You’ve been fine-tuning the moment for weeks: How you’ll stride into his office, announce you are quitting, deliver your pithy but subtly scathing statement, and stride out victoriously to the sound of Queen singing “We Are The Champions” in your head. At the same time, Maria Shifrin made the video quitting her TV news job, according to NBC Reports, public on YouTube and in an email to Gawker.
Or maybe you are on the other side. Your lover tells you he wants to talk. And when you talk, it’s short and pointed. And the dagger goes straight through your heart.
When one person rejects another, it’s always a statement on the relationship. To be told you’re not wanted — whether you’re a lover, a boss or an employee — brings pain. It can feel, at least for a fleeting moment, like a disaster, a calamity and an injustice all rolled up in a few clichés.
Today, workers think nothing of quitting by email or a public video. Lovers think it’s entirely appropriate to dump someone by text. However it happens, it feels it’s the Last Judgment on your character and your worth. You’re left powerless, which means that all you’re left with is an obsession about why it happened.
And obsess you will.
Dismissal, like failure, is something you have to learn to deal with. Control your reaction to it and turn a dis into a discovery and you’ll be several steps ahead of your dismissal’s power. It’s an important journey to make, because the pain of being dismissed can be particularly hard to shake. Being told we aren’t wanted can badly warp our very understanding of ourselves and the world we inhabit. Think about it: We are inherently social beings. The struggle to gain the attention of others is hardwired by evolution… because without attention, we would quite literally not survive. That is why one of the first skills we develop as infants is to control others.
With that kind of history, it’s no wonder we can’t rationally process dismissal, seeing it for what it is in context rather than as a rejection of our very selves, a confirmation of our worst fears. We get dismissed. So we believe we are, unworthy, and not good enough. It must be our fault. We believe that we have failed.
The first step is to think about it from the dismissor’s point of view. This has to be better than the temptation toward sending raging emails, making late-night plaintive phone calls and cyber-stalking gone mad.
Step one in the journey of discovery is to take a clear-eyed look at the power dynamic in play during a dismissal. On the surface, the dismissor — the person quitting the job, ending the friendship, walking out on their lover — has the emotional upper hand in its entirety. They feel justified, rational, that this was the right thing to do. They are strong and you are weak. They are smart and you didn’t see it coming, did you?
Dig a little deeper and you’ll likely realize that while the dismissor may feel like they’re holding the reins when the final split is enacted, chances are they felt exactly the opposite for much of the relationship. Add that to the fact that they have probably been obsessively focusing on their grievances to work up the nerve to make the final split and you now have the recipe that got you punted. No wonder Joe Jonas reportedly broke up with Taylor Swift in a 27 seconds phone call. By contrast, on the surface, the dismissee is being acted upon, suffering the consequences of someone else’s choice.
But chances are you had at least as much power and control in the pre-game — the many, many interactions that made up the relationship and led to the final dismissal. Most dismissals are only the final straw of a process that has been going on for a long time, in which two people are careening toward an ending. Both of them probably see it coming at some level and both are a little at fault. Just as the dismissor forgets the good times when working up to the final blow, the dismissee tends to forget the bad when absorbing it. The relationship suddenly appears rosier than it had been in weeks or even years.
Remember the ultimate TV dis? The Sex and the City episode where Berger breaks up with Carrie Bradshaw via Post-It note? The shock and horror of that little yellow note temporarily erased months of her knowing in the back of her mind — and sometimes the front — that this wasn’t the man for her. He was a Berger, not a Filet Mignon.
The feeling of “How Can He Do This To Me?” clouds all other truths. Because being dismissed, dumped, fired, got rid of is an insult. It’s the equivalent of a name-calling in the street. You are bad, he is good. You are an idiot, he is smart. You did wrong, he was saintly. He is dreaming. And so are you.
The temptation is to keep those blinders on, to nurse your wound for as long as you can, because feeling sorry for yourself is often easier than doing the hard work of examining the relationship for what it was — and shouldering some of the blame for what it became. Do it anyway. Even if it takes a bottle of very fine Chablis, make yourself understand and feel that someone who dumped you wasn’t a perfect someone at all. This was someone who was at times weak, fearful and woefully lacking in self-worth or self-knowledge.
It’s worth thinking about these things before it happens to you again. Then again, it doesn’t always work one way, does it?
Very rare is the person who is only the dismissee and never the dismissor. Think carefully about your own motivations when you reject others. Then put yourself in their Choos when it happens. Sometimes, those who get dismissed a lot only do because they never work up the courage to do it themselves — when they know it should be done. At the same time, be careful not to slip into self-loathing — turning the tables on yourself and beating yourself up for somehow “deserving,” this. Again, return to the center, to reality.
Sometimes, though, people are just miserable or terminally unhappy: the woman who dumps a man straight after his mother dies because she can’t stand to see him weak, or the man who casts a woman aside because he’s scared she’s discovered who he really is, hence making him vulnerable. In these situations, don’t wallow. Accept that you are fortunate to be free of them.
Still, the rules for a good dismissal are pretty simple. Do it in person. Technology gives you too many chances to be a coward. Set a time limit so you don’t spend hours rehashing past slights and hurting each other more. Know your reasons but don’t feel like you have to list them. Remember that what you say in the moment will resonate for the other person for a long, long time. Just as it did for you, when it happened to you.
And finally, for both the dismissor and the dismissee, leave time to both mourn and to feel grateful. In the midst of all the feverish emotion, the recriminations and the guilt and blame and anger there was a living, breathing relationship there. It may not have been the best one. You may well discover you are happier in your way as you continue your journey of discovery about yourself.
But at the very least you must recognize that by their leaving, they have cleared a path for you to move forward. While you’re on the path, grab some champagne — it’s time to look back and celebrate how dismissal steered your great understanding.