Fear of Rejection

A. What is Fear of Rejection?

The most common fear of rejection is not being accepted as a friend or companion, including a mate.  It starts at birth and continues until we die.  Friendship is the dominant rejection, but there are others.  The fear of not getting onto a team, getting into a college, finding employment, etc., is all included.  A few more hidden characteristics of this fear include jealousy, lack of self-esteem, not wanting to share, becoming vulnerable, and the like.

Fear of abandonment, albeit related, is not the same.  Abandonment involves being removed after an acceptance.  Trauma causes most abandonment fears, particularly during the adolescent years.  Issues such as lack of trust, anger, and afraid of being alone can appear.   

B. Where did Fear of Rejection Come From?

Evolution.   Some say it came from animal evolution, where the group provides safety and survival to the individuals.  A person kicked out of the family or clan would not survive long in the animal jungle.  This is common sense and a logical assumption. 

But, if evolution is the reason, then why doesn’t evolution make whatever adjustments are necessary to permit solitary animals to survive?  Many solitary animals do well, such as tigers, crabs, most insects, most fish species, etc.   

Click on the Read More link to discuss eight more causes of the Fear of Rejection.

Reproduction.  Some experts say that reproduction is the root cause.  The lineage will eventually go extinct if an animal cannot attract a suitable mate.  Many examples in the animal kingdom involve elaborate pageantry to impress the mate.  The male black-widow spider chooses to risk death to mate.  Salmon swim up a tiny stream to lay eggs and then die?   But an 80-year-old person may fear rejection without a hint of reproduction urges. 

Learned.   Others say that rejection is a learned fear from watching others and acquiring wants or needs.  For example, biting the hand that feeds you is a learned trait connected to a denial of pleasure and sustenance, i.e., a form of rejection. 

Trauma.  Some experts report that trauma is the leading cause, such as being bullied or ridiculed during childhood.  Or a parent, sibling, or teacher, excluding you in favor of another.  

Pain Response.  A neuro-imaging study showed that the brain’s section becomes stimulated when a person encounters physical pain, such as being poked with a needle.  This exact area is also stimulated when social pain occurs.  Electrical signals are not opinions.  They are observations. 

Environmental.  Some argue that environmental factors, including foods, pollutants, etc., are connected.  For example, coffee, chocolate, alcohol, and sugar are stimulants and may increase anxiety.   Some studies have listed the five worst foods for causing or increasing anxiety.

Lack of SleepSome studies have connected inadequate sleep to increased loneliness.  Loneliness and fear of rejection are related.   Sleep Apnea is linked to loneliness and social disorders.

Medical Conditions and Physical Injuries.  Any medical or physical injury that affects the neuro-electrical transmission of signals can increase or decrease this fear.  There is a breakthrough in the area of the gut biome that suggests it may affect all aspects of animal health. This includes things like Autism. 

All of the Above.  Because biology is involved, the answer is likely all of the above plus some.

C. Signs of Fear of Rejection?

There are many manifestations of this fear.  If it raises to the level of a panic disorder, i.e., a feeling of loss of control, intense fear of passing out, or inability to think straight, it could be abnormal.

It does not mean you are going crazy.  It only means you need help learning how to address this fear.  It is highly treatable.  Seeking professional help in this matter is similar to seeking help learning how to swim, scuba dive, or become a pilot.  It’s what intelligent people do.   

Physical Symptoms.  The following are a few of the noticeable physical signs. 

  • Increased heart rate.  If your normal standing heart rate is 60 to 70 bpm, it may jump by 20 to 40%.
  • Increased breathing rate.
  • Feeling dizzy and lightheaded.
  • Blushing, sweating, or trembling hands.
  • Mild nausea.
  • An urge to go the bathroom.

Mental & Social Manifestations

  •  Afraid you will not be accepted.
  • Avoidance of strangers.
  • Have only a few friends.
  • The feeling that something is wrong if people are looking at you.
  • Embarrassed as to what others think.
  • Difficulties in saying no.
  • Taking criticisms as a personal attack.
  • Afraid to say anything, so you remain quiet.
  • Blame yourself if things go wrong.
  • Reluctance to take risks.
  • Hesitancy in making decisions.

D. First Step is to Validate Your Fear.

It is important to acknowledge the fear. Do the following test:

Think about when you first felt anxious, or any of the symptoms listed in paragraph C.  Do you know what triggered it?   With this particular fear, you will know most of the time.  You probably made a conscious decision to talk to a stranger, and that decision triggered the anxiety.  Something with that encounter may be an underlying hidden issue, such as fear of touching, intimacy, catching a disease, becoming trapped, etc.   

If you do not know if you have a fear of rejection, do the following. 

Pick a different stranger and decide to talk to them.   Did your new decision (nor the actual action but the thought or decision) trigger a similar anxious feeling?  If so, you probably have a fear of rejection. 

If you did not feel anxious about the mental decision to meet the second stranger, then go on to the next step.  If the act of meeting triggered the anxiety, then begin narrowing that part of the act that started it.  That is the physical approach, the closeness, the eye contact, the communication, etc.

