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One of the greatest gifts parents can give their children as they grow up is a sense of being wanted and accepted. This gives them the environment in which they can develop in every way to their maximum potential. But unfortunately a large number of people grow up without this blessing, and suffer inwardly from a sense of being unwanted or rejected by people around them. The worst impact is when rejection takes place in the early part of childhood, even though later events can also cause serious damage to one's personality. Many people who have suffered rejection withdraw from others and limit their initiative or interaction. Many others react the other way, and resort to different forms of aggressive behaviour just to get attention to themselves.
Whether the behaviour is of the passive and inactive type or aggressive, the root cause is the same--rejection. It can also be that even those who appear to be generally successful in many ways suffer inwardly from carrying a sense of rejection from the past, and this limits them from reaching their best potential. So in general it is good for all of us to look back at our lives and see if there have been instances where we felt rejection and whether we have got over them. If we find some such chains, then we can take steps to break free from them and run forward freely.
It is also good for parents who read this to take care to instill into their children a sense of being wanted and accepted. Perhaps you may also need to help one of your children who has already faced rejection from any source to get back to a sense of acceptance.
Common causes of rejection
A sense of rejection can come from real incidents that cause it, and also from incidents that we have wrongly perceived and interpreted to be such. The effect is the same on the mind of the sufferer. Recognising how the sense of rejection started helps us to realise that what we have believed about ourselves is not true. But sometimes the perception in such cases is also so deep rooted that we would need to go through some definite steps in order to shake ourselves free. Here we will look at some of the common things that generate feelings of rejection.
From parents at birth. Rejection can happen right after conception! If your conception was unexpected by your parents their immediate reaction may have been one of shock or disdain. This usually happens if they were not married, or the father or mother had other plans and were not prepared for a pregnancy at that time. Thankfully they decide to continue for the pregnancy, but the whole thing is being viewed as an unwanted interruption into their lives, rather than the joyful acceptance the child deserves. A passing thought like this is unlikely to affect the child. But a strong and continued sense of rejection may get transmitted to the child through feelings, attitudes, words and behaviour of the mother, even when he is still in the womb. Research seems to show that by the end of the first trimester the baby can somehow 'sense' that rejection from his mother through her emotions even while in the womb (even though he cannot put it into words or understand exactly what is going on). It may also be that someone told the child after birth that this was what his parents felt when he was conceived.
Several forms of rejecting responses can face a baby right from when he is born, instead of the joyful welcome he needs. Perhaps the parents wanted a boy, and this one was a girl, or vice versa. Perhaps some of the baby's features are 'undesirable'. Perhaps there is some deformity, or there may be some onlookers who plant suspicions about the baby's parentage. All such things add up to the mother, father and other caregivers at this time treating the baby as a somewhat unwelcome element in that home. Imagine what this kind of deal can do to the baby's emotional, psychological and even physical development as he grows up.
It is a well attested fact that babies who receive physical care such as milk, change of nappies, wash, etc., but who are not given the 'stimulation' that babies normally get from loving mothers such as caressing, cooing to, carrying, hugging, kissing, etc., get retarded even in achieving their developmental milestones. Of course the babies are not in a position to understand the difficulties their parents may be facing and make allowances for such pressures. They just 'feel' unwanted. What a cruel reception into this strange world!
From home, school and friends. Many problems in teenage years can be traced to homes where the children were not loved, shown affection to or made to feel important and valued as individuals. Children grown up in insecurity and confusion if what they see is father and mother quarelling often or violently. Some foolish parents show favouritism among their children, and compare some of them unfavourably with others. A common question some children face is, "Why can't you be like your brother/sister?" Parents may, in moments of fury or desperation, can tell their children, "You worthless creature! You will never be anything in this world!" Unfortunately the children receive these as statements of truth, because they are unable to reason their way through it. From then onwanrds they consider themselves to be useless and insignificant. Some of these children lose all their self-esteem and end up as passive people without any initiative. Some others set out to prove to themselves and to the others that they cannot be ignored, in violent or hurtful ways. This second group of children want attention at any cost, and if they can't get it in socially acceptable ways, they will seek it in some way that forces attention on them!
Other children in school or neighbourhood can actually turn out to be 'cruel' in the way they single out, make fun of and 'trample' children with some deformity or disability. This can have a major impact on the victims who would either turn away from social interactions altogether or turn into bullies themselves.
Some teachers who should have played a major role in shaping the personalities of the children in their class may be actually sadistic thrill seekers who turn some helpless child into an object of ridicule. Sometimes children are singled out by the teacher and made fun of. Some teachers may say, "You are useless," without any thought to the extensive damage this can cause to the child. Sometimes children get punished for someone else's crimes. Racial or communal slurs or discrimination can also play a role in hurting innocent children.
