I definitely have the fear of rejection. I suspect most people do, somewhere – in some form. When I think of rejection, I immediately think of romantic partners, my peer group and my work. The thought of being rejected in any of these spheres is a painful one.
And yet the possibility of rejection is one that most of us are going to live with. The chances are – at some point in our lives – we’ll experience being broken up with / not getting the job we wanted / being shunned by a friend. And it’s very difficult to control these things, entirely; we can’t make someone hire us, or marry us. (Not legally anyway 😛 )
So, if you find yourself experiencing the fear of rejection and you’re wondering what you can do to work through these feelings, these are some things that have worked for me…
Fear of rejection in a relationship
I’d be surprised if everyone didn’t feel this fear, to some degree. How many people in loving relationships would be instantly okay if their spouse just upped and left them? Not many, I suspect.
This is a particularly hot potato for me. When I experience abandonment fear, it’s palpable and overwhelming, like my life hangs in the balance. In those moments, maintaining the individual’s presence – and acceptance – seems key to my very survival. (Fortunately, in my case, this intensity of feeling is rare and doesn’t always manifest in my romantic attachments. But it can.)
One thing I’ve found helpful is to understand what’s at the root of my abandonment fear. I can certainly look at prior instances in my life that might be fanning the flames of my present anxieties; maybe I’m ‘reliving’ them, in some way? There’s also strength in being able to name the fear of rejection when it flames up. Even just telling myself “this is the fear of rejection that I’m experiencing” can be incredibly useful – naming thoughts and letting them ‘be’ rather than choosing to be defined by them. I also find it useful to discuss how I’m feeling with someone I trust.
But conversely, there are times when it’s okay to act on rejection anxiety. For example, if I haven’t heard from my partner in a week (when I’d normally hear from them everyday) then I’d be completely justified in thinking that something could be amiss. So, I’d probably check that they’re still breathing(!) and then try to find out if everything’s alright.
Fear of rejection by peers
I think much of this is governed by self-confidence and self-worth. When I’m feeling okay with myself, I have no compunction with saying to my friends (or wider peer group) something that might not be agreed with – provided it’s not immoral or insulting. For instance, I’m a big fan of the entrepreneur Richard Branson… Not a widely popular opinion! Particularly these days, when the notion that someone could sue the NHS is tantamount to fascism in some people’s eyes. (One of Richard Branson’s companies once sued the NHS…)
Now, there’s nothing wrong with my holding this view; Richard Branson isn’t a tyrant or a criminal. But naturally, not everyone’s going to agree. I guess it’s up to me to decide if I feel comfortable with expressing my feelings – safe in the knowledge that not everyone will share my opinion.
I guess what it boils down to is this: a trust that a difference of opinion (or even a dislike of my hairstyle!) does not mean the end of a friendship, or even outright rejection by an entire peer group. At the same time, I try to maintain a healthy degree of self-acceptance of my own strengths and weaknesses. And let’s face it, everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It doesn’t mean we can’t be friends!
Fear of rejection at work
I make lots of mistakes at work. I hate it when I do; I often feel a bit stupid and a bit of a failure. The good news is everyone makes mistakes at work, so I’m in very good company. It doesn’t mean I’m in imminent danger of being sacked.
But when it comes to the fear of rejection at work, I guess it can take many forms. Maybe it’s the fear of an actual sacking, or failing to make the cut at a job interview.
However, in the event that I am sacked / turned down, I find it useful to understand why these things happened so that I can take them as learning experiences. Was I under-qualified for the job I went for? Do I need to work on my interview skills? Or – if my position was terminated – did I do something wrong? How can I improve? What can I take from this? (It might be a bit of an exaggeration to say that I’ve ever been “sacked” but I did have one of my contracts suddenly terminated last year.)
I also try to remember that people of all abilities ‘fail’ job interviews. I see getting rejected as part of the experience. Of course, there are always things I can do better, but sometimes people get hired for hard-to-define reasons. Maybe they just had a better rapport with the interviewer, and seemed like a better fit for the company? Maybe they had a kick-ass air hockey table to bring to the office?!
None of this is to say that rejection isn’t painful. It has the potential to be incredibly painful. However it needn’t put the brakes on life; there are always things I can do to work through the feelings. Prayer works as well. (Or happy thoughts if you’re an atheist 😉 😉 )
Tell me what you think though. Does my approach resonate with you? How do you manage the fear of rejection? Are you struggling to manage? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.