Fear of Rejection: How to Overcome It & How to Manage It

Fear of rejection can feel so deeply ingrained in us that it can feel impossible to change. It’s painful, so it feels like we need to avoid it at all costs.

It makes sense that rejection is so scary. Once upon a time, our lives depended on teamwork and cooperation. In a situation where food and shelter are in short supply, it will be more efficient for several people to work together and delegate tasks. If one person looks for water, another collects food, and a third works on building shelters, they’ll have a better chance of survival than one who has to do all the tasks themselves. Being left out of a group, in such a case, may literally be a case of life or death.

At the same time, we know that the fear of rejection is limiting us in life and holding us back from achieving our goals. In today’s world, rejection is not really life-threatening.

If you want to get ahead in your career, you need to put yourself out there and sometimes ask for a promotion. If you want to have a romantic relationship or marriage, you will sometimes need to make the first move.

A crippling fear of rejection can really keep someone back in life. Fear of rejection can get worse over time. In extreme cases, it will keep someone from meeting new people or trying new things. If that sounds like it could be you, you don’t have to continue to suffer. Here are our best tips on getting over a fear of rejection.

Sections

  1. How to overcome fear of rejection
  2. Dealing with rejection in the moment
  3. Common behaviors in people who fear rejection
  4. Why do people fear rejection?
  5. Common questions

How to overcome fear of rejection

Getting to know your rejection aversion deeply will help you overcome it. Here are some steps you can take to conquer your fear of rejection and stop letting it control your life.

1. Narrow down the fear

The fear of rejection tends to cover up other, deeper fears. Exploring your rejection phobia can help you solve the issue faster.

For example, you might be worried about not being accepted for who you are, which means (in your eyes) that there’s something wrong with you.

You may discover that you’re more sensitive to rejection at work than in dating or the other way around. You may find that you react differently to rejection depending on whether it comes from a girl or from a guy.

People have different “core wounds” at the heart of our fear of rejection. Usually, there is more than one at play.

Once you understand the underlying reasons beneath your fear of rejection, you’ll be able to adjust your “treatment plan” so it will be more specific to you. Journaling can help you figure out your core limiting beliefs. Try writing a question at the top of the page, and then write everything that comes into your mind without stopping.

Some questions you can use to get started are:

  • How does fear of rejection keep you stuck in life?
  • Who would you be if you didn’t fear rejection so much? What would you do?
  • What does rejection mean to you? What does it mean to be rejected?

2. Validate your feelings

Before changing the way you deal with rejection, it will help first to acknowledge your emotions.

Imagine a little child who is being ignored. Usually, they will try to act out to gain attention. Your feelings are similar. If you ignore them, they will become more intense.

But if you learn to acknowledge and validate your feelings early on, they will start to feel more manageable.

Here’s how you do that. When you get rejected, pause instead of trying to minimize your feelings or reframe the situation right away (“I shouldn’t feel so upset, it’s not a big deal”). Instead, tell yourself, “it makes sense that I feel hurt right now.”

3. Reframe how you view rejection

There is an additional opportunity to find something that aligns with us for every rejection we receive. When we focus only on the negative sides of rejection, we fail to see the possibilities that exist.

The 21st Century Creative’s worksheet may help you learn to reframe the way you view criticism and rejection.

4. Combat negative self-talk

Notice how you speak to yourself when you’re dealing with rejection. Ask yourself if you would talk to a friend or someone that you care about in this way. If they were turned down for a date or job offer, would you tell them they were a failure?

There are many ways to combat negative self-talk. Affirmations work for some people, but for others, they feel inauthentic. For more examples, read our guide on how to stop negative self-talk.

5. Accept rejection as part of life

Sometimes our society teaches us to refuse to accept rejection. We keep hearing stories about people who tried over and over until they got what they wanted.

Romantic comedies often show this characteristic in men who don’t give up until they “win over the girl.”

However, in real life, those types of situations can be sticky. There can be negative consequences to not accepting rejection, whether it’s losing a job or making someone else feel uncomfortable.

