How to Overcome a Fear of Rejection

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The fear of rejection is a powerful fear that often has a far-reaching impact on our lives. Most people experience some nerves when placing themselves in situations that could lead to rejection, but for some people, the fear becomes overwhelming.

This fear can have many underlying causes. An untreated fear of rejection may worsen over time, leading to greater and greater limitations in a person's life.

This article discusses the fear of rejection, including how rejection sensitivity can affect your life and behavior. It also suggests some strategies you can use to overcome this fear.

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How Fear of Rejection Limits Your Life

Although not every person experiences the fear of rejection in the same way, it tends to affect the ability to succeed in a wide range of personal and professional situations.

Job Interviews

Fear of rejection can lead to physical symptoms that can sometimes be interpreted as a lack of confidence. Confidence and an air of authority are critical in many positions, and those experiencing this fear often come across as weak and insecure. If you have a fear of rejection, you may also have trouble negotiating work-related contracts, leaving valuable pay and benefits on the table.

Business Dealings

In many positions, the need to impress does not end once you have the job. Entertaining clients, negotiating deals, selling products, and attracting investors are key components of many jobs. Even something as simple as answering the telephone can be terrifying for people with a fear of rejection.

Meeting New People

Humans are social creatures, and we are expected to follow basic social niceties in public. If you have a fear of rejection, you may feel unable to chat with strangers or even friends of friends. The tendency to keep to yourself could potentially prevent you from making lasting connections with others.

Dating

First dates can be daunting, but those with a fear of rejection may experience significant anxiety. Rather than focusing on getting to know the other person and deciding whether you would like a second date, you might spend all of your time worrying about whether that person likes you. Trouble speaking, obsessive worrying about your appearance, an inability to eat, and a visibly nervous demeanor are common.

Marriage

Married life consists of an unending series of negotiations and compromises. No matter how compatible you may be, it is impossible for two people to agree on everything. Those with a fear of rejection often have difficulty expressing their own needs and standing their ground.

You might also develop feelings of jealousy or distrust in your partner as your fear of rejection turns into a fear of being abandoned. This is sometimes expressed in unhealthy behaviors such as checking your partner’s phone messages or social media accounts.

Peer Relationships

The need to belong is a basic human condition, so people often behave in ways that help them fit in with the group. While dressing, speaking, and behaving as a group member is not necessarily unhealthy, peer pressure sometimes goes too far. It could lead you to do things you're not comfortable with just to remain part of the group.

Recap

The fear of rejection can affect many different areas of life, including your success in the workplace and your relationships with friends and romantic partners.

Responses to the Fear of Rejection

When you have a fear of rejection, you may engage in behaviors focused on either covering up or compensating for this fear.

Lack of Authenticity

Many people who are afraid of rejection develop a carefully monitored and scripted way of life. Fearing that you will be rejected if you show your true self to the world, you may live life behind a mask. This can make you seem phony and inauthentic to others and may cause a rigid unwillingness to embrace life’s challenges.

People-Pleasing

Although it is natural to want to take care of those we love, those who fear rejection often go too far. You might find it impossible to say no, even when saying yes causes major inconveniences or hardships in your own life.

If you are a people-pleaser, you may take on too much, increasing your risk for burnout. At the extreme, people-pleasing sometimes turns into enabling the bad behaviors of others.

Passivity

People with a fear of rejection often go out of their way to avoid confrontations. You might refuse to ask for what you want or speak up for what you need. A common tendency is to try to simply shut down your own needs or pretend that they don’t matter.

The fear of rejection may stop you from reaching your full potential. Putting yourself out there is frightening for anyone, but if you have a fear of rejection, you may feel paralyzed. Hanging onto the status quo feels safe, even if you are not happy with your current situation.

Passive-Aggressiveness

Uncomfortable showing off their true selves but unable to entirely shut out their own needs, many people who fear rejection end up behaving in passive-aggressive ways. You might procrastinate, "forget" to keep promises, complain, and work inefficiently on the projects that you take on.

Recap

The fear of rejection might drive you to engage in behaviors like passive-aggressiveness, passivity, and people-pleasing. It can also undermine your authenticity and make it difficult to be yourself when you are around others.

