In what way is the fear of rejection holding you back? How would your life be different if you didn’t care whether everyone liked you and agreed with you, or not?
To answer these questions, we must understand that the vast majority of our fears and anxieties amount to one thing: Loss.
- Losing our youth.
- Losing our social status.
- Losing our money.
- Losing control.
- Losing our comfort.
- Losing our life.
We also fear, perhaps more than anything else, being rejected by others. This kind of fear is widespread and debilitating if left unaddressed. Why is this fear so deeply entrenched in us? In ancient tribal times, being rejected from the safety of the community could have meant death. So it’s no wonder, really, that we want to be accepted by others.
Fear is an instinctual human emotion designed to keep us aware and safe – like the headlights on a car clearly illuminating the twists and turns on the road ahead. But too much fear, like high beams blinding us on a dark, foggy road, can cause the loss of the very thing we feared losing in the first place.
This is especially true when it comes to fear of rejection. Let me give you an example from my own life:
When I was a teenager, I was always the outcast trying desperately to fit in with my peers. I bounced around to three different schools, and various social circles in each school within a four-year timespan, and I faced rejection after rejection. I can distinctly remember shooting hoops on the basketball court by myself on numerous occasions, always the new kid, always longing for acceptance.
For the longest time, I thought these childhood “outcast” experiences were the root cause of my obsessive, people-pleasing ways in my adulthood. In my twenties, I was always looking for signs that others didn’t like me. I would seek reassurance, always wondering what people “really” thought of me.
Do you look for acceptance and reassurance from others too?
Constantly seeking acceptance and reassurance from other people is a dead end. These things can only be found within you, not from others. Why? Because any look, word, or reaction from someone else can be warped and misinterpreted as an upcoming rejection when it simply isn’t.
My fear also extended beyond my personal relationships. I was a budding writer and hesitated to start “Marc and Angel Hack Life” for several months, for fear of having my writing judged and rejected by others.
In this post I want to share some tips that helped me feel self-assured and eventually allowed me to overcome my fear of rejection.
1. Realize that fear itself is the real enemy.
Franklin D. Roosevelt so profoundly said, “Only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” Nothing could be closer to the truth. This is especially true as it relates to self-fulfilling prophecies.
A self-fulfilling prophecy is a false belief about a situation that motivates the person with the belief to take actions that cause the belief to come true. This kind of thinking often kills opportunities and tears relationships apart. For instance, you might wrongly believe that a group of people will reject you, so you become defensive, anxious, and perhaps even hostile with them. Eventually, your behavior brings about the feared rejection, which wasn’t there to begin with. And then you, ‘the prophet,’ feels that you were right from the very beginning: “I knew they didn’t like me!”
Do you see how this works? Look carefully at your own tendencies. How do your fears and beliefs about possible rejection influence your behavior toward others? Take a stand. Instead of letting fear show you what might be wrong in your relationships, start looking for signs of what might be right.
2. Let go of your “end of the world” thinking.
All variations of fear, including the fear of rejection, thrive on “end of the world” thinking. In other words, our emotions convince us that an undesirable outcome results in annihilation.
- What if they don’t like me?
- What if he rejects me?
- What if I don’t fit in and I’m left sitting alone at the party?
None of these things result in the “end of the world,” but if we convince ourselves that they do, we will irrationally fear these outcomes and give our fears control over us. The truth is, we – human beings – are inefficient at accurately predicting how future misfortune will make us feel. In fact, most of the time we avoid consciously thinking about it all together, which only perpetuates our subconscious fears.
So ask yourself: “If disaster should strike, and my fear of being rejected comes true, what are three constructive ways I could cope and move forward with my life?” Sit down and tell yourself a story (write it down too if it helps) about how you will feel after rejection, how you will allow yourself to be upset for a short while, and then how you will begin the process of growing from the experience and moving on. Just doing this exercise will help you to feel less fear around the possibility of rejection. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Adversity” and “Relationships” chapters of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
3. Question what “rejection” really means.
If a person discovers a 200-carat white diamond in the earth but, due to ignorance, believes it to be worthless, and thus tosses it aside, does this tell us more about the diamond or the person? Along the same lines, when one person rejects another, it reveals a lot more about the “rejecter” than the “rejected.” All you are really seeing is the, often shortsighted, opinion of one person. Consider the following…
If J.K. Rowling stopped after being rejected by multiple publishers for years, there would be no Harry Potter. If Howard Schultz gave up after being turned down by banks 200+ times, there would be no Starbucks. If Walt Disney quit too soon after his theme park concept was trashed by 300+ investors, there would be no Disney World.
