The fear of rejection can be life-limiting, preventing us from reaching our full potential or going after our dreams. A fear of rejection often feels overwhelming and even hopeless. Although a complex emotional reaction, it is in many ways like a phobia. The fear of rejection runs the gamut in both severity and outward expression. If your fear is mild, you may be able to cope with it simply by confronting it.
Embrace Rejection: I once took an acting class from actor-turned-director Tom Logan. Although he taught me many things, one in particular has stuck with me through all sorts of varied situations. Here's what he said (referring to audition nerves): "You don't have the job. You don't have a snowball's chance of getting the job. So go in and have fun and, if you're lucky, you'll make a new friend."
Celebrate Your Successes: The danger in embracing rejection is the tendency to feel like rejection is all you deserve. This defeatist mindset can lead you to stop trying, or at least to stop doing your best. Avoid the defeatism by remembering the second part of what Tom Logan taught me: "If you get one in 10 jobs for which you audition, you're doing extremely well." This number also translates to making friends or closing sales deals. Realize that a perfect average is unattainable for anyone, and then celebrate your successes rather than bemoaning your failures.
Set Small Goals: A fear of rejection is not likely to go away overnight. Rather than set the unrealistic goal of feeling perfectly confident at all times, challenge yourself to face low-stakes situations. For example, if you fear being rejected by strangers, commit to saying hello to 20 people each day. Using the "rule of 10," at least one or two will react positively. Celebrate those successes and, more importantly, celebrate your own courage in facing your fear.
If your fear of rejection is more severe, consider seeking professional help. The fear of rejection generally responds well to a variety of treatment methods. Short-term therapies, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy, allow you to quickly address the fear and learn ongoing strategies for changing your own thoughts, feelings and reactions.
The fear of rejection is insidious. Without treatment, it tends to worsen over time, gradually taking over your life and causing you to avoid the people and activities you once enjoyed. In extreme cases, the fear of rejection can lead to further social phobias and even agoraphobia. When properly addressed and treated, however, the fear of rejection can be successfully overcome.
American Psychiatric Association. (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th Ed.). Washington, DC: Author.