Rejection hurts… but the fear of rejection can often hurt even worse. In fact, when we give into the fear of rejection, we often set up a pattern that can affect us throughout our lives. Rejections we’ve experienced in the past can end up affecting us NOW. When we give into the fear of rejection, we can end up reliving that fear, long after it’s happened… feeling the pain as though it’s happening to us again, right now. When that happens, it becomes a way that we almost give up our free will; life becomes a series of steps that you take to try to AVOID feeling the discomfort and pain of rejection.
It’s time to learn how to break the cycle and learn how to stop letting your fear control you.
- What science can teach us about rejection and rejection sensitivity
- How our brains work against us and keep us in a cycle of fear and avoidance
- Why rejection hurts, even years later
- How a fear of rejection can CAUSE the very rejection we’re trying to avoid
- How understanding your body can help you conquer your fear of rejection
…and so much more.
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This week I want to do things a little differently and talk for a minute about some recent developments in my own life.
So a little more than a month back, I was diagnosed with ADHD which… well, frankly, getting that diagnosis explained a LOT about my life. In fact I’m kinda pissed that I didn’t get this much much earlier; turns out that I’ve been inadvertently playing life on a harder difficulty than I’d realized, and I couldn’t understand why the hell everyone else was having a much easier time than I was.
I had been diagnosed with chronic depression back in college, and god knows a toxic relationship exacerbated it. But there’d also been a LOT of other issues involving executive dysfunction, disorganization, an inability to remember important shit I had to do and a hell of a lot of social anxiety. And I honestly thought my problem was I mostly just needed to be more disciplined and determined and just bull through things.
In fact, a big part of why I went into pick-up in the first place was because I wanted to find ways to overcome my anxiety when it came to trying to meet women. I basically was brute-forcing my way through things because… well, I thought that was just what I needed to do.
Now that I’ve got this diagnosis, a whole lot of things became a lot clearer to me — especially because of how many other conditions are co-morbid with ADHD. Depression his a big part of it; turns out ADHD can exacerbate it. But the other thing that I learned about is how much ADHD can cause social anxiety as you’re constantly trying to evaluate what people are thinking about you. In fact, one of the more common comorbid conditions is what’s known as rejection sensitivity and rejection sensitive dysphoria.
These conditions — which are defined as the tendency to anxiously expect, anticipate, perceive and intensely react to rejection, as well as the extreme pain or fear caused by rejection or criticism — are incredibly common in folks who have ADHD, as well as borderline personality disorder and social anxiety. For those of us with ADHD, it seems to come part and parcel with the way that our brains have issues with emotional disregulation.
To be clear: right now RSD — and for anyone who’s ever been in the pick up scene, that is a HELL of an ironic acronym — is still very new and it’s still in the early days of being researched. However, rejection SENSITIVITY is very real and well studied. It’s not just a case of being too soft, but an actual difference in how some brains react to rejection or — more often — the FEAR of rejection.
In fact, understanding this can help us understand why rejection hurts so much — whether you have rejection sensitivity, RSD or not.
Knowing this NOW explains so much of what I’d been dealing with my entire life, not to mention how fucking hard it was and — in some cases still is — to wrestle through a lot of complicated emotions, even when you know logically that things are ok. A lot of the way I learned to deal with anxiety and rejection was basically through blunt force trauma and a few coping mechanisms that were less than helpful in the long-term. I’ve developed a lot of systems for it that help, and I understand how to make them work much more efficiently… but it was incredibly difficult. In fact, the hardest thing is dealing with the FEAR of rejection — almost as much as rejection itself.
One of the worst tricks that nature has played on us is that we evolved for SURVIVAL, not happiness. Nature couldn’t give less of a shit if we’re happy or always on the verge of pissing ourselves in terror as long as we survive and spread our genes to our progeny.
This is why we have what’s known as The Negativity Bias. The Negativity Bias is the way our brains respond more readily and more intensely to negative stimuli, and the way we will also continue to dwell on negative events. Negative emotions and events affect us five times more powerfully than positive ones. This is actually a great advantage when you’re living out on the savannah or in forests; you’re much more aware of things like sabertooth tigers lurking in the grass or which plants and berries are going to kill you if you eat them.
Problem is: we don’t really live in the savannah any more. We don’t need our Spidey-sense to be THAT sensitive and powerful. But it still is — because nature selects for “alive” not “happy”
Now combine that with the fact that, as social animals, rejection used to be a mortal danger to our continued survival, and you’ve got a recipe for a condition that’s gonna bake your noodle. Nature fucked up a perfectly good ape and gave it anxiety.
Because we treat rejection as danger, we tend to be hyper-aware of it. In fact, one of the hardest things for me to learn, especially back when I was just starting out in pick-up, was learning to RECOGNIZE that fear was JUST fear, not reality.
If I suspected rejection was coming — and this is something I still occasionally have issues with — I could get preoccupied for days or WEEKS, looking for clues that I was about to be rejected or dumped.
