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Overcoming the Fear of Rejection and Worrying What Other People Think

A common worry I hear about is the fear of being rejected and judged by other people. The pervasiveness of these types of thoughts make sense. Modern day life has so many sources of possible rejection it’s difficult to count. Beyond the opportunity of being rejected face to face, people are also vulnerable to rejection (or perceived rejection) via text, email, and a myriad of social media accounts.

A few examples…

Why didn’t they respond to my email?

I used a smiley face emoji. Why didn’t they use an emoji?

It’s been hours since they responded to my text. Did I say something wrong?

Why didn’t they like my post on instagram?

Where does fear of rejection come from?

Evolutionarily, our fear of rejection comes from an important place. In primordial times, rejection was truly a matter of life and death. Back then, if you were rejected by your clan, it would mean that you could be cast out and eventually die. This might help to explain survey research finding that people often rank the fear of public speaking as being even more intense than the fear of death.

Today the repercussions of rejection are not nearly as catastrophic, yet they can still feel catastrophic. Your life experiences may be teaching you that it is not ok to be rejected, and that you should always seek to win the approval and acceptance of other people. Perhaps you have encountered negative experiences of being of judged by a close other, and you’ve developed an assumption that judgment is always what is coming for you.

It’s normal for rejection to feel emotionally difficult to handle. However, the good news is that there are strategies you can practice to manage this common fear.

Tips for Managing the Fear of Rejection

Check the facts and stop jumping to conclusions

People who are prone to worry about rejection have a tendency to automatically interpret ambiguous situations as rejection, even if this is not the case.

For example, they may perceive a slow email response as rejection when perhaps the other person is just busy or lacks current access to email.

Jumping to conclusions is a thinking pattern known in cognitive behavioral therapy as a cognitive distortion. It is known as a “distortion” because it is a misinterpretation of information you’re receiving.

Next time, before you assume someone is judging you, check the facts. Is there actually concrete evidence to support this?

Keep in mind that research studies indicate we often overestimate and exaggerate the impact of our own failures, shortcomings, or blunders on how other people think about us (see link below). Hence, the saying “we are our own harshest critic.” Although we assume others will be just as focused on our own mistakes and shortcomings as we are, research suggests this is not the case.

Stop the Self-Fulfilling Prophecy and Excessive Reassurance Seeking

When you fear rejection you may constantly be on the lookout for signs of being rejected. This hypervigilant behavior may ironically cause you to behave in ways in which you are more likely to experience rejection.

An example…

If you are constantly looking for signs of rejection in what your partner says, you may twist their words into ways they did not mean or intend. If you then continuously seek reassurance and become upset with what your partner says, this could could lead them to become frustrated and upset with your behavior. They may even pull away from you due to feeling uncomfortable with your behavior. Afterwards, you might use this experience as more evidence that you are a person who always experiences rejection.

Be aware of this pattern of behavior and avoid reacting to your fears in counterproductive ways.

Remember you’ll survive rejection and work towards acceptance

So you’ve been rejected. Let’s say you weren’t hired for that job, or you weren’t asked to go out on a second date. Then what?

Although it definitely hurts to be rejected, rejection is ultimately a part of life, and likely something you’ve survived before. The more that you experience and accept rather than avoid rejection, the less scary and difficult rejection will be for you. Just like with any fear, the more you encounter it and see you were ultimately able to move forward from it, the less overwhelming and insurmountable it appears.

Ultimately, keep in mind that it is impossible for you to please everybody, and it’s inevitable that someone may not see eye to eye with you.

Also, let’s say someone was just straight up mean and awful towards you. In this case, do you really want to seek their approval? Perhaps that person is toxic, and you dodged a bullet by their rejecting you.

Practice Mindfulness and Self-Compassion

Chances are if you’re afraid of the judgment of others, you may be someone who also struggles with not judging yourself harshly. Practicing mindfulness and self compassion exercises daily can help you to stay in the moment and shift your thinking into being able to see things as they are instead of getting swept away by judgmental thoughts.

A Final Word

If you are struggling with worries about judgment and rejection and want to talk about it, feel free to reach out for a free initial consult.