People who have a fear of rejection are afraid of not being liked, being abandoned, not fitting in or being alone. People who fear rejection may struggle with low self-esteem, lack of confidence, shame, or guilt, and spend a lot of time and energy worrying about what others think of them. They will often neglect their own needs or let people take advantage of them to be liked.
Signs You’re Afraid of Rejection
Someone who is afraid of rejection may find themselves in situations where they put others’ needs and wants before their own. They may feel uncomfortable speaking their mind or expressing their opinions, or they may struggle to set boundaries and say no. They can also have a tendency to stay in unhealthy relationships for too long.
Signs of fear of rejection can include:
- Being a people-pleaser
- Taking on too many responsibilities
- Having trouble saying no
- Working too hard
- Hiding your true thoughts/feelings from others
- Staying in unhealthy relationships
- Fear of failure
- Putting up with poor treatment from others
What Causes Fear of Rejection?
Fear of rejection is a common and understandable fear and can be a normal part of being human. Our ancestors relied on being accepted in the group for survival, so ancient parts of the human brain including the amygdala can register a rejection as life-threatening. Common fears related to rejection such as the fear of public speaking can be normal and expected but can cause problems when they start to negatively impact a person’s life or get in the way of opportunities.
Social anxiety can be related to fear of rejection, due to the fear of doing or saying something embarrassing, not being liked, or not being able to connect with others.1 Other mental health concerns can cause fear of rejection as well. OCD, for example, can cause rumination and obsessive thinking about whether someone is liked or accepted by their romantic interests, peers, or coworkers.
PTSD is known to not only trigger the fight or flight response, but also the fawn response, which is related to fear of rejection. Fawning is the act of desperately trying to smooth things over and please others in order to avoid conflict or rejection.2
Effects of Fear of Rejection
Fear of rejection can harm personal and professional relationships. People with a fear of rejection may put unrealistic expectations on others. They may be clingy, need constant reassurance, become jealous or suspicious, or compare themselves negatively with others. Fear of rejection can become serious enough to result in rejection sensitive dysphoria, which has been linked to ADHD.3
Fear of Rejection in Careers
Fear of rejection can cost people a great deal in their careers, including missing out on good opportunities, not asking for pay increases or discussing needed changes to work responsibilities, or staying stuck in their current position due to fear.
Interview anxiety can cause someone to not apply for the job they want, to dread the interview process, or to struggle through the interview. Someone dealing with new job anxiety may stay in a job that is a poor fit for far too long and miss out on career growth. Someone with a fear of rejection at work may also work way too hard or for too long to try to prove themselves.
Fear of Rejection in Relationships
Fear of rejection in romantic relationships can lead to not showing interest or sharing feelings with a potential partner, or result in jealousy, insecurity, or neediness. People may also push others away before they get close, to try to avoid this fear.
When one partner in a committed relationship has relationship anxiety and is not able to feel secure or comfortable, their constant need for reassurance often becomes a strain on the relationship. When this happens, fear of rejection becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Fear of Rejection in Social Settings
Many people struggle with social anxiety and fear of being rejected in social settings. Someone with this fear may avoid social gatherings or stand against the wall and avoid talking to others. Some of the fears that may come up are fear of not knowing what to say, fear of saying something stupid, forgetting someone’s name, or feeling awkward.
The problem with this is that humans need connection. As scary as it may seem to put oneself out there, avoidance can lead to isolation and loneliness. This effect can be especially profound for people in stigmatized groups.4
Fear of Rejection in Business
Fear of rejection in business can stop people from following their dreams and helping the people who need their products and services. Someone can have the best business idea in the world, but unless they put themselves out there, no one will ever know about it. Being successful in business requires hearing no many times to get to the yes.
Fear of Rejection in Creativity
Fear of rejection can stifle creativity. Someone with this fear may hesitate to try something new or explore a creative pursuit. Those who are creative may hesitate to share their work with anyone, or ask for the help they need to master their skills. This fear can keep people stuck and stop them from sharing their creativity and talent.
Fear of Rejection in New Friendships
Making new friends can be tough. Fear of rejection can prevent people from putting themselves out there, meeting new people, and making connections. Making new friends requires a certain amount of vulnerability. People with a fear of rejection may avoid these situations to try to keep themselves safe, but ultimately it keeps them isolated and lonely.