But notice very carefully I said “suspected”. Part of the problem was that I was getting charged up by that fear, and my brain was going on a defensive cascade to try to find the threat.
In fact, when you’re afraid of rejection or you’re afraid it’s coming, you end up not thinking clearly. Your brain has gone on red alert and you’re dealing with a lot of cognitive distortions because hey, something is WRONG and you need to DEAL WITH IT NOW.
So there’s that emotional reasoning that says “Well I FEEL like I’m getting rejected or I’m about to get rejected, so clearly I AM being rejected.” We personalize everything and think that it has everything to do with US instead of being something as simple as conflicting plans or needs or even basic incompatibility.
This is all important to understand, because the way we respond to rejection can affect us down the line in our lives. Rejections that we’ve experienced in the past can affect us NOW.
This can sound a little woo, but our bodies functionally store emotions as energy; stress and fear cause us to produce adrenaline, but it ALSO causes our brains to produce cortisol — the stress hormone. And cortisol CAN build up in your system.
Because we have this negativity bias, which means our negative memories are that much stronger and we’re much more likely to dwell on them, we’re capable of replaying and reliving our past traumas, feeling them all over again like they’re real and are happening NOW.
So… we’re basically hurting our own feelings.
But because we do this, we create more stress, which creates more stress RESPONSES, and these end up building neural pathways that encourage us to KEEP ruminating on those past rejections and feeling the discomfort and pain that comes from rejection and the FEAR of rejection. And that can end up becoming a dominant thought pattern.
After all, how we think and feel shapes our personality. When you spend a LOT of time dwelling on rejection, you can end up making a personality out of being rejected. In a very real way, it’s like an addiction — a pattern our bodies or brains have adopted that outlast its usefulness. And when that happens, it becomes a way that we almost give up our free will; life becomes a series of steps that you take to try to AVOID feeling the discomfort and pain of rejection.
And if you’ve felt a lot of it — or you suffer from rejection sensitivity or RSD — then you are especially prone to doing almost anything to avoid it. You may become a people pleaser or focused on the idea that if you’re valuable enough to people you won’t get rejected. Or you may become incredibly risk averse and avoid anything that might lead to having to face the possibility of rejection.
Can’t get rejected if you never actually do anything in the first place,
Sometimes it causes you to deal with PRE-rejection — basically rejecting YOURSELF before someone else could, even though they weren’t going to. Or you anticipate the rejection and so respond to it as though you WERE being rejected, even though you weren’t… but your behavior ends up pushing people away.
Regardless of how we respond to that fear, we end up missing out on the things we want, which just makes you fall further into despair.
Of course, one of the problems that comes right along with this is that we get angry at ourselves for feeling this way; we get pissed off because we feel like we’re being weak or cowardly, just plain ol’ chicken-shit. And this just makes things WORSE because — straight talk gentlemen — you can’t shame yourself into improvement, no matter what people tell you.
Anger and self-hate isn’t fuel or motivation, it’s just HATE. It may make you do SOMETHING to try to get better, but hate can’t sustain progress or get you through the inevitable stumbling blocks. You’ll hit some setback or fall back into old patterns — which happens to everyone — and then just hate yourself even more. And that just causes the pattern to repeat itself until you give up and just stew in your own bitterness and resentment.
Your desire to improve and become who YOU want to be needs to be stronger than your hate, your sadness or your pain if you want to move forward.
But like I said: I’ve wrestled with this all my life, and between what I’ve learned about rejection sensitivity and the ways I’ve learned to manage things, I can tell you this: to help deal with your fear of rejection, you need to break the cycle. And to do that, you need two things:
Mindfulness. And self-management.
You start by setting yourself up for success — managing your mood and putting yourself in the best possible position to overcome fear and the negativity bias.
You want to start the day with things that make you feel good; the things that make your mood better, instead of, say, doom scrolling through social media or hitting up subreddits or forums full of people who’re bitter and angry. Find the activities that make you feel confident and strong, and work into making those into daily habits.
Part of what can help is to keep track of your emotions and your moods. Using an app like Mood Meter to track your emotions and how you feel through the day is a great way to find the things that trigger negative emotions in you as well as the activities or experiences that create those amazing, positive feelings. The more information you have about what’s influencing your mood, the more you can backwards engineer your day to maximize the things that make you feel great.
Similarly, you want to be aware of what you’re feeding your mind. Garbage going in means garbage is gonna come out. This doesn’t mean that you need to be on a cycle of constant self-improvement or only reading “good” books or “serious” topics. What it means is that you need to feed yourself the things that are representative of what YOU want in your life. And that includes kindness and self-compassion. s
Amongst other things, ths means changing the way you talk about yourself. Talking yourself down and self-insults, even when they’re self-deprecating joke-y jokes are just ways of reinforcing the idea that you’re awful. You’re making yourself the butt of your own jokes; you’re basically bullying yourself.
If you’re someone who’s always sharing memes about how awful you — or people who just happen to represent you — are, talking about how horrible you are at dates or relationships, even when it’s supposed to be humorous, then you’re just reinforcing the belief that you are awful and DESERVE to be rejected.
