Dear Patti,

I’m sitting in our family car, writing you because I don’t want my parents to know how upset I am. I’m a senior in high school and have always known that I would need financial aid for college. I’ve been training and counting on an athletic scholarship for golf for the last four years. Today I received the last rejection letter. Out of the 11 schools I applied to, I have not received any scholarships. There are two colleges I have been accepted to but I will have to take out huge student loans. 

At first I was shocked. I had always been told that I was a shoo-in. Now I’m so mad at myself for being so arrogant, so sure of myself. I should have done my due diligence and made sure that I had a better backup plan. Looking back, there were two other girls on my team that were drafted and recruited by the colleges of their choice. Not me! So why was I so stupid to think I was such a great athlete! 

I love both of my parents dearly, but if I’m honest they lack the discipline it takes to get somewhere in life. My dad always talks about how he wanted to be a veterinarian but instead he’s a car mechanic. My mom cleans houses, and while she seems content it hurts me to see her work so hard for such long hours. She says she’s happy to have her marriage and children, but I can’t help wonder if she would’ve been happier if she’d been more successful.

I’ve been seeing the counselor at school since the first rejection letters started coming in. Even though I’ve been crying every day, my counselor doesn’t think I’m depressed. She says I’m responding to disappointing news with deep sadness, which she believes is normal. I hope she’s right because I feel so upset that it’s hard to think about anything else right now. I’ll probably go to one of the colleges that did accept me but I’m not excited about it. I’m not looking forward to having to work throughout my whole time in college and still end up with a huge financial burden in student loans. It just hurts so much that I don’t feel special or talented anymore. I just feel average.

— Ashley

Dear Ashley,

I agree with your counselor that it’s very normal to be sad in a situation where you experience a major life loss and rejection, as you just have. However, it’s definitely not emotionally healthy to turn on yourself with such an extreme negative voice. If I had a daughter that had just lost a life dream and in the middle of her pain you called her arrogant, stupid, not special or talented, and just average, I would calmly but firmly ask you to leave the premises. Then I would nurture my daughter and quietly wait until she could begin to re-build her dream again. 

It’s easy for most people to be proud of themselves when they are doing well and meeting their life goals. It’s hardest to be your own true friend when things are tough, but that’s when it’s most important to do so. Your adult life is just beginning and there will probably be many disappointments. Those will be the times when you will need a nurturing, loyal internal voice, a voice that can see your own worth when you are having difficulty doing so.

While you may not be clinically depressed now, there are studies showing that people with a depressive disorder are more apt to have self-critical thought patterns, a harsh inner critic. If you start beating yourself up with accusations and self-flagellations, you’re more likely to suffer from depression or anxiety. Shaming, judging, and isolating yourself will only make things worse.

Rejection hurts. Be as kind and gentle to yourself as you can. Challenge that critical voice by replacing it with more supportive and positive opinions about yourself. Work on building yourself up more, focusing on you rather than comparing yourself with others. Allow your heart to dream and don’t ever discard your desires for the life you really want. Your life is a work in progress. Nothing big gets accomplished overnight; change of any kind is challenging. But persist in taking small steps and appreciate each accomplishment you make. Don’t ever lose your unique and valuable self. If you continue to feel sad and blue, I recommend further professional counseling.

Patti Carmalt-Vener, a faculty member with the Southern California Society for Intensive Short Term Psychotherapy, has been a psychotherapist in private practice for 23 years and has an office in Pasadena. Contact her at (626) 584-8582 or email Visit her website,