My relatives have long had a tradition of an annual holiday get-together but this year they left out my family. Why are they treating us like this?

Dr. Barbara Greenberg, PhD

Dear Barbara,

My relatives have always gotten together for the holidays for as long as I can remember. Some of our older aunts and uncles have died, but whoever is hosting has always invited everyone in the family. Now the relatives hosting have left out our family, and I have no idea why.

On top of that, things feel a little chilly on other fronts. My teenage son rejects my efforts to check in with him, and a close colleague at work seems to prefer scrolling her phone to talking with me. My world seems to be shrinking. What am I doing wrong?

Dear correspondent,

There is nothing quite as painful as being rejected. It may be that your colleagues regularly go out to lunch together but fail to invite you. You may have gotten very close to your dream job, only to find someone else was chosen for the position. You may find an old friend has un-friended you on Facebook. It stings, doesn’t it? You are hurt, embarrassed, and sad. You may also feel frustrated and humiliated. Rejection is served up in all sorts of ways and is never easy. It is clear, though, that you will encounter rejection in all sorts of ways during your lifetime. Because of that, it’s good to think about how to deal with it most effectively. 

First, realize the problem may not lie with you. You mentioned that your teen is rejecting your overtures, and though it doesn’t make it easier, be aware that you have plenty of company. Because their brains are still developing, teens may simply be more self-centered for the time being. But even teens may be tempted to talk while on a road trip or when helping their mom or dad make some homemade cookies. (And the smell of chocolate chips and cookie dough in the oven is pretty irresistable!)  

It is hard to know exactly what is going on in a family if a long-standing tradition is suddenly changed with no explanation. Perhaps you could check in later with the relative you are closest to to find out what happened. You might also consider holding a holiday event at your house and inviting all your relatives. In any event, it is likely that more information will surface to help you decide what steps to take.

Rejection from friends or colleagues, of course, is a different matter. Continue to be your authentic self at work and perhaps look for another colleague to befriend; your friend, intentionally or not, appears to be shutting you out. I have a number of suggestions to help you deal with this experience and associated feelings in a more flexible and effective manner.

  1. Do not expect everyone to like you. This is an impossible expectation. You don’t like everyone, do you? We can’t all feel connected to each other at all times. Once you have made peace with the realization that inclusion is not always the way things will turn out, you may start feeling calmer and less reactive and hurt.
  2. Perhaps the rejection is a blessing in disguise. The relationship may have stopped serving you or it may be time to change the nature of the relationship. You do not necessarily need to end the relationship but you may need to have contact less frequently. Perhaps weekly contact is too much for this particular friendship. Consider this and experiment with different levels of contact.
  3. Something may have shifted in your friend’s life – or yours. If a friend, colleague, or partner seems to be dropping you, maybe they have noticed that the synergy between the two of you is just not working at this point. This does not mean that you are a flawed person. The chemistry may be off at this moment. At a later point in time, it may work better.
  4. Sometimes we make each other angry. In that case, we may be rejected. A cooling down period of several days or weeks may be necessary. In this case, substitute the phrase “cooling down” for rejection. It might not only be more accurate but it also might feel kinder and gentler.
  5. Keep in mind that there are always new people to meet and new relationships that can be nurtured and developed. Life is exciting in that way. We always get opportunities to meet new people if we put ourselves out there and are curious about and interested in meeting new people.
  6. Perhaps experiencing rejection is not a bad thing. It helps us not only understand our effects on others a bit more but every painful experience encourages us to learn new coping skills and to have more empathy for the experiences of others.
  7. Rejection does not always mean that the person who is rejecting you doesn’t like you or finds you offensive. Perhaps that person is jealous of your success. Friends often have difficulty celebrating each other’s successes. I have witnessed this sort of interaction frequently and it always makes me sad. We are, after all, supposed to be celebrating each other.
  8. Rejection might also be what you are experiencing when the offending person is actually avoiding you. Avoidance and rejection feel painfully similar but they are actually different. Someone who is currently avoiding you may be immersed in issues that are consuming. They may eventually find their way back to you.
  9. When you experience someone pulling away from you, your tendency might be to somehow chase after that person. This makes sense because none of us like loss. Keep in mind, though, that sometimes less is more. Give the person space. Do not crowd them. Don’t rush to repair whatever might be going on. Try instead to allow the other person to have time to reinitiate contact. Trust me on this one.
  10. You do not need to fix everything. Sometimes, it makes sense to sit with some uncertainty and ambiguity. Even if you want to repair everything, this is impossible. Work on learning to be comfortable with a bit of uncertainty. It is an excellent skill to have and teach.