Are you saying no before someone else has the chance to? Here’s how the fear of rejection leads to more rejection.
Well, it’s official. Reels are here to stay. You thought you were safe by not having TikTok? No such luck for you my friend. YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, heck, even LinkedIn is in on it now. Short videos with big punchlines abound.
To be honest I kinda like it. I’m finding some really great content creators out of it like Caitlin Reilly who could be one of the funniest women ever alive. But also the memes are alive, and the themes with them. And one theme that keeps coming up every day in the feed with tens of thousands of comments and millions of reactions alike – the short videos about wanting to find love, but saying no to everyone. Wanting to make friends, but cutting everyone short.
Just want to say though, that’s a real thing. The relatability and realistic point behind the funny dancing hits on the fear of rejection and how it screws with our relationships. And the topic of today’s post.
Over the last two decades I have been exposed to a lot of conferences targeted towards men and towards women. Being in Christian circles, a lot of churches like to have some gender targeted events for dealing with men’s or women’s issues. And whether it was 20 years ago, 10 years ago, or even more recent ones, the inevitable question comes up – what is the worst possible thing a man can do to a woman?
Universally, the answer from even the most grace filled wonderful people you’ve ever met in your whole life turns somewhat sour when presented with that question. It’s amazing watching notably graceful women like Donna Crouch, Helen Burns, Christine Caine, Lisa Bevere, Nicole Nordeman or Joyce Meyer – and even some secular or mainstream examples like Esther Perel – who are known for their positivity, taken back by even the potential consideration of pain.
The answers are always the same. “Break my trust”. “Cheat on me”. “Betray me”. In a single word – rejection.
And I totally get it. While it’s not talked about as much or as directly around men, we don’t handle it very well either. It’s usually expected that men are willing to face it more often. As “progressive” as society often claims to be, it’s still pinned on men to “be a man” and to shrug off all rejection because apparently men can handle it better. More on that over here.
Rejection is a universal experience. Have a look at the top 10 or top 100 lists of any notable music organisation or sales chart and you’ll constantly see songs about rejection topping the list. In fact, half of the top 10 of the top 100 from Rolling Stone for the last decade were like that, including Number 1 in Robyn’s Dancing On My Own. Feeling unseen, unwanted, unappreciated, unapproved – some part of every person can relate to that.
How about our movies and shows? Our heroes are usually the underdogs, the ones written off by others, the couples who had Romeo and Juliette levels of adversity to come together, the hard workers who everyone else in society dismissed but they did it anyway.
Rejection is rough. In fact studies show it lights up the same pain receptors in the brain as physical pain. And our fear of rejection isn’t unfounded. Many cases, there are one or a few moments of rejection in our lives that can poison almost every decision we make and lead us on completely different paths to what we expected. We’ve been watching a beautiful anime called Komi Can’t Communicate about a girl with extreme social anxiety who remembers a few painful moments from her middle school experience that have tainted her ability to find love or even make friends as she has gotten older.
And as rough as rejection is, the fear of rejection is even rougher. Because as ironic as it sounds, it actually leads to more rejection.
In most cases, avoiding something leads to you avoiding it. If you’re trying not to catch a cold that’s going around, or not talk to certain people, or to avoid or procrastinate around a deadline, usually avoiding it works.
But avoiding rejection leads to more rejection. You end up hitting it immediately. You don’t even have to ask them out to be told no. Or even date them for a little bit. Or even try to be their friend. Or to apply for their company. If you say no, then they won’t have to.
The problem with this approach is that while you get a more controlled outcome, you 100% remove any chance of acceptance.
And since you’ve already said no to yourself, guess what everyone else will have to say? Or at least what you’ll hear them say.
Two of the best movies on this topic to me are the movies Love, Rosie, and Something Borrowed, both in my top 10. These are focused on the romantic variety of rejection, but doesn’t that tend to be the most painful one for people? Love, Rosie is about two childhood friends who are ready to start living their lives in the same university and perhaps exploring what future they could have together, when Rosie gets pregnant to her prom date and writes herself off from any measure of happiness. Something Borrwed is in a similar vein where Rachel allows and encourages her best friend to date the man she loves because she could never see a guy like him loving a girl like her. And lo and behold, the fear of rejection leads to more rejection for everyone involved until they can finally face it and get a definitive answer on the truth of the love in their hearts.
I’m sure you can list a number of books and movies and songs where exactly this occurs. I love fictional stories like these for the purpose of exploring our complicated issues and finding a path forward in the same way these characters do.
Here are some ways the fear of rejection leads to more rejection. And I have a final encouragement to you at the end.
It leads you to the same types of people and the same types of rejection
Have you ever noticed that you tend to go for the same types of people? Maybe you’re not in this boat, but usually those who fear rejection end up going for the same types of people every time, and unfortunately to the same kind of rejection every time.
I’ve seen and known so many young men and women who are in a new relationship every few months or years, and you see the same pattern repeat. It’s another unemployed directionless guy, or another abusive manipulative girl, or another dead end unfulfilled job in the same type of company or surrounded by the same type of friends.
