How to overcome the fear of rejection
Rejection is God's protection, as the saying goes, but when we're on the receiving end of rejection, it feels anything but heaven-sent. Rejection can be painful and if we've been rejected before, we can become fearful of it happening again. So how do we overcome our fear so that we can enjoy the dating process?
I know from my own experience and from my coaching practice that fear of rejection is one of the reasons many people stay away from dating for many months or even years. We may make a conscious decision to do so, or our behaviour may be driven by our subconscious. Maybe we pay for a dating site but don’t send any messages, or perhaps we stay busy with work and don’t make time for romance. Staying out of the dating game is a form of self-protection.
Fear of rejection is also the reason why some people choose relationships with partners who aren’t good for them or whom they don’t find attractive – if we’re not invested in the relationship, it won’t hurt so much if the person leaves us. This is another form of self-protection.
But our goal is to date happily, to date confidently and to date people we actually want to be with, so it’s important to understand why rejection hurts so much and to build our emotional resilience so that we’re not scared to fall in love. These four steps might help:
1) Stay emotionally healthy
When someone rejects us, often our first thought is that there’s something wrong with us. We conclude that we’re not attractive enough, slim enough, smart enough or young enough. Our self-esteem takes a knock. It’s natural to want to be wanted, to want to be chosen or picked. Rejection hurts. But it will hurt far less if we are dating with healthy self-esteem, a strong sense of our worth and value and a good degree of emotional resilience.
When we go dating with a deep craving for love, affirmation and validation, we are ultra-sensitive to rejection. So the best thing we can do is to spend time before we go dating and during the dating process loving and affirming ourselves, building up our self-esteem and strengthening our emotional core or our inner oak tree, as I like to call it. Are we feeling steady and stable? Are we well nourished and nurtured? Are we well supported? If we can answer ‘Yes’ to these questions, we won’t be so scared of rejection and we’ll bounce back quickly from it.
2) Put things in perspective
If we are emotionally stable with healthy self-esteem, it will be much easier to put rejection into perspective. We’ll be able to step back, see the big picture and realise that the fact that we’ve been rejected says more about the other person than it does about us. They are looking for someone different. They believe there is another man or woman who’s more suited to them.
That is their prerogative, just as it ours – because we also get to choose. We get to accept someone or reject them based on whether we think we’re a good match. There are indeed many more fish in the sea (many clichés are true!) and the sooner we’re able to allow this particular fish to swim on by, the sooner we’ll be able to meet the fish that’s right for us.
3) Heal from past hurts
There’s an expression I often use in my coaching and writing: if it’s hysterical, it’s historical. In other words, if our reaction is exaggerated and disproportionate to the circumstance, it’s likely that our past has invaded our present and that the incident is triggering painful memories. This is particularly important in the context of rejection.
Many of us experienced some form of rejection when we were young. Perhaps we were born prematurely and spent time in an incubator, which felt like abandonment to our tiny minds. Maybe our father or mother worked away and we felt rejected every time they left. Perhaps our parents divorced and one parent moved out and we concluded that mum or dad was rejecting us. We might also have experienced rejection in the school yard or in a teenage relationship.
When we were young, many of us didn’t have the emotional maturity or the support around us to process and heal our painful feelings, so the pain got stored inside. In my case, I found ways to avoid my pain, including binge eating, drinking too much and working too hard. Many years on, we get rejected by someone we’re dating and the pain feels overwhelming.
We may only have been together for a few weeks or months but we’re devastated. This is because the pain in the present has triggered the pain from our past – prompting an avalanche of multi-layered emotions. We can avoid this avalanche effect if we take time to understand the hurts that are buried deep in our subconscious and to process and heal our pain.
4) Reach out for support
We are all unique. Some people will be able to overcome their fear of rejection simply by practising lots of self-love and self-care and maintaining healthy self-esteem. Others may require additional support, especially to process the deeper hurts that might be blocking us from a healthy relationship. Over the years, I’ve had lots of support from friends, fellows and professionals and this has enabled me to work through my fears of abandonment, rejection and loss in order to form a committed relationship. If you feel that you need support, I encourage you to reach out to others and to give yourself this gift.
Dating can be scary and committed relationships require a huge leap of faith. It’s OK to be frightened. I hope these steps help to equip you to date with more courage and confidence and to enjoy the process. But feel the fear and go dating anyway.