How To Overcome A Fear of Rejection (Even If You Have Social Anxiety)
Does a fear of rejection hold you back? You know you want to do something…you know you should do something…but you just can’t do it. The fear wins.
But this fear doesn’t get better
In fact, it gets worse. You feel more anxious and scared. You may even shake or sweat.
In the end, the physical and mental symptoms outweigh the benefits – and you give up. This might be easier in the long run, but means you can’t talk to people you find attractive…take on important projects at work…or even forge lasting friendships.
Not good at all.
But is there a way to overcome a fear of rejection?
Yes, there is. And it’s probably not as hard as you think. The key is to understand what fear of rejection actually is – and how to reduce it.
What is a Fear of Rejection REALLY About?
Deep down, a fear of rejection is caused by a fear of loss. And this makes sense from an evolutionary standpoint.
See, when your brain stops you chatting to that hot girl/guy at the bar, it’s actually trying to help you.
While humans were evolving a fear of rejection was very useful.
Humans have always lived in tribes. A lone human was likely to be eaten by a lion or starve to death – and even if he survived there was no way to reproduce.
No, the survival of the human race depended on fitting into a tribe and not getting thrown out. Over thousands of years, this means humans have been “selected” to care deeply what other people think.
This is a good thing – within reason.
But if you have social anxiety this desire for approval is in overdrive.
It stops you from giving your opinion…just in case someone gets offended.
It stops you being yourself…just in case someone doesn’t like the “real” you.
It stops you saying “no” to a request…because you don’t want to hurt someone’s feelings.
And, most importantly, this strong desire for approval is at the root of a fear of anxiety.
Your brain hates the idea of losing the approval of others.
And your mind reasons that if you don’t try something, you can’t fail. If you don’t talk to that hot guy or girl, they can’t possibly reject you. If you never show your “real” personality, people can’t think you’re “weird.”
As you get older, this avoidance of rejection can become buried deep in your mind. It becomes a goal in itself – one that your subconscious works very hard to achieve.
In some cases, it’s so ingrained that you might not even notice it’s there. You think it’s just “who you are.”
You start to mistake your fear of rejection for your personality.
This is bad news. It prevents you from ever making progress – so the first step is to separate the two.
No-one is born with a fear or rejection. Babies don’t sit silently in their cribs because they are worried their parents will dislike them – that would be ridiculous.
Fear of rejection is learned.
And it’s helpful to think about why you learned to be fearful of rejection. It might be because you lack self-esteem, confidence or social skills. It could be due to bullying or parents who constantly compare you – either positively or negatively – to other people.
Whatever the reason, a fear of rejection always comes back to gaining approval from others. On the surface, this can seem like a good thing. So it’s not surprising many people go through their entire lives without trying to fix their fear of rejection. As we’ll see, this can have major consequences on their life.
Overcoming A Fear of Rejection Is Hard – Why Bother?
The simple reason is: options.
Avoiding all forms of rejection can impact your career, relationships, romantic partners and your happiness.
But it really all comes back to options.
If you fear rejection, you’ll never push yourself. You’ll always “play it safe,” meaning:
- You never talk to people you find attractive, so you have far fewer options when it comes to dating.
- You never speak up when you have an opinion, which prevents you finding friends with similar beliefs.
- You never say “no,” so your time management is decided by others and not what you choose.
- You avoid anything that has a chance of failure, affecting your career.
All of these limit your options in life. And the greater your fear of rejection, the less likely you are to push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Let’s switch gears though. We’ve talked about what a fear of rejection really is and why it’s holding you back. Now let’s move on to how to solve it.
How to Quickly Overcome a Fear of Rejection
Overcoming a fear that’s been active in your brain for many years isn’t going to happen overnight. It takes time. With that said, just waiting for this fear to go away isn’t any good either.
Instead, we need to speed things up by adjusting your mindset.
1. Remember You’re Fearful Of Being Fearful, Not The Outcome
If you’ve studied the brain, you’ll know there is a neurotransmitter called dopamine. This is part of your brain’s reward system – it’s what makes us desire things like sugary snacks or checking Facebook for new messages.
When scientists first discovered dopamine, they assumed it caused happiness. This makes sense. Surely our brain would only make us desire things that made us happy, right?
As is often the way with the brain, first assumptions weren’t quite right.
After studying dopamine further, scientists realised that the brain doesn’t use dopamine for pleasurable activities. It causes us to feel the anticipation of pleasure.
This is a small but crucial difference. Dopamine doesn’t care whether we actually benefit from an activity or not. It only cares whether the activity would have been advantageous when humans were evolving. Dopamine, in some cases, tricks us into doing things that are actually bad for us.
Even more surprisingly, dopamine makes us feel an anticipation of pleasure if the activity doesn’t live up to expectations – or even makes us unhappy.
