Silent Rejection

The Thinking Read

An interesting exchange happened over on Twitter. As you might guess I do follow several professionals, educators, and folks with Complex Trauma.

What you may not see, is the way that writing and Complex Trauma are interwoven. There’s that easy to distinguish top layer. How I use writing, have always used writing, as a way to deal with my somewhat askew wiring. But there are so many other layers. Dr. Doyle (Twitter @DrDoyleSays) hit upon one of them this morning.

His Tweet:
Certain “little” things can trigger the hell out of complex trauma survivors. Someone reading a message but not responding right away can totally trip that “I’m in trouble/I’m about to be abandoned” reflex– & once we’re in that headspace, it’s EXTREMELY tough to pull out of it.

My first reaction is “Preach”. A second, more useful reaction, is I wonder if people will ‘get it’? It’s not a generational thing. We’re not talking ‘millennials’ being lost without their phone, or the practice of ‘ghosting’ people.

No, for people with complex trauma, the reality goes quite a bit deeper. Not to overwhelm you with stuff drawn from the other side of my site – there is this image that rather sums it all up. Or, at least part of it.

Speaking specifically to my own experience, my childhood was one where I was not ‘seen’. If you have ever heard the phrase ‘a glass child’, that was me. For whose who haven’t heard the phrase, it doesn’t mean we are fragile. It means we were the children overlooked in our families. Sometimes because of our parents personalities, sometimes because there was a situation that demanded our parents attention, or because there was another family member that demanded all of the adults attention. ‘Glass children’ are a product of neglect, usually benign neglect, but still we had many needs that went unmet. Another way a ‘glass child’ can become is because we were the ones that could see the strain on the people around us. In response we made ourselves ‘small’. We were the kids that never put a foot wrong, never asked for anything. We learned self-denial very early – because that was the way to have peace in our homes.

This is a tremendous over-simplification of my own story, which is, of course, very different from every other survivor’s story.

Suffice it to say I have some very deeply seated issues around being ‘seen’. I could go into the paradoxical nature of Complex PTSD, but, I’ll spare you that. But here is a quote from a post I wrote titled Paradox #1

Because people were dangerous. They put me in this cage. People cut the hole in my chest. People taught me I was hollow, defective, broken. They – those outside – could not be trusted. In my cage, I was separate from them. I was so alone. I was broken. I was voiceless. I was forgotten.

Being forgotten by all the world made me safe.

People with Complex PTSD can suffer these types of internal paradoxes. It’s that fundamental ‘lizard brain’ saying “see me, take care of me.” And, at the very same time, it’s that fundamental ‘lizard brain’ saying “don’t see me, don’t hurt me.”

Ever heard of a no-win situation. I give you Example A: My brain.

How on earth does all this pertain to writing? Well, think about one of the most fundamental parts of being a writer – yeah, querying. I’m in the trenches right now.

My response:
Silent rejection. Imagine querying a novel. I’m pretty solid if the agents get back to me even if it is a ‘no’- but those silent rejections – man, those trip several triggers.

As a writer there is an intrinsic part of this journey that cannot be avoided – unless you are a frikin’ unicorn. The rest of the 99.999% of us have to go through the process of querying.

And querying is hard. No lie. As a writer, you hear ‘no’ a lot. And really – most, like 99% of the time, there is nothing personal in that rejection. Those quick ‘no’s I can handle pretty well. I do get tired of them, but I slog on. And I will share something that helps me persevere, and it might help someone reading.

I learned this when I was auditioning for acting jobs.

You can be perfect.
You can nail every line and every nuance in a role.
And you can still lose out to someone else.

The reason behind the director’s decision is the image they have in their head. And that is an image no one can discern, unless the director goes to extraordinary lengths to describe what he wants. And, there is also the dreaded – “I’ll know it when I see it.” Yeah, that means they really don’t have a firm idea of what they are looking for either.

So, even if you are perfect, if the director’s mental picture is a 6′ tall Amazonian woman with dark hair and eyes – and you just happen to be 4’8″ – chances are you are not going to get that job. You don’t fit.

Here’s the part to remember – It has absolutely nothing to do with your work. It has everything to do with fitting the director’s vision. And the phrase – It just wasn’t a good fit – it very likely exactly the reason someone said ‘no’.

So I don’t sweat the rejections. Someone tells me ‘no’. Ok, thank you for your time. NEXT!

The ones that kill me and set off all the nasty internal fire alarms are the ‘Silent Rejections’. And something I’m noticing this time in the querying trenches compared to 2020, there are a lot more agents using the ‘silent rejection’.

You’ve seen them. Little notices on the agents bio, or profile, or in the agencies FAQ or about us. They can even be buried in the ‘small print.’

“If you haven’t heard from us within six weeks it means we have passed on your project.”

Yeah, those things.

Why do they have this immense impact? I know why. Because hearing nothing means to me that I have vanished again. I am ‘overlooked’ and not important enough to even get a response. Not even a ‘no’. Yeah, the roots to that one go way back.

Even a form rejection is better in my mind than that all consuming silence. That silence that lets all the monsters loose. The ones that whisper – ‘not enough.’ Not even important enough for a form email. Not even important enough for a click of the mouse. Literally not important enough to raise a finger.

Ouch. (Gotta take a second to shake that one off.)

I understand that agents are flooded, overworked, and doing more with less. I do ‘get’ that. And, equally, while I am sure writers would love a hand-lettered personalized rejection on linen-stock stationary with gold foil embossing every time, I know that is fantasy land.

I just wish, in a more perfect world, that agents could, would have the time to click a button and drop that ‘no’. Much as the ‘no’ is unpleasant, at least it leaves me with the feeling of being seen.

3 responses to “Silent Rejection”

  1. So much here to unpack! As near as I can tell, I learned the art of invisibility in the crib. My mother told me several times: “You were the best baby. You didn’t cry or even move…You started to get a flat spot on your head.” The implications of this took decades and another anecdote about a sibling to figure out.

    But our ability to be invisible is built-in. We are natural actors. My first side in acting school was a very emotional part. I imagined it would take me a minute or two to get into the character. It took only seconds.

    There is a protective part of our brain that gives us the ability to act, to blend in from birth. “Stockholm Syndrome” is the default, imitating even the most toxic social environment. Or the most benign: In a conference room, sometime, cross your arms and see how soon others adopt the same posture.

    But must we disrespect that part of our brain by referring to it as “the lizard brain?” The protective part of our brain is an ancient 𝘩𝘶𝘮𝘢𝘯 structure, shaped by eons of evolution into what has become a vital part of the human brain, for good or ill. I call it “The Guardienne:”

    • I like the term “The Guardienne”. I mean no disrecpect to that fundmental, primal part of our brains that keeps us safe. Indeed, it has done its job well.

      • “Lizard brain” is part of the language, now, though it’s not very accurate. Neither is “the Unconscious,” a term that Psychiatrist Albert Rothenberg decries. Carl Jung once said, “The question arises: “Has the Unconscious consciousness of its own?’”

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