A fear of rejection is an irrational and persistent fear of social exclusion. It can be a feature of social phobia or social anxiety disorder. There are various tips a person can use to help overcome a fear of rejection.

Social anxiety disorder involves a persistent fear of being watched and judged by other people. This fear can affect work, school, daily life, and relationships.

Fear of rejection can be a part of social anxiety disorder. However, people can experience a fear of rejection on its own as well.

This article discusses the signs of fear of rejection, what causes it, and the effects it can have. It also gives tips for how to overcome a fear of rejection.

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Georgina Sturmer, a therapist and registered member of the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP), spoke with Medical News Today about fear of rejection.

She explains a fear of rejection can manifest in two ways.

“Some of us develop needy, attention-seeking behaviors in order to keep people close to us.

“At the other end of the spectrum, some of us develop avoidant behaviors, pushing people away before they can get close and potentially reject us,” Sturmer said.

If a person’s fear of rejection is related to social anxiety disorder, a person may also experience the following symptoms when they must perform in front of or be around other people:

  • rapid heart rate
  • blushing, sweating, or trembling
  • a feeling of their mind “going blank”
  • nausea
  • difficulty making eye contact
  • difficulty speaking to others in social situations
  • rigid posture
  • avoiding places and situations where there will be other people

Learn more about social anxiety disorder.

A 2015 research article notes that rejection can have various emotional, psychosocial, and interpersonal consequences. It also states that rejection not only causes a strong reaction but can also influence individual behaviors due to the desire to avoid rejection of any kind.

Quote from a professional therapist

“We have a natural human instinct to want to build friendships and relationships. So it follows that we all have a healthy amount of fear and worry that we will be rejected or disliked by others.” — Georgina Sturmer, licensed therapist

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Sturmer explains that a fear of rejection may be a more deep-rooted set of fears.

“This often originates from childhood and our relationship with our early caregivers. This is the period of our lives when we start to build a sense of relationships and the world around us, when we develop an understanding of how to elicit the attention and affection of other people.

“During those early years, if our caregivers are emotionally unavailable, or unpredictable, then this can leave us feeling rejected.

“These early experiences can leave an imprint on us as we go through our lives. Rejections at later stages can also have an impact on us. If a rejection has a detrimental impact on our confidence or self-esteem, we might grow frightened of going through similar experiences again,” Sturmer said.

A 2021 study with 590 children in China found that rejection sensitivity can lead to higher levels of internalizing issues.

Researchers note that rejection sensitivity in children can pose developmental risks over time.

“If we are frightened of rejection, it might make us feel as if there is something about us that is unacceptable or unworthy,” Sturmer, a professional therapist, added.

“This can leave us lacking in confidence. It might make us worry about showing our vulnerability to other people in case this triggers a rejection. This can lead us to bottle up our feelings inside,” she said.

Read about regaining self-esteem.

Sturmer gives some tips and advice on how a person can overcome a fear of rejection:

Understand what’s going on

“We are not always aware of what’s driving our behaviors. So we might be pushing people away, or acting in a needy fashion, without realizing that it’s being driven by a fear of rejection.

“When we look back into our past and relationships, it can help our self-awareness,” therapist Georgia Sturmer said.

Question the inner critic

“If we are frightened of rejection, it’s useful to ask ourselves whether this is based on real, rational fears from people in the outside world. Or if, more likely, it’s our own inner critic that keeps us stuck in a place of fear.

“If this is the case, tune in to the inner critic and understand why it’s there. Any negative self-talk is likely to have developed as a way of protecting ourselves.

“As adults, we are able to develop healthier ways to cope and protect ourselves. This can help us to turn down the volume of our inner critic and try to transform it into an internal cheerleader or friend,” Sturmer said.

Stay grounded

“If we are full of fear, it’s easy to lose connection with the outside world. This can cause negative thoughts to spiral. So it helps to take proactive steps to stay grounded in reality.

“Speak to friends, colleagues, and neighbors. Get outside. Breathe fresh air and move our bodies. This all helps us to stay connected and grounded,” Sturmer said.

Seek professional help

“A trained mental health professional, such as a counselor, can offer us the opportunity to explore the roots of a fear of rejection and to design coping strategies to support us in everyday life,” Sturmer said.

If a person feels their fear of rejection may be a part of social anxiety disorder, they can contact a healthcare or mental health professional for advice. Treatment can help a person manage their condition and improve their well-being.

Treatment for social anxiety disorder typically includes psychotherapy, medications, or a combination of treatments.

Mental health resources

Visit our dedicated hub for more research-backed information and resources on mental health and well-being.

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A fear of rejection is a persistent and irrational fear of being socially excluded. It can be a part of social anxiety disorder or occur on its own.

A fear of rejection can make a person display needy and clingy behaviors. It can also make a person avoid interactions.

A fear of rejection may cause a person to bottle their feelings out of fear others may reject them.

People can overcome a fear of rejection. Understanding where the fear comes from, staying grounded, and seeking professional help can help people manage their fear and improve their mental health.