“Yet, in most of the research we reviewed, rejection was associated with higher aggression.”
— Leary, Twenge, Quinlivan (2006)
BIG DISCLAIMER: the theory about to be discussed is by no means representative of all people or all situations. Many people respond to rejection by withdrawing or even placating the rejecter. That said, we can continue.
The Rejection-Aggression Effect suggests that many, indeed possibly most, people respond to rejection by varying manners of aggression. This aggression can be overt or covert, active or passive, and generally a mix of both.
What this understanding does for us is it helps us validate our fear when we do feel rejected. Knowing that anger is the likely result of having been rejected, we can explore our fear, and when we do such a thing openly in the sight of God, the Holy Spirit reveals to us how we might more effectively handle rejection. And resist anger.
The Gargantuan Negative Power In Rejection
William James (1890) was among the first to suggest that rejection in the course of everyday life may precipitate rage:
“If no one turned round when we entered, answered when we spoke, or minded what we did, but if every person we met ‘cut us dead,’ and acted as if we were non-existing things, a kind of rage and impotent despair would ere long well up in us, from which the cruellest bodily torture would be a relief.”
This Rejection-Aggression Effect is so powerful it works in us at an unconscious level. We can very well see, now, how the most pathological of people—those given to having committed the darkest of crimes—have almost certainly been rejected to the level William James suggests.
How could this not cause empathy to well up within our hearts for these?
How can we judge people for their anger, when a great deal of the time their anger may be constructed out of the seedbed of rejection?
What We Can Glean Personally
Having now had a foretaste of what life might be like for those who have never been loved—those who know nothing else but anger—we must now turn to our own anger, for we too have been rejected.
Could it be that God is issuing us a challenge upon knowing this effect?
Suddenly as we recognise our own angry reactions, and the rejections behind them, we experience God’s grace and peace as he lightens our spirit. We are not bad people for getting angry when we got angry because we were hurt. We see anger in a new light, and we are challenged, now, to deal with our anger in different ways.
When we are rejected, we are to see within ourselves the capacity for a Jesus-response. Instead of anger we can virulently forgive. We can do this because we can understand the motive behind another person’s rejection—it’s their fear talking!
Behind most anger, in the dungeons of the soul, is fear.
As we learn to train ourselves to love and not fear, under the Spirit’s guidance, we begin to respond differently to rejection. Whenever we are rejected we offer compassion, to ourselves via the Spirit of God, and to the other who as rejected us. Forgiveness is made easier.
© 2012 S. J. Wickham.