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How to Get Over Your Fear of Rejection
There are ways to get better at dealing with rejection. It is important to practice self-care and build confidence, in order to break the vicious cycle of isolation and avoidance that keeps people stuck, fearful and lonely. Fear of rejection goes away when one starts to believe that they are enough, and they stop relying on others for their self-worth.
The following are 13 tips for how to deal with fear of rejection:
1. Accept It
One way to deal with fear of rejection is to accept it and simply notice that it’s there. People often beat themselves up for their feelings, which inevitably makes everything worse. For instance, imagine someone who is feeling nervous about going to a party. They fear that people won’t like them or will reject them.
So instead of just noticing and acknowledging that fear, this person starts to beat themself up with negative self-talk. They berate themselves for being so fearful and not being able to just be “normal”. They may go down a spiral of thinking about all of the things they struggle with. Instead, try noticing that the fear is there without judging it or making it mean something more.
2. Build the Habit of Positive Self-Talk
Positive self-talk can actually rewire the pathways in the brain to be more positive. Positive self-talk can improve mood and boost confidence. It may sound silly, but it works! Try a mantra like “I am enough” or “I can do hard things”.
3. Don’t Let Rejection Define You
There are so many things that make a person unique and special, and everyone has their own gifts. Fear of rejection is only one small part, not the whole person. Remember that just because the fear is there doesn’t mean you have to listen to it or make it part of your identity.5
4. Build Confidence
Building confidence helps people feel more sure of themselves and more grounded. Confident people know that their worth is not dependent on the opinion of others, and they are more able to be themselves.
5. Have Self-Compassion
Self-compassion means treating oneself as they would a close friend. Remember that people with a fear of rejection live with anxiety, uncertainty, and fear every day. These are not easy things to live with. Put your hands over your heart and send yourself some compassion for all that you have been through and overcome.
6. Let Go of Guilt
Guilt about the past can cause people to feel bad about themselves and fear rejection or abandonment from others. Making amends where necessary and letting go of guilt can be a huge weight off your shoulders.
7. Practice Meditation
People who meditate are more able to be present in the moment, and it can help with not getting wrapped up in fears and negative self-talk. Start with 2 minutes a day and work up from there. There are many great, free resources available for getting started with meditation.
8. Prioritize Self-Care
Self-care is critical if one is going to build confidence, feel more self-assured and be less fearful. It’s hard for someone to value and stick up for themselves if they don’t treat themselves well. Prioritizing self-care is a way to show yourself that you matter.
Research shows that fear of rejection can increase stress in the body, including the stress hormone cortisol. Try taking several slow breaths to decrease the stress response.6
Exercise is shown to decrease stress, increase endorphins and improve self-esteem. All of these benefits can help reduce the fear of rejection and increase self-confidence. A good rule of thumb is to start with 20-30 minutes of exercise most days to get these benefits, but even as little as a 5-minute walk can make a difference!7
11. Notice What the Fear Feels Like in Your Body
When someone is dealing with an unpleasant emotion, they tend to either try to make it go away or obsess about it. Try approaching the feeling with curiosity about how it shows up in the body. Find a quiet place to sit and take a few breaths to get grounded. Then, scan the body from feet to head.
Notice any sensations, discomfort or even parts of the body that feel neutral or pleasant. Notice where the fear lives in the body and focus on the physical sensations, for example, “I notice that my chest feels tight”.
12. Remember That People Aren’t Focused on You
Many people walk into a room and immediately feel self-conscious or embarrassed. They feel like everyone is looking at them. In reality, people are also likely to be thinking about what others are thinking of them!
13. Meet New People
The more someone does something, the easier and more comfortable it can get. Start introducing yourself to people you meet. Shake their hand and ask them their name. This might seem really simple, but for someone with social anxiety or fear of rejection, this can feel really scary.
How Can Therapy Help?
Therapy can help someone with a fear of rejection get past that fear and start to feel more confident. Therapy can treat any underlying issues like social anxiety, OCD, PTSD, or ADHD, and can also help with confidence and self-esteem. It’s helpful to find a therapist who has experience with this issue. Therapists of many different backgrounds, geographic areas, and clinical focus are available in an online therapist directory.8
Fear of rejection can be hard to overcome, but there are ways to move forward and it is so worth it. This fear can stand in the way of so many wonderful opportunities, relationships, and connections in life. People who have lived with fear of rejection have struggled enough, and deserve to feel happy, free, and secure.
Fear of Rejection Infographics