Next, determine if the second stranger of different sex is not as pretty or handsome, not of the same race, a different size, or something else. 

It would help if you continued until you find another stranger that triggered your original anxiety.  After duplicating your anxiety, you need to list what the two individuals or circumstances had in common. 

Likely, you never took the time to do this analysis.  And it could be because you did not know how or why it was necessary.  But now you know.  Give it a try.  Acknowledge and validate your fear. 

E. Determine the Cause of Your Fear of Rejection.

Big Picture. All fears originate in your head as false negative thoughts. As such, it is knowing the cause that is imporant.  The list of things that can cause the fear of rejection is generally outlined in paragraph A.  Some are hard-wired in our brains.  But even these primordial fears can be reduced by understanding the cause.   

  For example, knowing what caused your heart rate to increase, your breathing rate to jump, or your hand to sweat are normal responses to meeting someone new.  Understanding these conditions are not from some medical or physical defect is calming. 

Consider the following example.  The ancient people on one side of a river observed that all of the trees shook simultaneously on a windless day.  Many would panic, thinking that the end of the world had begun.  Contrast that with the people on the other side of the river who know that the shaking trees were from an earthquake.  Those people would not believe that the end of the world is near.  And the only difference between them was that one side knew.

Your knowledge that caffeine, alcohol, drugs, sugar, etc., may be responsible for some of your anxieties could help reduce those conditions without further action.   Look at it this way, the false negative thought of the world coming to an end is an electrical signal.  The knowledge that the shaking trees were nothing more than an earthquake is only an electrical signal. 

Lack of sleep can cause anxieties.  Your diet plays a major role.  Can you track your fears of either of these conditions?   And if so, they can be modified.

Knowledge by itself can cure or reduce fears. 

Many Little Pictures. In hundreds of circumstances, knowledge would reduce apprehension or anxiety in day-to-day events. Take, for example, the situation where you became anxious when you decided to talk to a stranger.  Knowing why you became anxious could be very helpful. 

It is usually based on four different negative thoughts.

First Negative Thought is that the stranger will say something hurtful or insulting.  This is a common thought.  It is almost 100% false.  Think back; has it ever happened to you?  Adults rarely say hurtful things.  Why would they?  Doing so does not benefit them.  This is a false negative thought without a firm basis.  This knowledge counters your negative thoughts signals and will likely reduce some of your anxiety.

There is one exception.  It deals in the wacky world of teenagers.  Their hormone levels are off the chart, and they act in strange ways.  To avoid that, do a quick assessment. 

  • Has this teenage stranger done something like this before? 
  • Next, try and make eye contact. 

You must do this intentionally, so the stranger knows it is not a simple glance around the room.  Eye contact that lasts for one second or more is a good sign.  If they simile or nod, it indicates receptiveness to a conversation. 

Second Negative Thought is that the stranger will be glad to talk to you, but you fear that you will freeze or fail to carry the conversation forward.  If this has never happened to you before, it is unlikely that it will occur.  If it has happened before, take some learning steps before the meeting.  Check out some online videos.  Do a practice session with a friend.

Having a mental list of basic conversation topics is a good idea.  Pick out four things to talk about. 

  • Something about them that is not intrusive such as Did you grow up here? Work here?
  • Something that the stranger was doing. Are you a coffee lover? Do you like your iPhone?
  • Say something about yourself. I was born here.  I work in marketing upstairs.
  • Compliment them on something.

Here is the crème de la crèmeIt is better to keep the conversation short than long.  There is nothing wrong with a 2-5-minute discussion the first time.   Recall your telephone conversations with people you know.  Many people will talk for an hour.  But others have a three-sentence or question rule.  You know these people.  And it has nothing to do with you.  

The Third Negative Thought is that the stranger will say they are too busy right now, and you interpret that to mean they do not want to talk to you.  The stranger’s response is not a rejection.  If you interpret it as a personal rejection, it will be a false negative thought.  It may indicate you need to work on your self-esteem issues. 

If this “I’m too busy right now” comment causes you significant anxiety, use that feeling to your advantage.  Think about taking a public speaking course, such as a Dale Carnegie™ course, or view a few online videos on door-to-door sales.

If your anxiety level is not too high, you could ask a follow-up question.  But the question should not attack the validity of the stranger’s action.  It should be simple and direct.  And it would help if you listened to the exact words used.  It is a universal rule that when a person continuously interprets things in a negative light, there is a higher probability of hearing what you think and not what you heard. 

Fourth Negative Thought is when one of your friends observes what has happened, and you think they will tease you with the loser sign.  This rarely occurs with adults but does happen from time to time with teenagers.  Friends do not intentionally hurt friends.  They are probably trying to bring humor into the occasion to help you feel better.  Of course, it does the opposite.  It is more from their immaturity in using humor.  You must know that your friend did not mean you were a loser. 

F. How to Reduce Your Fears.

Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).  This therapy is the gold standard in reducing anxiety from social fears, such as the fear of rejection.   It involves repeated exposure to the fear triggers in a manner that desensitizes the anxiety.   And it works.

