Rejection hurts. There’s really no way around it.
Most people want to belong and connect with others, especially people they care about. Feeling rejected by those people and believing you aren’t wanted — whether it’s for a job, dating, or friendship — isn’t a pleasant experience.
The pain can cut pretty deep, too. In fact, rejection
It’s easy to understand then why many people dread and even fear rejection. If you’ve experienced it once, or a few times, you probably remember how much it hurt and worry about it happening again.
But fearing rejection can hold you back from taking risks and reaching for big goals. Fortunately, it’s absolutely possible to work through this mind-set with a bit of work. Here are some tips to get you started.
Rejection is a pretty universal experience, and fear of rejection is very common, explains Brian Jones, a therapist in Seattle.
Most people experience rejection over things both big and small at least a few times in their lives, such as:
- a friend ignoring a message about hanging out
- being turned down for a date
- not receiving an invitation to a classmate’s party
- a long-term partner leaving for someone else
It never feels good when something doesn’t happen the way you wanted it to, but not all of life’s experiences turn out the way you hope. Reminding yourself that rejection is just a normal part of life — something everyone will face at some point — may help you fear it less.
No matter the source of the rejection, it still hurts. Other people might see what happened as no big deal and encourage you to get over it, but the pain might linger, especially if you happen to have a higher sensitivity to rejection.
Rejection can also involve other uncomfortable emotions, such as embarrassment and awkwardness.
No one can tell you how you’re feeling, except for you. Before you can begin addressing your feelings around rejection, it’s important to acknowledge them. Telling yourself that you don’t care about getting hurt when you really do denies you the opportunity to confront and manage this fear productively.
It may not seem like it right away, but rejection can provide opportunities for self-discovery and growth.
Say you apply for a job you really want and have a great interview, but you don’t get the job. This might devastate you at first. But after taking a second look at your resume, you decide it wouldn’t hurt to brush up on some skills and learn how to use a new type of software.
After a few months, you realize this new knowledge has opened doors to higher-paying positions you previously weren’t qualified for.
Reframing your fear as a chance for growth can make it easier to try for what you want and lessen the pain if you fail. Try telling yourself, “This may not work out, but if it doesn’t, I’ll have a meaningful experience and know more than I did.”
When it comes to romantic rejection, reviewing what you’re really seeking in a partner can help you work through rejection fears. It can also set you on a path to finding someone who’s a great fit from the start.
Rejection can be particularly frightening when you read too much into it. If you’ve had a few dates with someone who suddenly stops texting back, for example, you might worry you bored them or they didn’t find you attractive enough.
But rejection is often simply a case of needs not matching up.
Ghosting is never a good approach, but some people just lack good communication skills or think saying, “You’re nice and cute, but I didn’t quite feel it” might hurt you, when, in fact, you’d really appreciate the honesty.
Building up self-confidence and self-worth can help you remember that you’re entirely worthy of love, leading you to feel less afraid of continuing your search for it.
- writing a paragraph about three times you were most proud of yourself
- listing five ways you practice your personal values
- reminding yourself what you have to offer a partner
If you’re more sensitive to rejection and spend a lot of time worrying about it, you might imagine a lot of worst-case scenarios.
Say you didn’t get into your graduate program of choice. You might start worrying that all the programs you applied to will reject you and you’ll have to try again next year.
But then you begin to worry that you’ll be rejected next year, too, which will make it impossible to get the job you want and advance your career, which will make it impossible for you to ever become financially stable enough to achieve your dream of homeownership and a family, and so on.
This type of negative thought spiral is called catastrophizing, and it’s usually not very realistic. Consider giving yourself a couple of actionable backup plans or coming up with counterarguments to some of your main fears.
Exploring what’s really behind your fear of rejection can help you address that specific worry.
Maybe you’re afraid of romantic rejection because you don’t want to feel lonely. Realizing this can help you prioritize developing strong friendships, too, which can help insulate you against loneliness.
Or maybe you worry about being rejected by potential employers because you feel financially insecure and don’t have a plan B. Outlining a few possible strategies in case you don’t find the job you want right away may help.
Sure, if you don’t put yourself out there, you won’t experience rejection. But you probably won’t achieve your goals either. Going for what you want gives you the chance to experience success. You might experience rejection — but then again, you might not.
Jones recommends creating a “fear hierarchy,” or a list of steps associated with your fear of rejection, and working through them one at a time. This is part of exposure therapy. You can try this yourself, but a therapist can also help you create a list and work through it.
“Someone afraid of romantic rejection might start by creating a dating profile without any intention to use it immediately. Then they might progress to chatting without the intention of meeting in person,” he says.
If you do this, just be sure to let people know that you aren’t looking to meet yet.
It’s easy to fall into a pattern of self-criticism after experiencing rejection. You might say things like, “I knew I’d mess that up,” “I didn’t prepare enough,” “I talked too much,” or “I’m so boring.”
But this just reinforces your belief that the rejection was your fault when it may have had nothing to do with you at all. If you believe someone will reject you because you aren’t good enough, this fear can move forward with you and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Positive thinking doesn’t always make situations turn out a certain way, but it can help improve your perspective. When you encourage and support yourself, you’re more likely to believe in your own potential to achieve your goals.
And if things don’t work out, practice self-compassion by telling yourself what you’d tell a loved one in the same situation.
Spending time with people who care about you can reinforce your knowledge that you are, in fact, wanted.
A good support network offers encouragement when you try to achieve your goals and comfort if your efforts don’t succeed. Knowing your loved ones have your back, no matter what happens, can make the possibility of rejection seem less scary.
Trusted friends can also help you practice exposing yourself to rejection scenarios you’re afraid of, Jones points out.
“Rejection fears can have long-lasting effects,” Jones says, including preventing you from going after big opportunities at school or work.
It’s possible to overcome rejection fears on your own, but professional support is sometimes beneficial. It may be time to consider reaching out to a therapist if your fear of rejection:
- leads to anxiety or panic attacks
- keeps you from things that you want to do
- causes distress in your daily life
Rejection can sting and make you doubt yourself. But fearing it may limit you, preventing you from experiencing much of what life has to offer. Choosing to look at rejection as an opportunity for growth instead of something you can’t change can help you feel less afraid of the possibility.
Pain usually fades in time, and this pain is no exception. In a year or even a few months, it may no longer matter very much. If you’re having trouble getting past this fear, a therapist can offer guidance.
Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.