This is going to be one of the deepest dives I have ever done on almost any other blog I have ever written. That’s because feelings of rejection are one of the most common, powerful, and confusing emotional experiences any of us can have. This subject simply doesn’t lend itself to a few electronic soundbites.
The feeling of rejection hurts. It cuts into your self-confidence and creates levels of doubt in your worthiness. Sometimes it can start as one or a series of little hurts and suddenly become an avalanche of insecurities or anxiety. The pain can be overwhelming.
It also turns out that none of us are immune from being rejected. It doesn’t matter if you are a young child, a teenager, young adult, or an older adult. Any of us can know what it is like to feel abandoned, discarded, and in the case of group rejection – to feel ostracized by people we thought cared about us.
Rejection can really mess with us. Who really loves me and who doesn’t? Who can I trust when I need a friend? Who can’t I trust? Why am I so feeling so vulnerable about the possibility that I might be rejected, or actually have been rejected?
During my own therapy, while training to be a therapist, and having worked with others who experience these emotions for over 25 years, I began to notice some common themes that people experience around rejection.
Here are some of the more common themes around rejection.
1. Thinking about how others see you and assume it’s negative
2. Avoidance, excuses, procrastination or self-sabotage to avoid risking getting close to others
3. Trying to fit in with the “cool kids” – no matter how badly they treat you, and not thinking enough about who is a good fit for you
4. Not speaking up for yourself
5. Basing your ability to feel good about yourself by attaching too much importance to the approval of others
6. Over-emphasis of people pleasing or consistently over-extending yourself to others
7. Desperately trying to gain the acceptance of people who have repeatedly hurt you
8. Avoiding relationships, making new friends or pursuing work opportunities
9. Consistently picking the wrong type of people – you know – the nasty “mean girls” who gossip behind your back or immature boys who also bully and tease.
10. Thinking that you are letting others down or how disappointed others must be
11. Thinking that any particular rejection is just another obstacle to get where you want to be in life (just “pile it on”), in the hopes that they will ultimately accept you
12. Coming to the conclusion that you must not be interesting enough, nice enough, attractive enough, smart enough, etc…anything with “… enough” after you’ve been all those nice things to others
13. Experiencing painful feelings of anxiety or a panic attack that may even stop you from engaging in life and with people who actually do like you
Tips to help you cope with rejection
It is very probable that you can learn to overcome the fear of rejection and create more self-esteem. Fear of rejection can come up in a variety of areas that includes dating, relationships (including friendships), and your career.
But there are tips to hack your confidence and reduce the feelings of rejection. It takes practice and for some of us, (actually almost all of us) this is a lifelong lesson that shows up every once in a while, and more frequently during specific phases of our lives such as during our childhood and teenage years in particular.
These are also the times when we can learn new ways of coping with the inevitable rejections we are going to experience throughout even the happiest of lives.
First things first
The very first thing I recommend to someone who is experiencing strong fears of rejection, and have been or are currently being rejected, is to reach out to the people who truly do care for you. They may not have all the answers that you need, but there is a basic law of human suffering that holds true for just about all of us: pain shared is pain halved.
The ability to receive the love and support of people who care for us is one of the greatest predictors of the ability to recover from rejection.
Question your assumptions
Put on your private investigator hat. Really analyze your thought patterns. Did that person really say that which lead to my negative thought or was it inferred? You may find that your mind is working overtime and building a case against yourself. Again, this may be a perfect thing to journal and learn to separate fact from fiction. And, of course, you can always ask this person what is going on.
For example: Are you certain it was all them? Is it possible you actually did do something that requires an apology?
Practice questioning your assumptions. Are you assuming that’s how the other person felt or assuming that’s what’s going on for them? Did they say anything that can support the evidence or claim you are making?
Write a new script for your life!
We are all so used to thinking it’s about us all the time. But there are actually 100 other possibilities that we are not privy to that may be the real reason that you didn’t get the job or the date or why your so-called friend didn’t respond to your text or your call. Take your time. Give this some thought.
In an effort of fun and imagination, practice making up 10 other reasons that are also a likely reason that it didn’t happen for you. All could be true or none of it could be. Get understanding and closure if you can.
If not, there is something else you need to consider. The truth of the matter is you may not ever know, so get comfortable in not knowing. Life is full of not knowing.
But you can make not knowing work for you! Not knowing can help us hack our creativity and that always feels better!
Likely stories include:
1. It may not be a good fit (for you or them!). The timing may be off.
2. Someone may perceive a potential conflict down the road.
3. Someone’s dog may have died, and they are feeling rather blue and not hopeful.
What are some of the themes of rejection that are common for you?
Don’t make your life a self-fulfilling prophecy
If you’re walking into a situation (i.e., if it’s work-related, situations with your peers at school, or meeting new people) with the assumption that people never/don’t/won’t like you and that they never/don’t/won’t understand you or never/don’t/won’t find you attractive…guess what kind of signal you’re sending before you even open your mouth? Right!
Unconsciously, you may also be pushing people away or minimizing the value of the nicer people in your life, and thus continuing to create your own evidence that you will always be the object of rejection. Your fears will then always be your experience.
