Tinnitus, Worry, and Fear of Rejection

Tinnitus is brought on by worry and fear of disapproval.
The thought of spending five hours at his parents’ anniversary party made Roger feel tired and anxious. That’s when the ringing in his ears started. It was barely noticeable while he was getting dressed, but the tinnitus became loud and jarring as he thought of having to endure the pointed questions, being told what to do, and how to do it.

He hated large gatherings, which always made him feel “on show.” He could hear the comments his mother would make about him going back to school to get an architecture degree. He rehearsed his fake smile and polite responses, while feeling hurt and resentful inside.

Tinnitus is linked to not expressing feelings when emotionally distressed.
Meeting up with neighbors and a couple of old family friends put Roger at ease for a short while. The tinnitus quieted down long enough for him to focus on the conversation and enjoy a joke or two. Other people joined his group and took over the conversation. He felt unsure of himself and afraid of looking like a fool. Roger’s discomfort made his tinnitus return. He felt dizzy and went out into the garden, trying to escape the hissing noise in his ears, but it persisted until he saw his nephews and nieces playing around the pool. He felt more comfortable in their company. The tinnitus abated as Roger’s comfort level returned to normal. He could say what he liked to the kids. They accepted him without question.

Tinnitus distracts from fear of disapproval and rejection.
At the dinner buffet, Roger’s anxiety heightened. He saw his mother’s eyes on him was ordered by his father to give an opinion. Being put on the spot in that manner made him feel anxious and upset again. It was as if everyone was looking at him in a disparaging way. His body became tense and his jaw tightened. His heart started to race faster, he became sweaty, and the tinnitus roared in his ears. Focusing on his physical discomfort took away the anger towards his parents. He excused himself, saying he wasn’t feeling well, and went to his old bedroom.

The tinnitus was overwhelming. Putting headphones on to listen to music on his iPod didn’t help. All he could hear was the scratchy, high-pitched, rhythmic noise in his ears that made him want to destroy his hearing.

But alone again, he felt safer. The tinnitus was familiar and predictable by now. Family and other people felt dangerous. They made him worry about getting hurt and rejected. He was always on guard and it was exhausting. He rarely had fun in the company of others. Life was much more tolerable and manageable when he was doing his architectural drawings and studying on the computer.

Research shows that a Type D or “distressed” personality is linked to tinnitus.
Tinnitus is one of the most chronic ear, nose, and throat (ENT) conditions, experienced by approximately 10-20% of people. Tinnitus is experienced as a ringing in the ears in the absence of any external sounds. It can take the form of buzzing, whining, hissing, ticking, or clicking sounds that can be very disorienting.

A study reported in the 2010 Journal of Psychosomatics found that compared to other ear, nose, and throat patients, people who experienced tinnitus had a greater likelihood of:

  • Type D personality, characterized by experiencing negative emotions for much of the time and not expressing them due to fear of disapproval and or rejection. This “distressed” type of personality makes people lack self-assurance and reticent about speaking.
  • Negative outlook on life.
  • Difficulty controlling and stabilizing negative emotions like worry, irritability, and gloom.
  • Being uncomfortable in social situations.
  • Introversion rather than extroversion.

Tinnitus symptoms can be managed.
Roger is caught in a trap. He wants approval and acceptance so he can be more self-assured and confident, but he is fearful of disapproval and rejection if he dares speak his mind. The conflict is harmful to his health and quality of life. Tinnitus prevents him from being able to enjoy normal activities and reinforces his reluctance to participate in group gatherings. Roger can help himself by rehearsing several ideas:

  • His views are just as valuable as those of others.
  • When he speaks up, he will show his value and people will take him seriously.
  • The more he speaks up, rather than looking for approval, the more confident and self-assured he will feel.
  • Feeling good about himself will reduce the need for tinnitus to mask his fears and worries.

© Copyright 2010 by Jeanette Raymond. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • strauss

    June 1st, 2010 at 5:06 PM

    I have experienced something very familiar quite a lot of times.Although there has been no ‘sound’ that I encounter in my ears,I do feel very uncomfortable when I have to interact with people outside of my safe-circle and am not in a position to talk much if someone outside of this safe-circle asks me a lot of questions or asks anything about my academics or anything else.I hate social gatherings other than the ones with my close friends.I may just be too lazy,but I just hope I have no syndrome or anything.

  • Jon

    June 2nd, 2010 at 2:49 AM

    Situations like this that I have coming up and I really do not want to be a part of or I perceive ahead of time that they are going to be uncomfortable or stressful for me often bring on days long migraines. And I know this is what one of my triggers is but I just can’t overcome that anxiety that nine times out of ten is going to bring one on.

  • cobey G.

    June 2nd, 2010 at 8:11 AM

    I love meeting new people and making new friends and have never had apprehensions like the ones described in the article above…I think the cause of this is a mixture of upbringing,nature of the person and also the environment the person grew up in.If a child sees his parents being outgoing,like I did,I think that child will more probably grow up being outgoing too!

  • laura

    June 2nd, 2010 at 1:55 PM

    I hate it when I have to meet and interact with new people. Thus I avoid going to social gatherings with my mum…she says it is not a good thing but I just don’t feel comfortable and she doesn’t seem to understand…I’m just scared I’ll make a fool out of myself :(

  • Dr. Jeanette Raymond, Ph.D.

    June 3rd, 2010 at 10:52 AM

    Thanks for sharing your experiences Strauss, Cobey, Jon and Laura.
    Anxiety about being judged and made to feel small is a big threat to your personal identity and sense of well being.

    If it has been hard for you in your childhood and social environment to express yourself and feel okay about it, then some part of you will speak the fear and distress that puts you in a conflict. One part of you wants to be with people and feel part of the group, while another is anxious and fearful. These types of conflicts aren’t easy to resolve and often your body will help you out by giving you a symptom such as tinnitus or migraine to provide an exit strategy.

    Unfortunately it is only a temporary solution and you have to repeat it over and over again, every time the conflict arises.

    Getting to the bottom of your fears in a safe therapeutic setting can be helpful in understanding your conflict better and giving you other options that are more positive in the long term.

  • tiny

    March 15th, 2011 at 4:14 AM

    It is much beneficial and also useful for those who are suffer for this problem.Thanks for given this information.

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