The fear of rejection permeates the lives of all people from all walks of life. It’s a damning emotion that holds us back from taking action and affects us at a deep, emotional level. Whether it’s about our physical appearance, the fruits of our mind and imagination, or being emotionally vulnerable, we all fear that we’ll be rejected. However, once you accept the fear of rejection as an integral part of life, you can work on ways to defeat it.
What is Fear of Rejection?
Fear of rejection is an emotional state. It not only affects most of us, but it can turn our entire life upside down and become a vicious mental circle that erodes our confidence.
What’s crazy about the fear of rejection is that it is an anticipated emotion that comes to us, regardless if there is an objective reality that rejection might happen. It’s probably one of the most challenging feelings to understand and explain. We feel it, and we cannot rationalize it.
You see, when something threatening happens to you, your brain understands it and responds accordingly. For example, if a rabid dog starts running after you, you, of course, will be terrified. That’s because you compute very quickly all the possible scenarios that might occur—the dog will catch you, it will bite you, and you will bleed, possibly to death. Or get rabies. Right away, all your systems respond, and, let’s say, you run away to safety.
Once you are safe, your system—your body and mind—can relax. That’s because your brain understands now that the danger has passed, and you are safe. There’s an obvious explanation as to why you got scared, why you acted that way—running—and that now, everything is back to normal.
That’s the usual way your body reacts when there’s a threat followed by the absence of danger.
Danger Without Explanation
But what happens when the danger itself doesn’t have a proper explanation?
Think about this scenario: you are a male in a club, and you see a woman you like. You want to talk to her. You take one step, but then you stop. Thoughts start flooding your brain.
What if she’s not single?
What if her boyfriend is around?
Maybe she won’t like me?
What if she tells me she doesn’t like me?
Perhaps she ignores me, and I feel bad?
The list can go on and on and on. The problem here, unlike in the case above with the dog, is the uncertainty. You don’t know if you will be rejected and if you were, what would happen. Lastly, you don’t know—although you might assume—how the rejection itself will make you feel.
So, what is your brain going to dictate you here? Just like with the dog, when your mind sent fire to your feet, and you began running, in this club scenario, your brain will try to protect you. It doesn’t understand what the fear is for or what might happen. So, it will tell you to stay put and not engage.
Not engaging equals no rejection. No rejection equals no pain.
You take a step back and lean against the wall.
“It’s probably not worth it. She wouldn’t go for me anyway,” you tell yourself as a way to soothe your brain and not feel bad about not trying.
You see, you know that not trying is terrible for you because, in this scenario, to approach is a part of the numbers’ game. So, you give yourself the excuse because, in that way, you are safe on all fronts: you didn’t get rejected, and you don’t feel bad for not trying because you know… sour grapes.
Sounds familiar? Believe it or not, it is way more common than you think. It happens in all aspects of life and to all people, even those who seem confident enough not to allow it. It’s a part of life, and once you understand it and accept it, you can conquer it.
Why Do We Fear Rejection?
In its pure definition, the fear of rejection is an irrational fear that people won’t accept you or approve of you because of your looks, ideas, behaviors, personality, values, or opinions.
Before we dig into the psychology behind the fear of rejection, let’s get down to an elementary level. Look, there are seven billion people on this planet, and there are a gazillion opinions, ideas, items, and concepts—too many to even begin to categorize them, more so to list them. All these people have their personality, character, and upbringing, and those factors influence their opinions, attitudes, and behaviors. From straightforward things such as colors and sounds to super complicated issues such as social and gender equality and the origin of life, there will be as many opinions as you can think of.
That means that there will be at least a few people who disagree with you on several issues in your immediate vicinity at any point in time. It doesn’t matter which ones, it doesn’t matter how much or what it is about. It is merely a reality. Right now, there is one person that is no more than a few minutes’ walk away from you who disagrees with you about something.
That’s okay and perfectly normal. It doesn’t make you better or worse in any way. You simply think differently about that subject.