One thing is for sure: If you give too much power to the opinions of others, you will become their prisoner. So never let someone’s opinion alter your reality. Never sacrifice who you are, or who you aspire to be, just because someone else has a problem with it. Love who you are inside and out, and keep pushing forward. No one else has the power to make you feel small unless you give them that power. And when someone rejects you, don’t inevitably feel it’s because you’re unworthy or unlovable, because all they’ve done is give you clear feedback about their own shortsightedness.
4. Let your presence overpower your fear.
Ever noticed how people who are struggling with emotional problems tend to tell you how they don’t want to feel? Fair enough, but at some point we all need to focus on how we DO want to feel.
When you’re in a social situation that’s making you anxious, forget what you don’t want to feel for a moment. Work out how you DO want to feel right now in the present moment. Train yourself to live right here, right now without regretting how others once made you feel, or fearing the possibility of future judgment.
This is YOUR choice. You CAN change the way you think.
If you were delivering life-saving mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on your mother in public, you’d be 100% focused and present. You wouldn’t be thinking about what bystanders thought of your hair, your body type, or the brand of jeans you were wearing. All these inconsequential details would vanish from your consciousness. The intensity of the situation would motivate you to choose not to care about what others might be thinking of you. This proves, quite simply, that thinking about what others are thinking about you is YOUR CHOICE. (Read The Power of Now.)
5. Let go of your need to always be right.
The reason your fear of rejection sometimes gets the best of you is because a part of you believes you’re always right. If you think someone doesn’t like you, then surely they don’t. Right? WRONG!
People who never learn to question their emotions, especially when they’re feeling nervous or anxious, make life much more difficult than it has to be. If your perception is always so accurate, why do you make so many mistakes? Exactly. It’s time to let go a little. Being more confident in life partly means being OK with not knowing what’s going to happen, so you can relax and allow things to play out naturally. Relaxing with “not knowing” is the key to confidence in relationships and peace in life.
So here’s a new mantra for you – say it, and then say it again: “This is my life, my choices, my mistakes and my lessons. I have nothing to prove. And as long as I’m not hurting people, I need not worry what they think of me.”
6. Embrace and enjoy your individuality.
Constantly seeking approval means we’re perpetually worried that others are forming negative judgments of us. This steals the fun, ingenuity, and spontaneity from our lives. Flip the switch on this habit. If you’re lucky enough to have something that makes you different from everybody else, don’t be ashamed and don’t change. Uniqueness is priceless. In this crazy world that’s trying to make you like everyone else, find the courage to keep being your remarkable self. And if they laugh at you for being different, laugh back at them for being the same.
It takes a lot of courage to stand alone, but it’s worth it. Being unapologetically YOU is worth it! Your real friends in life will reveal themselves slowly – they’re the ones who truly know you and love you just the same. Bottom line: Don’t change so people will like you; be yourself and the right people will love the real you. (Read The Mastery of Love.)
7. Use rejection as a priceless growth opportunity.
As soon as someone critiques and criticizes you, as soon as you are rejected, you might find yourself thinking, “Well, that proves once again that I am not worthy.” What you need to realize is, these other people are NOT worthy of YOU and your particular journey. Rejection is necessary medicine; it teaches you how to reject relationships and opportunities that aren’t going to work, so you can quickly find new ones that will. It doesn’t mean you aren’t good enough; it just means someone else failed to notice what you have to offer. Which means you now have more time to improve yourself and explore your options.
“Will you be bitter for a moment? Absolutely. Hurt? Of course, you’re human. There isn’t a soul on this planet that doesn’t feel a small fraction of their heart break at the awareness of rejection. For a short time afterwards you will ask yourself every question you can think of…
- What did I do wrong?
- Why didn’t they like me?
- How come?
But then you have to let your emotions fuel you! This is the important part. Let your feelings of rejection drive you, feed you, and inspire one heck of a powerful opening to the next chapter of your story.
As you look back on your life, you will often realize that many of the times you thought you were being rejected from something good, you were in fact being redirected to something better. You can’t control everything – especially the opinions of others. Sometimes you just need to relax and have faith that things will work out. Let go a little and just let life happen the way it’s supposed to. Because sometimes the outcomes you can’t change, end up changing you and helping you grow into your strongest, smartest self.