From Surviving to Thriving: Overcoming Self-Rejection

Hiker standing at top of mountain, watching a sunriseOur beings are multifaceted. Our bodies, minds, hearts, and spirits all have needs. Our bodies need to be moved and nourished, but not to excess. Our minds and hearts need learning as well as social and emotional connection, and our spirits need solace, meaning, and clarity about what we value and cherish most.

You may pamper your body but neglect your emotions. You may nourish your mind but starve your spirit, and you may pursue spirituality while cutting yourself off from your instinctual life. You may limit what you can get out of your relationships by keeping a superficial focus on self-image instead of investing in meaningful connections.

The ways in which we limit, reject, and sell ourselves short are endless, and the end result is that we feel less than whole and less than fulfilled.

Types of Self-Rejection

Some forms of self-rejection are obvious—self-harming behaviors, getting involved with people who exploit us or treat us poorly, pushing away people who treat us well, and ingesting harmful substances are some of the more obvious ways we may work against ourselves.

Self-rejection can also take more subtle forms. Some of these include:

  • Resignation, or not pursuing our highest aspirations
  • Remaining in relationships or jobs that are stagnant. They may offer the comfort of familiarity, but no growth.
  • Turning down or missing various life opportunities
  • Self-punitive mental habits like perfectionism
  • Opting for instant gratification to avoid short-term discomfort while missing out on long-term fulfillment

You may take yourself seriously in ways that leave less room to be serious about the parts of yourself that need to be taken seriously. Do you take your hang-ups and self-image seriously while ignoring your true feelings? Evaluating your aspirations without seriousness is another form of self-rejection.

When Therapy Becomes a Form of Self-Rejection

Almost anything can become a form of self-rejection, including mental health counseling. Learning useful coping Reclaiming our rudders and accessing our true feelings can be a bumpy ride; cut-off feelings were repressed for a reason.skills is often important for many people. However, only pursuing a path of coping, as opposed to learning to cope while also working on resolving what is causing the need for coping, may lead to a lifetime of simply trying to cope while patching things over. In this scenario, the cause of our inner difficulties is never resolved. The path of simply coping becomes burdensome; we learn to survive, but never to thrive.

It may be tempting for clients and therapists to focus solely on ways of coping and feeling better for the moment, but this approach often neglects the potential for deeper healing.

Reclaim Your Rudder: Accessing Our Feelings to Overcome Self-Rejection

Our feelings are our compass in life. They are our inner GPS, informing us of what is healthy and what is not. This is why our feelings are good for decision-making—they provide the crucial information of what we really want and what we are averse to. When our feelings are shut down and cut off from conscious awareness, we are deprived of our rudders and set adrift on the ocean of life.

Reclaiming our rudders and accessing our true feelings can be a bumpy ride; cut-off feelings were repressed for a reason. Unearthing and working through previously avoided emotions can be anxiety-provoking and painful. But once we have learned to tease apart our feelings from anxiety and painful ways of managing anxiety, the ride becomes smoother, and feelings fulfill their function without taking over.

When our feelings are linked up and connected with our reasoning minds, the executive functions, we feel grounded, present, and calm, and we can navigate life with all our resources to bear. Our decisions aren’t impulsive; they are thought out and informed by our true feelings and deepest values.

Feelings are not be-all-end-all, but without them, we are cut off from information that is important to have in order to address our needs. If the emotional gate is closed, we cannot know who we really are, what we really want, and what we truly value.

Making Friends with Our Emotions

Discontinuing and reversing the trend of self-rejection must start with befriending our emotional life. A skilled therapist who understands how to address emotions in their entirety—cognitive, physiological, and impulse component—as well as the barriers to accessing emotion can be an invaluable resource when it comes to doing our emotional work. Find a therapist to support you through the process of addressing your emotions and working through self-rejection.

Only when we have befriended our true feelings can we properly tend to the needs of our body, mind, and spirit, and live in ways that actualize our human potential. The path of overcoming self-rejection begins with allowing our feelings to be. We befriend our emotions, and from there, our lives may flourish. We transition from coping to living, and from surviving to thriving.


  1. Coughlin, P. (2004). Intensive Short-Term Dynamic Psychotherapy (2nd ed.). London: Karnac Books Ltd.
  2. Damasio, A. (1999). The FEELING of WHAT HAPPENS. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
  3. Ekman, P. (1980). The face of man: Expressions of universal emotions in a New Guinea village. Garland STPM Press.
  4. Lerner, H. (1985). The dance of anger. New York, NY: Harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.

© Copyright 2018 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Johannes Kieding, LCSW

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Susie

    November 1st, 2022 at 6:06 PM

    This is a nice article, but there’s no real direction. You’re only pointing out the symptoms, and not the solution. Would love to learn more on this topic.

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