Perceptions of rejection can also get fixed to a child's mind due to wrong interpretations of events. If parents are fighting between themselves and they show their anger on the children at that time, the children may interpret that as lack of love for them or that something is wrong with them. This type of impact is maximum for children whose parents have gone through divorce. Another common occurrence is when parents have not been able to keep their promises to the children for a gift or picnic because of unexpected work load on the parents, which the children may interpret as lack of love for them (unless the parents take extra trouble to explain matters to them or to show them affection). When a younger child is born in the family and the parents' attention gets transferred to the new baby, the older children may feel neglected. One child in a family gets attention because of sickness while the other children feel jealous! Here the problem is not directly with the parents but with the inability of the children to make sense out of what is happening, and such things can be rectified then and there if the parents are discerning.
Abuse. Abuse in any form -- emotional, verbal, physical, sexual -- can cause lasting damage especially if it takes place during the developing stages of childhood. Such experiences can drastically distort their outlook on life and people, and children who watch abusive parents many times turn out to be abusive parents themselves. Basically they get deprived of the affection and the understanding support they should have received from their caregivers, and get oriented negatively to life in general and society in their interactions. They may find it difficult to trust anyone, or may become suspicious towards all. Some may hit back at others even without provocation. Children who get sexually abused are unable to understand what it means, and some of them become unable to relate to the opposite gender and others become promiscuous. A lot of homosexual behaviour has originated from abuse as a result of confusion in the child's mind.
Death of loved one or pet during childhood. This creates, not rejection as such but a sudden removal of a source of acceptance. Some such children feel abandoned, perhaps thinking that God Himself has left them. It can be difficult for them to find acceptance from other people.
Others. All of us would have experienced other forms of rejection such as from friends, family, different groups of people, churches, organisations, etc., whether it was the result of our faults, or prejudice, misunderstanding, bias, etc., on their part. Break up of relationships whether it is a close friendship or marriage can also result in a feeling of rejection or abandonment. It takes honesty and courage to face up to our own mistakes and to set things right with the others. But in cases where we are rejected because of others' faults, usually it becomes impractical to clarify things with them and set the records straight. In such cases what we can do is to seek to come to a place of stability ourselves in our relationship with God, and to 'leave' the others aside without allowing them to keep us under bondage.
God has made us human beings with such great resilience built into us that many of us may come out of such experiences without too much of a scar. Therefore it is not that everyone who has had such experiences is suffering from serious damage. On the other hand, there are many who are suffering because of unhealed wounds from the past. Many who have learned to hide their scars from others are still suffering inside with the result that they are unable to be everything that God has created them to be. In other words, they are living and performing below their full God-given potential.
The healing process
Psychiatric medication can help in dealing with some of the symptoms, and psychotherapy in identifying and dealing with the root causes. But none of these can bring the ultimate level of healing that can come only from God. Jesus came down to this earth to make us -- unacceptable sinners -- acceptable to God. Jesus took our sin on Himself and suffered death on our behalf, and now He gives us cleansing from sin and acceptance before God. The assurance of being accepted by God enables us to accept ourselves. Then comes the stage of becoming able to accept others just the way they are. We are now OK with ourselves (even though we are far from being perfect) and we are also OK with the others (even though we are very much aware of their lacks). This provides us such a stable level of acceptance that we can handle future experiences of rejection too without getting shaken too much.
The futility of trying to please God
Through the ages men have tried to appease their gods or to find acceptance with them through offerings, sacrifices, self-denial, abstinences, pilgrimages, good works, etc. It may be summarised as man's attempt to reach up to God by somehow qualifying for God's acceptance. Even though some religions have brought down the level of requirement of attaining to God's acceptance to a few simple steps, the fact remains that nobody can be really certain that he has reached that level. A gnawing doubt still remains whether he is "finally going to make it" or not. This results in death becoming the ultimate fear.
In terms of Biblical language, all such attempts can be referred to as trying to obtain salvation through some works or other. The Bible concludes this discussion with a categorical statement that no one can be accepted by trying to keep a law of requirements (Rom.3:20). It would appear from this that since there is no way any of us can do anything to make ourselves acceptable to God, it would ultimately be a hopeless exercise to follow any religion, because every religion tells us to do certain things and to avoid certain things in order to please God. Surprisingly the religion of the Jews which is taught in the Old Testament of the Bible also falls into this category! (In fact, when God made the Law in the Old Testament and asked the people of Israel to follow it, He was actually trying to demonstrate to mankind that no one will be able to keep the Law entirely. And then He came up with the New Covenant of grace.)
This is the point -- where we recognise that there is nothing we can do to make ourselves acceptable to God -- at which Jesus comes into a man's experience with the offer of new hope. He offers us the only way of salvation from God's side from an entirely different perspective and in a way that is completely contrary to man's natural thinking -- the way of grace.
Acceptance through grace
Grace, in this context, refers to an undeserved favour from God towards us. Since none of us can do anything to qualify ourselves for acceptance by God, God offers acceptance as a free gift to anyone who wants it. Since it is impossible for us to earn that acceptance in any way, it becomes inevitable that if man is to be accepted by God, then God Himself has to do it for man. This is the uniqueness of the salvation brought by God through Jesus. Now we can understand why Jesus is really the only way to God (Jn.14:6;Acts.4:12).
