Overcoming Sensitivity to Rejection

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I want you to use your imagination for a minute. Imagine that you are at a coffee shop. You see an attractive person of interest sitting reading a book. Your mind begins to race with all the things you could possibly say to this person to get their attention. You work up the courage. You are feeling hyped and positive about this interaction. You walk up to her. She glances up and sees you. You greet her with a slight smile. She smiles back. You say, “Hi.” and introduce yourself. She says, “Hi, not interested.”

What feelings are coming up for you? What thoughts are coming up for you? What would you do?

Yes, this might sound like an extreme form of rejection, but I know this has happened to a number of us guys. 

Now, imagine that you have been talking to a person that you are interested. The two of you are texting, calling, and hanging out. One day they do not respond to your text for hours. Which is not normal as they have been respond fairly quickly. Hours are passing as you check your phone again and again to see if they have texted you back. You have started to really care for this person.

What feelings are coming up for you? What thoughts are coming up for you? What would you do?

You see, for some of us in this world we have acquired a sensitivity to rejection. Meaning that we tend to interrupt situations like the one above as a pending rejection. When someone we care for changes their pattern of behavior or we begin to anticipate a rejection. We become full of anxiety, stress, and feelings of inadequacy. Our mind starts racing a mile a minute as we ruminate over all the possible scenarios that would lead to us being rejected.

Our thoughts could be things like, “She must be out with someone else.”, “I need to get out before I get hurt.”, “She must not like me.”, “This feeling is overwhelming, I want it to stop.”

Rejection sensitivity or rejection sensitivity dysphoria is when we have a heighten emotional response to what we perceive or interpret as a potential threat of rejection. This response is usually linked to internal statements of being unacceptable, unlovable, unworthy, unwanted, or not good enough.

All of which most likely were messages we received when we were children and teenagers. These messages could have come from our families, peers, or society.

The messages we receive generally come in two forms. Overt messages, which are seen, like being picked on or teased and covert messages, which are unseen, like a parent that does not show love and affection to their children.

Here is what we need to understand when it comes to our personal issues in our life. They come from our parents, peers, or society, but we are the ones who have them. We are the ones that need to work at overcoming them. It is good to understand where our problems come from, but that is not where overcoming the problems end.

My suggestion is to understand that our problems we are faced with came from our upbringing and experiences with our family, peers, and society. It is good for us to show empathy towards our parents for doing the best they could with the tools that they had.

We may see what they did as a poor way of parenting, but the truth is we are not them. We are different from them and we also do not know how we would be if we were in their shoes: facing their problems, dealing with their life, and their past experiences that shaped them. Let’s give our parent’s a break and take responsibility for how we manage and handle our life.

Alright, back to rejection sensitivity. This is a challenging attribute to deal with. It can feel like there is a threat of rejection everywhere, which causes an avoidance of situations where rejection may happen. Which is really every situation we encounter as humans.

What happens is this way of thinking, feeling, and behaving becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Meaning that because we think this way then our mind, body, and heart will make it come true. A self-fulfilling prophecy works in many arenas of life.

Some consequences that could occur might be that we avoid doing things that maybe we actually enjoy because we fear being criticized or judged by others which would create feelings of rejection. We might avoid people who we really care for because we believe they will eventually reject us. We may experience thoughts and feelings of wanting to leave someone because we can no longer handle the fear of rejection.

Another major thing that can happen is that because the sensitivity is tied to our distorted feelings of being inadequate, unworthy, unlovable, not good enough we will try so hard to get the validation or love that we desire so that we get a glimpse of feeling lovable, adequate, worthy, and good enough.

This is when we will push and push trying to get that anxious, not good enough feeling to go away. If you have ever experienced this you know what will happen. The other person will head for the hills, screaming all the way. They cannot handle being the one that your feelings of worth rely on. I have not meet one person that would be okay with that.

This also speaks to what researcher by the name of Bowlby referred to as attachment styles, but that is for another article.

Other consequences that might occur is that because we do not want to experience rejection we end up having a hard time saying, “No.” when people request things from us. If we are unable to spend time with someone or call them, we will experience feelings of them possibly rejected us because we did not make time for them.

We then find ourselves dropping everything for them out of fear of not being accepted. Not being accept to us would mean that we will be rejected. We tend to do this because we know the feeling of not getting a text back, a call back, or a response. The problem is that our feeling is more intense then what those without the sensitivity would feel in those situations.

We might also feel this fear of rejection when we disappoint others. We feel that if people are disappointed with us then they will reject us in some way. This thought leads to behavior of people pleasing, putting other people’s needs ahead of our own to gain validation that they will not reject us.

All of this is problematic in our relationships.

I know this all too well because I have a heightened sensitivity to rejection. In so many of my relationships I knew something was not quite right. I would interrupt even the smallest thing as a potential rejection of me because I saw myself as unworthy. I never quite understood why I would experience this. Even situations where I was not attached to the person I still would experience rejection so intensely within my body, heart, and mind.

When I would experience that I would think, “What is going on? What is making me feel this way? I do not feel that invested in this situation, but I am still reacting in such an intense way.”

It was recently that I realized that what I was experience was due to my sensitivity to rejection. Oh man, when I figured that out it was like a light bulb went on in my head. All my past relationships came back to me at once showing me times that I would react to my sensitivity to rejection. Reacting in ways that only drove people away.

I decided I needed to do something about this, but what can I do. How does one overcome a sensitivity to rejection?

Here are a 3 ways that might help with reducing your reaction or sensitivity to the threat of rejection. In no particular order.

First, it is best to become aware that you have a sensitivity to rejection. Thinking back over some of your relationships to see when there were times that your reaction was heightened due to a potential threat of rejection. Also, reflect on what your body experienced during those times. Understand that you most likely will react and how your body will react gives you an advantage over your sensitivity to rejection.

Second, challenge your inner critic. That inner voice that is telling you all the exaggerated potential situations that could be happening. You can do this in a few ways. The one that I have found that works well for me is to examine the evidence and look for alternative explanations. Instead of assuming your negative thoughts is truth, look for real factual evidence. If you are unable to find any then there must be an alternative explanation. One that holds more truth to it. Search out for an alternative explanation that holds more truth than your negative thought.

Third, expose yourself to rejection. You can do this a systematic desensitization way. Make a list of all the things that would activate your sensitivity to rejection. Put that list in order from least affected to most affected. Then starting from the least affected situation/item make that happen. For example, if your least affected situation would be to have a person of interest tell you no. Then go out and get that no. As you move through the list and get to your most affected item you will begin to notice that your reaction to rejection or the threat of rejection has diminished.

Something to recall is that if you feel that your body and mind are reacting to your rejection sensitivity then it is best to take a calming pause before moving ahead in anything.

Once you begin to combat your rejection sensitivity things will begin to change within how you view the world and others. I know because I am experiencing that now.

I hope these tips help you guys out. If you did find it helpful please feel free to comment or share this post. Thank you for reading, look for more articles every Sunday night.

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