We all feel rejected at some point in our lives. It’s an inevitable part of life that can’t be escaped. However, some people seem to be more sensitive to rejection than others, to the extent that they feel paralysed by anxiety and depression.
Rejection can be experienced in romantic relationships, in social and group settings, or in our work environment. It triggers deep-rooted feelings in us. We become extremely anxious that we’re not lovable or acceptable.
We fear that people don’t want to be with us, dislike us and we’re going to end up feeling left out and alone. These feelings and thoughts can be very distressing, occupying our minds and affecting our daily lives. Our minds can become so drowned in these thoughts that they leave us almost paralysed, anxious and depressed.
You may find yourself ruminating over fear of rejection in any social situation from your work or relationship to your daily interaction with people elsewhere. As you’re interacting with another person, there can be all sorts of thoughts about whether the other person is finding you boring or uninteresting, or thinks you’re stupid or a loser etc. This can be exhausting for you and may lead you to withdraw from people. Basically, you leave people before they leave you.
What is the deep seated root of this fear of rejection? But is there also something more to it?
Of course, this fear of rejection, like many other difficult emotions, has roots in our childhood. Children yearn for their parents’ love and approval. We depend on the love and acceptance of our parents. This is essential because it’s the source of building a secure self and of confidence that we can cope at times of anxiety and distress when we grow up.
Children who have a good enough environment while growing up get to trust their parents’ love and acceptance and know that their parents’ love is not conditional on what they expect from their children. Funnily enough, children also test their parents’ love by pushing the boundaries (breaking any kinds of rules). They want to test the parents’ strength in dealing with their children’s difficulties and see if they will still be accepted and loved.
However, if the child’s environment is not secure enough, the child may be punished and rejected because of doing something that the parents don’t like. Thus, the child needs to be very careful of what they do or say, just to avoid rejection. There will always be this fear that they may do or say something wrong and therefore be punished. Imagine how anxiety-provoking this can be for a child, constantly having to comply with parents’ behaviours. This fear that the love of a parent may be lost continues into our adulthood as an unconscious fear of rejection.
Unfortunately, this compliance with others and desire for acceptance will lead us to lose our own identity. We may get to a point in our life where we feel like we don’t even know who we are. This can leave us very confused and lost.
Some people may say ‘but we had loving parents’. Of course parents can be loving, but if you’re having difficulties around rejection or any other fears in your life, if you dig deeper, you’ll find the source for them somewhere.
Now what about self-rejection? Let’s go a bit deeper!
Now I want to talk to you about another aspect of fear of rejection, which is ‘self-rejection’. If we grow up in a family environment where we need to adapt our behaviours to what other members of the family expect of us, it means that we always need to be ‘good’ in order to be loved. In this way, other parts of us which may not be acceptable or lovable have to be suppressed. This leads us to hating our own unacceptable parts. This creates a split in our personality, as if we have two personalities, with one being hidden, even from our own view. However, this part is just hidden, which doesn’t mean that it’s not there, and there comes a point in life when it tries to push its way out. This is the time when anxiety and panic attacks occur.
Gary is talking to someone and suddenly he finds himself extremely anxious about what the other person is thinking of him. He cannot concentrate. All he can think about is what if he’s thinking that I’m boring, uninteresting, stupid... Now the other person may not be thinking about Gary at all.
What happens here is that we do tend to locate what we think (sometimes unconsciously) about ourselves in the other person. It means that, like a projector, we project our own feelings on to the other person and therefore think that the other person is thinking all those negative thoughts about us. When we attend closely to other parts of ourselves, we’ll find that actually it is we who are self-rejecting. It is we who have all those negative thoughts about us. But because these feelings about ourselves are unconscious, it is easier to see them in the other person.
If we know ourselves well and are confident about every aspect of ourselves, even those unacceptable parts, then we are at peace with both ourselves and others. In order to accept ourselves, we need to dig deep and we need to find out about every possible part of us and its related roots. When we get to know ourselves, we become ‘whole’ and that is the time when confidence grows and anxiety fades.
Therapy can help
A therapist can help you in this path. You will be given tools to explore every aspect of yourself in therapy and come to terms with your unacceptable parts. You will become aware of your projections on to others and begin to see your unwanted parts. Once you learn to become at peace with yourself, you will become confident and build a secure self. This will be a time where you won’t feel controlled by this fear of rejection anymore.