This is why we binge eat sugary foods and then immediately feel sick…get addicted to video games that we don’t really enjoy…and even why people cheat on their partners repeatedly even though they regret it.
So what does this have to do with rejection?
In many ways, rejection is very similar to dopamine. It is not the rejection itself that’s the problem – it’s the anticipation of rejection that stops you doing things.
You worry that the hot girl/guy is going to turn you down, so you don’t speak to them.
You worry that your work won’t be “good enough,” so you don’t take on the project.
You worry that friends will think you’re boring, so you don’t go to social events.
All of these are caused by a fear of rejection. But not by the actual rejection itself.
Once you put yourself in situations where you can be rejected, you’ll realise that it’s actually less common than you thought. And when it does happen, it’s really not so bad.
If you want to overcome the fear of rejection, you need to separate the fear from the actual activity. Only then can you start to see the world as it really as – not through the filter of negative anticipation.
2. Rejection Is Rarely A Bad Thing
When you think of rejection, you don’t just imagine the actual rejection itself. You focus on the worst possible result of that rejection.
But this worst possible outcome rarely comes true.
Sure, you might get rejected…but it’s unlikely to cause you long-term harm, humiliation or other negative consequences. Getting turned down by that hot girl isn’t going to cause everyone in the bar to laugh at you. Saying the “wrong thing” in a group conversation isn’t going to make everyone hate you.
So we can usually ignore the “worst case scenario.” And with that out of the way, it turns out rejection is often a good thing. Especially when it comes to meeting new friends or romantic partners.
There are billions of potential friends and partners in the world.
And unless you live in a remote rural village, even your local surroundings has tens of thousands of people.
With so many people, you don’t need to be accepted by everyone. You don’t even need to be accepted by most people. There are only a few people who you’ll genuinely get on with or enjoy spending with…so why settle?
This is getting dangerously close to the advice I hate most for socially anxious people – “stop worrying what other people think.” Of course it would be great if you could do that, but it’s not that easy.
So let’s try something more realistic.
Instead of trying to get everyone to like you, try to think about whether you are really compatible with them. This shifts your mindset away from a fear of rejection to finding out what they can offer you.
And if they reject you…chances are that they weren’t a good fit in the first place.
3. Stop Trying to Please Everyone
Being a “people pleaser” is common if you have social anxiety. And it might not seem like a bad thing.
But it is a bad thing. At least when taken to the extreme.
If you’ve always been told you need to please others, then you might have a hard time saying “no” to anything. Your brain has learned to associate saying “no” with a rejection of the other person or being rude.
And because your brain hates rejection, it doesn’t want to openly reject anyone else
Now I’m not going to lie, saying no is a hard skill to learn – but it can be learned. Here are some tips (credit to Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less):
- Separate saying “no” to a request from saying “no” to your relationship with the person. A “no” doesn’t mean you don’t like the other person. They might be surprised, but they’ll respect you more.
- Use the “soft” no. Instead of a flat “no,” say what you are willing to do instead.
- Think about the trade-off of saying “yes.” Every time you say “yes” to something you don’t want to do, you’re saying “no” to something else. There’s no getting around this, so keep it in mind.
4. Reduce Pressure to Perform
You don’t have to be perfect every time you do something.
If you have social anxiety, you probably consciously know this. But it’s hard to put it into practice.
What you need to remember is that you can’t control other people’s actions. Someone might reject you because they are having a bad day…feel ill…are in a rush…or are just in a bad mood.
It might not be anything to do with what you’ve said or done
In other words, you can do everything “right” and still be rejected. So instead of thinking of rejection as “failure,” attach success to the act of trying.
If you get rejected, give yourself a pat on the back! You did your bit – you can’t control what other people do.
Ultimately, people’s reactions to you don’t define you. Every rejection brings you closer to finding people you love or enjoy spending time with – but you’ll never get there if you don’t try.
“But What If I CAN’T Just Power Through Rejection?!”
It’s a good question. If you could just “switch off” social anxiety and fear of rejection, you would have done so already!
The simple answer is that there is no quick fix to a fear of rejection. It takes time – and a willingness to adjust your mindset while following this up with a change in behaviour.
The mindset shifts in this article can make a huge difference to how you think of rejection. That doesn’t mean you have to rush out to chat with a random attractive person on the street though – you can build it up slowly.
In fact, I recommend making a list of the areas of your life where a fear of rejection holds you back. Then order the list by how difficult you think each item will be to overcome.
For example, you might decide talking to a “perfect 10” guy or girl is the most difficult item on the list. But giving your opinion during your next conversation with friends is considerably easier.
Pick the easiest one and practice it. Then move on when you’re ready.
Pretty soon you’ll realise that rejection isn’t so scary after all. You’ll start to be in control of what you do. And even when you feel nervous, the fear won’t be strong enough to hold you back any more.