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Fear of Rejection

Adele Wilde

Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Perth, Western Australia

Attention from others is a basic and essential human need. Attention in the form of recognition, understanding, and acceptance are essential for us to thrive both psychologically and physically. Often this desire for acceptance is matched by a fear of not receiving understanding and acceptance, thus justifying the creation of a strategy of hiding our true selves and creating a driving force that keeps us from being authentic. Not sufficiently getting the experience of being understood, validated, accepted, considered, and appreciated, as we are, can lead to feelings of shame and unworthiness that then creates a sensitivity to having the feeling of being rejected. The desire for acceptance and the fear of rejection informs many of the actions in our lives and the way we live and interact.

The fear of rejection can affect a person's choice in many areas including;

Some degree of refusal (which may be experienced as rejection) and actual rejection, from others is an inevitable part of life. Nevertheless, rejection becomes problematic when it is prolonged or frequent, when the source of rejection is an important person in our lives, or when one already has a particular sensitivity to rejection. The person experiencing rejection, can feel that they earned the rejection as a result of some fault in their personality, or deficiency in their physical attributes, or because they could not be all they were expected to be.

The consequences of the chronic experience of rejection can be low self esteem, depression, loneliness, aggression, a heightened sensitivity to future rejection, and a tendency to be self-critical and self-rejecting, and then critical and rejecting of others in turn.

The most important origin of rejection fear is the experience of being rejected in childhood by parents and parenting figures (grandparents, older siblings, teachers etc). This rejection may be in the form of outright hostility, neglect due to lack of interest or lack of parenting ability, or, more commonly, parents not understanding their child intuitively - not being 'tuned-in'.

Additional causes of rejection fear may include a specific early traumatic experience of loss (such as the loss of a parent) or rejection, being abandoned when young, being repeatedly bullied or ridiculed, having a physical condition that either makes you different or you believe makes you unattractive to others.

Experiences in adult life that can exacerbate feelings of being rejected might include job loss or career setback, experiencing one's self as not being smart enough, not competent, not financially established enough, not physically attractive enough. As well there are pressure situations where outcomes are important but unknown, such that we are potentially vulnerable. For example, first dates, meeting new people, job interviews, important business dealings, getting married, having a baby.

Some common mal-adaptive coping strategies when dealing with a fear of rejection are:

People pleasing - you may find it impossible to say no, even if this makes your life more difficult. You may be spending a lot of time doing things you don't really want to do. You may have an excessive work load or burden that can lead to burnout.

Unassertiveness - difficulty or refusal to speak up for yourself, or to ask for what you want or need. Avoiding confrontation is common for people fearing rejection. Those fearing rejection pretend that their own needs are unimportant or don't matter, and so attempt to shut down or shut out those needs.

Passive Aggressive behaviours - not comfortable with their 'real' selves, but still needing to express in some way their own needs. Behaviour includes; chronic complaining, breaking or 'forgetting' promises, procrastination, and not fulfilling or efficiently completing work taken on.

Being Inauthentic - Many of those who fear rejection are afraid to present their 'real' selves to the world and adopt an 'as-if' persona. They assume a way of behaving or being around others that is unauthentic. Often highly monitored and scripted, those fearing rejection, hide behind a mask believing that they will be rejected if they show their 'true' self.

Distancing/selfsufficiency - One of the ways we protect against the fear of rejection is by keeping an emotional distance from others. The distant person maintains a mask of aloofness and invulnerability, which prevents others making intimate contact with him; he thus avoids being rejected at the price of avoiding intimacy. The lie he lives by is "I don't need or want anybody." He essentially feels unloveworthy and responds to this belief with lonely self-sufficiency. He makes a virtue out of being stoically "independent" or dependent only on himself. He believes he should not reach out because there is no one really there. To confirm this belief he rejects (minimises or devalues) interest, concern, and affection shown or offered.

The problem with these strategies against possible rejection is that they tend to be self-fulfilling as they make longed for acceptance and closeness impossible, they maintain feelings of not belonging and being rejected or rejectable. Achieving healthy fulfilling living involves being open to others, and therefore includes the risk of rejection. One may hold the belief, that the avoidance of the rewards of nurturing contact and intimacy, is a fair price to pay for the avoidance of pain. This belief results in living in an emotional desert.

The only resolution is the reducing of the fear and shame surrounding needing and receiving from others. To avoid internalizing your experience of rejection, you need to proactively make a choice to start to face your fears, and to begin to share yourself more. In doing so, you can reduce feelings of aloneness. As you face your fears and share the emotions that arise as a result of your experience, you are sure to encounter others with similar stories. The realization that you are not alone in the ways you experience rejection, can in itself reduce the feelings of shame and aloneness. Often times taking action can be a powerful way of moving through fear, and sometimes it can be quicker than you may imagine. When we avoid what we fear, our anxieties are apt to worsen over time. Many people shy away from taking healthy risks for fear of appearing ridiculous, foolish and deeply ashamed. Fear when faced, more often than not does not produce the previous feared outcome, or is nowhere near as dreadful as imagined, but the deeply felt negative consequences of not acting can be debilitating. Sometimes we may need support from others in order to explore, dissipate or conquer those fears.

If you are currently struggling with rejection and the fear or anxiety around this issue, it may be helpful for you to work through this with a therapist, in order to address these fears effectively.

Adele can assist you to understand and deal with your issues concerning rejection, by exploring and understanding what this means to you and your life.

If you would like more information or help, Adele can be contacted by telephone or email.

Phone: 0439 324 703


Adele Wilde
Counsellor and Psychotherapist

Mt Lawley Counselling Centre
13 Alvan Street
Mt Lawley (Perth) WA 6050

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