Rejection Therapy Regrets
That time I was practicing "rejection therapy" and forced myself to send a stupid message to an old high school classmate, who is now maybe my neighbor
Hellooo. Today I bring to you a free post about something mortifying that I did 7 years ago — something I just remembered this week.
(Yes, last week I said I would talk about ‘health resilience,’ after writing a whole post about how I thought I was falling apart from mold and lyme disease, and I will eventually. But as I also said, it’s kind of a beast to put together. So… all in due time.)
So let me tell today’s story instead.
Back around 2015, when I was still living in NYC and still trying to get over my extreme audition anxiety, I stumbled across something called Rejection Therapy.
I have no idea how I found it, but the purpose of rejection therapy was to get you comfortable with rejection. Lowering the stakes on rejection, in every aspect of your life, so you could stop overthinking things, and worrying about what would happen if people didn’t like you, or didn’t want what you were offering, or didn’t want to give you what you were asking for.
It was supposed to help people with their confidence in business, sales, dating… and just general life confidence. And I thought… wow, this will surely help me with my debilitating shakiness when I walk into these Broadway auditions. I just need to get my entire body and soul 100% comfortable with rejection. My problem was generally not lack of talent or lack of preparedness, it was just… irrational nerves. A nervous system response that my brain didn’t even agree with. It didn’t matter how low-stakes I knew the audition was: my body reacted violently. So, I figured that I need to somehow… train my body to think that rejection was no big deal.
Back then, 7ish years ago, Rejection Therapy was a blog (not a book, yet). And rejection therapy suggested that we all take little actions, every day, that would purposely put us in a position where we would probably be rejected. For example: asking to borrow $100 from a stranger. They’ll probably say no. They’ll probably think you’re a lunatic. But just being willing to do the act alone, and get rejected, would get you more comfortable with doing things, and asking for things, that people might not understand, or agree to… With the goal that, when you actually had something that you wanted or needed, either in business or life, you would go for it. You wouldn’t stop yourself anymore over your fear of what people might think.
Honestly, it’s a great idea. Except that the things they expect you to actually do each day to practice being rejected … are mortifying. Here is a list of 100 different things they suggest doing. And they suggest doing one a day. Some examples: asking a store manager if you can make an announcement on their store speaker. Asking if you can play soccer in someone’s backyard. Asking a store if you can be a live mannequin for them. The WHOLE idea, is that the likelihood of any of these people saying yes is astronomically low. The point is not to get them to agree to it, the point is becoming comfortable asking for things even if the answer will be no, and being totally ok with the rejection.
It’s a brilliant idea, in theory.
When I looked at the list of things they suggested we do in order to get comfortable with rejection, it made be EXTREMELY uncomfortable. So, part of me thought… I guess I have to do this. I guess I have to push through my fear. If I EVER want to get over my audition anxiety… I have to practice rejection therapy.
Problem is… I really hate making people uncomfortable. I hate pranks. I hate those shows where people go up to people acting all ridiculous just to film their reaction. I hate it because I have something that I have described as: debilitating empathy. I know that sounds like I’m patting myself on the back, but I’m not. It’s a problem. I care too much about what (I assume) people think or feel. I care too much about putting people out. I still feel bad for waiters if I don’t like or eat much my meal, because I hate that they went to the trouble of carrying it to me, and then I didn’t even appreciate it. I don’t want them to know I didn’t like it, and be stressed that I might be mad at them…It’s ridiculous. I logically know they don’t actually care, and if they do, it doesn’t really matter. But still, somehow, I care. Too much.
I also don’t like putting people out. And I don’t want people to think I’m mad at them. (I mean…. unless I’m truly mad at them… then it’s a different story.) But your average innocent bystander? I don’t want to ask them for $100. Because if someone did that to me, I’d be incredibly confused and stressed, and so I don’t want to be the cause of someone becoming incredibly confused and stressed.
But I thought… ok well maybe I can just do the reasonable ones, and get a little rejection resilience going, and then finally be incredibly confident and dominate my field.
Back then, you could buy $20 or $30 printable “cards” (PDF print outs) of daily rejection therapy TASKS. So, being incredibly dedicated to getting over my audition anxiety, I paid for the PDFs, printed them out, cut them up, and then shuffled them and randomly chose the first one… “Go to a hotel and ask them if you can have a room for free.” Uh… no. I’m not doing THAT.
