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Why Is The Fear Of Rejection Our Worst Fear?

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Rejection

Why Is The Fear Of Rejection Our Worst Fear?

Why does the fear of rejection really terrify us?

The depth and flavor of fear varies for each individual, although there are common elements at play. If we’re willing to look, what is our actual felt experience of rejection? What are we really afraid of?

On a cognitive level, we may be afraid that rejection confirms our worst fear—perhaps that we’re unlovable, or that we’re destined to be alone, or that we have little worth or value. When these fear-based thoughts keep spinning in our mind, we may become agitated, anxious, or depressed. Cognitively-based therapies can help us identify our catastrophic thoughts, question them, and replace them with more healthy, realistic thinking. For example, if a relationship fails, this doesn’t mean that we are a failure.

From an experiential or existential viewpoint (such as Eugene Gendlin’s Focusing(link is external)), working with our fear of rejection or actual rejection involves opening to our felt experience. If we can have a more friendly, accepting relationship with the feelings that arise within us as a result of being rejected, then we can heal more readily and move on with our lives.

A big part of our fear of rejection may be our fear of experiencing hurt and pain. Our aversion to unpleasant experiences prompts behaviors that don’t serve us. We withdraw from people rather than risk reaching out. We hold back from expressing our authentic feelings. We abandon others before they have a chance to reject us.

Being human, we long to be accepted and wanted. It hurts to be rejected and to experience loss. If our worst fear materializes—if our catastrophic fantasy becomes a reality and we’re rejected—our organism has a way of healing if we can trust our natural healing process. It’s called grieving. Life has a way of humbling us and reminding us that we’re part of the human condition.

If we can notice our self-criticisms and tendency to sink into the shame of being a failure and accept our pain just as it is, we move toward healing. Our suffering is intensified when not only do we feel hurt or grief, but we think something’s wrong with us for feeling this.

If we risk opening our heart to someone who rejects us, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. We can allow ourselves to feel sorrow, loss, fear, loneliness, anger, or whatever feelings arise that are part of our grieving. Just as we grieve and gradually heal when someone close to us dies (often with the support of friends), we can heal when faced with rejection. We can also learn from our experience, which allows us to move forward in a more empowered way.

I hope I’m not making this sound easy–or that we can heal on our own without support. I’ve often been in the room with clients who have experienced a devastating loss when their hopes and expectations were rudely dashed, especially when old traumas were being reactivated. We may benefit by processing our feelings with a caring, empathic therapist, as well as availing ourselves of trusted friends who know how to listen rather than dispense unwanted advice.

The term “personal growth” is often used loosely, but perhaps one meaning is to cultivate inner resilience by acknowledging and even welcoming whatever we’re experiencing. It takes courage and creativity to bring a gentle awareness to what we may like to push away.

As we become more confident that we can be with whatever experience arises as a result of connecting with people, we can initiate, deepen, and enjoy relationships in a more relaxed and fulfilling way. As we become less afraid of what we’re experiencing inside—that is, less afraid of ourselves—we become less intimidated by rejection and more empowered to love and be loved.

Thanks for reading my article. If you like it, you might consider checking out my book, Dancing with Fire: A MIndful Way to Loving Relationships(link is external).

[John Amodeo]

John Amodeo, PhD, MFT (#MFC14453), is the author of Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships (Quest Books), which received the Spirituality and Practice Award as one of the best spiritual books of 2013. His other books include The Authentic Heart: An Eightfold Path to Midlife Love (John Wiley & Sons) andLove & Betrayal (Ballantine Books). He holds graduate degrees in both Clinical and Transpersonal Psychology and has been a licensed marriage and family therapist for over thirty years, with offices in San Francisco, San Rafael, and the Sebastopol area. A former writer and contributing editor for Yoga Journal for ten years, he has conducted workshops nationally and internationally on love, intimacy, and couples therapy, and has been featured on national television and radio programs that include CNN, CNBC, Donahue, and New Dimensions Radio. He has been interviewed or written for publications that include The Chicago Tribune, Cosmopolitan Magazine, The Dallas Morning News, The San Jose Mercury News, The Rocky Mountain News and The Toronto Sun. He has led workshops at centers such as Esalen Institute, The Omega Institute, and The New York Open Center, and is an adjunct faculty member of Meridian University. He has trained in Somatic Experiencing, developed by Dr. Peter Levine for dealing with trauma and is a Certified Focusing Trainer. He has had training in Emotionally Focused Therapy for couples with Dr. Sue Johnson, and has co-authored a chapter with her in her edited book, The Emotionally Focused Casebook: New Directions in Treating Couples (2011). To learn more about Focusing-Oriented Therapy, please visit: www.focusingtherapy.org. To learn more about Focusing, please visit: www.focusing.org.

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