A client of mine recently told me she had been rejected for an internship she applied to. I waited a moment and then congratulated her. The client knew exactly what I meant by this.
We had been working on fear of rejection for a while. In the past her fear had immobilized her to the point she was afraid to try new things and had become very insular. We worked on what this fear meant for her, where it might have come from, and why the thought of it was so painful for her.
As I congratulated her, we were able to explore the idea that the only people who have the opportunity to be rejected are the ones who step out of their comfort zone and become vulnerable. This kind of vulnerability is something she had been cultivating and is more how she wants to be in the world, but it takes guts and can be messy and we need to be well fortified within ourselves to handle it.
Many of us think that rejection means we are not worthy. Some people experience what is termed ‘rejection sensitivity’. Individuals who are high in rejection sensitivity are so fearful and aversive to rejection that it impacts their daily lives. This keeps them from taking what others might see as casual risks to do things like establish friendships or apply for jobs. Rejection sensitivity is often caused by events most often occurring in childhood.
But it’s not that we are unworthy, but rather maybe the risks we’ve taken were not realistic. Maybe we tried something that wasn’t a great fit. Or perhaps our timing was off. Or maybe it was just pure bad luck.
Once we get comfortable with the idea that rejection is a possibility and that we will survive it, then we are free to try new things. It can be a relief to get rejected, especially when the alternative is never knowing the answer. And, maybe as we get rejected another (perhaps more suitable) opportunity presents itself.
We’ve all heard stories about someone going on a date only to find their date is not interested in them and then the roommate of our date walks in and it’s instant attraction. So what might have turned into rejection, turns into opportunity.
This year, one of my intentions is to be rejected – a lot! I want to get really vulnerable. I want to try new things and expand my horizons. Why not? I know I will stumble along the way and it will be painful, but now that I am in my mid-50s, I am ready. When fear looms inside me – or when I am working with a client who is experiencing this kind of fear – there are ways can support ourselves.
– Slow down, stop and reflect on both yourself and the situation rather than responding immediately.
– You might say to yourself – I am worthy even if this doesn’t work out.
– Assess the situation and realize, maybe it wasn’t a great fit after all – and maybe by being open and creative you might even be able to turn a rejection into a different opportunity.
– Remember that rejection hurts … our brains are actually wired to feel rejection like we would a wound. But, similar to a wound, we can heal.
– Surround yourself with people who value you. This will boost your self-esteem and allow you more fortitude to handle a rejection.
If your fear of rejection is impacting your ability to experience life the way you would like, I encourage you to work with a professional coach or therapist to help you move through the fear and into a place where you are more comfortable being vulnerable. Hopefully, you will realize how much the world needs you to actively engage with it as you take personal risks to put yourself out there.