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Handling Fear of Rejection

Chapter 4: Handling Fear of Rejection

Tools for Relationships

By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


What is the fear of rejection?

Fear of rejection is the:

  • Irrational fear that others will not accept me for who I am, what I believe, and how I act.
  • Pervasive motivator for caution in my behavior and interactions with others.
  • State of mind that makes me incapable of doing or saying anything for fear of others' rejection, lack of acceptance, or disapproval.
  • State of being of individuals who are over dependent on the approval, recognition, or affirmation of others in order to feel good about themselves. In order to sustain personal feelings of adequacy these individuals are constantly concerned with the reactions of others to them.
  • Self censoring attitude that inhibits creativity, productivity, and imagination in one's approach.
  • Driving force behind many people that keeps them from being authentic human beings. They are so driven by the need for acceptance of others that they lose their own identity in the process. They mimic the ways in which others act, dress, talk, think, believe, and function. They become the three-dimensional clones of the role models they so desperately need to emulate in order to gain acceptance.
  • Underlying process in the power of peer pressure that grabs hold and makes people act in stereotypic, pop culture, counter culture, punk, new wave, preppie, yuppie, and other styles. They crave recognition and acceptance from the reference group with whom they want to be identified.
  • Energy robbing attitude that leads to self immobilization, self-defeating, and self-destructive behavior. This attitude encourages ongoing irrational thinking and behavior, resulting in personal stagnation, regression, and depression.
  • Driving force of some people for all actions in their lives. It plays a part in their choices concerning their education, career direction, work behavior, achievement level, interpersonal and marital relationships, family and community life, and the ways in which they spend leisure time.
  • Act of giving to others more power than I give to myself over how I feel about myself. What the others say or feel about me is the determinant of how I feel about myself. I am completely at the mercy of others for how happy or sad I will be. My self-satisfaction and belief in myself is in their hands. Fear of rejection is the abdication of power and control over my own life.

What common behavior patterns exist for people who operate out of a fear of rejection?

People who operate out of a fear of rejection:
  • Display little or no assertiveness
  • Do not speak up and let others know how they feel about something, especially if their opinions differ.
  • Function as enablers. They have neither the courage nor the ability to assist others in discontinuing self-destructive behavior, e.g., alcohol or drug abuse, underachievement or workaholism.
  • Lack the courage to function differently from others, even when they don't enjoy the behavior in which they are involved.
  • Resort to passive/aggressive behavior; that is dishonest, sneaky, and allows for no open communication.
  • Play games with people. They will keep their personal feelings hidden. They are in tune with what is in and make every effort to emulate it in their lives.
  • Privately express a great deal of anger or depression over how unfortunate and unhappy their current lifestyle is. Yet, when helped to look at alternatives involving confrontation with others, they take a yes…but attitude.
  • Are confused as to their true identity, wearing masks to please others.
  • Become so obsessed with functioning, looking, and acting in a prescribed manner that they become rigid, inflexible, and closed to alternative behavior. This is true even if they are unhappy in the lifestyle they hold to so rigidly.
  • Are dishonest with themselves, so much so that it carries over into their interactions with others and they become habitual liars.

How do others react to persons who operate out of a fear of rejection?

People who care for the person who operates out of fear:
  • Encourage the person to be more assertive.
  • Plead with the person to change their style of life and to become true to themselves.
  • Recognize the lies and find it hard to trust the integrity and honesty of the person.
  • Become turned off to the person's behavior, which they know to be unreal.
  • Become frustrated when their offers of help to the person continuously go ignored.
  • Find themselves asking the person how they are feeling in fear that they will tell them.
  • Become nervous around the person, afraid that their discomfort with the person's unfortunate choice of life style will be misread as rejection or disapproval.
  • Find it difficult to carry on a normal conversation with the person because the problems emanating out of fear of rejection are, sadly, always evident.
  • Recognize that the person for whom they care is in a self-defeating, dead-end cycle.
  • Begin to avoid the person so much so that it looks like an out-and-out rejection of the person for whom they care.

Result: The person who operates out of a fear of rejection ends up pushing away the very friends, family, and helpers who care for him. The pulling away of these caring ones appears to be rejection, and the vicious cycle goes on with negative results.  


Those whom the person fears being rejected by:

  • Take the person for granted.
  • Do not recognize that the person is making great sacrifices to be accepted by them.
  • Ignore the rights of the person.
  • Apply pressure consciously or unconsciously for the person to continue to conform to their desires or wishes.
  • Play on the person's guilt feelings and press for their way so that awful consequences can be avoided.
  • Are unaware that the person fears their rejection and do not take this person seriously.
  • Ignore the input or ideas of the person and never incorporate the person into their inner circle.
  • Find it humorous how the person bends over backwards to please them.
  • Manipulate the person to do a multitude of favors for them and are ready to dump the person once the favors become unnecessary.
  • Openly reject the person once they have used the person and have no further use for the person. Often they'll reject this person once the person gets up the nerve to confront them about how they really feel about the person.

Result: The person who operates out of a fear of rejection ends up being rejected by the very people from whom he fears rejection. 


What are some underlying causes for operating out of a fear of rejection?

People who act out of a fear of rejection may:

  • Lack healthy self-concept, self-worth, or self-esteem because they were never fully affirmed in their families of origin.
  • Have had a traumatic experience of rejection, for example, in a divorce or separation that deeply scarred them.
  • Be bound up in irrational thinking and not realize that this behavior is neither rational nor necessary.
  • Have lacked appropriate role models in life who accepted them for who they really were.
  • Be insecure in their personal identity, with a debilitating lack of self-confidence.
  • Have never been exposed to healthy ways of dealing with conflict or disagreement.
  • Lack the social skills to adapt to a reference group.
  • Have suffered from social isolation in their early lives.
  • Lack certain personal accomplishments, which they feel set them apart and which contribute to their lack of self-confidence.
  • Be unaware that they are operating out of a fear of rejection and may even deny it if it is pointed out to them.
  • Have a physical condition that they believe makes them unattractive to others.
  • Have been told all their life that they were second best or different.

Steps to help overcome a fear of rejection:


Step 1: Read through the material in this chapter. Decide whether or not you operate out of a fear of rejection.


Step 2: Identify in your journal the person(s) from whom you fear rejection. The people whose rejection I fear include:


Step 3: Identify in your journal how your fear of rejection is displayed in your behavior toward the people you identified in Step 2. The behavior patterns reflecting my fear of rejection include:


Step 4: Identify in your journal healthy, productive, and rational alternative behavior patterns to those identified in Step 3. Alternative behavior patterns to those coming from my fear of rejection include:


Step 5: Identify in your journal what the consequences would be of using the alternative behavior patterns listed in Step 4. The consequences of using alternative behavior patterns would be:


Step 6: Identify in your journal what obstacles, other than your fear of rejection, exist in your adopting the alternative behavior listed in Step 4. The obstacles that block my adopting the alternative behavior in Step 4 include:


Step 7: Analyze the obstacles listed in Step 6 and identify in your journal whether they are irrational beliefs or actual obstacles to change. If they are irrational beliefs use the Tools for Coping Series refutation of irrational beliefs, in Tools for Personal Growth. If the obstacles are not irrational beliefs use the Tools for Coping Series five dimensional problem-solving model found in Productive Problem Solving, to find alternatives to rid yourself of these obstacles.


Step 8: Implement alternate behavior patterns not based on a fear of rejection.


Step 9: If you still have problems and are operating out of a fear of rejection, return to Step 1 and begin again. A professional or objective helper may be necessary to guide you.