I started writing this post for The Weekly Adoption Shout Out, #WASO, a couple of weeks ago, when the theme was “Rejection”. Unfortunately, due to many things going on at home, some probably created by the evils of rejection, I was unable to finish it in time. I’ve now had the chance to complete it, and therefore felt it was still worth sharing, so here goes…
I remember the time a friend went and asked a boy out for me, or told him I liked him at least. Casually leaning against a wall as I queued for my school dinner, my back-combed fringe flopped into my eyes and the scent of Silverkrin hairspray filled my nostrils. Chin down but eyes coyly keeping tabs on the situation, I could feel the heat in my checks and my heart pounding. Turned out he wasn’t interested, in fact he went as far as saying “No, she looks like a boy”. When told my warm cheeks flushed scarlet and fiery hot, a sickness rose in my throat and my eyes pricked with tears that I tried vehemently to suppress. There it was the bitterness of rejection. I thought I could never feel worse in my life than I did in that moment.
This was one of the many occasions which sprung to my mind when I thought of my own experiences of rejection. There are others, many, I still feel annoyed with the mean woman who sacked me from my Saturday job at Greggs, and I thought my life had ended when I received the letter of refusal from the degree course I so wanted to do. All terrible heart breaking stuff for an angst-riddled adolescent making their way in the world, but I was lucky, I had a safety net. That safety net was my family, each time I fell into the great big hole of shame, which rejection brings, they would be there to catch me.
I can almost feel the warm palm of my mum’s hand rubbing my back as I sob into my pillow. The reassuring sound in her voice as she tells me “I know it feels terrible now, but you will get through”. A tight warm embrace from my mum or dad and things really did have the possibility of coming right in the world. The hurt would fade and confidence would be rekindled and onwards I would forge with my life.
When I look at my two adopted boys it really does pain me to think of their experiences of rejection. No doubt there were times in my early life when I felt rejection, but the painful ones I recall are all from a time when I’m striving forward for independence and rejection is just one of those stepping stones you take to maturity. For my two boys rejection was a reality from the day they were born.
I’ve recently attended a number of events, where the mechanics of the brain in a child that suffers neglect has been discussed. I know it; I’ve heard it before and read it numerous times, but, each time it’s before me, without fail my heart drops into a pit of sadness. The fact that a neglected child feels rejection day in day out, for some it will be from hour to hour, and it starts in those early formative days of their lives, the enormity of this is hard to comprehend. These early life experiences literally prevent development within the brain.
A baby will cry when they need something, primary needs, food, water, warmth. Feed the baby, cuddle the baby, look into their eyes, show your face to them and the love in your smile, cradle them whilst they sleep and the baby feels contented.
What if, when that baby cries, no one comes, the parent rejects their needs? Maybe they cry a little more and a little more, but still no response, so what is this baby left with? Instantly I am reminded of my own scarlet cheeks, feeling of sickness and the desire to cry and a feeling of shame. Imagine what shame must feel like for a small baby? Imagine the scenario repeated daily, maybe mum feeds when she can or wants to, maybe changes the baby once in that day, maybe holds and cuddles the baby for a short while, but let’s just say that the majority of the time she doesn’t. Just imagine how many times a day that small baby feels rejected.
This is what we know as a “Disturbed Attachment Cycle” and where as in the healthy version of this cycle, trust develops between the baby, its parent and the world around them, for the neglected baby there is no trust, instead rage and shame are nurtured and grow. Neglected children often start life feeling unloved, for them there is no building of trust and no family safety net. They do not see the world as a safe place where you know that someone who loves you has got your back. These children look to themselves for cover, they rely on themselves, they only need themselves, for them no one has proved themselves capable of being there for them, and so self preservation is the only way to ensure survival. This is the default setting for the brain.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember all this as one of my boys rages, destroys and attacks in a fit of shame and hurt. Something small, a look of disapproval, a seemingly negative comment or a cross sounding voice, maybe it is from a child in the playground, a teacher or even me, asking them to wait whilst I complete a task. Sometimes you can see the trigger and understand it, other times it’s an unknown element that catapults them into a state of anger and fear. What I can be certain of is that somewhere in the cocktail of emotions that contributes to this outburst, rejection is playing its part.
It has helped to think about my own experiences of rejection, another step to understanding a small piece of the enormous puzzle which is living with, supporting and healing children with developmental trauma. It’s also the realisation that rejection is part and parcel of everyone’s life, there is no avoiding it, and I can’t protect my boys from the experience of rejection. The aim is to strengthen their belief in themselves, grow their self esteem and also the trust in those whom support them. Ultimately to ensure rejection doesn’t lead to them giving up and doubting the possibilities that life has to offer. Happily, my own life is testament to this; I ended up marrying the young man who said I looked like a boy.
To read more posts on the theme Rejection please click here.