What you don’t want to have happen is for all of this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, if those proverbial “mean girls” at school seem to always run hot and cold as regards to their loyalty to you as a friend, you probably need to ask yourself, “Why do I crave the acceptance and fear the rejection of people who just aren’t nice?” “Can I only love myself based upon the approval of others…especially those who are not kind? Seriously! Do I actually need people in my life like this – really?!”
The same thing is true if you are clinging on to someone who has all kinds of ways of abandoning and rejecting you. Examples of this include: they are chronically late; leer at others they are attracted to while in your presence; are hyper-critical; frequently cancel or don’t show up; promises to call or reply to a text and doesn’t.
Focus on who and how you want to be (or how you want to feel) in the upcoming situation
It’s easy to go down the rabbit hole of what may not work, create excuses not to go to a networking event, a party, just hanging out with a friend, or on a date. However, if we practiced spending half of our time considering the possibility of what may go right, then it creates mental pathways of ease, and a sense of calm and relaxedness when things actually do work out.
Practice mindfulness with your thinking…Is your internal conversation about what you don’t want? If that’s the case, ask yourself, what DO you want as an outcome from this situation? Make sure it’s formed in a positive way rather than what you don’t want.
Before going into the interview, focus on the interview going well. Create a vision of what it looks like to succeed and to be accepted. It won’t work every time but going into an interview with a negative attitude is more likely to be a form of self-sabotage. Focus on a good outcome!
For example, if you’re thinking is, “I don’t want to embarrass myself during this interview,” change it to, “I want to share my diversity of experience and how I am a good fit for this company and role.”
Don’t stop there. Instead, do this:
Continually build your case for why you are good enough
Try starting a journal and write down your experiences with people in terms of who really accepts you for who you are, and those who reject you. It may be valuable to journal this “evidence” after the fact to refer back to when the seeds of your self-doubt come creeping back in.
Remember, your positive evidence is just as relevant as your negative stories. You’re just more likely practiced at the self-defeating talk than the empowering conversations.
Good news. You can change how you think about yourself!
Hack your courage
If you are prone to feelings of rejection, it is quite likely that you are a shy person on the inside, even if you may appear to be an extrovert on the outside. As a person who is sometimes shy, you may also experience a fair amount of social anxiety. So many people do.
It’s a funny thing how we see ourselves and others see us as it relates to feeling shy. We can become very comfortable with being shy. Trouble is, being comfortable is not necessarily the same thing as being happy and fulfilled. This means taking some risks.
I get it. Stepping outside of your comfort level is scary. I’m not saying to not be afraid. Actually, if you’re not afraid, the new way of thinking and acting may not be that important to you. Our desire to experience a fuller life means both acknowledging and also overcoming our fears.
Climbing higher in life as you make better choices and focus on who you want to be with, and what you really want out of your life, is going to require that you tap into your courage.
You are going to have to get outside of your comfort zone and the self-defeating things you may do while you are in that comfort zone.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you are shy and are afraid of rejection. You see a guy that you may have met once or twice, and you’re interested. You’re afraid of rejection if you make a move.
Guess what? If you don’t make a move and he is also shy, you both may lose out on spending the rest of your life with someone who might have been a great fit. This really means that you’ve rejected yourself.
What to do? Here’s a wild idea: ask him out first. It may be one of the most empowering things you ever do. The worst that happens is that he’s not interested. You move on. The best thing that happens is it turns out that he’s The One!
You’ll need your courage to make other changes in your life too. Here’s one that will take a good dose…
Some people are just not quality people. For whatever reasons they have not learned the value of friendship, loyalty, kindness, empathy, gratitude, inclusion, vulnerability, or honesty. If you have people in your life who don’t possess these qualities, then it’s time to for you to get your chin up, shoulders back, and make better choices in who you want in your life.
You need to literally and figuratively walk away from those who don’t truly appreciate and love you. Walk away.
Other ways of walking away include not following these people on social media so much. Be more selective on Instagram, Snapchat, or group texting.
Maybe at some point down the road, now or later, you may be able to mend fences with certain people. People can and do change.
So, what do you do after you walk away from those who truly have rejected you?
Make better choices
You have a couple of choices. Keep your distance from them as best as your life circumstances allow. It may be that you are currently in a social, academic, or professional situation that you can’t completely extricate yourself from. That’s ok. You have other choices you can make.
Think really hard. Has everyone rejected you? Is it really true that nobody loves or appreciates you? My bet is that this is most definitely not the case if you are like the majority of people.
Ask yourself this: Who are the people who actually do love me? Who has expressed an interest in knowing me? Who may have misjudged me and now sees who I really am…and may want to get to know me better?
Make more choices
Along with the people who currently love and support you, have you truly explored other possibilities of people to be with? At school, at work, in your neighborhood?
Making more choices will expand your ability to think beyond the stuck place you may be in right now.
Cast a bigger net!
When you do, you will significantly increase your chances to find those who are a better fit for you. Those are going to be the people to focus on! Surround yourself with people who cherish the fact that you are in their lives!
It’s this. There is an old saying that you shouldn’t settle for less. I have a slightly different take on this and it is my final tip:
Here is a more positive way to frame that: Settle for more. You deserve more. Period!
I hope you found this article helpful. If you have challenges overcoming your fear of rejection this may be an area that I can help you with. Feel free to contact me for a 15-minute phone consultation. I’m more than happy to help in any way that I can.