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How are we teaching young men to handle rejection?

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Recent years have seen a concerning rise in violence against women and girls, particularly in cases where rejection has been met with aggression. In the United Kingdom, statistics reveal a troubling landscape that necessitates urgent attention and action. By examining situations like Elianne Andam’s ongoing legal matter and related cases, we can emphasise the urgency of educating young people on healthy relationships, consent, and coping with rejection. Today, a 17-year-old boy has admitted to manslaughter but denies murder.

While we cannot delve into the specifics of Elianne’s ongoing case, it provides an opportunity to reflect on the importance of promoting healthier ways to deal with rejection, especially within relationships. Everyone experiences rejection at some point, and it is crucial to acknowledge that negative emotions may arise, such as denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and eventually acceptance. Experiencing these feelings is entirely natural, and it is essential to navigate them constructively.

However, when individuals fail to move past the anger or bargaining stages, the consequences can be devastating. Statistics show that in England and Wales, from March 2020 to March 2021, the police recorded 1.6 million domestic abuse-related incidents and crimes. A considerable proportion of these incidents involve violence resulting from rejection. Furthermore, according to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, an estimated 5.9% of adults aged 16 to 74 experienced domestic abuse in the year ending March 2021.

These alarming figures underscore the urgent need to implement comprehensive education on healthy relationships and consent in schools and youth organizations. By providing young people with the tools and knowledge to navigate rejection safely, we can create a society that fosters mutual respect and understanding. Only through this commitment to change can we hope to see a reduction in violence against women and girls and create a safer world for all.

We all experience rejection at some point, and it can be tough, especially when it comes to relationships. Without focusing on the specifics of Elianne Andam’s case, as it is an ongoing legal matter, I would like to take a moment to reflect on the importance of learning how to handle rejection in a healthy way. By examining what we know about cases like Elianne’s, I hope to emphasise the urgency of teaching young people about healthy relationships, consent, and rejection, and providing young men with the tools they need to navigate rejection positively.

Dealing with rejection can bring up a lot of different feelings, and it’s normal to go through stages like denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance – kind of like when you’re grieving. The important thing is to remember that these feelings are totally natural. But sometimes, people get stuck in the anger or bargaining stages, and that’s when things can get dangerous. Women often end up in scary situations when rejection makes someone else angry or aggressive.

There are lots of ways in which these scary situations play out in everyday life. Catcalling, touching without permission, and not taking “no” for an answer are just a few examples. These things create a world where women feel like they have to protect themselves by giving out fake information or avoiding certain places altogether.

The tragic story of Elianne Andam serves as a sobering reminder of how volatile and dangerous situations can escalate, even among young people going about their daily lives. Girls often resort to giving out fake names or phone numbers because they fear how a guy might react if they say no. I can attest to this; for a long time, I would call myself “Mary” and change the last digit of my phone number, having learned early on that it was safer to be polite and hope the situation would go away than to reject someone outright.

Eventually, when guys caught on and started asking to call me right then and there to verify my number, I resorted to blocking them once I was a safe distance away and praying that I wouldn’t bump into them again. One time, I narrowly avoided a confrontation—I saw him before he saw me and quickly turned around, walking in the opposite direction as fast as I could!

Another example of what I now know was stalking and harassment involved a young man who started showing up at my workplace daily to walk me home. People dismissed it as “cute” at the time, but I wasn’t interested and felt forced to entertain his advances for my safety. Additionally, I’ve found myself lying about being in a relationship to ward off unwanted attention because, in the past, the threat of another man seemed more effective than asserting my own autonomy and agency. However, I’ve heard that even this tactic may no longer be a reliable deterrent.

Here are some examples of unhealthy responses to rejection that young women have to put up with:

  • Anger and aggression: Some young men may react angrily or aggressively when faced with rejection, potentially leading to verbal abuse, physical violence, or acts of retaliation.
  • Persistence and refusal to accept “no”: Young men may refuse to take “no” for an answer, repeatedly pressuring or harassing the person who rejected them in an attempt to change their decision.
  • Stalking or invading privacy: In some cases, young men may engage in stalking behaviors or invade the privacy of the person who rejected them, such as tracking their location or showing up at their workplace or home uninvited.
  • Gaslighting or emotional manipulation: Some young men may attempt to make the person who rejected them feel guilty or question their decision, using manipulation tactics to maintain control.
  • Blaming and victimization: A young man may blame the person who rejected them or adopt a victim mentality, arguing that they were unfairly treated or misunderstood.
  • Rumor-spreading and character assassination: In an attempt to hurt the person who rejected them, a young man may spread rumors or try to damage their reputation among peers or on social media.

It’s crucial to recognise these unhealthy behaviors and address them through education and early intervention, promoting healthier ways to cope with rejection and fostering respect for others’ boundaries. This is one of the reasons why I am so proud of the work we do at The Haven Wolverhampton. Our MENgage and EmpowHER…. . Through these efforts, we can hope to create a safer and more compassionate environment for everyone, preventing future tragedies and fostering healthier relationships.

Learning how to handle rejection in a healthy way is super important, especially for young men. It’s not just about growing and maturing as a person, but it also helps build better relationships and keeps everyone safer. Understanding and accepting rejection as a part of life can help young men become more resilient and emotionally intelligent – skills that really come in handy when dealing with all the vicissitudes of adult life.

Elianne’s story reminds us how important it is to talk about this stuff and educate young people. By having open conversations about respect and how to regulate emotions, we can work towards a safer and more understanding world.

Here are some tips that we can all use to help us navigate rejection in a healthy way:

  • Allow Yourself to Feel: It’s normal to feel disappointed and frustrated after rejection. Allow yourself to experience these emotions without suppressing them. Societal expectations and traditional gender roles often pressure men to repress their emotions, perpetuating a patriarchal mask of stoicism and strength. Encouraging men to embrace their emotions and express them in a healthy manner can help to prevent the negative consequences that may arise from bottling up feelings. Suppressing emotions can lead to a build-up of emotional pressure, increasing the risk of harmful behaviors such as violence or causing harm to others.
  • Avoid Personalising Rejection: Personalizing rejection can lead to negative self-talk and a distorted self-image, ultimately affecting mental health and well-being. Instead, consider the context and possible reasons behind the rejection, recognizing that the decision may be influenced by factors unrelated to your personal qualities or actions. Embracing a growth mindset can also help you view rejection as an opportunity for self-improvement and learning. By focusing on personal growth and development, you can build resilience and confidence, enhancing your ability to face future challenges. It’s vital to cultivate self-compassion and remind yourself of your positive attributes, accomplishments, and the unique qualities you bring to relationships and experiences.
  • Seek Support: Talk to trusted friends or family members about your feelings. The key word here is trusted. This means confiding in people who have consistently shown care and respect for your well-being, and who have earned your confidence through their actions and reliability. Sharing your experiences can provide perspective and emotional support.
  • Practice Self-Care: Engage in activities you enjoy, take care of your physical and mental health, and focus on self-improvement.
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