This acceptance is not based on our goodness or our reaching some level of qualification. God says that He accepts us who still have sin in us and who are very much imperfect as those who are righteous in His sight (Rom.4:5), because when we go to God in faith He washes us with the blood of Jesus that makes us white as snow. In a sense, this offer of grace may appear to be too fantastic to believe, and therefore many people reject it. They allege that free grace is 'too cheap' to be sensible, and they would like to think that God should recognise and acknowledge what some people achieve through their rigorous efforts! But what they do not realise is that whatever 'heights' some people may reach, no one can ever reach the heights of God's holy and perfect standards. Even if, hypothetically speaking, someone were to become really 'perfect' now after years of struggle -- which no one can in reality -- he is still unable to deal with the demands of justice against all the sins of his past. No. True acceptance can only come as a gift of mercy from God.
God is perfectly merciful and loving, and would like to forgive everyone every wrong thing they have done. But His justice and righteousness would not permit that kind of whimsical forgiveness. Justice demands that sin should be punished. Now we can understand how the cross on which Jesus died is the complete answer to everything concerning sin. The love and mercy of God meet the justice and righteousness of God on the cross. Jesus, the Son of God who came to earth as a Man and lived a completely perfect life here, took the punishment for the sins of the whole world, thereby demonstrating God's love for mankind (1Jn.2:2). Now man can be forgiven when he goes to God claiming it on the basis of Jesus already having taken his punishment on the cross. This is the essence of the 'gospel' -- good news -- that Jesus brought.
Since acceptance through grace is a 'free gift' it means that there are no qualifications we much achieve before we can receive it. Also, -- this is important to understand -- God accepts us just as we are, with all our past of sin, and our present weaknesses, flaws and imperfections. He does not tell us to first go and clean up our life before we can go to Him. The scars and disfigurements of the past do not prevent us from being accepted. The distortions in our thinking or behaviour that we may have now as a result of our past experiences are also no hindrance for God to come to us with His salvation. What He does is to accept us just as we are, and to start a work in us to transform our lives little by little, and even make us a blessing to others. In terms of Biblical language, God 'justifies' those who come to Him and counts them acceptable to Him by 'imputing' Jesus' righteousness to them, 'sanctifies' them by transforming them little by little into the nature of Christ, and finally 'glorifies' them by giving them a sinless body when they die and are taken to heaven. He explains that His love is everlasting (Jer.31:3), that His mercy endures forever (Ps.23:6) and that He will never leave or forsake us (Heb.13:5).
The blessings of this acceptance by God are simply marvellous! To experience this kind of total and unconditional acceptance is a life changing experience for those who have experienced different types of rejection and abandonment in their lives. For the first time they can 'feel' accepted and experience a sense of belonging as never before. This gives them boldness to face life no matter how other people look at them or treat them, because God Himself has accepted them. They do not have to live in fear of what people might think of them if they came to know their secrets, because here is God who knows them completely and loves them just as if none of those 'secrets' was there at all! These are not thought manipulations as some might assume, but the result of a supernatural work done by God in people's heart when they receive His grace.
Though Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, it is clear that not everyone in the world receives forgiveness for their sins and finds acceptance with God as a result. This is because we have to go to God in a certain way in order to receive this gift of acceptance.Acknowledgment. Those who go to God in order to receive this gift of grace must first acknowledge in their heart that they cannot make it to God in any other way than through His undeserved favour (Mt.5:3). In other words, they must realise that God is offering them an acceptance which they do not deserve.
Faith in Jesus. They must believe that the reason Jesus died was for the punishment of their sins and that because He has died in their place now they can find acceptance from God.
Both these have to do more with the attitude in one's heart than with the extent of theological knowledge. God receives everyone who comes to Him as a needy person who places his trust in Jesus. Theological understanding can come later. There are many with a lot of theological understanding on these things who have not been really accepted by God because their heart is not right with Him. On the contrary God accepts everyone who comes to Him through Jesus in honesty, sincerity and self-acknowledgment (Jn.6:37).
Those who have gone through experiences of rejection find it difficult to 'accept themselves' because they are overwhelmed by feelings of inadequacy or fear of future rejection. But when we realise that God showers His love upon us and has accepted us just as we are without conditions, we can accept ourselves as we are. Of course God will continue to change our lives to become more like His, but we are always acceptable to Him as His children. Even when we see many lacks or faults in us, and we continually seek God to make us more like Him, we can be bold knowing that God has accepted us entirely.
Many times a tendency to keep finding fault with others is because of a sense of insecurity about ourselves. We may be unconsciously trying to find satisfaction from thinking that others too have faults, thereby trying to avoid the pain of looking at our own faults. But when we realise that God has forgiven us freely, and accepted us even though there are hundreds of things in us that are still unacceptable to Him now, we can begin to show that same kind of acceptance towards the others. We are not trying to force ourselves to pretend that the others have no faults, but learning to accept them with their faults.
If you are struggling with your sense of rejection, come to God through Jesus and find deliverance. He will transform your life just as He has already done for countless number of people all around the world. From the foundation of having been accepted by God, you can work out your new attitude of accepting yourself and others. Some practical steps that can help in this process are given in my article "An exercise for spiritual healing."
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