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Facing Rejection With Dignity: Lessons From Downton Abbey

Feb 18, 2014 | Updated Apr 20, 2014

No relationship comes with a guarantee, and rejection is always a possibility. This week's episode of Downton Abbey highlights three painful rejection scenarios: Ivy rejects Alfred, Alfred rejects Daisy and Mary rejects Lord Gillingham (yet again). In all instances, these characters demonstrate grace, honesty and dignity.

Rejection is incredibly painful. So painful that it can lead people into therapy.

A successful, well-dressed client in her early thirties laments:

When I first meet someone, I feel great. The closer we get, the more I like the person, the more afraid I am that I will get hurt like I did in my last relationship. It's a double-edged sword because the closer we get, the more insecure I feel.

Similarly a teacher in his mid-twenties describes:

When Sandra ended it, I couldn't get out of bed for days. I couldn't think straight and kept wondering, what's wrong with me? There must be something defective or she would have loved me the way I loved her -- with full abandon.


As a therapist, part of my role is to help people come to terms with rejection. By exploring their patterns in relationships, family history and the types of partners they choose, many clients learn to find a different lens for understanding rejection. They may even discover that the person who dumped them did them a favor and that they are better off. By learning to choose kinder, more available or otherwise more suitable partners, many clients eventually build healthier, happier relationships.

Facing Rejection With Dignity Communicates Self Worth:

When Lord Gillingham proposed to Lady Mary a few episode's back, Mary declared that she felt completely unable to contemplate marriage to anyone. Struggling to absorb and grieve the death of her beloved husband, Matthew Crawley, Mary needs time. A lot of time. Lord Gillingham responded to Mary's first rejection by becoming engaged to another. Soon thereafter, he breaks his engagement; he simply cannot get Lady Mary out of his mind or his heart. Over lunch, he professes his love for Mary once more. When he is rejected for a second time he replies:

I don't want to twist your arm, and I know that you won't make a decision until it suits you. I won't give up Mary -- not until you walk down the aisle with another man. And, very possibly, not even then.


Whether or not Mary will come around (she seems to have more sparks flying with Mr. Blake) viewers get the sense that Lord Gillingham is a true gentleman who respects Mary's needs to grieve. Furthermore, his confidence conveys that he likes himself enough to remain optimistic; his self-respecting approach conveys (without spelling it out) that if she does not choose him, he will be just fine. Lord Gillingham also realized it is a mistake to marry someone else, when his engagement was obviously driven by a reaction to Mary's rejection. Whether Mary's rejection is temporary or permanent, he faces it with class and style.

Downstairs, Alfred has been swooning over the wide-eyed and moderately self-absorbed Ivy for months. When Ivy grants Alfred the slightest drop of attention during his visit from London, Alfred (in the midst of grieving his father's death) over-reacts to her modest affection with a proposal of marriage. Ivy wants bigger and better things than she thinks Alfred can offer. Alfred accepts Ivy's feelings, and realizes he has been barking up the wrong tree.

Meanwhile, the more mature and no-nonsense Daisy is devastated, not just at Alfred's failure to reciprocate her romantic feelings; she is equally frustrated that Ivy does not appreciate Alfred's devotion and plans to reject him. To shield herself from the pain of rejection, Daisy visits her father-in-law (from her first, unconsummated, marriage) on his farm. Daisy's father-in-law adores her so completely that he has difficulty imagining how anyone could reject her. That said, he implores Daisy to see Alfred, face-to-face, to say goodbye. He helps her put together a beautiful package of goods for his journey back to London. Daisy's elegant presentation of these gifts, along with her good wishes, demonstrates an inspiring template for facing rejection:

Alfred: You know Ivy's turned me down... I think I've been a bit blind where she's concerned.

Daisy: Love is blind.

Alfred: You've always been so good to me Daisy. So true, that I could never see it.

Daisy: That's kind of you to say, and good to hear. I've loved you Alfred, I'll not deny it. But that's done...It's time for you to go your way and me to go mine.

Alfred: But you wish me well?

Daisy: Oh I do Alfred, yeah, so well. So very well. Friends forever.

Alfred: Friends forever, Daisy. Right. Now this really is goodbye.

Daisy's dignified goodbye is relevant for anyone struggling to accept the rejection by another. It seems quite likely that Alfred will regret his choice for years to come. Mrs. Pattmore's response to Daisy rings true to me (as a therapist and as a mother):

Do you know, when you brought up that basket -- I was so proud of you, I felt like crying out. If you were my own daughter, I couldn't be prouder than I am now.