If you’re not sure whether a particular case of rejection is permanent or requires more attempts, consider talking to a professional such as a therapist.

Otherwise, accept that rejection is something that happens in life. Remind yourself that there will be other opportunities.

6. Talk about your feelings

Lean on your friends when you need to. Being honest and vulnerable regarding your fear of rejection can help it become less overwhelming.

It’s a good idea to ask your friend before starting a serious conversation. You may say something like, “Are you available to talk about something that I’ve been struggling with lately?”

If they say “yes,” you can continue with, “I feel like I’ve been struggling with rejection lately, and I’d like to learn how to deal with it better. I find it really difficult, and I think it would be useful to get an outsider’s perspective. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”

Having someone who listens without judging can help make the load lighter. Your friend may also relate to your feelings or reassure you.

Are you having trouble opening up about the hard stuff? Read our article on how to be vulnerable with friends.

7. Work on seeing your worth

Increasing your confidence will help you take rejection less personally.

But if increasing your confidence were as simple as making a decision, we would all do so. It takes deeper work than that, so we have a list of the best books to help you increase your self-worth.

In the meantime, one thing you can do to increase your confidence is to set small goals for yourself and give yourself praise when you meet them. For example, you can decide to journal every morning before checking your phone or go for a walk in the evening. Practicing self-compassion when you make mistakes can also help you feel more confident in yourself.

8. Have a backup plan in case you get rejected

Whether you’re looking for a job or to date, don’t rely on just one option. You can set up several job interviews and dates at a time. Remember, you’re checking for mutual compatibility in both cases. If you know you have several opportunities or options, you may not be so scared of rejection.

When you meet someone you’d like to date, refrain from imagining an elaborate story about how it’s going to end in a happily-ever-after (or disaster). Give yourself space to get to know each other. In the early stages of dating, many people continue to talk to others. It’s OK to bring up expectations regarding exclusivity rather than assuming you’re on the same page.

9. Seek professional help

It may be time to seek professional help if these tips don’t seem to be enough to help and if the fear of rejection is interfering in your life.

There may be a lot of fear around getting professional help. You may be worried about what people will think, or perhaps that your therapist will reject you and make you feel that your issues are worse than you thought.

Therapy is intended for issues like this. In the therapeutic process, you can work out the origin of your rejection fears and work on building better coping skills. Your therapist should encourage and help you build up your confidence so that you will feel better equipped to deal with situations that will involve rejection.

We recommend BetterHelp for online therapy, since they offer unlimited messaging and a weekly session, and is much cheaper than going to an actual therapist’s office. They are also cheaper than Talkspace for what you get. You can learn more about BetterHelp here.

Dealing with rejection in the moment

The above tips addressed dealing with a pattern of fear of rejection and rejection avoidance. You also need to learn how to manage rejection as it happens. Follow these steps to better deal with rejection when it comes up in your day-to-day life.

1. Pause and breathe

If you find yourself facing rejection, practice waiting before you respond. If rejection is an issue for you, it will bring up intense emotions, making it more likely you’ll react in a less than ideal way.

Give yourself a gap between the rejection and your response so that you’ll be able to handle it more effectively.

It may feel embarrassing not to respond immediately if there are people around you, but doing so will help you regain your composure and act in a healthier way.

2. Notice bodily sensations

After taking a few deep breaths, pay attention to anything that you can feel in your body. Does your heart feel like it’s beating faster? Maybe you have tension in your shoulders?

If you can’t notice anything or it feels too overwhelming, it may help to first focus on some sounds you can hear around you.

3. Remind yourself that your feelings are OK

It may feel like the world is ending right now. Help yourself out by reminding yourself that these are the effects of your rejection fears. Whether you’re feeling anger, shame, on the verge of a panic attack, or anything else, it’s all normal.

4. Choose how to respond

Rejection will be easier once you start dealing with it in a mature way. Sometimes we have to act our way into a different kind of thinking. It’s almost like “fake it until you make it,” but not quite.

