One of Humanities Greatest Fears: Rejection

CPTSD Foundation
6 min readMay 30, 2023

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It hurts to be rejected. Whether it is a friend, a coworker, or someone you just met, we hate to be rejected. When the people rejecting us are one or both parents, we, as humans, react badly, forming mental health issues within our undeveloped brains.

Rejection in childhood leads to all sorts of problems, including the development of complex post-traumatic stress disorder.

This article will tackle rejection and how to accept it and move on.

What is the Fear of Rejection?

Fear of rejection is an understandable fear that is part of us being human. The origins of fear of rejection might have formed when our ancestors long ago relied on belonging to a group to survive.

One of the most ancient parts of the brain is the amygdala, which registers threats and acts to mitigate them by sending chemical messages to other parts of the brain and body. If the amygdala senses rejection, it responds to like any other threat as though it were life-threatening.

Childhood trauma, where there is rejection in the form of neglect and abuse, leaves adult survivors with problems that can negatively impact their life or get in the way of opportunities.

Those who are afraid of rejection fear not being liked, being abandoned, or not fitting in. Above all else, they fear being alone. People who fear rejection struggle with low self-esteem, guilt, shame, and a defined lack of self-confidence.

Signs of fear of rejection may include any or all of the following.

  • People pleasing
  • Not being able to say no
  • Working too hard
  • Remaining in unhealthy relationships
  • Keeping your thoughts and feelings to yourself
  • Fear of failure
  • Codependency
  • Perfectionism
  • Allowing others to violate your boundaries

The above list is not all-inclusive.

The Neurology of Rejection

The amygdala is responsible for not only responding to danger but also connecting memories of events with the emotions felt at that time. If the rejection occurs in childhood from parents or peers, the rejection and the pain that accompanies it get reinforced and gain importance and meaning. The rejection then turns into our predominant emotional story.

Research has shown that emotional pain is often worse and results in more brain activity than it does when remembering physical pain. In other words, an event where your parents rejected you hurts to remember much more than a broken arm. The arm heals quickly, but emotional pain from rejection lasts a lifetime.

Other research using MRI images discovered that the parts of the brain that are activated during physical pain are also activated during emotional pain. Emotional pain like traumatic rejection is not only experienced but returns to haunt the person the same as if you had broken your arm again.

The amygdala triggers an emotional response when you experience rejection and causes symptoms that last throughout your life. Such experiences may be hypervigilance or avoidance of people and relationships.

Rejection is Inevitable

It is impossible to go through life without experiencing some rejection. We are turned down for a date or not invited to a party are some examples of rejection. What we do for ourselves to absorb our being rejected by others is what makes the difference.

Here are some fundamental truths to remember if you experience rejection.

First, it is vital to remember that rejection by someone does not change who you are. You remain the worthwhile person you were before you were rejected.

Second, it is critical to note that you are not in danger because of the rejection. Your brain will tell you that you are in imminent danger when the only danger you have is the rejection of yourself.

Third, just because one person rejects you does not mean you should curl up like a flower and not allow anyone else in. Plenty of people in the world will accept you and be happy that they did.

One rejection should not define you and will not unless you allow it to.

Overcoming the Fear of Rejection

Fearing rejection is significantly limiting to the lives of those who experience it. However, even if you have a deep-seated fear of rejection, there is hope, as there are practical things you can do to get better at dealing with it.

Here are six ideas for dealing with the fear of rejection.

One, accept your fear. Deal with fear of rejection by accepting it and acknowledging it is there. Try not to beat yourself up because you are afraid, as that will make you feel worse.

Two, change how you speak to yourself. We all have that inner voice that speaks to us about our worth, and it can be pretty negative when speaking about rejection. Change the narrative and speak to yourself in positive messages such as “I am enough” or “I am worthy of love.” If you need help, look up positive affirmations on the internet, write them down, and read them aloud to yourself.

Three, remind yourself when you experience rejection that it does not define who you are. It is not necessary to make the rejection you feel part of your experience of who you are as a person. Accept the rejection and move on.

Four, practice self-compassion, meaning treat yourself like a close friend or a beloved relative. Remember that fear of rejection will tell you that you don’t deserve to be treated well, but that is a lie your inner critic tells you. Don’t believe it and treat yourself with love and compassion. Practicing self-care and building your confidence in yourself. These are keys to ending the cycle of isolation and avoidance.

Five, if you fear being rejected in a group, you may think everyone in the room is looking at you when they are also feeling anxious and uncertain. Remember that the other people in the room are in the same boat as you, and do not be hard on yourself. They are focused on themselves, not you.

Six, if you are rejected, place it where it belongs, in the human experience. All people have been and will be in your shoes in the future. Go home, cry a little, and then give yourself some soothing and comfort. Then when you are done feeling sorry for yourself, get back up and move on.

Ending Our Time Together

Rejection is a painful experience. I have known rejection in the form of being disowned by my father’s side of the family for revealing one of my abusers. It hurts because one moment, you are liked and fit in, and the next, you are an outcast and alone.

At first, I allowed this rejection to define me. I was filled with guilt and riddled with self-doubt. I didn’t like what I had done, even though to not tell would have brought me more harm.

It took me years to understand that I wasn’t in the wrong but that my family members who had rejected me were.

I write this piece to hopefully aid you in either avoiding my mistakes or gaining knowledge to help you love and accept yourself better. After reading this short piece, I sincerely hope you will accept rejection as part of life and feel strong enough to move on from it.

“Rejection is often the universe’s way of protecting you from something that isn’t meant to be.”- Author Unknown.

“A person has to remember one important thing — no matter how much rejection they face, they must never give up and keep believing in themselves and make their dreams come true!”- Author Unknown.

Originally published at https://cptsdfoundation.org.

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CPTSD Foundation

Successfully equipping complex trauma survivors and practitioners with compassionate support, skills, and trauma-informed education since 2014.