even when I was ten years old and classmates were calling me ugly for my dark skin and making fun of my accent, I took it all in stride because my weekends were filled with other Nigerian kids who looked and sounded like me. And they made room for me in their hearts. I was accepted and loved, even if it was not at school.
No, rejection did not become a fear that could deter me from reaching out to others until my first instance of abuse. I knew my way of looking at the world shifted at the age of eleven, but I did not realize that the trauma had changed my very personality and would not let me go for the next two decades of my life. Although trauma kept me quiet as a child and a teenager, I knew that I was too “broken” to be loved fully. I began hiding key aspects of myself from the people who loved me. They could have the acceptable parts of me. I was more than willing to show them my sense of humor, my love for cooking and even my creativity with words. But the parts of me that had been informed by trauma – my overwhelming sense of inadequacy, my secret competition with any other woman who had the audacity to be prettier, my jealousy of anyone who had what i didn’t – those things had to stay well-hidden. Behind the bravado and the constant boasting of how well life was treating me, I trembled with fear that anyone who see the “real” me.
When a long time friend told me that what she heard about me made it impossible for us to continue to be friends, my worst fear was realized. To be fully known was to be instantly rejected. I never knew what she heard that left such an impression but from then on my guard went higher. Eventually as I came to Christ, I learned to find my worth in what God says I am rather than the opinion of men. But I did not realize that I was still allowing my traumas to dictate my response to others. Even as I made the effort to cultivate authentic relationships with others (especially other women), my response when people do not accept the friendship I offer has always been over the top.
When someone rejected me, i would simply pivot. I was able to accept that God had a plan for me that did not include whoever was not willing to play a role in my life. The initial rejection always stung but I could move past it by reminding myself that I had plenty of others who saw my worth. I took comfort in the unwavering presence of God in my life and invested my energy into deepening the relationships I already had. But I did not realize that I was only able to pivot away from new people. I had no tools to deal with the rejection of those that once loved me.
The second time a friend rejected me rocked my foundations. After six years and hundreds of hours invested in our sisterhood, the words “everyone warned me about you and I should have listened” brought all the trauma I had accumulated over twenty-eight years to a head. Here was more proof that to be fully known was to be ultimately rejected. It took everything in me not to go back to the comfort of hypocrisy – if I did not let anyone see the real me then the only thing they had to reject was a persona. I was free to be my messiest self behind closed doors. But hypocrisy had served me badly before I came to Christ and I remembered the pain of trying to live two lives. I could not go back.
Rejection seems to rear its head in two consistent area of my life. I am either afraid to follow a passion that I know God has given me because someone I trusted rejected my gift. Or I am afraid to open up to people I love because someone I loved pushed me away for being vulnerable. I am only just now realizing how heavy the weight of rejection has been over me. Rejection kept me from going back into the workforce for ten years. Rejection kept me from owning the stories and books I wrote because I decided it was safer to print them without my name on it. Rejection kept me from re-embracing the people that have broken my heart because the risk of being pushed away was higher with someone who had already done it before. Rejection kept me from asking my husband for help because him saying no would be confirmation that I was not deserving of his help. Rejection keeps me from seeking certain connections with other women because it is constantly whispering that I am not good enough for them.
Rejection and the fear of it is a thief and a liar. Even as I unpack my journey with a licensed therapist, I am committed to not allowing rejection to steal any more than it has from me and I pray the same for you as well. In anyway that the weight of rejection has been leaning on your relationships and your view of yourself, may Christ be the healing and difference-maker in your situation. And it is okay to have Jesus and a therapist. I highly recommend both.
Till we meet again.
A Nigerian who found beauty (and acceptance) in Christ.