Why is it that this one is the same, and that one, and that one?
TD Jakes in his Before You Do series made a very confronting observation on this common behaviour. He referred to it as the Sisyphus complex. Based on Sisyphus who was cursed by the gods to roll a huge boulder to the top of the hill only for it it to roll to the bottom over and over again, so are we when we keep getting involved with the same types of people.
Now we don’t always know what people are going to be like, and it’s very difficult to defend against a good liar. But there should be an element within us that takes note and asks why the same thing or the same things keep happening.
Maybe it’s not the rock you’re rolling. Maybe it’s you.
A strong overcompensation for the fear of rejection is to become over controlling. And inadvertently, we control our love lives and friendships and careers by putting ourselves in situations we know and understand, even if they’re not good for us.
Because being in a relationship where someone could truly value you and truly esteem you is intimidating if you haven’t known any different. It’s unknown territory, and it’s sad to see so many people prefer the known of a “definitely not right for me” cycle over the unknown of what could be with someone who clearly demonstrates value for every person and every facet of their own life.
It turns you into the rejector you hated
All of us have rejected others. Whether we meant it or not. We’ve all said no to people who’ve been interested in us. We’ve all not been available when someone else needed or wanted us to be. We’ve all not met the expectations of others.
But it takes on a new bent when we are driven by the fear of rejection, which leads to more rejection not just for ourselves, but for others as well.
When we are quick to dismiss others and to say no, we become the type of friend we don’t want to have, the kind of spouse we wouldn’t want to spend time with, the type of parent that you really don’t want anywhere near a child.
I really enjoy the Final Fantasy games, and in Final Fantasy XV (15) there is a really interesting story of a healer who sets out to heal all the problems of the world. The problem is the more problems he took on, the more corrupted he himself became. And because he never dealt with his own increasing corruption, he eventually became the same monster that he had set out to free others from.
It’s a strong analogy for what happens to us when we fear rejection. As we continually reject others or self reject early, we more and more distance ourselves from society and functioning normally and healthily. In our eventual isolation we grow weak and weird, and end up hurting a lot of other people in the process. Think of Ebenezer Scrooge who took a moment of rejection in his own life and became a source of pain for so many others.
It can make you extremely desperate and put all pressure on a singular relationship
I continually have and continually will make a strong case for why all of us need multiple people in our lives. People tend to pull away from others as they get older – less friends, less outings, less social connections, less church involvement, less community engagement. All the memes make this out to be funny but I would argue it’s really rather tragic.
And couple this with a fear of rejection and you find yourself putting extreme levels of expectations on one or a few people. Usually people pick their life partner as the target of all their expectations. Everyone else has or will let me down, so you are not allowed to. And so when you do, even if it seems like a little thing, it’s World War 3. It’s tragedy. It’s pain. It’s sorrow.
Because you were meant to be the one who didn’t let me down.
Dr John Gottman argues that people should settle for the “good enough” marriage. In other words, every relationship is going to be fraught with unsolvable problems and challenges that you will never be able to solve. Things like compromise, managing your expectations, and having multiple sources of love in your life make this really possible.
However, when we are dominated a fear of rejection, we tend to put it all on her. Or him. Or that friend. Or a few friends. Or our parents or kids.
Here’s the simple truth of the matter. If you say no before they do, you’ll never ever let anyone have a chance to say yes to you, either.
Hockey legend Wayne Gretsky’s famous quote comes to mind: “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take“.
And a more brutal rendition by the brilliant CS Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one, not even an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable“
…But you must find a way forward
I am 100% sure that you have a real reason for having a fear of rejection. A really terrible event in your life occurred. You got overlooked. They said no. She walked away. He broke your trust. They knew better and they ripped your heart out.
But I appeal to you and your broken heart, dear friend, to not let that be the end of your story.
I faced a lot of rejection in my life. In a lot of ways. One of my counsellors at one point even identified that I had been so dismissive of my own needs that I started calling them “wants” in order to cope with the fact I was going without them. I’ve been there – you can read more about that here.
And I must say I’m really happy in life now. Really happy. I do find myself surrounded by love, acceptance, affection, purpose and the right relationships. But I recognise multiple times in my life where the pain of rejection has led me to want to withdraw completely from so many types of relationships.
And yet if I had, the fear of rejection would lead to more rejection in my life and in the lives around me. And fortunately, I found healing and help to move forward and to keep my heart open to others and to possibilities.
In all this, my appeal to you is to not allow your heart to be so tainted by rejection that you keep saying no to every single man who asks you out, that you keep keeping all your relationships with women shortlived because you’re afraid she’ll get to know the real you, that you keep losing friends and running away and having to restart your life time and time again.
Of all the battlefields in love and war, the battle of rejection must be won before any of the others. Because if I keep self rejecting before anyone else has the chance to even get to know me, I am going to die in isolation and despair.
Do not be the obstacle to your own happiness. There are great things in store for you today and in your future. But they will require you to be brave, to put in the hard work, and to say yes to your God given future.
In the brilliant words of Deas Vail’s Standing Still: