Overcoming the fear of rejection
We all face rejection in our lives, whether it be a project we have been working on that the boss rejects, or that our friends got invited to a party and we didn’t, or the ending of a romantic relationship. Why does it hurt so much, and what can we do about it?
Our fear of rejection has evolutionary roots. As human beings, we are social animals. We are designed to connect with other people - firstly our parents, then others. Isolation is associated with poorer mental and physical health.
Back when we were cave dwellers, we lived in big communities, or tribes, where everyone had a role to play. Being rejected by the tribe and having to fend on our own would threaten our survival.
So, how can we deal with a fear of rejection so that it doesn’t paralyse us or cause us to make choices that keep us feeling temporarily safe but aren’t in our long-term best interests?
Six ways to help with overcoming rejection
1. Story busting
We tell ourselves stories all the time. You don’t get a text from your boyfriend when he normally texts you at least three times a day. What’s wrong? Maybe he is still cross with me after we argued last night… maybe he doesn’t care about me as much as I thought he did… maybe I am expecting too much from him.
The truth could be one of those things, or something entirely different. The point is, you don’t know. Our minds hate not knowing. They will do anything to fill in the blanks and creating stories is an easy way to do so. We need to stop the storytelling and go back to the facts. What do you actually know is true right now?
Then we can look at how we feel and consider what we need.
2. Check your emotional reasoning
When we are in a state of fear, we are on the lookout for signs of rejection. 'He didn’t pass me the butter' becomes 'he doesn’t like me as much as everyone else at the table'. The problem is, we are very likely to find signs of rejection when we are busy, albeit possibly unconsciously, looking for signs of rejection!
Whilst we do need to listen to what our emotions are telling us a whole lot more than most of us routinely do, we do well to check our emotional reasoning too.
3. Worst case scenario
What’s the worst that could happen? Sometimes working this through can help us see that we will survive, no matter how bad it gets.
For example, you didn’t receive an invitation to a friend’s party. What’s the worst-case scenario here? It could be that they have decided they no longer want to be your friend and have your company. That might feel awful, but you won’t die because of it. You know you will survive, whatever the explanation is. Doing this exercise can take the power out of the situation.
If you write down every time you feel fear of rejection - what was happening, when was it, who was it with, where you were, what you thought and what you felt - after a while you can look back at it for patterns.
For example, you may begin to notice that you always feel that fear of rejection before meeting a group of people - going into a team meeting at work, going to church, meeting a group of friends, etc.
When we can see patterns, we can then look at where those patterns have come from, the impact on our lives and what we might want to change about them.
5. External vs internal validation
A fear of rejection may be related to a need for us to have other’s approval. When we look outside of ourselves towards others to tell us if we are okay or not, we put ourselves at their mercy.
Internal validation is about turning inwards instead, to find that sense of approval from ourselves. Those struggling with self-esteem and self-confidence find it harder to do this. Doing the work of self-discovery, identity and self-worth will give you a stronger internal foundation so that others opinions are not so critical to your sense of well-being.
6. Tackle any deeper issues
All of the above tips are great for tackling a fear of rejection. For some people, however, there is a deeper level of fear - a fear of abandonment. If you are scared that your partner might leave and that scared feeling feels more like terror, emptiness, and despair, you may want to look into this further and may want to find some support with that too. Adults don’t get abandoned, just rejected, so if it feels like more than that, pay attention to it.
A fear of rejection, like any fear, is trying to keep us safe. And with like any other fear, we need to give it our attention to see what is behind it, what it shows us about ourselves, and find a way through, validating ourselves whilst sticking to the facts and not building a scary situation out of nothing but the creativity of our minds.
And when you have a solid sense of self and your self-worth, you will find you loosen your hold on that fear of rejection. You act more out of love than fear, you look for love and, guess what, you find it.