The same goes when you’re hanging around people who tell you that things are hopeless and there’s nothing you can do to get better or who want you to turn that anger out and blame other people. It’s garbage that reinforces your worst beliefs. It all seems harmless, just venting your frustrations, right? But what fires together, wires together. You’re creating those same neural pathways as you are when you’re constantly reliving past rejections.
If you want to overcome your fear of rejection, you need to feed your mind the things that encourage you to do better, that inspire you to BE better and remind you that you have incredible potential.
But being aware of your moods and emotions isn’t just important for creating positive habits and building your confidence. You want to be aware of how you feel because many times, what you’re feeling isn’t actually rejection, it’s what you THINK is rejection. You’re anticipating being rejected and so you’re responding to it as though it were already happening.
When I thought someone I was seeing was slow-walking me out of the relationship, I started to respond as though I were ALREADY being dumped. That tension, anger and fear bled through when we were spending time together and created a wedge between us… which ended up CAUSING the break-up that I’d been afraid of, even though it was NEVER actually on the horizon in the first place.
When your anxiety is up or your negative emotions are high, it’s much harder to think clearly. This is why it’s important to be mindful of your feelings and recognize when your emotions are getting more intense. Be mindful of your body; do a mental scan. Is your body tense, is your stomach tight? Are you clenching your jaw? Are you pulling your shoulders up? Is your heart rate going up, higher than it should be under the circumstances?
The more intense your feelings are, the more you need to shift your focus to slowing things down and calming yourself before engaging. The more upset you are, the more afraid you are, the more you’re going to want to do SOMETHING. But that means you’re also much more likely to lash out, instead of responding in a way that’s more productive.
Calming yourself lets you engage more clearly and helps you look at things without the filter of “incoming rejection” and setting your systems on red alert. You’re in a better position to ask yourself: are they rejecting or avoiding you, or are they just busy? Think: how many times have YOU not responded to something right away because YOU were busy or didn’t have time to get to your phone, or simply didn’t have the energy just then?
For that matter: what are some other possible explanations that AREN’T “everyone hates you”. Don’t forget: your first thoughts are often wrong, especially when you’re seeing it through the filter of anticipation and fear. They only BECOME correct because we reacted to them as though we were being rejected, thus CAUSING our rejection.
It’s also important to learn how to detach and release from outcomes. This seems a little strange — how can you detach yourself from the outcome, when the outcome is what you want? But part of what can drive a fear of rejection is what being rejected — or NOT being rejected — actually means for you. One of the weirder issues is that a fear of SUCCESS can trigger a fear of rejection. Folks will often use a fear of rejection to avoid trying. Fear of rejection means not having that awkward conversation about the relationship because if you don’t have it, you don’t have to try to make that relationship WORK or deal with the possible fallout that comes from it. Or you may be afraid of getting what you want because there’s a part of you that knows this won’t change things for you; it’s just surface validation.
Incels who get plastic surgery, for example, often discover that nothing has actually changed for them, because the problem wasn’t their looks, and deep down… they know it. Improvement and validation has to come from within.
It’s also important to focus on appreciating and improving your own self-worth. You need to help yourself undo that past trauma you experienced and to stop reliving it.
Meditation, especially mindfulness meditation is a great way to learn how to break out of those obsessive thought patterns and negative loops. You learn how to recognize when you’re having those thoughts and how to pop out of them, shifting your focus back to something positive and affirming. Learning how to be bigger than your thoughts is an incredibly powerful way of getting those thoughts and feelings under control.
While you’re at it: you want to do some self-validation exercises. I know this sounds like just reading affirmations in the mirror — which, actually DOES help, when you take it seriously — but it’s more than that. It means being your own support system and cheering squad, treating yourself with kindness and acknowledging your strengths, successes and the effort you’re making.
As part of the self-validation, you may want to look into some cognitive behavioral therapy workbooks or a self-directed program like Mood Gym, to help you be more mindful and aware of how your feelings and fears affect your perception.
And yeah: sometimes that rejection is going to be real, not just something you’re afraid of. But you can deal with that too; you can work on yourself and develop your social skills to become a more charismatic and approachable person. In fact, I have a playlist of episodes specifically for working on those skills; hit the thingy or check the links in the show notes.
It’s important to note that the point of all of this isn’t to become fearless or to never worry about being rejected: it’s to break the cycle that causes you to constantly be on edge and afraid. As a good friend of mine says: with peace comes bandwidth. Learning to break the cycle of fear and anticipation is like closing all the apps that’ve been running in the background and sucking up all of your RAM. By doing so, you’re freeing up you mind, your emotions and your time.
In fact, when you break the cycle, when you close those apps running in the background that’ve just been making you miserable, you may surprised to discover just how much of your mind they’ve taken up and how much of your power you’ve called back to yourself.
Which leaves you with just one question:
Now that you’re no longer so afraid, now that you’re no longer shaping your life to avoid even the possibility of rejection… what are YOU going to do with all of this new found potential?