As you practice better ways of dealing with rejection, it will eventually start to feel easier and more natural.

For example, if you’ve been on a few dates with someone and they say they’re not interested in continuing further, you can say something like, “Thank you for letting me know. If you’re willing to share a bit, I would love to know your reasons so that I can continue to learn and improve in the future. If not, I understand.”

You can say something similar if you were rejected after a job interview.

Keep in mind, however, that people will be less likely to share their reasons if there has not already been a date or an interview. If you have just sent in a resume or asked someone out, and they say no, it is better to move on and try again somewhere else.

In either case, do not get defensive and try to convince the other person that they are wrong or that they should give you a second chance. Such behavior is more likely to make them feel more confident in their choice.

Common behaviors in people who fear rejection

Fear of rejection can manifest in various ways. Two people who fear rejection may show different behaviors that come from the same core fears. Here are some of the most common ways the fear of rejection can show up in everyday life.

1. Not connecting with others

If you approach people assuming that they will reject you, there seems to be no point. You may think that you have nothing to offer and keep your mouth shut in group situations or hold back from voicing your opinion.

The fear of rejection seems to be running the show here and causing a biased view of the world. One study suggests that people frequently underestimate how much other people want to connect.[1]

From this study, we can understand that most people do want to connect more. Keeping this in mind, we are less likely to be rejected than we may think. Reaching out first takes courage, but it may be that the people around you are just as scared as you are.

2. Difficulty saying no

Fear of rejection can show up in people-pleasing, caretaking, or lack of boundaries. Let’s say you fear people will reject you if they think you are “difficult.” You may try to please everyone so no one will leave you or think less of you.

That could result in saying yes to taking on more shifts and tasks at work than you can reasonably handle, leading to burnout. Or this may show up in peer relationships, leading to uneven dynamics and eventually resentment. For example, are you always the one paying for friends or offering to drive, even when it’s not convenient for you? If so, it’s time to practice setting boundaries.

For tips on saying no, read our guide: how to set boundaries with friends.

3. Procrastinating

We tend to think procrastination comes from laziness or a lack of willpower. Yet more recent studies link procrastination to anxiety, perfectionism, fear of rejection, and low self-esteem.[2][3]

It works like this: tasks will create anxiety if someone believes that they need to do things perfectly to be accepted. While some people cope by overworking and reviewing every last detail, others try to avoid the job until it is no longer possible.

One study that followed 179 male high school students proposed that creating a learning environment without fear of rejection is crucial in reducing procrastination.[4]

Reminding yourself that you are worthy even when your work isn’t perfect and tackling your anxiety head-on can help you with your procrastination.

4. Being passive-aggressive

People who fear rejection tend to try and push down their feelings. They may think, “This person has enough going on, and I don’t want to be a burden. I won’t share what I think.”

However, this tends to backfire. The emotions we suppress will come out in other ways. Often this takes the form of passive-aggressiveness.

Passive aggressiveness can look like being indirect or sarcastic. For example, it is passive-aggressive to say, “No one ever helps me” or “It’s fine” instead of asking for help when you need it. Giving back-handed compliments or being indirect are other ways passive aggressiveness may manifest.

Learning to identify your needs and emotions can help you in building a more effective way of communicating.

5. Not trying new things

In some cases, fear of rejection can have you avoid places where you might be rejected. This can look like turning down a job interview for a better job or not asking someone you like out on a date. You may avoid trying new hobbies because you don’t want to look bad in front of others.

Doing so may help you feel safe for a while, but more than likely, you’ll end up feeling stuck and unfulfilled.

6. Being inauthentic

In some cases, someone may consciously or unconsciously put on a mask around others due to a fear of rejection. That may include not allowing yourself to take up space, not revealing your true opinions, or trying to anticipate how others would like you to act.

7. Being overly sensitive to criticism

Criticism is part of life. In business dealings, there is a culture of improvement. Having close friends and dating will also open you up to criticism.