Hmmmmm, what can I do from the safety of my own apartment, that would make me feel uncomfortable, and would likely result in a rejection or negative response, so I can practice accepting rejection without going anywhere?
And I landed on it: One of my distant family members can be… difficult, and she would often get into email fights with my parents and aunts and uncles. And I’d noticed that this family member had unfollowed me on facebook, probably while she was fighting with my parent or something a few weeks before. So, I was going to DM her, kindly, and ask her why she had unfollowed me. Who knew how she would react? It was uncomfortable to do, but the stakes felt low. We weren’t particularly close. I wasn’t doing anything rude. It felt like a good practice. So I did it.
Next day, I chose another card from my pile. “Ask a police officer if I can sit in the driver’s seat of their police car.” Fuck no. I am not doing that. I hate this game! This sucks!
So I racked my brain for another, easier way to get rejected that day…
I decided to look through my high school classmate’s friend lists, and see if any mutual high school classmates of ours didn’t follow me on facebook.
Aha, I found one. It was Stella, someone who I’d always casually considered to be “a bully,” even though her bully days were way back in elementary school — and then maybe a small bully resurgence in 6th grade.
Funny enough… I can’t even recall any specific stories to back that up, or explain what she did that made her a bully. It was mostly just things she said, but I can’t remember any of them. In my memory it was just a constant, bitchy (elementary school) vibe.
I also don’t remember the specifics in 6th grade, I just remember thinking: “Wow, ok, she is still mean.”
I know I’m not making it up entirely, because my 2nd grade teacher said to my mother at a parent teacher conference, “There are only certain classmates I can sit Stella next to, so I always sit her next to Caroline, because Caroline can handle it.” Apparently, in second grade, I wasn’t an obvious pushover — at school. But according to my mom, I was very distraught over Stella back at home. I just asked my mom if she remembered anything specific, and she said, “Ohhhh I don’t remember. That was so long ago. She would just say nasty things. And I think maybe she stole your special pencil eraser.” I don’t know. It’s a blur.
In fact, the only mundane story I can clearly recall, and one that doesn’t even support my case that she was a bully. One time in second grade she was writing: “I ❤️ JTT. I ❤️ JTT. I ❤️ JTT…” (Jonathan Taylor Thomas). Over and over again in her notebook. She filled up an entire page with “I ❤️ JTT.” And I was clearly at my wit’s end with her over the things, (the mean things she would say that I now cannot recall.) And I said, “Ugh, you don’t even know him.”
And she snapped back something like, “YOU don’t even know him!”
And she was right. I didn’t know him. I didn’t watch Home Improvement. I didn’t know he was the voice of Simba. IIII was too busy having a crush on one of my parent’s friend’s sons, who wouldn’t give me the time of day, because, it turns out, he didn’t like girls.
And to be fair, that story, the only one I can recall, makes me look like the bully. I think I remembered it specifically because I realized in that moment that I was being unnecessarily combative, denying Stella’s love of JTT… and for what?
For some strange reason, I never forgot that story, but I went on to forget almost everything else that ever happened in my youth.
In high school, I don’t think I crossed Stella’s path once. We were not in any of the same classes. We weren’t in the same friend groups. My best friends were in the grade above me. I did theater and took French. She played sports and took Spanish. We were in different math levels. In high school, we weren’t friends, but we certainly weren’t enemies. And we probably rarely, if ever, thought of each other.
But, there I saw it: that 7 years out of high school, she didn’t follow me on facebook. I didn’t care, at all. But… I had a task to fulfill. I had to do something that would likely get me “rejected” - or something where someone would think I was fucking stupid. And messaging her, and asking her why she didn’t follow me, would certainly make me look stupid. So I did it.
“Hey Stella, why don’t you follow me?”
I clicked send, and I closed my computer. Ok. I did it. Day two completed.
To me, at the time, it wasn’t a big deal because I had not talked to this girl in years. I lived in New York, she lived who-knows-where, and I was honestly probably never going to see her again. It juuuusssst didn’t matter. If she thought I was a weirdo… who cares! It’s ok!
I think the next day I checked my facebook, and saw that she hadn’t seen the message yet. I went back to my stack of printed out “cards.” Day 3: “Go to a local high school and ask in person if you can sit in on one of their classes.” GOD. I hate these! These are terrible! I’m not doing any of these!
I picked another card: “Ask a stranger on the street to tell you a secret of theirs.”
I don’t know if I ever did another rejection therapy task. I don’t think I did.
