“Fear of Rejection” – is the most alive and real emotion that I’ve come to understand. Like most people, I’ve spent most of my adult life running away from it. If a relationship (love, friendship or even family) failed, I threw myself a pity party, wept, listened to sad love songs, and convinced myself how I was just plain “unlucky” and that there must be something wrong with me. When I was angry at the situation, I focused on the other person’s faults and blamed them for failing the relationship (or friendship).
In my 30s I’ve come to realize how exhausting this exercise has been and how it’s prevented me from having meaningful relationships with friends, family, and love interests. There are two ways people deal with the fear of rejection:
- Bend over backwards: considerable time and effort is spent on having someone accept and like you. This tactic assumes that the more you put into a relationship, the fewer reasons someone has to push you away. In doing that, not only have you devalued your own self-worth, but you’ve also given someone else the license to treat you based on his/her convenience instead of how you deserve to be treated. You’ve just deferred “rejection” to a later time, instead of preventing it.
- Build a fort: put your guards up to prevent exposing your vulnerability. This tactic assumes if you keep pushing someone away, it won’t bring them close enough to hurt or reject you. In doing this, you’re preventing the other person from seeing your true self.
Then there’s me who alternates between the two tactics, albeit, my natural tendency is to cross oceans for those who won’t even jump puddles for me (BTW – this is an expectation management issue that requires a whole other blog post but it’s driven by the same fear of rejection ;)). Both tactics are aimed at achieving one unfounded need for self-actualization – Rejection Prevention.
This “fear of rejection” or “the need to prevent rejection” is unbeknownst to most of us because we are so consumed in applying strategies and tactics to prevent it that we fail to recognize we’ve been rejecting ourselves all along. It’s a pretty simple concept if we can wrap our head around it –
If I don’t accept me then why would anyone else? If I reject myself, why wouldn’t anyone else?
The first step to overcoming this fear of rejection is to acknowledge it and recognize why we do what we do for the people we are fond of. Sure, the underlying emotion is love and care. But when the same emotion isn’t being reciprocated or even acknowledged and we no longer feel good and happy doing all that we do for them, chances are, we’re trying to protect ourselves from rejection. If building up walls makes us sad instead of making us feel in control, chances are, we’re protecting ourselves from rejection.
Once you’ve recognized this, don’t criticize yourself; the fear of rejection is very normal, it humanizes you. Embrace it! Know that your heart is open enough to feel – JUST FEEL IT! You’ll soon see the beauty of your emotions – positive or negative, doesn’t matter. Embracing this fear of rejection gives you all the ammunition you need to then overcome it.
I’m still trying to crack the code for overcoming this fear (here’s a good start – Reframing Rejection) but I’m happy I’ve identified certain patterns in my behaviour so I can alter my mindset. If someone rejects me or my friendship, quite frankly, it’s their prerogative (and their loss 😛 ). No amount of bending over backwards or holding my guard up is going to prevent that – if anything, it’s going to make it easier for them to reject me. At the end of the day we need to honour ourselves first and being fearful of something that we don’t have any control over anyways is, well, futile. Time is fleeting so be kind to yourself, love yourself and most importantly, don’t reject yourself.
P.S. It’s taken several conversations with some amazing people in my life who love and accept me with all my flaws to understand this perspective. Sometimes the most innocent of conversations help you understand yourself better. Don’t feel afraid to open your heart up to those close to you.