Friday, 30 May 2014

The fear of rejection, rejection and self-love

Picture from Andreas Schamanek
As some of you may know, I have suffered from a crippling fear of rejection for pretty much as long as I can remember. This has made me scared to tell people how I feel, and scared to make many steps to reveal my talents. I've heard people say 'everyone's scared of rejection', which I'm sure is true .. but I think I can safely say that this fear is harder for some people than most, myself included. If people want to think I am playing the victim role by saying that, well, be my guest .. but if you know that you really do have a problem in this area, then this post might be for you.

I once heard someone say that 'Rejection is probably the hardest thing to get out of a person's life', and whilst I think that some things, such as abuse, may be harder to overcome, rejection is a bloody hard thing to overcome. I get quite pissed off by self-help gurus that say something like 'Don't make an idol out of your fear of rejection' or in other words, basically saying that you should get over it. Such people have clearly not been through an acute fear of rejection and don't know what it's like. At the same time, I don't want to be permanently stuck in this state, nor do I want you to be if you are in the same boat.

So what, really, is rejection? I like this definition from The Free Dictionary - because it goes through a variety of interpretations.
1. To refuse to accept, submit to, believe, or make use of.
2. To refuse to consider or grant; deny.
3. To refuse to recognize or give affection to (a person).
4. To discard as defective or useless; throw away. 
5. To spit out or vomit.

The first two definitions are fairly straightforward - basically saying 'no' to something. The third definition is where so many of us suffer - when a person does not return our affection or just turns their back on us as a person. And the final two definitions are a horrible form of rejection. Our experience of Number 4 often happens in childhood, and the emotion and hurt from that experience stays with us often to the extent that when someone 'rejects' us in ways 1, 2 or 3 - that our interpretation of that rejection actually makes us feel defective or useless, even though it wasn't meant that way.

I am totally a believer that our childhood has far more of an effect on our life than most of us realise. It's hard if not impossible to fully process emotions during childhood, so the default thing is to shut down or repress these emotions or just not feel them. But we take so much in during childhood, and much of our beliefs about the world and people get formed in childhood. A whole blog post or ten could be written about this subject I'm sure, but I'm not going to go that far. Anyway, suffice to say that I now think that my childhood experiences of rejection affected me more than I realised until fairly recently. That, plus my sensitivity, combined to make rejection a major thing for me. It's only recently that I've been able to start expressing the emotions that have been hid inside of me for so long.

I was very much an outsider at school, and picked on quite a bit. I never had a clue how to chat up girls, was very much in my own world and didn't make friends like most people seemed to. Some people did discard me as defective or useless, although not in those particular words. Whoever said 'sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me' .. well I have no idea what planet that person was on. It's absolute garbage. Words do hurt (as well as heal). Particularly in childhood. Bullying and name calling are still all too common, and can have a lasting effect on people.

It wasn't nice being rejected - and I closed my heart to people. Romance is a particularly prominent area where people with fear of rejection struggle. It's an area which really seems to strike deep at the heart, and rejection in this area can be devastating. The mind can tell you:
No-one will ever love me.
I'm going to be single and lonely for the rest of my life, or for a long time.
Women (or men) are not attracted to people like me.
I'm a loser in love.

There is probably no other area which illustrates more clearly than romance does, that the fear of rejection has, at its roots - a longing for something or someone other than yourself to make you feel fulfilled and to fill a gaping hole within yourself. We take things so personally when someone does not give us what we want - it becomes:
I'm useless, I'm a reject, people hate me, what did I do to deserve it. Particularly when it's a repeated pattern - and often times, people repeat the same relationship patterns, being attracted to people who mirror their insecurities. It seems unfair, but it's just how life seems to work.

So many people look to others, particularly in relationships, to be the thing that provides the love or need that is not being fulfilled. And when it doesn't work out, people feel bad.

The fear of rejection does not just limit itself to romance, of course. Public speaking is one area that many people fear like crazy. Funnily enough, I'm not particularly phased by it, or haven't been as yet. Maybe because I have a belief in my ability to speak in public and convey a good message. But many people are scared shitless by the prospect of public speaking. The fear of rejection can come into any of the following scenarios: artists submitting their work, writers submitting their book to a publisher, a prospective employee going for an interview, or friendship scenarios.