The family member eventually responded a few days later: “I’m sorry Caroline, it’s not your fault. I’ll follow you back.”
Stella never responded, and I didn’t really think about it again.
Two-ish years later, I went to a high school gathering at a local bar, the night before thanksgiving in my hometown. It was the unofficial official place where people from my all girls school, and other schools in our area, met before splitting up and going to different bars. And who did I end up seeing, but Stella. And, after wincing when I remembered my weird facebook message to her (my god why did I do that?!!…), I quickly forgot, because she was… so damn nice.
We probably had a ten minute conversation at the bar. I don’t remember what we talked about, but she talked a little about her current life. She was engaged and planning her wedding, and she seemed really happy. And I just remember her being unbelievably friendly, and seemed very genuine, especially for someone I had always casually labeled as “my elementary school bully.” And I thought wow, this is great. We all grow up, we all change. Look at us all now.
I figured she never saw my message. I hoped she never saw my message. Stupid rejection therapy. What did it get me but this needlessly panicked moment. But… either way, no harm no foul, it seemed.
And that was that. And I forgot about it again.
Last year, I moved from the city to the suburbs, into a little neighborhood near where I grew up, and near where I went to school. My parent’s best friends have lived in this neighborhood since the early 90s, and they are friends with a handful of people whose children went to the same school I did.
Last week my mom texted me.
Mom: Betsy just told me that… Stella is your neighbor?!?!
What is she talking about. I know my neighbors, and they are not Stella.
Me: What do you mean
Mom: Yes, she said that Stella lives around the block from her!
I texted a mutual friend of ours from high school, Lexy, someone who was literally friends with EVERYONE, and keeps up with way more of the people we went to school with.
Me: Lexy, does Stella live in my neighborhood?
Lexy: No! I don’t so.
Lexy: Oh wait, I’m looking at maps now and she actually does! When I visited her and her husband two years ago, I entered the neighborhood from a different main road so I never even put it together that it was the same neighborhood! But they might have moved actually.
Lexy couldn’t remember the exact house but she showed me around where it was on the map. Omg! I go on walks past that house all the time. This is so funny.
And then I remembered. My damn facebook message. Omg.
And I had a little spiral. Why the FUCK did I do that. WHY. What did rejection therapy ever get me? NOTHING. Nothing except looking like a needy petty weirdo. I am an IDIOT.
And let me tell you, I cannot bring myself to check facebook to see if she ever saw it. I can’t. She may have never seen it. She may have seen it and not cared. She may have seen it eventually, and now thinks I’m a weirdo. I don’t know but I CANNOT BRING MYSELF TO CHECK.
I realized that if I ever ran into her in our neighborhood, I would have to make a game-time decision on whether to try and explain “rejection therapy” really quickly, and try to make it some hilariousssss story… “hahaha. I swear I didn’t care if you followed me or not! Hahah! I swear!”
But then I learned that she and her husband and kids had moved in 2021, a month before I bought my house a street over from her, and now I won’t need to explain why I am a fucking idiot really quickly on the street.
The moral of the story?
If, for some reason after this horror story, you want to practice rejection therapy, I would recommend that you do it with strangers who you will ACTUALLY NEVER SEE AGAIN. If I asked a stranger on the street to tell me a secret, or give me $100, I would NOT have had to deal with this embarrassment years later.
And second, being an elementary school “bully” is not a life sentence.
And third, the fact that only story I remember was about her being 'in love with JTT, and me being mean to her about it. And now, she is married with kids, seemingly doing great, and I just lost my mind and became obsessed with Sebastian Stan while I was locked in my house during summer 2020… that irony that is not lost on me.
Lastly, I’ve said this before but: the reason I forget so much of my life, and the reason that I was so anxious in auditions, is the same reason: low grade trauma. The kind many people have. The kind that does not have to come from a textbook traumatic event. I was never present in my life. I was a stressball. I was not embodied. I was just living life, from childhood until at least my mid-twenties, fueled by stress hormones. The antidote seems to be: somatic work. Aka: slow, mindful work to get comfortable being present in your body, and in your life. I’ve known this stuff for a long time, since my mid-twenties, and just small practices of awareness and “breathing and feeling,” did start helping. But I’ve been slacking recently, so I just took Irene Lyon’s 21-Day course which was super helpful. And you can also check out her work for free here.
Annnnnnnnnd that’s all folks.
Q&A: If you’re a paid subscriber, comment below with any questions you want me to answer for the audio Q&A, and I’ll be back next week…