How to Overcome the Fear of Rejection
By Debbie Mandel
The recent death of the great American playwright, Arthur Miller reminds me of our eternal struggle with rejection. In his best known play Death of a Salesman Willie Loman felt useless and old. He had compromised his creative talent to work with his hands to become a salesman to pursue social validation. Therefore when people stopped smiling back to Willie, it was a virtual death sentence. Like Willie, we are all salesmen, selling ourselves in order to be well-liked, but at what personal cost?
From the moment we are born we have an innate fear of abandonment because our survival depends on the benevolence of others. However, it comes with a price. We must obey the gentle giants in our lives. We would think that as soon as we reach adulthood and can earn a living, that we are free at last. However, nothing could be farther from the truth. We still look to our parents and our family members for approval – even if they are no longer living! Then we expand this accommodation to the people who play major roles in our lives and ultimately to new acquaintances – all in the quest to be well-liked.
Just a fleeting thought of rejection hurls us into a fight or flight mode. Either we will do everything in our power to be well-liked or we will run away and never try in order to avoid rejection. Because if we don’t try, we can’t fail! What is so frightening about rejection anyway? It means that we are not good enough! To deal with rejection we need to find our true inner voice and then learn how to use that inner voice to speak up when we feel mistreated, or that our needs have not been met. Growing up as dependent children, we experienced blurred boundaries within the parent/child relationship. Therefore as adults we need to set those boundaries and speak up to those who chip away at our self-esteem criticizing: how we look, the kind of work we do, how we think and how we feel.
It takes courage to face the fear of rejection and shine a light on it. We need to have the courage to say no to others when they trespass on our well-being as well as to stand alone when others erode our beliefs and our essence. Sometimes we have to be the one to reject those who are hurtful and judgmental whether it is a boss, a family member, or a spouse. Sometimes we have to reject the friend who is self-absorbed and rejects our boundaries for time and space. Life is a balance between stability and change, vulnerability and steadfast identity.
Here are some suggestions to cope with the fear of rejection and regain balance:
- Become aware of your emotional conditioning to please and accommodate others. Awareness will help you to recognize the pattern. This is a major accomplishment to recognize what is driving you.
- List the compliments you receive every day in a journal. Alongside each compliment note whether you resisted or accepted the compliment! What does the compliment say about who you are?
- Every day list your “needs” for the day. Then become aware of how you meet your needs or don’t meet them. Make a point to please yourself!
- Rehearse in your mind the confrontation where you feel you risk rejection. See the whole scene through to the end. Use your imagination to envision a successful completion and granting of your wishes.
- Give yourself permission to be unavailable. Balance your availability to others with your energy levels. Say no to the energy vampires in your life. They will get used to the new you.
- Every week try to go beyond your comfort zone. Ask for something you feel places you at risk. It gets easier with practice.
Debbie Mandel, MA is the author of Turn On Your Inner Light: Fitness for Body, Mind and Soul, a stress-reduction specialist, motivational speaker, a personal trainer and mind/body lecturer. She is the host of the weekly Turn On Your Inner Light Show on WGBB AM1240 in New York City , produces a weekly wellness newsletter, and has been featured on radio/ TV and print media. To learn more visit: www.turnonyourinnerlight.com