When we spend a lot of time with someone, there will inevitably be conflict. Your friends and partners should be able to tell you when you have done something that they find hurtful. If you are not able to handle criticism, you’ll eventually come across more issues in your personal and work relationships.

8. Becoming overly self-sufficient

Sometimes people will overcompensate a fear of rejection by developing an “I don’t need anyone else” attitude. They will refuse to ask others for help. In many cases, one might feel they don’t know how to ask for help, even if they want to.

In extreme cases, a person may develop a belief that they don’t need love or friendship at all and that it’s safer to go through life as a “lone wolf.” If you’re an introvert, this tendency may feel more natural to you.

While there’s nothing wrong with choosing to be single or spend time alone, the underlying reasons matter. It may help to ask yourself, “Am I choosing to be alone because that’s what I desire, or am I reacting to a fear of rejection?

9. Passivity or unassertiveness

Fearing rejection can lead someone to develop an attitude of “I’ll go along with whatever others want.” You may end up letting people cross your boundaries or just never speak up when something is uncomfortable.

Why do people fear rejection?

Humans have built-in systems that make us perceive and react to rejection. Throughout history, humans survived better when we worked together in groups rather than alone.[5]

The emotions we feel about rejection can be powerful messages to help us adapt. For example, if we have a particular way of joking that makes others around us feel bad, feeling sad and guilty when they pull away will help us change our behavior and, in turn, become a more integrated member of the group.

Rejection hurts. One fMRI study found that brain activity during social exclusion parallels brain activity during physical pain.[6] Since avoiding pain is ingrained in us, people will often choose to avoid rejection by engaging in behaviors like isolation.

Certain mental health issues can make people more sensitive to rejection. For example, “rejection sensitivity dysphoria” is common in people with ADHD, anxiety, Aspergers, and the autism spectrum. And one of the main symptoms of Borderline Personality Disorder is an intense fear of abandonment, which is also tied to rejection.

Trauma can also make people more hypervigilant about their surroundings. In some cases, one will be more sensitive to changes in facial expressions or tone of voice. If you’ve suffered from relational trauma, you may become more hypervigilant in social situations, looking out for signs of rejection.

Relational trauma can also cause insecure attachment, which can also make people more sensitive to rejection.

Mental health issues and fear of rejection go hand in hand and can often create a negative feedback loop. People who are more sensitive to rejection are more likely to develop mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

Common questions

Why does rejection hurt so much?

Rejection hurts because we have an ingrained inclination towards social connection. Being left out of a group can feel scary because long ago in our history, rejection was dangerous. Teamwork and relationships feel good, and the loneliness of a life with no friends is painful.

How does rejection affect a person?

Rejection can lead to emotional pain that feels like physical pain.[6] Recurring rejection can lead to anxiety, loneliness, low confidence, and depression.

How does fear of rejection affect relationships?

Fear of rejection can negatively affect relationships as it can cause someone to struggle to show up authentically. A fear of rejection can also lead to other unhelpful behaviors, such as difficulties saying no and a tendency to isolate, which can make it hard to form healthy, safe relationships.

How does fear of rejection affect communication?

Fear of rejection can prevent someone from sharing their true feelings. They may be afraid to speak up, put on a mask, or react in a passive-aggressive way. In some cases, someone may lash out due to their strong feelings around rejection.

Should I try again after rejection?

You shouldn’t let rejection hold you back. Give yourself time to process and grieve the rejection. Consider what you can do differently next time. Spend some quality time with yourself as an act of self-care. When you feel ready, try again.

How do you accept rejection and move on?

Learning to accept rejection is a process of identifying the causes of your rejection fear, letting yourself feel your feelings, and reframing the ideas you have about what rejection means. Many people struggle with rejection, so don’t shame yourself for it!

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Viktor is a Counselor specialized in interpersonal communication and relationships. He manages Socialpro’s scientific review board. Follow on Twitter or read more.

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