When we feel the blow of major rejection — like the unfaithfulness of a mate, the wound of a family member, or the betrayal of a close friend — we may wonder if we will ever find someone who will love us again.
In an emotional trauma, we try to make sense of our pain. There’s a constant drive to understand and explain why this agony is happening. During this time we can be tempted to respond to rejection in unhealthy ways. We can develop a contempt for ourselves, a contempt for others, a contempt for God, or a combination of all three.
In self-contempt, we take the full responsibility for the failure of the relationship. We wonder, What is it about me that causes people to leave me? We doubt our value as a person, and everything about us is called into question. Doubts of our ability to maintain a loving relationship trouble us. We think, They must have seen something so repulsive in me that no one can love me. Facing the rejection of a spouse, for example, can be especially difficult when you see other couples staying together through devastating experiences. We wonder why our own relationship could not stand the test of trials.
Contempt for others is another response we might use to try and make some sense of our pain. It holds others as fully responsible for the dynamics in the relationship. We view them as evil. We write them off with, “It’s all their fault.” Or we might put distance between others and ourselves and view them with contempt. We avoid close relationships because we believe that no one can be trusted.
Contempt for God blames Him for our pain. We reason that if He is in control of our lives and He loves us, why didn’t He protect us from this heart-breaking experience? Those who have been rejected and abused by their parents as children, in particular, can tend to blame an all-powerful God for their suffering. Rejection and loss causes us to doubt that God loves us because we are angry with Him for not protecting us and allowing it to happen.
At first, contempt for ourselves, others, and God works for us. It helps us maintain the facade that we have everything under control because we have “explained” the reason for the pain. We can now go on with our lives, fixing what we can about ourselves and keeping everyone (including God) at a distance. This drive to control our world is so strong that we would rather hate ourselves (self-contempt) than be faced with the fact that we are not in control and that we may be hurt again.
What sounds good about contempt is that it does not require facing additional pain. It avoids grieving losses. It sedates the heart and it keeps others from getting too close. That sounds inviting to a hurting person, but if we nurture contempt, it will lead to depression, loneliness, and bitterness.
We are desperately afraid, because to love again we must risk being vulnerable and admit that we do care, no matter how hard we try to numb our hearts. When we are at the end of our rope and we begin to realize that contempt no longer works for us, we can choose a better way of dealing with life. Letting others get close to us and learning to trust again leads us through the process of grief. For a person who has been hurt, grieving may sound like a sadistic choice. But grief will lead us down the path to restoring our faith, embracing hope, and opening ourselves up to love.
Grieving is important because it provokes us to cry out to God, and thereby to open ourselves to His healing ( Psalm 34:17 ). He is ultimately the One who can give us comfort and protection ( Psalm 61:3; Matthew 5:4 ). When we grieve, we face the truth that we have been deeply hurt and there is something lacking. There is a hole in our hearts that hurts terribly.
It may not feel like it at first, but healing begins when we face the sadness and disappointment of the loss of our hopes and dreams. We tend to avoid our feelings (i.e. deep sadness) because we are afraid that they will consume us, that we will never find comfort. But if we act in faith and “throw ourselves” on the Lord in dependence and cry out to Him, He will be the rock that saves us from the overwhelming waves of pain ( Psalm 34:18 ). God’s comfort gives us hope — hope for a brighter future and for love again. Life without hope is not worth living. Scripture says that God will fill us with hope ( Romans 15:13 ). It also recognizes the vitality and necessity of hope (Psalm 119:116; 147:11 ).
The process of growth is difficult because it engages us in an agonizing battle between faith and doubt. When doubt begins to get the best of us, we will be tempted to give up. Contempt will seduce us as we fight through intense emotion and questions. Ironically, resisting contempt and entering into this dark valley of emotion is when we can begin to see our faith deepen.
When we see our faith deepen and we are reminded of how God is working in our lives, hope grows. Hope gives us the motivation to love, which is the most important element in the believer’s life ( Matthew 22:37-40; 1 Corinthians 13:13 ). Love will open our hearts to hear the truth about our strengths and shortcomings ( 1 Corinthians 13:6 ). Love will soften our hearts for others, cultivate forgiveness, and help us face the beams in our own eyes before we look at the specks in the eyes of our brothers or sisters ( Matthew 7:3-5 ).
We can’t fight this battle alone. We need to talk to strong Christian friends who can remind us of the truth of God’s love for us. It’s important to have friends who will give us freedom and support as we grapple with our doubts and fierce emotion. We may need to seek the help of a good biblical counselor during this rough time. And filling our minds with the truth of God’s Word will strengthen us. Meditating on Scripture will equip us and cause our faith to grow.
Unhealthy responses to the pain of rejection inhibit a life of joy, peace, and love. But responding to rejection in a healthy manner, by honestly grieving and crying out to God, can strengthen our character, deepen our faith, and allow God to change and heal our hearts. We can learn to embrace a hopeful vision that God is up to something good in our lives, even in the midst of heart-breaking rejection ( Romans 8:28 ).