Many of us reach the summer of our lives with some scars. Our (once carefree) selves arrived at adolescence, discovered the opposite sex, ran across fair-weather friends, and landed at adulthood a little worse for the wear… a little “wiser…” a little less likely to put ourselves out there. Though it may not be obvious to the world, a solid majority of us go through life with a fear of rejection. Whether it is mild or debilitating, fear or rejection is present in every college, every workplace, every church, and every family reunion.
How do we overcome this fear of rejection?
- Dig. When working on healing, some people prefer to ignore the past and look only to the future; whereas, some touch on the past, but prefer to stay in the present. I, however, prefer to dig back into the past until the root of the problem is discovered. Once we accurately identify the original pain, healing comes faster when working through it. If you are experiencing relationship fears of any kind – romantic, friendship, or familial – I encourage you to do the work. Go back into your memories and uncover the source of the fear. What happened? If you experienced real trauma in your past, we recommend working with a qualified, Christian counselor or therapist on this journey. It is worth the time and investment to heal.
- Evaluate. What went wrong in previous (or current) relationships? Is there a pattern? Do you typically date the same type of people? Do you encounter (or create) similar conflicts in each relationship? Which aspects of your previous relationship troubles were within your control and which were not? Maybe there were more factors to your breakups or friendship problems than you originally realized. When a relationship ends, and before moving onto another relationship, it is vital to do an autopsy of that relationship to study and understand what went wrong. It may be as simple as ‘We were not a good match,’ or it may be due to poor communication habits, disagreements about morals, selfishness, immaturity, or inadequate conflict resolution.
- Consider confronting. If someone hurt you – to the point that you are struggling to form and maintain adult relationships – a confrontation is worth considering. However, doing so is not always the best idea, so it is important to approach the idea prayerfully and with support. If confronting will cause innocent people pain (e.g., a new significant other, spouse, children, etc.), the issue may need to be worked through with increased care for privacy (then again, it may be that those other people need to be aware [if this may be the case, talk with other wise counsel before proceeding]). Sometimes confrontations can be done symbolically. You can write a letter and express all of your emotions without ever sending it. You can write your hurts on balloons and release them. You can have a bonfire and toss note cards listing your grievances. However, if you do choose to confront, do not unexpectedly spring the conversation on him or her. Ask to speak with the person about a serious issue to be discussed later at a specific time and place. Remain composed. Let him or her know you have been struggling, that you want to move on with your life, and what caused you If they are not ready to respond, then leave the ball in his or her court and give the person the space and time needed. Questions may follow, an apology may follow, or defensiveness may follow. In any case, you have said what you needed to say, and you can begin healing and moving forward.
- Everyone will not like you. And, this goes for romantic and non-romantic relationships. Understanding that there will be people out there who do not like you is one of the hardest truths to accept! As an exercise, find your most favorite movie on Amazon and read the reviews. Undoubtedly, there will be people who didn’t like it (the nerve! lol). Likewise, some people just do not snap well together – and that is okay. If you are attracted to, or intrigued by, someone who does not reciprocate those feelings, it does not diminish your worth in the slightest. You are not looking for many matches, just the right one.
- Find your worth. The best way to internalize a belief is to externalize it; that is, to say it out loud – repeatedly. Even if you don’t currently believe it, keep repeating it until you do. For example: “I am who God says I am. My worth comes from my Creator. Nothing any man or woman says about me changes who I am. God made me the way He did for His purposes and glory – and I can rest in that.” Will you get your feelings hurt again? You likely will. But, when we repeat truths (especially biblical truths) and start believing them, we overcome those painful moments more quickly. No human being gets to decide who you are or what you are worth – no matter his or her intelligence, attractiveness, desirability, or place in society.
- Challenge yourself. If you fear rejection as I often have, how do you protect yourself? Do you push aside invites to social events? Do you only allow yourself to stay near the surface with new acquaintances? Do you stay involved in friend groups from which you should distance yourself simply because they are familiar and inclusive? Challenge yourself to say yes to those likely-good situations you typically choose to avoid. It’s okay to leave yourself an out if you need to escape – drive yourself, have plans following the event, etc. – but also allow yourself to develop those relationships… you never know what blessings may come from them.
- Cherish your relationships. If you get through life with two or three steadfast, faithful friends, you are blessed indeed! If you have a parent, sibling, grandparent, cousin, aunt, or uncle with whom you share a special bond, be thankful. There will always be someone with more friends, a bigger family, and a (seemingly) better relationship/marriage than you, but that does not matter. Instead of looking around and comparing ourselves to others, let’s look at who is right in front of us and love on those people well. The more time we focus on love, the less time we have to focus on fear.
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. (I John 4:18, ESV)
Life is full of ups and downs. No matter how hard we try, sometimes we will hurt, sometimes we will look foolish, and sometimes we will lose. If we keep ourselves locked away from the world, we only cheat ourselves out of the pleasures of life. Avoiding social situations never made me feel better. I still struggled with the same fears and alone time which allowed my fearful imagination to run away with me. Getting out and making myself get involved is the only response which has ever helped. (Again, getting out and making myself get involved is the only response which has ever helped.) Sometimes, I meet people and there is an instant connection. Other times, I meet people and there is zero connection. Either way, I feel better for the trying. And, the next encounter with someone new is easier.
You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, “I lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.” – Eleanor Roosevelt
This Halloween, consider dressing up as your best, most-confident self. Look people in the eye. Go to the party. Ask her out. Accept his invitation. Stare your fear in the face until it backs down.
If you want to conquer fear, don’t sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy. – Dale Carnegie
Does fear of rejection interfere with your relationships?