Consequences of Fearful Behavior

The fear of rejection leads to behaviors that make us appear insecure, ineffectual and overwhelmed. You might sweat, shake, fidget, avoid eye contact, and even lose the ability to effectively communicate. While individuals react to these behaviors in very different ways, these are some of the reactions you might see.

Rejection

Ironically, the fear of rejection often becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is well-known in pop psychology that confidence enhances attractiveness. As a general rule, the lack of self-confidence that is inherent in a fear of rejection makes us more likely to be rejected.

Research shows that confidence is nearly as important as intelligence in determining our income level.

Manipulation

Some people prey on the insecurities of others. Those who suffer from a fear of rejection may be at greater risk of being manipulated for someone else’s personal gain.

Expert manipulators generally come across as charming, suave, and caring—they know what buttons to push to make others trust them. They also know how to keep someone with a fear of rejection feeling slightly on edge, as if the manipulator might leave at any time. Almost invariably, the manipulator does end up leaving once they have gotten what they want out of the other person.

Frustration

Most people are decent, honest, and forthright. Rather than manipulating someone with a fear of rejection, they will try to help. Look for signs that your friends and family are trying to encourage your assertiveness, asking you to be more open with them, or probing your true feelings.

Many times, however, people who fear rejection experience these efforts as emotionally threatening. This often leads friends and family to walk on eggshells, fearful of making your fears worse. Over time, they may become frustrated and angry, either confronting you about your behavior or beginning to distance themselves from you.

How to Overcome Fear of Rejection

If you are experiencing a fear of rejection, there are steps you can take to learn how to cope better and stop this fear from negatively impacting your life. You may find the following strategies helpful for learning how to overcome a fear of rejection.

Improve Your Self-Regulation Skills

Self-regulation refers to your ability to identify and control your emotions and behaviors. It also plays an important role in overcoming your fear of rejection. By identifying negative thoughts that contribute to feelings of fear, you can actively take steps to reframe your thinking in a way that is more optimistic and encouraging.

Face Your Fears

Avoidance coping involves managing unpleasant feelings by simply avoiding the things that trigger those emotions. The problem with this approach is that it ultimately contributes to increased feelings of fear. Instead of getting better at dealing with your fear of rejection, it makes you even more fearful and sensitive to it.

So instead of avoiding situations where you might experience rejection, focus on putting yourself out there and tackling your fear. Once you have more experience facing your fear, you'll begin to recognize that the consequences are less anxiety-provoking than you anticipated. You'll also gain greater confidence in your own abilities to succeed.

Cultivate Resilience

Being resilient means that you are able to pick yourself up after a setback and move forward with a renewed sense of strength and optimism. Strategies that can help foster a greater sense of resilience include building your confidence in your own abilities, having a strong social support system, and nurturing and caring for yourself. Having goals and taking steps to improve your skills can also give you faith in your ability to bounce back from rejection.

Recap

Taking steps to overcome your fear of rejection can help minimize its detrimental impact on your life. Learning how to manage your emotions, taking steps to face your fears, and cultivating a strong sense of resilience can all help you become better able to tolerate the fear of rejection. 

A Word From Verywell

If you find that fear of rejection is negatively affecting your life and causing distress, it may be time to seek out psychotherapy. This can help you explore and better understand some of the underlying contributions to your fear and find more effective ways to cope with this vulnerability.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What causes fear of rejection?

    Past experiences with rejection can play a role in this fear. People who experience greater levels of anxiety or who struggle with feelings of loneliness, depression, self-criticism, and poor self-esteem may also be more susceptible. 

  • How can I learn how to talk to anyone without fear of rejection?

    Talking to people can be challenging if you have a fear of rejection. The best way to deal with it is to practice talking to others regularly. Remind yourself that everyone struggles with these fears sometimes and every conversation is a learning opportunity that improves your skills and confidence.

  • How do you know if you have a fear of rejection?

    Some signs that you fear rejection include constantly worrying about what other people think, reading too much into what others are saying, going out of your way to please others, and avoiding situations where you might be rejected. You might also avoid sharing your thoughts and opinions because you fear that others might disagree with you.

  • When does fear of rejection become a mental illness?

    Fear of rejection might be related to mental health conditions such as anxiety or depression. If your fear is affecting your ability to function normally and is creating distress, you should talk to your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

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Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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Additional Reading
  • American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th Ed.). American Psychiatric Association.