Writers antidote to rejection: Dont take it personally

Savage answered, "I don't go to church. I'm Jewish."

Recalling the event today, Savage says, "This look came over the mother's face. I didn't know what the look was. Now I know it was prejudice, deep prejudice."

The Camp Fire Girls ignored Savage for the rest of that day and continued to shut her out back at school.

This is one of the stories that Savage, a Berkeley-based clinical psychologist, relates in her book, "Don't Take It Personally! The Art of Dealing with Rejection." In it, she shows how people get many rejection messages as children, messages which later influence their workplace and personal relationships.

The incident with the Camp Fire Girls was not Savage's first experience with anti-Semitism. Earlier, when she lived in a row house in Washington D.C., the aunts and uncles of her friend next door would periodically spit on the Savage's porch. Savage took it personally, and as she writes in her book, "I wondered what I did wrong."

This tendency to take things personally led her on a personal exploration that eventually influenced her therapy techniques. "I listen for rejection language. If [my clients] are using battleground terms like `winning' and `losing,' and they see themselves as always losing, they're feeling rejected."

Savage says that as a group, Jews may be particularly sensitive to rejection messages. "Any group that's experienced rejection tends to be more sensitive to rejection. The Holocaust was a massive rejection, of a religion, of human beings, of life."

In her chapter, "Grandma Passes Down More Than Just Her China," Savage explains how generational messages get passed through a family. "Grandma passes down much more than china or silver patterns," Savage writes. "She passes down many other patterns as well in the form of family traditions, attitudes, beliefs, myths, scripts, roles, rules, expectations, disappointments, and rejection messages."

Savage says in an interview that the message in many Jewish families "is one of rejection. The world's not a safe place. Jews often see themselves as victims. We were victims."

This tendency to feel victimized sometimes results in what Savage calls the classic martyr mother. "They think they're being a rescuer because they're doing all this giving, but really they're feeling victimized."

From her own experience married to a non-Jew and her clinical experience counseling interfaith couples, Savage has observed that religion is not the only difference these couples contend with.

"You're also marrying a different style of relating. In many cultures — Jews are one of them — caring might be shown by raised voices, by nagging, by a lack of personal boundaries. Often, different styles of relating are misinterpreted as rejection."

Savage believes that people can ultimately overcome the tendency to take things personally. The first step is recognizing the pattern. "If we can't name it, if we can't understand it, we can't change it. Often what `it' is, is rejection."