Alarm bells started ringing when I stopped to ponder how much of my life is driven by a single intention: to avoid rejection. It’s more of my life than I care to admit. In fact, more of my life than I had realised, until I stopped to look at it more closely today. I find myself people pleasing, hiding my true feelings, not saying ‘no’ to people, not saying ‘yes’ to people, sitting politely and staying quiet – all to avoid rejection.
Fear of rejection and the shame associated with rejection (I think it’s the shame we’re more scared of, than the rejection itself) is such a stifling state of being. We’re so scared that someone will stop liking us or think badly of us, that we dare not make any bold moves. We shut down, we stop growing, we don’t step forward, we hold ourselves back, we stay small.
Why on Earth are we doing that?
Fear of rejection is critical to our survival
When we’re children, we need adults to look after us until we mature. If an adult rejects a child and that child is left alone, that child will not survive. Therefore, a child’s brain is primarily focussed on attachment and being accepted is a matter of life and death.
As adults and social creatures, we need to build and maintain healthy relationships for our wellbeing, survival and propagation of life. If we weren’t aware of what might cause people to reject us, we may dart around upsetting people and be left standing all alone.
Fear of rejection has its place in our wellbeing and survival as a species. It’s not something we should brand as ‘the enemy’. But, like many of our primitive survival instincts, they can go haywire in the modern, complex world in which we live.
Fear of rejection on overdrive
Personally, I know that my over-active fear of rejection is mostly caused experiencing a lot of it in my childhood. Most of our adult patterns are developed in our younger years.
I also think it’s a response to living in a highly pressurised society where we are scrutinised left right and centre. We can be rejected for what we do, we can be rejected for what we don’t do, we can be rejected for what we say, we can be rejected for what we don’t say, for what we own and what we don’t, for what we look like and what we don’t… around every corner is someone who can, and will, reject us. And that rejection hurts.
Most modern day rejections don’t impact our survival, so fearing them seems irrational. So what if someone dumps us after one date? So what if we don’t get that job? So what if someone rejected your Facebook friend request?! However, the mind perceives these as real threats: “the very same brain centres that interpret and “feel” physical pain also become activated during the experience of emotional rejection: on brain scans they “light up” in response to social ostracism just as they would when triggered by physically harmful stimuli.” Dr Gabor Maté.
The pain of rejection is very real indeed.
There’s only one solution
And I’m afraid it’s going to sound very clichéd. The solution is: accept yourself.
In my experience, when I own and accept my flaws, it doesn’t bother me if other people reject them. For example, people often mock me for my horrendous sense of direction and it barely makes me flinch. Because, I’m at one with my horrendous sense of direction!
When I make peace with a mistake I made, I’m not deeply affected by someone who rejects me for it. When I know I’ve tried my best at something, I’m not upset if someone rejects me for not doing enough. The only time I don’t feel rejected is when I am in full acceptance of myself.
On the other hand, when a rejection from someone else does hurt me, I always notice that I have a narrative playing in my mind which says: “I’m not good enough”, “I’m a bad person”, “I’m unlovable”, “I’m unworthy”. In other words, I’m rejecting myself.
And THAT’S what really hurts.
A quick tip on accepting yourself if to treat yourself like you would a small, innocent child whom you love dearly. With love, compassion, support and kindness. Maybe I’ll talk more about self-acceptance in the next blog. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your tips too.
About the author: To find out more about Pinky Jangra, please click here.