When you look at a person, and you think to yourself: this person is unattractive, you always forget to add one thing. This person is unappealing to me. That’s it. Your opinion—to which you are entitled to—is that this person is unattractive. That thought doesn’t make that person unattractive universally because you are not a representative sample of the Universe. The same goes for when you think that someone is smart or stupid, pleasant or obnoxious, funny or dull.
Now, reverse the roles.
The Center of Attention Is Me
Imagine that the other person thinks that you are unattractive. That, too, is okay because that person is also not representative of the Universe, and he/she cannot cast universally-valid assertions. It is their opinion of you. It is not an absolute qualification for you.
So, this is a critical thing to understand—everything is relative to the person who thinks it. Just like you can watch a movie or read a book or hear a song and say: I don’t like it or I love it, if you write a book or make a movie or sing a song, understand that there will be people who are one hundred percent entitled to say: I don’t like it, or I love it.
However, none of their opinions should change how you feel about your work or yourself. Their view is a direct result of their character, personality, upbringing, and experiences.
Assuming that everyone will be embracing your work or you as a person is the root of anxiety driven by the fear of rejection.
Once you begin to understand that just like you are allowed to not like someone for absolutely no reason, someone else is allowed not to like you for absolutely no reason, you will be able to nip the fear of rejection in the bud.
But herein comes a little problem.
Your Attraction Rejected
In the examples above, I purposely disregarded the reasoning for your desired action. For example, if you meet a person on the street and feel attraction toward them, your desire to approach them will raise fear of rejection. That’s because you like them, and them not accepting you is the risk.
The same goes for any creative work that you may have done. If you write a book and send it to a publisher who you believe is the best one for the genre you write, your desire for them to like and accept your work is very high. In this situation, you will fear rejection.
But if the person or persons you are about to interact with don’t have any skin in the game, you won’t care. Yeah, it might sting a little, but it won’t be as damaging as full-blown fear of rejection.
So, the first level of fear of rejection is a generic one where you simply focus on yourself and don’t want to be rejected, period. The second level of rejection is when you fear rejection from someone you genuinely care about. If you value your interaction with that person or entity extremely high, your ability to think rationally about it will be stunted. The fear of rejection will exacerbate and rise to levels of phobia. That’s because now, you see it as a life and death situation.
“If this person doesn’t want to go out with me, then I’m done with love forever.”
“If this publisher rejects my manuscript, I’m done with writing. There’s no way.”
“If I don’t get this job, my career is over.”
These are all statistically improbable. Almost nobody in the world had an acceptance in these circumstances right away. Most people had to go back time and time again, and with each rejection, the acceptance got closer.
But it’s the way you mentally connect the rejection with your ability to go on. That’s the reframing you must do to get over it. If you don’t, you open yourself up to becoming a perfectionist, which is another psychological behavior that will only feed your fear of rejection even more.
Fighting The Fear of Rejection Through Practice
Jia Jiang is an author, blogger, and entrepreneur who is very familiar with the fear of rejection. That’s because he made a conscious decision to be rejected for 100 consecutive days. Well, not really to be rejected, but face the possibility of being rejected 100 times. I was lucky enough to be in the position to hear Jia Jiang tell his story live as a part of my tenure at Next Jump, sometime in 2015. I was impressed and humbled by his story, so I wanted to give you a quick cliff’s notes on it as it is relevant to this article.
Jia Jiang realized that fear of rejection is an emotion that generates a reaction, and the response is usually paralysis. Much like anything else that requires training, you cannot conquer the fear of rejection at an intellectual level. No amount of reading or listening to audiobooks or watching videos will help you overcome it.
Instead, you need practice.
You need to face rejection hundreds of times before you’ll be able to act while you are feeling it instead of freezing.
And this is what Jia did by setting himself a challenge to make 100 crazy requests and see what happens when he gets rejected. The first thing that he noticed was that he got rejected way fewer times than he had expected. That goes to prove that most of the time, we fabricate the basis of our fear in our own minds.
