I could feel a fiery line on the left side of my chest, the burning heat rising just below my collarbone. The fire had taken over my body where my heart belonged. Below it, my stomach sank into a hollow blackness.
My body was now divided into two, and where the flesh in the middle should be, I could no longer find my skin, only the dense sensation of bones.
It was happening again: the anxiety, the disconnection from myself, the panic, the shame, the pain. Before pulling away from the curb, his last words were, “I’d love to see you again.”
In the weeks of getting to know one another, our rhythm was back-and-forth banter: fun, intelligent, flirty exchanges with instant, enthusiastic, charming, and amusing replies. I thought we couldn’t get enough of one another (I thought) as I dashed off another round of communication with a smile on my face.
I busied myself: with dishes, other texts, scrolling Facebook, responding to emails, posting to Instagram, phone calls, cleaning, and sleeping.
I talked myself out of assigning meaning to nothing. Yet, opening the text screen over coffee the following day, nothing became something. I was being ghosted, and I would never hear from him again. I could feel the familiar sensations of anxiety taking over, blooming into a panic. Thoughts ran faster, and with the pitch of my voice rising, I disconnected from my body, now the holder of unbearable pain. Pain that couldn’t be acknowledged, even as I felt cleaved in half.
Connections are about entering a vulnerable space, presenting our hearts to nurture and foster a relationship that might blossom. What happens when they abruptly go away? How do we grieve someone when we aren’t allowed to grieve? When isn’t their loss considered “real?”
Where connections fulfill us, trauma shutters us. We have socially defined boxes of what is acceptable to feel sad or upset about, and the end of a relationship that’s not yet been determined is not one of them; it is not honored as a process or even seen as an event. We are told we cannot feel.
We hold no space for being ghosted by an editor, a lover, or a friend. It’s a non-event to be blocked on Facebook, especially by someone we didn’t even know we had wronged. We are to feel nothing.
We laugh, attune, connect, and share space, food, time, and texts. We hold hopes for the future and share the confidences of the past. Yet when we are ghosted or sent texts that abruptly say, “This isn’t working out, good luck!” we are expected to ignore it. To meet someone else, have a glass of wine, dance it off, go shopping, work out, stay busy, move on to other opportunities and people—never mention this time, this connection, or this person again. We are to block and delete. Turn off the emotions and close the open space.
It’s reinforced so often by others that we strengthen it to ourselves—saying mantras in the mirror to shut off our feelings, working on our “mindset,” and attempting to “stay positive”—rather than sitting in our feelings about being shut down, rejected, or ghosted.
I felt like I might break in half, as I told myself I was “overreacting,” feeling “too much,” and being “ridiculous.” I believed they would go away if I could keep and suppress the feelings. Instead, with a lack of self-compassion swirling through my veins, the pain became visceral, lighting up the same pain receptors as if I were suffering a physical injury. My body burned, the back of my neck searing with heat, a column of pain that proceeded down to my mid-back. The feelings felt familiar, having been with me since my youth. My childhood was not one of emotional wealth. Our emotions would be muted and restrained rather than held, heard, and honored.
Not being seen, heard, and held for who we are is a trauma. My parents loved me but did not have the capacity, the skillsets, or the cultural support to honor their children’s emotions by looking us in the eye, acknowledging our feelings, or attaching words to the sensations in our bodies. It’s just not how things were done then.
Instead, if noises were attached to our emotions, we were silenced or sent away lest it bothered my father’s ears. I learned to hold the feelings in my body—not let them leak out. I wanted to be loved, and being loved meant I could never be “too much.”
Trauma isn’t about what happened; it’s how we learn to respond to it.
As children, we develop coping mechanisms where we cannot acknowledge, discuss or feel pain. The only way to not feel what we cannot process is to close off, shut off, disconnect, and pretend. In this, we choose acceptance over authenticity.
The culture was now acting as my father—my grief was bothering its ears.
I chose the exact coping mechanism; this wasn’t to earn my parents’ approval but that of my friends and date and to adhere to what was socially expected of me. Rejection trauma is an unseen and undiscussed phenomenon. It triggers coping mechanisms from our past, and we shame ourselves for having human responses to inhumane things.
It hurts. The trauma of rejection can suck it.
We are not alone in our feelings. Our bodies and hearts are in pain, and our feelings of rejection, sadness, and grief are genuine and legitimate. We can feel the fire in our chest, the pit in our stomach, and the grief bloom within. We can hold these in our body, express them from our soul and feel ourselves soften into the experience of pain.
We can share our pain with friends who can hear it and have an emotional outlet to feel safe and processed. We can talk about our pain in terms of our feelings and not what someone did to cause them. We can develop the skillset to know how to process our emotions. We can feel what we weren’t allowed to think as children. We can normalize grief for the loss of insignificant things, invisible things, ghosting, and abandonment.
We can feel it, name it and own it. We need to feel it, no matter what we learn to do as children or what we are told by our friends or repeat to ourselves as mantras. May our traumas disappear faster than our ghosts.
AUTHOR: JANIS ISAMAN