The fear of rejection is one of the most basic parts of being human.
We all need to feel that we are a part of something larger and valued for who we are.
Our need for belonging is so strong that we all feel intense pain when we are excluded.
In fact, we cannot survive without one another. The need for connection is one of the deepest human instincts.
According to a landmark paper by psychologists Roy Baumeister and Mark Leary, “Belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and on cognitive processes. Lack of attachments is linked to a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being.”
It’s no wonder that the thought of rejection is so daunting. We understand on a deep and visceral level what the costs of being shut out can be.
Everyone is afraid of rejection, but sometimes the fear can get out of hand. It can affect your decision-making and even dictate the direction of your life.
It can certainly impact the quality of your relationships when your anxiety is obvious to those around you.
Dwelling on this fear can prevent you from socializing or developing close relationships in order to protect yourself from rejection.
Here are 8 strategies to help you overcome your fear of rejection:
1. Get to the root of your fear.
The first step towards breaking the cycle is understanding the problem inside and out.
At its core, rejection is the feeling that others are right to ostracize you because they have seen the real you.
Look at the history of your relationships and friendships, all the way back to your childhood, and think about the times you have felt rejected. What were the circumstances?
Perhaps you felt neglected by your parents, or maybe you felt overlooked or even excluded by your peers. Many people develop a strong fear as a result of constantly being compared to others as a child.
Even favorable comparison reinforces the belief that your worth is ultimately a result of being better than others.
It can be particularly helpful to write a letter to your younger self explaining everything you wish you had known at the time and reminding your inner child that it will be alright.
2. Understand how your fear is affecting you.
To overcome your fear, you will have to look unflinchingly at the negative effects it is having on your life. This step will be difficult, but it is the single most important step towards real change.
Pay attention to what makes you feel rejected and what situations you avoid, consciously or unconsciously, to prevent that feeling.
Maybe you are afraid to say no, or maybe you feel that you will be a burden if you ask for what you want.
Humans are social creatures, and it is normal to imitate others to smooth out social situations, but many people with an intense fear of rejection take this behavior to an extreme. They fear that their own identities will not be enough.
Be honest with yourself about what you are missing out on.
Most importantly, be very clear that you are overcoming this fear for your own well-being. You are not doing it to appear more confident, but rather to enhance your happiness and freedom.
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3. Practice coping with rejection.
Part of the fear of rejection is a fear of the unknown.
Practice putting yourself in situations with low stakes so that it isn’t the end of the world if you end up rejected.
It will still hurt, but you’ve experienced pain before, and afterward, you got on with your life and felt happiness again.
Feeling pain once isn’t a life sentence to misery. There is no need to be afraid of the feeling itself. In fact, it is inevitable and even healthy to feel some rejection.
One of the most helpful strategies is to run through scenarios in your mind and imagine the worst case. The reality is rarely as frightening as the unknown.
4. Cultivate a resilient attitude.
Rejection is always painful, but the factor that makes it devastating for many people is a self-defeating attitude.
Get used to thinking about how to recover, and look to the future rather than dwelling on the feeling of rejection. Don’t keep rehashing why you were rejected and what it says about you.
Hurt is actually part of the process of healing, but we sometimes halt this natural process before moving on to growth by overestimating the meaning that the feeling has.
The feeling is just a feeling. It doesn’t signify that you are flawed or unworthy.
Practice acknowledging the pain. Resisting reinforces the unhealthy but common idea that pain is a sign of having done something wrong.
Related: How To Deal With Rejection
5. Identify self-defeating thought patterns.
People who are afraid of rejection often take each instance of rejection very personally. It becomes damaging when you habitually believe it’s your own fault and allow that belief to erode your self-esteem.
Get comfortable with the fact that when you make yourself vulnerable in relationships, you can’t know or control how people will respond.
No matter how likable you are, others have their own complex inner worlds that might lead them to push you away for their own reasons.
6. Replace self-defeating thought patterns with realistic ones.
If you frame every encounter as a potentially painful experience of rejection, you will interpret any negativity as rejection. You will see it when it is not even there.
When you are first coping with this fear, actively trying not to think about it will be counterproductive.
Instead, work to frame every encounter as an opportunity to interpret rejection realistically. Pay attention to the other person so that you are not so focused on your own mistakes but rather more sensitive to their feelings.
7. Develop compassion for yourself.
Rejection is truly harmful when you take it to heart. When you’re rejected, you likely respond by berating yourself and maybe even isolating yourself, which makes you feel worse.
But beyond taking time to acknowledge the pain, the first step toward healing is to wish yourself well and treat your pain with loving kindness.
Recognize that you wouldn’t wish this pain on the people you care about, so treat yourself the same way you would treat others in the same situation.
Remind yourself that whatever the cause of the rejection, you are your own ally. Give yourself permission to offer comfort and compassion yourself.
8. Don’t give up on relationships.
When you’ve been rejected, you can lose faith in relationships. You begin to lack trust that the people you care about will stick by you.
This might cause you to pull away from others and build internal walls to protect your emotions. You may no longer feel comfortable being vulnerable and real with the people you care about.
It’s understandable to be more discerning and cautious when you’ve been stung by rejection, but don’t give up on the people in your life who have stuck by you and love you just as you are.
Vulnerability is essential for intimacy in any kind of relationship, whether it’s a romantic connection or a friendship.
Vulnerability does expose you to more pain should you be rejected, but holding back on it prevents you from the immense joy of a deep and authentic relationship.
Remember, the fear of rejection is baked into the human condition and is normal response to an essential yearning we all have for belongingness.
Rejection itself happens to all of us several times throughout our lives. Though it’s painful, it too is a normal part of life.
It’s how we respond to both rejection and our fear of it that can make the difference in our own mental and physical well-being.
Allow yourself to grieve and feel the pain.
Learn what you can from the experience.
Accept that rejection is rarely an indictment of your self-worth.
And finally, be kind and compassionate with yourself so you have the willingness to open yourself up to new and better relationships down the road.