I have a confession.
For much of my life I have been terrified of being rejected.
Not in all situations though.
I have been most terrified of being rejected in romantic situations. Yes, dating.
I debated on whether to share this. I feel a lot of shame and embarrassment around this – what will people think, I will seem weak, etc. But as Brené Brown mentions in her book, The Gifts of Imperfection, “shame loves secrecy.”
I’ve been single for a long time. And I have a history of pretty consistently choosing men who are not seriously interested in me or who want all the benefits of a relationship without having to actually call me their girlfriend.
The more this happened, the more fearful I got about future relationships. The fear of rejection clouded whether I chose to date (which I often didn’t) and it influenced what kind of men I dated (ones that reinforced my fear of rejection).
It also determined what kind of things I said to myself. Things like:
- If he doesn’t want me, no one will.
- There is something wrong with me.
- I’m not a worthwhile person.
- I’m too messed up to be loved.
- I’m unwanted, my own father didn’t want me.
- I’ll just fall apart if I’m rejected again. I don’t think I can handle it.
Have you ever thought things like this? That rejection from another person means something about you at a deeper level? If not about dating maybe about friendship or family or a work relationship?
Sucks, huh? And it feels horrible! Even though these thoughts, these limiting beliefs, seem flimsy on a conscious level, subconsciously they still hurt and they can stop us from having fulfilling relationships. They’ve stopped me.
A little while ago I was asked to write about rejection. I wrote a whole nice post about how rejection can be helpful.
I kind of believed what I wrote, but then I started dating again, in person and online, and it seemed like everything fell apart.
Rejection was happening again and I wasn’t handling it well.
My over-thinking tendencies multiplied, my fear responses terrorized my body and I felt angry, embarrassed and defeated.
As painful as the fear was and as much as I toyed around with the “just stop doing it” solution, in my heart I knew that what we run away from just gets stronger. Never dating again or vowing to stop putting yourself out there to meet new people is not the answer.
So what do we do? How do we hug our fear in the face of actual or potential rejection and go for our dream of being in a new relationship (romantic or otherwise)?
Here are a few things that life has taught me so far. Hopefully they will help you as much as they’ve been helping me.
1. Acknowledge that you feel afraid. You can’t address what you don’t admit. Shame is tricky. It will tell you that it’s best to keep quiet, to not even let yourself know that you feel afraid. Admit that you are afraid to put yourself out there, afraid of being hurt, afraid of being vulnerable. These fears are normal, but you must admit them to yourself.
2. Reflect on why you feel afraid. What about being rejected freaks you out? Get as specific as possible. I stumbled across a technique that pretty powerfully combines these first two things (and a bit of #6). It’s called EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique) or “tapping.” It combines tapping on various acupressure points on your hand, head and chest with verbalizing your beliefs. It helps you feel what you’re feeling, accept it and let it go. When I tapped around my rejection, I had a powerful experience and felt so much lighter and at peace. If you’re interested in learning more, here’s a general what is tapping video and here’s an example of tapping around rejection. If this isn’t your thing, that’s ok. Getting your reasons out of your head and onto a piece of paper can be powerful too.
3. Ask yourself what you really want from a relationship. What are you allowing this relationship to mean for you? Are you putting too much pressure on it? Are you giving the other person (or people) responsibility for something that is really yours? One of the things that I realized was that I was wanting other people to want and value me because I felt like it then proved that I was worthy. I now see that this was setting myself up for a lot of pain. I am a worthy person with or without the love of another person. This goes the same for you. You are worthy of love just because you exist. What’s most important is how you feel about you. See what other meanings you’ve been giving to relationships that could be causing you trouble.
4. Develop healthy, “worth free” reasons for being in a relationship. What feels better to want from a relationship (besides wanting someone to complete you, or make you feel important)? Perhaps for a romantic relationship you might want someone to grow as a person with or someone to enjoy Saturdays at the museum. Perhaps for a professional relationship you want someone whose skills and interests compliment your own so you can create a new product together. The more you focus on those, the less space you will give to reasons that either build or destroy your worth.
5. Remind yourself of the benefits of rejection, even if they’re hard to believe at first. Rejection can:
- help you understand how you really feel about yourself as a person and then act accordingly to either accept or change things
- help you become more compassionate and empathetic by realizing that rejection is not always about you, it rarely is.
- help you become stronger and more resilient by learning how to not take rejection personally
- make relationship wins more precious. If it was easy to create meaningful relationships, we’d likely take them for granted.
- show you how to be persistent and never give up
6. Take really good care of yourself in whatever way feels best. At its core, having a fear of rejection means that we care more about what others think of us than we care about what we think of ourselves. Practice self-love. Find a way that works and keep doing it. It could be exercise, meditation, hiring a coach or therapist, buying small treats, saying no, setting boundaries, speaking up for yourself, taking a bubble bath or anything else that makes you feel like you are cared for by you. The more you care about yourself, the less rejection will sting. And like everything else, self-love is a process. Start from where you are and just keep at it.
7. Keep doing what makes you scared, even if you have to pull back and take smaller steps. The only other way for you to learn how to deal with rejection is to give yourself more experience with it. Conscious baby steps work here though. With dating, I found that starting online, while still nerve wracking was a bit less scary than if I had met in person first. In a professional setting it could be reaching out to a colleague you already know a little and engaging with them just a bit more. It’s the steps that matter, not their size. Pay attention to how you feel while you’re taking action and then take one more step.
So that’s what I’ve learned so far about rejection. Does any of this resonate with you? Have you learned something of your own? I’d love to hear from you! Please leave a comment.