This means you must repeatedly expose yourself to rejection-type situations.  If it is meeting new people, you must go out and meet new people.  It has a double benefit.  It reduces your anxiety level (Fear) while acquiring new friendships (Joy).

Many online videos discuss various CBT techniques.  Seminars and workshops are available online as well.  It will be helpful to view a few of these to understand how to practice facing your fears.   But the bottom line is that you are going to have to practice.  Reading is good, but it does not take the necessary real-world step.  Workshops, where you approach new people are great.  Online searches in your area should reveal where they are located. 

Rejection Therapy. This therapy is a form of CBT.  There are games, apps, and seminars on this method.  A Ted Talk™ by Jia Jaing on YouTube™ is entertaining and instructive.  In that talk, Mr. Jaign discusses rejection therapy.   He set up several scenarios, all designed to result in a rejection. 

One was approaching a stranger and asking them to loan you $100.  This resulted in many humorous responses, and not in a negative way.  Experiencing rejection repeatedly, you begin to understand that almost none is personal. 

Sales Techniques. Many classes and seminars on sales methods help alleviate the fear of rejection.  They are not formally a CBT method, but they resolve anxieties similarly.  All sales involve purchasers deciding against buying a particular service or product.  Therefore, rejection is nothing more than a part of sales.  As such, the more sales experience you obtain, the greater your understanding that a non-sale is not a personal rejection.  

Look for Positive Traits. Another way of reducing anxieties, particularly those negative thoughts relating to strangers, is to look for the strangers’ positive traits.  These positive traits occupy space and take energy away from negative thoughts. 

If your negative thoughts relate to the stranger criticizing or embarrassing you, then flip your brain.  Concentrate on the strangers’ good traits.  The cartoon on the Type C personality traits shows that innocuous observations teach more than you think. 

Personality Types.  A shortcut to finding positive traits is determining the stranger’s personality type.  If you know the personality type, then you know many of their basic traits. 

For example, if you determine that the stranger is a Type B personality, then you know their main intrinsic trait is making friends.  A Type B stranger is a shoo-in for wanting to talk.  It’s like asking a missionary if they have time to tell you more about religion. 

Here are a few examples to see if they have a B Type personality. 

  • Do they have friendly faces, i.e., do you see them smiling often?
  • B Types tend to procrastinate as well as observe other people.  If their nose is buried into a science book, they are probably a C Type. 
  • If they are busy typing out messages on a cell phone, it indicates they are social, i.e., a B-type.  If the stranger is sitting at a table and everything on the table is in an ordered row, that indicates a C Type. 

You should be getting the picture that hundreds of observations will give you an educated guess as to the Personality Type.

After making an educated guess as to the Personality Type, search for their positive traits.  Let’s say that you determine that the stranger is a C-type person.  Their positive extrinsic trait is intelligence, common sense, and logic.  Their intrinsic trait is harmony.  A Type C person will rarely criticize or intimidate you.  That would be illogical and would create conflict.   Conflict or chaos is the opposite of harmony.  This means you are safe with either a B or C Type Personality.

This leaves the A and D types.   The A type is interested in winning and courage.  They will see that it took courage for you to walk over and talk to them.  This is a big PLUS and gives you an open door.  The A types are workaholics, so they typically say they are busy and do not have time.  That will help you with the Third Negative Thought.  But it tells you to keep your conversation short and to the point. 

This brings us to the D-type Personalities.  This Personality will be challenging to determine.  It might be safer to have an introduction through a friend or cohort. 

The D Type’s main extrinsic trait is anticipation, i.e., the ability to predict.  Beginning your conversation with something involving intuition should open the door.  The D type dominant intrinsic trait is forgiveness.  Therefore, do not worry about interrupting something. 

Learning what not to do is also instructive. 

Do Not Do Drugs and Alcohol.  One of the most common techniques people use to reduce anxiety from the fear of rejection is consuming alcohol or drugs. This is a bad idea.  It also reinforces “running away” as a coping mechanism.   

Many people think they dance better after they’ve had a couple of drinks.  Here is what you should do to verify this.  Have a friend videotape you when you are dancing while drunk.  You will learn quickly that being numb to what is happening is not the same as being better. 

Here is another investigation you can do.   Search for scientific studies on how alcohol affects your driving skills online.  It will reveal many studies, and none of them support that driving under the influence improves your driving skills.

Do Not Avoid Encounters. Another go-to move is avoidance, i.e., avoiding situations where you might get rejected.  This has some common sense and scientific support.  For example, the first time you touch a hot frying pan, you avoid doing it again. 

But there is a major difference.  Touching a hot frying pan is a fact, and the fear of rejection is only in your head, i.e., a false negative thought. 

Do this practice session.  Jot down all of the negative thoughts you have had in the last month.  Next, write down what it would be like to avoid those situations. 

  • You would likely not drive again.
  •  You would get trapped in a public bathroom because you refuse to touch the door handle.
  •  You would refuse to take a test because you might fail.