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5 Ways the Fear of Rejection Holds You Back

The lengths we go to avoid rejection often just lead to more trouble.

Source: patrisyu/Shutterstock

Everyone fears rejection at one time or another. Maybe you decided not to ask someone out on a date because you were afraid the object of your affection would decline. Or perhaps you didn’t apply for a coveted job because you were worried you wouldn’t get it. Either way, you may have missed out on a big opportunity. The fear of rejection is often the single greatest obstacle standing between a capable individual and enormous success, and its powerful grip can prevent you from reaching your potential.

Here are 5 ways the fear of rejection hold you back:

1. You Avoid New Opportunities

Fear is meant to keep you safe from danger: You’re hardwired to avoid things that cause you to feel afraid. But while running away from a hungry lion makes sense, refusing to ask for a raise because you fear rejection is not logical. Eliminating any possible risk of rejection from your life will prevent you from exploring new opportunities. There’s no guarantee that an audience will appreciate your presentation or that your friends will support your ideas. But unless you’re willing to put yourself out there and risk a rejection or two, however, you’re not likely to receive many rewards.

2. You Try to Please Everyone

One way to reduce the chances of being rejected is by trying to please everyone. Saying yes to every invite, and agreeing to do things you don’t want to do, may make others like you—at least temporarily. But being a people-pleaser is likely to backfire in the long-run. In reality, it’s impossible to make everyone happy all the time, and, in any event, you’re not responsible for other people’s emotions. People-pleasing can lead to a long list of problems, including burnout and exhaustion, and it can cause you to lose sight of your values.

3. You Maintain a Disingenuous Public Performance

The fear of rejection can lead you to put on a public persona aimed at disguising "the real you." Plastering on a fake smile and trying really hard to fit in with everyone around you may reduce your fear of being seen for who you really are. But while that public mask may help you in certain situations, people will see right through you if you lay it on too thick. Vulnerability is key to living an authentic life, but of course, being vulnerable requires you to risk being hurt. If your fear of rejection prevents you from being genuine, you’ll struggle to form sincere relationships.

4. You Don’t Speak Up

If, rather then pushing to close a deal, you say, “Call me if you decide it’s something you want,” you can reduce your anxiety. This passive technique will preserve your self-worth—again, at least temporarily—because you won’t have to hear someone reject your offer directly. But declining to express your opinion, refusing to stand up for yourself, or shying away from asking for what you really want equals poor communication. It’s unlikely people are going to hand you what you want in life, unless you ask for it.

5. You Behave Passive-Aggressively

Telling a friend, “My family is so selfish. They’re not even going to help me move!” instead of just calling and asking him or her for help directly may be an attempt to trick the friend into volunteering. But such attempts to avoid rejection are downright manipulative. We know that rejection doesn’t sting so much when you aren’t faced with it head-on. Hinting, complaining, or giving back-handed compliments are just a few of the ways people with a fear of rejection avoid direct confrontation. But ultimately this roundabout way of doing business only causes more friction.

Short-Term Pleasure, Long-Term Problems

Rejection hurts and dodging it is a way to avoid the short-term pain. But taking steps to avoid all types of rejection only leads to long-term problems. Getting turned down or passed up isn’t the end of the world. Learning to tolerate the distress associated with rejection can actually build your confidence. Once you see that it isn’t as catastrophic as you predict, you’ll learn to take on the attitude of, “nothing ventured, nothing gained.”

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.

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