How to Overcome Fear of Rejection

stopHistorically, if a human being did not belong to a social group, he or she would more than likely die due to harsh conditions. It took a village to survive and you needed to be a part of that village. In an article titled The Pain of Social Rejection, written by Kirsten Weir for the American Psychological Association, she wrote that our need to belong, for acceptance, links back to our early survival skills.

Weir quotes Kipling Williams, PhD, at Purdue University as saying, “Evolutionarily speaking, if you’re socially isolated, you’re going to die and it’s important to feel that pain.” Weir also cites brain research which reveals that the areas of the brain that register pain due to physical injury, the dorsal anterior cingulate and the anterior insula, also register the emotional pains of rejection.

It’s quite smart of our bodies to create such a strong reaction to rejection. Due to our early programming, rejection—a lack of belonging, a lack of acceptance—meant death. So the brain sends us strong signals of pain to warn us that if we don’t try to reconnect, our lives are in jeopardy.

Rather than value this warning sign, this important bodily communication, we fear it. The pain becomes unbearable. We attach all kinds of meanings to the pain, to rejection itself. We perceive rejection as an absolute truth about who we are or what we can achieve. Somehow, this primitive survival signal creates a slow, painful death—of our spirits.

We stop reaching out. We stop trying. We give up on finding the right partner, the right job, the right friends. While our modern-day culture allows us to survive in isolation, what quality does that bring to our life? We may not die physically, but what about mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

Romantic relationships include various forms of rejection. You may reject your partner macro style, the total breakup, or micro style, such as the quiet zingers you launch over dinner. You may reject in obvious ways, such as sleeping in a separate room, or less direct ways, such as developing and feeding a sexual dysfunction.

As a result of these rejections, you may continue to coexist in your relationship but shut down connection. Or the whole relationship might break apart. This separation can wound so deeply that you may fear ever trying to form another relationship.

If you want to overcome your fears of rejection, here are five ways to transform how you respond to this difficult experience:

  1. Rejection is not about you and it is about you. This tenet is twofold. On the one hand, rejection usually has more to do with the person rejecting and less to do with you. That person has his or her own history that influences the person’s ability to connect with and accept you. The person may have his or her own emotional obstacles to confront. At the same time, there may be threads of truth woven into the person’s perspective about you. It behooves you to try to learn what you can from the experience. It takes two to make a relationship work or to tear it apart. How does this rejection become a learning opportunity for you? How do you become constructive instead of destructive with these threads of truth?
  2. Expect rejection SOME of the time. I have no idea where I heard this, but someone once said to me, “You see that gorgeous girl? Someone, somewhere, is sick of her [crap]!” Like that girl, you, too, will be rejected, no matter how attractive you are, how much money you have, or how nice you are—someone will “get sick of you” in some form. Not everyone is compatible, and you will not meet everyone’s needs at all times. If you can accept this, you can decrease the personalization of rejection, maintain faith, and keep trying.
  3. Stop making rejection your whole life story. Assuming the identity of “victim” will not attract or keep a mate. The more you cling to the “rejected” role, the more you suffer. There is more to you than your rejection. Surround yourself with friends and family who support you. These people serve as a reminder of your worth. They are a part of your love story. To overcome rejection, you must connect with people who love you.
  4. Vulnerability is a relationship requirement and a rejection target. If you fear rejection, you might hold up a bulb of garlic when you see the word “vulnerability.” Yet without this vital relationship skill, your mate cannot ever truly connect with you, and may, in turn, reject you. Real intimacy is possible only when both partners become vulnerable. If you can transform what you choose to do with rejection, vulnerability might not feel so scary.
  5. Risk is necessary for your emotional growth. When you choose to love someone, you risk loss. Whether by death, divorce, or separation, the risk of rejection is present. Is it better to love and risk loss or rejection than to not love at all? The answer is yes, plain and simple. Science shows us that we are wired to seek connection, belonging, and acceptance. Avoiding rejection closes the doors to many potentially fulfilling relationships.

Destructive responses to rejection shut you down to all relationships. Constructive responses teach you about yourself and others. Rejection is not easy. Your response sets the stage for your relationship experiences. What do you choose?

Reference:

Weir, Kirsten (2014). The Pain of Social Rejection. American Psychological Association. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/04/rejection.aspx

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  • 23 comments
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  • Brick

    Brick

    December 22nd, 2014 at 1:50 PM

    but what about if the rejection actually does have everything to do with someone else and their own silly ideas, but you are one who suffers for that? no matter what you tell yourself you are still the one who will be hurt because you will be trying to change all of this stuff about you that really nothing can ever make right. If someone rejects you for that reason, even though it is hard to suck it up, you do have to know that this is all about them and that there are definitely better fish in the sea out there for you.

  • Lana

    Lana

    December 22nd, 2014 at 4:17 PM

    I think that all of us would be lying if we said that these things did not bother us, but I do know for sure that as I have gotten older I do tend to let them bother me less and less. I guess that just not caring all that much anymore about what other people think about me has come with age, and honestly I kind of like the freedom that I feel now versus when I was younger and worried all the time about having to do or say the right thing all the time.

  • walter

    walter

    December 23rd, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    really do hate to be around a victim all the time

  • Kevin m

    Kevin m

    December 25th, 2014 at 4:18 AM

    I don’t like the idea of being rejected any more than the next person, but I have learned over the years that more often than not this is not about me, it is about the other person, and why not take this as a chance to learn something new about other people or better yet develop into that person that they would have a hard time rejecting all over again? Not to say that I want to become someone completely different, but I try to take it as nothing personal, but a chance to learn and grow.

  • Don

    Don

    December 26th, 2014 at 7:45 PM

    You know you hit it perfect! So true!