What is beneath this fear though? Why is the prospect of rejection so devastating? I have to admit that I was a bit puzzled as to why I seemed unable to overcome this fear and why it acted out so many times, in me being unable to say things I wanted to say. I guess each of us fear rejection in different ways - but I guess the underlying feelings are fairly similar for everyone - ie. the mind's interpretation if this rejection happened:

I couldn't cope.
It would just prove that I am a loser and worthless.
I would be embarrassed.
The other person would think I'm an idiot.

.. and so on. The first reason of 'I couldn't cope' is what the late Susan Jeffers touched on in her well known book Feel The Fear and Do It Anyway - she said that one of the ways to 'do it anyway' was to know that, whatever happens, I'll Handle It! So often, our minds tell us that we won't be able to handle it if we don't get what we want. For ages, I would rather not tell a woman how I felt rather than risk rejection. Hopefully, now that I've been through some things that have given me an opportunity to heal, I will find it easier to be open. But how do you heal? And get to the point where you know you'll handle it all?

Great photo - unsure of original source.
As much as I would like to give you an easier solution, from my experience, the only way forward is to get to the heart of your emotions and feel them. This takes time, or it has done for me at least. And it will quite likely take a situation that triggers the feelings of rejection to help open you up. I've tried solving problems by writing things down and analysing them. But usually the sadness that is beneath the fear of rejection is buried so deep, and it takes a while before you are fully ready to feel this sadness.
Are you able to feel the pain in your heart? Without judging it, or trying to push it away. Sometimes it can get too much and we lash out. But if you are able to feel the emotions .. of feeling unloved, of how you felt with you were embarrassed in a group of friends, of constantly being rejected for jobs you want .. the raw emotional pain that is there, that wants to be expressed. Beneath rejection or what we perceive as rejection, there is sadness. Often we lash out and say or do things we regret. But if we are able to take time to go deeper and understand what us causing us to feel this way, and allow the emotions to be fully felt, then we are on the way to becoming more whole.

The fear of rejection is rooted in wanting someone or something outside of ourselves to validate us - to make us feel that we are acceptable or lovable. But, regardless of how other people treat us, we still have to live with ourselves every day - and, when you look at it from a logical point of view, it seems a bit silly to look to other people to 'fill up our tank'. Whilst it's good to have healthy, loving friendships and relationships - if we are damaged within ourselves, other people will pick up on that and become a mirror for our own insecurities.
Might it be a bit easier if we had a good opinion of ourselves and allowed other people to love us without becoming dependent on them? If I feel that I am unlovable, then when a situation triggers that feeling, it could make me feel awful. If I feel that I am lovable, others will love me back, and I won't feel awful when someone rejects me romantically or when someone rejects a piece of writing that I have submitted. It's a process, for sure, and doesn't happen overnight. Many of us have been through years and years of negative thinking and generally feeling that we are less than okay. Yes, other people can help us, but if we're not willing to do the work within ourselves, we will still be looking for external fulfilment.
When we don't love ourselves, we can easily become needy. We can easily feel hurt and rejected when someone doesn't give us what we want. That's not to say that we'll never feel hurt, even when we start to love ourselves more. But I do believe that the more we start to love ourselves, the less dependent we'll be on other people. I wouldn't want to be with someone who depends on me to fulfil them. Would you?

I'll leave you with this quote from an excellent book I have been reading by John Welwood, called Perfect Love, Imperfect Relationships (which I recommend to anyone who wants to really go inward and face their emotions, hurts, feelings and desires):

The most loving thing you can do for yourself is to let yourself be. Be what? The being that you are, of course. This is the definition of self-love that I propose: letting yourself being the being that you are. 

I hope this post helps people. If you have any questions, please feel free to comment or contact me on the contact form on the blog.

Many blessings


  1. Excellent post Andy and touching on many subjects that are close to my heart too. I was picked on a little but not so much as I literally hid myself at school, I made myself invisible or I was invisible, always on the outside looking in, never able to get in with the crowd or friends. It's true it's not easy to just let rejection go, as you know me and my relationship with women that is an ongoing process for me and because of it I have felt very guarded in the area of friendships.

    You are healing well Andy, and thanks for sharing your wisdom.

    1. Thanks Kelly, I guess I am still a bit guarded in my friendships with men, maybe because I feel different to most men. But you're doing well too :) If/when I next see you I could lend you the book I've been reading, I think you'd like it, it would be a good book for someone who struggles in the area of friendship too.


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