A metaphor for rejection

Belonging In the World Around Us

Our need to belong, the need to be a part of something, feeling accepted, most people may agree has an impact on our feelings of self-worth and identity.

Freud created the concept of the superego. The superego is the part of us that develops as we grow maturer and move on from our narcissistic self-love, we have as infants, to becoming aware of our place amongst many and in the world around us. To belong and feel accepted we have to follow rules, acceptable ways of being that others require from us. In other words, in order to be accepted at some point, it becomes clear we have to at times conform. Kahn(2002, Basic Freud, p26) sums up the superego clearly by highlighting that it is this part of our mind that has taken on the prohibits and standards of our parents and society.

Carl Rogers I feel adds further thoughts on the superego in his concept of conditions of worth, which we form as a child as a result of our coming to make sense of our parent's acceptance of disapproval of us. These often implicit messages of approval or disapproval we receive from our primary carers, usually, our parents when we are very little, forms eventually what he terms as our self-structure, our solid understanding of ourselves in the world around us. Not only does this form part of our personality and identity but Rogers (1951, Client Centered Therapy, p501) points out that not only does this become part of our psyche but we find ways of sustaining our perception of our worldview. Rogers states “ the self which is formed on the basis of distorting the sensory and visceral evidence to fit the already present structure acquires an organisation and integration which the individual endeavours to preserve.” Once we have formed this self-structure we have a clear set of ways to behave in our life which can protect us from the dreaded possibility of rejection, because rejection is painful.

The Door Ajar

I pondered on this more, on how so much of our own psychological makeup is driven, and eventually moulded by the need to avoid rejection, stay safe and accepted in the world around us. As I reflected over this a clear metaphor emerged in my mind. The metaphor of an open or closed door. As I felt this metaphor and the visual image and feelings it raised in me, I saw the door ajar, sort of offering either an acceptance or maybe not. When a door is ajar it is suggesting it’s open to acceptance, but it reveals little more than this. When a door is ajar it does not offer open embraces to enter the next room but it also does not make it clear that what is beyond is off limits. In fact, when a door is ajar it can be quite inviting, maybe even inciting to all that view it ‘ is this room going to be for me? Do I fit with it? Will it accept me’? It is the open or closed door, now ajar, that will be the messenger of this acceptance or rejection.
So what happens to us, in our feeling of ourselves, when we reach that door, make our desire clear to open it, to be accepted? What happens if the door ajar then just won’t budge? Do we push maybe again to see if we were right, to check that it really is closed to us? It is only then maybe that the feeling comes flooding in. In my thoughts of this metaphor or the door ajar I felt that sense of myself up against the door. Maybe people will react at this point differently. Some people may just turn away, maybe confused, checking themselves.Others may get angry and kick the door. For some, more diplomatic, they may even go on to ask if they can be let in, risking maybe further rejection if the answer is no.


One key helping concept in relation to rejection, I feel, is the concept of resilience in life. When we go for that job, voicing our own views or stating our case against adversity we will have to face that door that is ajar at some point. It is inevitable that we will also, at times in our life, discover that it won’t open specifically for us and even more painfully come to witness sometimes that it will open for others, ouch! This can hurt.
It can make people feel confused, beg and kick. How many people though will go away, come back later and try another door ajar? How many people will consider after receiving this painful rejection in life, whatever form it takes, to give things another go, another try, maybe the same door later on or a different door altogether. For this to happen the concept of the closed door, the rejection has to move beyond the overwhelming fear that can take someone to a place of avoidance.
After experiencing rejection, our ability to find resilience can be a key factor in overcoming the painful knocks in life. Schore developed the concept of affect regulation, which is the ability for an individual to regulate the state of their body (Schore, Hill, Affect Regulation Theory: A Clinical Model, p27). In this concept, he highlights the importance of resilience, the ability for an individual to adapt and recover their functioning after experiencing external stressful situations. Everyone will experience moments of dysregulation in everyday life, this is normal, however significant inability to regulate ourselves, our ability to bring ourselves back to normal functioning after the effects of an experience, which Schore terms as affect tolerance, and resilience are important in terms of determining whether an individual has the capacity to adapt in life. The concept of the ‘window of tolerance’ explains how we all have a level where we can function well and be adaptive to the effects we encounter. However, if we experience stressful situations that take us beyond our window of tolerance then dysregulation for an individual can happen, it is this dysregulation that Schore identifies as being present in all developmental psychological disorders (Schore, Hill, Affect Regulation Theory: A Clinical Model, p2).

Rogers also developed the concept of organismic valuing, where over time, if we discover ourselves, learn to accept our true selves, we come to trust in our capacity to be who we really are in life and to believe in ourselves and our potential ability to succeed. However, for this to happen we do need resilience. At some point, if we have resilience, it is likely that the door ajar will turn to a door open, This, however, I feel, also means coming to find a place to believe in a part of ourselves. This maybe means remembering that we can value ourself and that as well as doors that are clearly shut for us at times, there will be doors that do open for each and every one of us at different times or in different circumstances. If we remember to call upon our ability to be resilient and allow ourselves to persevere then we may be more likely to discover these doors that open for us.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Brighton, East Sussex, BN1
Written by Penny Wright, Registered MBACP
Brighton, East Sussex, BN1

My name is Penny. I am an integrative counsellor (Registered MBACP) with a friendly and gentle manner. I can draw upon a wide range of therapeutic tools as an integrative counsellor. This can help you with the issues you wish to work through in counselling in a way that truly is geared to your very personal needs.

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