  • Sabrina

    Sabrina

    December 25th, 2014 at 11:21 AM

    For me it all goes back to my childhood, being afraid of being alone and always needing to be at the center of everything so that that loneliness that I innately felt did not ever have the chance to consume me.
    Even as an adult I think that I am still running away from that.

  • Leo P.

    Leo P.

    December 26th, 2014 at 10:10 AM

    Is there ever any real getting over that fear, or do you just learn to accept the fact that there will be people in your life who accept you for the way that you are and then there will be others who are going to reject you for the silliest of reason? I honestly think that we are all still going to be hurt by that rejection no matter how old we get, but there will eventually come a time in our lives when we have a stronger ability to let it all go, because those things, wile they still do matter, they just don’t matter quite as much as they may have once have.

  • Kat

    Kat

    December 26th, 2014 at 12:39 PM

    Well, I sure needed this today and it is exactly how I am feeling. Thank you for the email!

  • Don

    Don

    December 26th, 2014 at 7:43 PM

    Hi Kat I know how you feel going through a lot with my dad being ill and my wife online with strange men and says she needs the attention from lack of self esteem take care Don

  • pure

    pure

    December 26th, 2014 at 1:46 PM

    I reached a point in my LIFE where I FEEL I will be without a LOVING wife and therefore never experience MARRIAGE!..I’ve passed the surface of inner hurt or disappointment when it comes to being BLESS with a SOULMATE!..All LOVE,pure

  • Esther

    Esther

    December 28th, 2014 at 9:05 AM

    Not giving up I hope…negative feelings about the whole issue only make you feel worse. I searched within myself and learned many positive things about me and my capabilities. This gave me the energy, drive to move on. Rejection handled positively gave me an insight towards growth and maturity

  • Chase

    Chase

    December 27th, 2014 at 1:38 PM

    I can’t say that I am afraid of being rejected… but it’s not the most pleasant feeling in the world

  • Davey

    Davey

    December 28th, 2014 at 9:38 AM

    My mother left when we were all very young so for me this sort of rejection in my life began at a very early age. It has followed me, well haunted me really, throughout the years, and I am not sure that I will ever feel a real sense of security given that abandonment that I was dealt early on.

  • Abrey

    Abrey

    December 29th, 2014 at 1:12 AM

    I’ve been feeling this way for a while as well…my father left us to go with his mistress which by the way had a love child with her…growing up I always would wonder if he loved me and care for me as much as his other daughter and if so why wouldn’t he see me often….when I notice he had her (my half sisters) name tatted on his arm and not mine I felt rejected and not good enough…now I’m older and Ive had two failed relationships the first one who wasn’t ready to settle even after our daughter found someone else and now is engaged and now the most recent relationship I found out he cheated on me..its hasnt been easy but im hanging in there..

  • Carolynn Aristone, MSW, LCSW (author)

    Carolynn Aristone, MSW, LCSW (author)

    December 28th, 2014 at 3:51 PM

    Rejection, our body’s primal response to it, it’s social implications, and how it effects us emotionally is such a deep experience. And yes, Davey, our own early childhood experiences greatly influence how we respond to rejection, particularly if a primary caregiver abandoned the family – this effects our biological need for secure attachment. I greatly appreciate your readership and hope that you can use this information to make 2015 a year of intentional connection.

  • bj

    bj

    December 28th, 2014 at 10:52 PM

    Took me a long time to realize that some people use rejection as a manipulation. And with that learning to accept that rejection as a sign to run! Life is complicated enough! Be around people who are honest but supportive too. Another thing learned: Incapatability seems to be rampant in our society for various reasons. I agree that it can be a learning situation about yourself. Also a choice time…do you want to change something about yourself or change who you associate with.

  • Davey

    Davey

    December 29th, 2014 at 4:22 AM

    Thanks Carolynn- I intend to do just that!

  • Don

    Don

    December 29th, 2014 at 10:02 AM

    Why do we let people that we love treat us so badly? My wife who I love and treat so wonderfully treated me like hell when I was laid up with my back going out on me! Now she is on chat rooms with strange men and telling me everything is great between us! No married woman that truly loves her man would do that to him! I wish you all luck and prayers in the world!

  • Dr Donald

    Dr Donald

    January 13th, 2015 at 5:10 AM

    Perhaps, but perhaps not…I think you need more data than you reported to come to that conclusion.
    Best Wishes,
    Don

  • Chris

    Chris

    January 24th, 2015 at 4:32 PM

    I agree with you. No need for Chatrooms. She can come in your room and ” Chat ” anytime. ” Through Sickness and in Health ‘Til Death Do Us Part “. Prayers for You & Your Wife. Hand in there. God Bless 🙏

  • pure

    pure

    December 29th, 2014 at 3:56 PM

    I want & LIVE to seek HAPPINESS!..Yet I do find myself wondering if I’m never BLESSED with a SOUL-mate will I ever LIVE in TRUE HAPPINESS!..ALL <3,Pure

  • Angel

    Angel

    January 31st, 2015 at 10:31 AM

    I decided to do online school because of that.

  • dannyc

    dannyc

    February 26th, 2017 at 5:33 PM

    At age 60 I have never been in love because of a fear of rejection. Recently I did take a chance and allow myself to fall in love for the first time. While it was happening it was a new and amazing experience. But then, quite suddenly I was rejected (she said I was too old) and the pain has been unbearable. I have been in a deep depression for weeks. I really thought that now, late in my life I would finally get a chance to find out what love was like. But it turns out that my fear of rejection all those years was totally justified. No amount of feeling love is worth the pain of rejection. Indeed it is even worse than I thought it would be.

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