7 strategies to help you overcome your fear of rejection

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Rejection is never fun. No one wakes up, reaches for their oolong tea and gender-neutral slippers and thinks, “Can’t wait to be turned down today!”

It’s not just in the realm of dating either. We face rejection at work, with friends, and with random people we encounter throughout the day. That douche-kangaroo who didn’t hold the elevator for you even though you were clearly running for it? The boss who said you couldn’t work from home once a week? The friend who canceled on you because she needed a “self-care” night?

All forms of rejection.

And, like the ex who won’t move out of your apartment even though you broke up months ago, rejection is not going anywhere anytime soon. So we might as well learn to deal with it.

How do we do that? How do we make rejection feel less scary and overwhelming and stifling? How do we learn to take calculated risks so that we’ll grow and not shrink in the face of adversity?

Here are seven strategies that help.

It’s not me, it’s you

Perhaps the most obvious, yet under-utilized solution is to learn how to not take rejection as a personal affront.

When someone says “no” to us, we tend to blame ourselves. We feel inadequate and ashamed and say things like, “I’m unattractive.” Or “I’m so awkward and shy, no wonder no one wants to date me.”

But rejection is entirely subjective. It’s one person saying no one time in one particular instance.

Think about it this way. Let’s say your roommate brings home a couch. You think the couch is hideous and don’t want it anywhere near you. But your roommate loves it. Is the couch hideous or beautiful? Neither. It’s just a couch. Only when we ascribe meaning to it does it become good or bad, pretty or ugly, worthy or unworthy.

In a similar way, hearing a “no” doesn’t make you a loser or a reject. Though it may not seem like it at the time, rejection is actually an opportunity. A chance to assess what went wrong and how you could approach it differently next time.

Hearing a “no” doesn’t matter. What does matter is what we tell ourselves about it.

Tell yourself a different story

Rejection doesn’t “say” anything about us as people or our intrinsic self-worth.

In Josh Waitzkin’s The Art of Learning, he discusses the differences between entity and incremental theories of intelligence. Stay with me, it applies to rejection, I promise.

People who are entity learners attribute their success or failure to an ingrained and unalterable level of ability. (“I aced that test because I’m good at math,” for instance.) Incremental folks don’t view their success as fixed. They grasp that with hard work and patience, difficult concepts can be grasped. (“I studied hard for this math test, and my work paid off with an A.”)

Research by developmental psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck has also shown that incremental learners are far more likely to succeed than entity learners, regardless of intelligence levels.

So when looking at rejection, it’s far better to view it with an incremental mind. When we tell ourselves generalized, entity-based things like, “I’m bad at flirting” we’re setting ourselves up to fail, and also excusing that failure because we’re telling ourselves that’s “just the way I am.”

It’s not. You are like the universe. YOU CONTAIN MULTITUDES.

Be a rejection detective

Another tip that helps take the sting out of rejection is to view unpleasant interactions with curiosity, not scorn. This works in all scenarios, not just dating.

When someone behaves like a jerk, say, a guy who cuts you off in traffic and then flips you off, instead of getting angry right back or internalizing negative feelings, you might instead ask yourself, “I wonder what’s going on in that guy’s life today that made him so angry. Maybe his girlfriend dumped him. Maybe his favorite dildo broke.”

Or, to use a sex scenario, let’s say you want to bang your girlfriend. You just watched the sex scene from Bound and want to role play Mob Boss’ Girlfriend and Seductive Plumber. But when you ask, your lady says, “nah, not tonight.”

If you were to take this personally—which you aren’t because you just learned about why that’s a bad idea!—you might say to yourself, “I suck. I can’t even seduce my own girlfriend! She must not be attracted to me anymore.”

But if you were to take the smarter, curiosity approach, you might instead say, “Hmm, it’s late. I wonder if she’s tired. Plumber role play does involve a lot of props and maybe that’s too much effort right now. She did say she had a stressful day at work. Maybe I should ask her if we can plan for some sexytime later when she’s more relaxed.”

Rejection is not the norm

Rejection feels like a big deal when it happens, but when we step back and think about it, outright rejection probably doesn’t happen to you all that often. Think about every single person you’ve met or interacted with in your life. How many of them sneered in your face and told you to fuck off? My guess is a tiny percentage.

So keep that in perspective.

If you need extra proof, try examining your life for a few days. Take a look at your day, your conversations, your emails, and note each time you heard a “yes.” Did you successfully schedule a meeting? Did you get your friend to agree to your preferred lunch spot? Did someone let you borrow a book you wanted to read? Did someone do something nice for you without asking? Take note of each small “win.” You might be surprised how often you are getting your way. Writing it down for a few days helps you realize all the good flying in under the radar.

The Three P’s

Another strategy that helps us get over unpleasantness faster is to utilize the Three P’s, from Martin Seligman’s book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life. When trouble strikes, ask yourself the following, and then figure out a way to answer no to each:

Is this personal?

Is this pervasive?

Is this permanent?

We already talked about how rejection isn’t personal, meaning it has nothing to do with your worth or character. Pervasive means what happened will negatively affect all areas of your life. Permanent means the consequences will last forever. Another way of looking at permanence is to ask yourself, as my mom is fond of saying, “Is this going to matter in ten years?” The answer is almost always no.

So, let’s say you take a chance and ask your local barista out on a date. She says she’s flattered, but no thanks.

You might then tell yourself: It’s not personal that she said no; I’ve rejected plenty of people myself who were perfectly nice and cute. It’s not pervasive; hot strangers have gone out with me in the past and they’ll do so again. And it isn’t permanent because I will have other opportunities to meet people and my embarrassment will subside eventually.

The next time you’re struggling to get over something, channel your inner optimist and ask yourself the Three P’s.

 

Practice practice practice

You can’t learn to swim if you never get in the pool. You can’t write a novel if you never put words to paper. And you can’t de-escalate rejection if you never take any risks.

In a recent NPR story, one man learned to conquer his fear by getting rejected on purpose every day. He asked strangers for rides across town. He asked for money. It was ridiculous. And it worked. He got really good at handling rejection.

I challenge you to try something similar this week. Make a ridiculous request. Make several. Ask a stranger for a quarter. Ask for a ride. Ask for a pony. The goal is to get turned down, which takes some of the pressure off the interactions, even if you do feel a tad ridiculous. You can even tell the person what you’re doing at first if you’re shy, which makes it even easier.

“Hi, I’m practicing rejection because this weirdo writer on the internet told me to try it. Would you buy me a pumpkin spice latte?”

The takeaway is that the more we get used to small rejections, the easier they are to handle and move on quickly.

Channel your inner crab

Another way to think about rejection involves crabs—no, not that kind. I mean hermit crabs. As they grow, they need to find bigger shells to live in. In order to do so, they have to leave their safe confines for a period of scary, protection-less vulnerability.

Overcoming fear of rejection is a lot like being in-between crab houses. In order to grow, we must risk vulnerability. If we stay in our small shells out of fear or routine, we’ll never live up to our full potential.

 

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