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  • Writer's pictureGeorgina Sturmer

Understanding the fear of rejection

Many of us find ourselves repeating the same behaviours over and over again, without knowing why. It could be pushing people away, people-pleasing, perfectionism, or anxiety in social situations. We often get stuck in patterns of behaviour that don't serve us. But it can be difficult to figure out why it's happening. It might feel as if it's just part of 'who we are'. Often these behaviours are built on something deeper. An underlying fear of rejection. I explored this topic for Medical News Today. Click here to read my comments in their article, or read on to hear what I had to say.


Fear of rejection typically manifests in two different ways.  Some of us develop needy, attention-seeking behaviours, in order to keep people close to us.  At the other end of the spectrum, some of us develop avoidant behaviours, pushing people away before they can get close and potentially reject us.  


We have a natural human instinct to want to build friendships and relationships.  So it follows that we all have a healthy amount of fear and worry that we will be rejected or dislikes by others.  But it feels like we are looking at a more deep rooted set of fears.  These often originate from childhood, and our relationship with our early caregivers.  This is the period of our life when we start to build a sense of relationships and the world around us.  When we develop an understanding of how to elicit the attention and affection of other people.  During those early years, if our caregivers are emotionally unavailable, or unpredictable, then this can leave us feeling rejected.  These early experiences can leave an imprint on us as we go through our lives.  Rejections at later stages can also have an impact on us.  If a rejection has a detrimental impact on our confidence or self-esteem, we might grow frightened of going through similar experiences again.  


If we are frightened of rejection, it might make us feel as if there is something about us that is unacceptable or unworthy.  This can leave us lacking in confidence.  It might make us worry about showing our vulnerability to other people, in case this triggers a rejection.  This can lead us to bottle up our feelings inside.  


Top tips for coping with a fear of rejection:

  • Understanding what’s going on.  We are not always aware of what’s driving our behaviours.  So we might be pushing people away, or acting in a needy fashion, without realising that it’s being driven by a fear of rejection.  When we look back into our past history and relationships it can help our self-awareness.  

  • Inside or outside?  If we are frightened of rejection, it’s useful to ask ourselves whether this is based on real, rational fears from people in the outside world. Or if, more likely, it’s our own inner critic that keeps us stuck in a place of fear.  If this is the case, tune into the inner critic and understand why it’s there.  Any negative self-talk is likely to have developed as a way of protecting ourselves.  As adults, we are able to develop healthier ways to cope and protect ourselves.  This can help us to turn down the volume of our inner critic, and try to transform it into an internal cheerleader, or friend.  

  • Stay grounded.  If we are full of fear, it’s easy to lose connection with the outside world.  This can cause negative thoughts to spiral.  So it helps to take proactive steps to stay grounded in reality.  Speak to friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Get outside.  Breathe fresh air and move our bodies.  This all helps us to stay connected and grounded.  

  • Seek professional help.  A trained mental health professional, such as a counsellor, can offer us the opportunity to explore the roots of a fear of rejection, and to design coping strategies to support us in everyday life.  


Keen to explore more? In counselling we can take a deeper look at your relationships and how you interact with other people. Click here to contact me, or click here to book a 30-minute introductory call.



Understanding the fear of rejection



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