Then, for the times when he did get rejected, nothing horrible happened to him.
But by getting rejected time and time again, Jia Jiang trained himself not to be afraid. He learned how to push through the fear. I want to share his TED talk here, where he describes the process he went through to fight his fear of rejection and, eventually, turn into a teacher inspiring others to break their boundaries and defeat that fear.
What I learned from 100 days of rejection | Jia Jiang
If you want any ideas to set up your practice ground for rejection, take a peek at Jia Jiang’s list of 100 days of rejection. Or, you can also check the app that Rejection Therapy Inc. put out called DareMe.
8 Practical Steps To Overcome Fear of Rejection
Now that you have a broad understanding of how the fear of rejection affects you and you’ve heard Jia Jiang tell his story let’s focus on a few practical steps that you can take today to harden your mind against the fear of rejection.
- Acceptance. You must continually tell yourself that feeling the fear of rejection is normal. Everyone experiences it in all walks of life.
- Recognition. Recognize the clues your body gives you when you begin to feel rejected. How does your body react? What do you feel, and how do you feel it? What kind of knee-jerk reaction do you have?
- Don’t give it power. When we feel rejected, our confirmation bias, as well as other cognitive biases, fire up. Your inner chatter starts ringing in our years. Please stop it. Don’t feed the fear with your validation and labels. Catch yourself validating the rejection with your thoughts and words.
- Don’t let it define you. This idea stems directly from point 3. If you feel the fear of rejection and give it power through self-talk, it will become your way of coping with things over time. You will turn yourself into a victim and allow that fear of rejection, not even the rejection yourself but merely the fear of it, to become your whole life story.
- Identify growth opportunities. When you get into that space where the fear of rejection starts to cripple you and prevent you from taking action, remember that you have not matured enough to push through that situation. Consider it a learning experience, much like when you were afraid to get on a bike for the first time. Fear of rejection is no different than any other type of fear.
- Have a robust support circle. It doesn’t matter the context in which fear of rejection manifests for you; there are always people who care for you and love you who are willing to provide support and encouragement. Your network of trusted friends and mentors will help you discover your true worth and grow your self-confidence.
- Believe in your self-worth. When you don’t believe in yourself, fear of rejection will creep in tenfold. By working on your own personal development and self-growth, you will strengthen your character and improve your confidence in your value and worth. By doing so, you will slowly put walls in place to prevent the fear of rejection from affecting you.
- Practice being afraid. Remember what I said above: no amount of reading and self-talk will teach you how to beat any fear more than practice. Put yourself in more and more situations where you could get rejected, and, in time, you won’t worry about it that much.
Fear of Rejection – Conclusion
Look, we all have moments when we ask ourselves: “Am I good enough?” We do so when we’re young, and we continue to do it throughout our adulthood. That simple question is the beginning of you being afraid that, in fact, you are not good enough. Rationally speaking, you should be able to follow it by, “so what?” and do it anyway, but that’s not how our brains work. Learning how to cope with the fear of rejection is one of the most challenging tasks we face because it spans every area of our lives. Developing coping mechanisms and practicing pushing through fear is the only way that we can move forward.
Other Fear of Rejection Resources
- Deconstructing the Fear of Rejection
- Fear of Rejection and Its Consequences
- How To Overcome The Fear Of Rejection And Improve Your Self-Esteem
Now, before you go, I have…
3 Questions For You
- In what areas of your life do you feel you are most affected by the fear of rejection?
- The last time you’ve experienced a fear of rejection, how did it make you feel?
- What are some of the systems and techniques you use to deal with your fear of rejection?
Please share your answers in the comments below. Sharing knowledge helps us all improve and get better!
Hi there! I’m Iulian, and I want to thank you for reading my article. There’s a lot more if you stick around. I write about personal development, productivity, fiction writing, and more. Also, I’ve created Self-Growth Journey, a free program that helps you get unstuck and create the beautiful life you deserve. Enjoy!