Recently, a client told me, “I limit my connection with others because I’m afraid of rejection.

I tend to analyze and push away what my real response is, so I don’t sound silly.”

Does this sound familiar?

I know my client isn’t alone. Fear of rejection—be it from friends or colleagues, from a potential employer or artistic venue—is very often responsible for self-limiting behavior. Because fear of rejection can work in a million pernicious little ways, it can be hard to recognize. Stepping out of this safe zone, and overcoming the fear of rejection, is a necessary step toward living your calling and embracing the life you desire.

Have you ever heard of the study with the baby rhesus monkeys about love?

Back in the 1950s, researchers separated a group of baby monkeys from their biological mothers and left them in the care of two different “mothers.”  One was made of terry-cloth and provided no food, and the other was made of wire and had a baby bottle with milk.  The baby monkeys chose overwhelmingly to spend most of their time with the cloth mother, only going to the wire one when hungry.  This study helped us turn the tides towards understanding the importance of affection for babies.

Although most of us now know that children need attention, love, and comfort, as adults, we often try to ignore our needs for the same.  However much we may believe that we can care for ourselves on our own, though the truth is, connection, attention, and a sense of belonging remain some of our greatest physiological needs throughout our lives.  We are interdependent creatures, and although we live in a society that promotes independence and going it alone, we need each other.

As much as we need connection, many of us still feel lonely, disconnected, and isolated.  Since it seems like the most rational response to feeling disconnected would be to reach out to other people for connection and friendship, why then, do we ignore our need for connection when we are lonely and pretend that we are okay?

We learn early on that shame and the fear of rejection are two of the most painful emotions we can feel, and in response, we learn strategies to avoid this pain.

If you were taught that getting good grades was important to avoiding shame and receiving your parents’ approval, your strategy may have been to overachieve and excel.  Or, you may have learned to rebel and find a sense of belonging to a group of kids who were different from your family.  If you learned that other children paid more attention to you when you made them laugh, you may have learned to use humor to gain a sense of belonging, even when you didn’t feel like laughing.

Ironically, one of our major strategies for coping with the fear of rejection is to disconnect even more.

This vicious cycle begins early on:  We learn that rejection hurts and we don’t want to be rejected.  We learn that we can’t know what the other person’s response will be when we reach out and that it’s possible that we will be rejected again.  We tell ourselves that being vulnerable and reaching out for connection is not worth the pain of rejection and that we might as well not give our full selves to friendship, relationship, and connecting with others.  And so, the strategy of limiting connection is born.

Moreover, we learn that if we open ourselves up and share our truth with others, they might laugh at us and say we are silly.  This searing pain of shame is far more acute than the dull, though lasting, ache of disconnection, and many of us learn to do anything to avoid it.   It becomes our strategy to second-guess ourselves, analyze ourselves, and push away our real response.

So, what do you do when you notice yourself limiting connection and putting up barriers to feeling vulnerable?  Here are a few suggestions for overcoming the fear of rejection.

Notice your fear of rejection without making it wrong.

The only path towards experiencing a connection with others is connecting to how you feel, even if that is fear and discomfort. Looking at your feelings without rejecting them can be half the battle in overcoming the fear of rejection from others.

Know that you learned your strategies for a good reason.

We all try to protect ourselves from pain and hurt in the best ways we know how.  If you reject your strategies, and in other words reject the parts of yourself that uses the strategies, you inadvertently create more reason to cling to these strategies.

When you notice that you’re relying on old strategies and habits, listen carefully.

What you are telling yourself? What are the limiting, judgmental stories and beliefs that make you feel that you need to revert to protecting yourself?  Ask whether the story you are telling yourself works for you. (Hint: If it makes you feel bad about yourself in any way, it isn’t working.

If your current story doesn’t work, then ask yourself what story you’d rather be telling.

What else do you know to be true that would help you to connect and experience love?  Write this down!

Find examples of your new story in your life.

This may look like making an active effort to create connection with friends, family, and community, spending more time in nature, or engaging in a spiritual practice that helps you connect with something greater than yourself.  Rather than trying to convince yourself of something through affirmations, provide your soul with mirrors of your truth. Show yourself, through your actions, that you are indeed worthy of connection and of sharing your deepest truth.

Do you ever notice yourself disconnecting with others for fear of rejection? Do you stop yourself from sharing your full truth because you fear how others will respond?  Click here to learn more about confidence coaching and to get clear on your next steps toward a life of authenticity and connection.

 

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