Ask the Therapist Column

Question: “I noticed recently that if someone doesn’t answer my text right away or doesn’t take me up on my invitations, I feel so dejected and lonely.  I know my friends love me, and I think I am a fairly confident person, so why do I take it so personally and how can I overcome it?”

Dear Reader, 

The fact that you have such an insight, first and foremost, is brilliant.  It shows that you have increased awareness of your body and mind that allows you to see the dissonance between what you are feeling and what is really happening.  You are also not alone in this experience.  These triggers are common in most people, no matter their upbringing.  Some believe that perhaps it goes back all the way to our birth experience, being pushed out of the warm, safe womb into a big and wild world!  Other life experiences, of course, can make these triggers even more challenging for some.  

 Trauma and loss can make people feel less secure in the world at large and ultimately within themselves.  When we have experienced various little “t” and big “T” traumas, it can leave us subconsciously questioning our worthiness and we often take it personally.  For example, “If I was a better person, bad things wouldn’t happen to me.”  This kind of narrative or stories similar to this, may be playing the background of someone’s subconscious, especially people who have experienced early childhood wounding, trauma, or complicated loss in their life.  

This, in itself, may drive the fear of rejection or abandonment in someone and leave them to be more hypervigilant to the potential of being rejected.  This, too, would then make it very challenging for someone to experience hearing a “no” or make them more anxious if someone wasn’t getting back to them, because the fear and shame that comes from feeling that level of abandonment and rejection feels too great to bear.  The parts within us then want to make up a lot of stories, some projecting inward (self-blame and shame) and/or outward (judging and blaming others).  We do this to make sense of it and try to protect ourselves from the hurt of not getting what we feel like we need in the moment.  

Let’s move onto how to start working with the feelings and behaviors that arise when one has felt rejected or abandoned. It is especially important to remember that the truth of the situation does not actually warrant the stories and feelings playing through your body and your mind.  

In the somatic world, there is a term to describe when our body has paired a current experience with what feels like a similar experience of the past.  Let’s say you have some painful past experience with rejection.  Maybe you were bullied and left out in middle school, or you perceived that your mom doted on your brother more than you, or perhaps a parent died at a young age (there are many ways we can experience painful rejection throughout our life that could lead us to want to avoid it later on in life.  We are relating beings and our brains are hardwired for connection.  Belonging is vital for all of us so it makes sense it has a bigger “ring” to it in our systems when we feel rejected.)  

That pain of the original experience of rejection gets stored in the body.  When you experience something that might look similar in the future (like receiving a “no” to a request) it can drum up the feelings from the past rejection.  Even though they are entirely different scenarios, and you hold a much larger capacity to hold rejection than you did in the past.  This is called “coupling”.  

Kimberly Johnson, a somatic embodiment teacher, defines coupling as: “when channels get fused together and the association becomes so strong that you cannot perceive the individual channels.  Your nervous system might couple a place with danger, or a movement or look or other sensory input (like hearing a “no”).”

What might be happening in your situation is the current experience is coupled in your body with the past experience of rejection. One of the ways we begin to heal is by “uncoupling” them in your body.  This is a process that requires somatic understanding and awareness of the body in the present moment.  This is best done, first, with someone who can guide the process (often a somatic coach, therapist, or movement person). You can begin to explore it just by simply noticing what is happening in your body as it is – without the story.  

You can start with the acronym TIMES (THOUGHT, SENSATION, IMAGE, MOVEMENT, EMOTION, SENSATION) to take note of what you are experiencing in your body when triggered and just acknowledge them as sensations and experiences in the moment. They do not have to be related to the current situation.  You can separate the story from the sensations in the body by naming what is happening and just acknowledging that as pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.  

Once you have done that, allowing the body to have the experience without reinforcing it with a story, it can settle into the present moment.  Here we let the whole body come online, not just the thoughts in the mind.  We can arrive here in this moment, rather than being pulled back into our past.  One of my favorite sayings is from Codependency Anonymous, “If it is hysterical, it’s likely historical.”

If you are curious in learning more on the uncoupling process, you can connect with me through email below.  Otherwise, this is a great first start on healing from the past. You are doing great!

All my love, 


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