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Most fear of rejection rests on the desire for approval from other people. Don’t base your self-esteem on their opinions. —Harvey Mackay
I look at that quote and think, “Easier said than done, Mr. Mackay!” For most of human history, the approval and acceptance of other people is how we stayed alive. Exclusion from the group—being “cast out” and “cut off” from our people—often spelled death.
We still carry those fears today, even though getting cut off or cast out from a group doesn’t mean we need to fend for ourselves against wild animals or the elements.
But our brains don’t know the difference.
Fear of Rejection Stops Us In Our Tracks
The fear of rejection stops so, so many people from doing what they want to do. It stops us from starting and building businesses, from writing books, from hosting podcasts, from changing who we are, from being different. The fear of rejection sits deep in our primal brains, always searching for danger and holding us back when it thinks we’re about to risk death.
Social death, at least.
It doesn’t know the difference between perceived exclusion and actual risk of physical death.
So if the brain is the problem, how does one deal with the fear of rejection?
The first step to fixing anything is awareness. Just knowing that you’re afraid of rejection is the first and biggest hurdle to jump over. When you’re aware of the problem, you’re that much more likely to want to figure out how to solve the problem.
Did you know that all fear is a choice?
If you’ve never experienced cave darkness before, you might be surprised to learn that cave darkness is the most pitch black darkness a human can ever experience. It presses against the body and even if you held your hand directly in front of your eyes, you wouldn’t see it.
I experienced cave darkness in spring 2018 while visiting the Cave of the Winds in Colorado Springs, Colorado. The tour guide had everyone extinguish their lamps deep in the cave system, and we plunged into pure blackness. Some people got scared, but I just thought it was cool—if not a bit creepy.
Jen Sincero, in her book You Are a Badass, tells a story about when she and a friend crawled into a cave system and once they were deep inside, they turned off their flashlights. Jen immediately felt fear crawling into and around her body until she realized that she could choose her experience. She chose not to fear the darkness, and when she emerged from the cave she had a different perspective on life as a whole.
Your Fear Archetype
Ruth Soukup developed the fear archetype assessment to help you understand how fear shows up in your life. She wrote a book called Do It Scared (read my review here), gave a TED talk on the Fear Archetypes in November 2019, and hosts a podcast about how to move past fear and create a life you love.
Ruth’s own Fear Archetype is the Outcast. That basically means they fear rejection so much that they reject other people first.
My top Fear Archetypes are:
- People Pleaser,
- Procrastinator, and
- Rule Follower.
For me, my “people pleaser” nature is all about the fear of rejection. I don’t want the people I look up to, trust, and respect to reject me. Why? Well, it’s painful! When someone who means a lot to me doesn’t reciprocate that thought or feeling, I make it mean there’s something wrong with me.
Being a procrastinator (or perfectionist) means that I’m afraid to put things out before they’re “perfect” because of the risk that someone might reject it. It all comes down to fear of rejection. I don’t want people to think less of me based on how they perceive my creative contributions.
And I’m a rule follower because I don’t want to get in trouble (rejected) for coloring outside the lines. There’s always a risk that not following the rules means you’ll be cast out from the tribe. And that goes back to the primitive brain wanting to keep us safe.
Related post: What Do You Fear and Why?
At their core, all the fear archetypes have something in common: how you experience the fear of rejection.
What’s even more mind boggling is that we can reject ourselves. What if we try doing something and get “too big for our britches”? We’re afraid of who we might become in the future, so we reject ourselves ahead of time by holding ourselves back just in case someone else might reject us later.
Fear happens in the brain based on how we think about our realities.
I want to take a moment here to preface that I did not come up with this. I learned this from Brooke Castillo. She’s the Master Coach Instructor at The Life Coach School and host of The Life Coach School Podcast.
The Model is also called the Self Coaching Model. It’s true for every result we create in our lives, including fear of rejection. You can analyze and solve literally ANY problem using the Model.
The Model is made up of 5 parts: a circumstance, a thought, a feeling, actions, and results.
A circumstance is factual and agreed-upon by everyone; a lawyer could prove it in a court of law.
“I’m bad at public speaking” is a thought, not a circumstance. “I am on the conference agenda” is a circumstance. If you look at the agenda, my name is indeed on the page.
Thoughts are what Brooke calls “sentences in the brain.” It’s a single sentence without any conjunctions like “and”, “but”, or “if.”
“I can’t speak in front of more than 100 people” is a thought.
Thoughts—all thoughts—are optional.
Circumstances do not cause feelings. We have thoughts about circumstances, and those thoughts cause feelings.
Feelings are “a vibration in the body.” We can describe feelings in terms of position in the body, the sensation it causes, its texture, its shape, size, temperature, if it’s moving or not—a lot goes into a feeling.
A feeling (also called an emotion) is a single word, like “disgusted” or “fearful” or “anxious” or “happy” or “joyful” or “determined.”
When I think the thought, “I can’t speak in front of more than 100 people”, I feel scared.
We always take actions based on how we feel. When we have more positive feelings, the actions we take are a lot more positive! A lot can go in the action line of the Model. These are behaviors we do or don’t do. “Taking no action” is something you “don’t do” which means it goes here.
When I feel scared about my thought, I don’t practice my presentation, I don’t put the time in to memorize it, I put it off (remember, I’m a procrastinator too), I spin in my thoughts about everything I could fail at (like forgetting my lines or tripping over my own feet or dropping the microphone), and I shrink back from accepting the possibility that everything will go horribly wrong.
Results are just that—the results of our actions. It’s important to recognize how our actions create our results. When I do or don’t do the things in the action line, what happens?
Results will always provide evidence for the thought, or be a reflection of or related to the thought.
The results those actions create are that I fail ahead of time and am not prepared to speak in front of over 100 people.
All based on the thought.
When I think that I can’t speak to more than 100 people, I prove that ahead of time!
It’s helpful to do Models every day to help manage how you think about anything, not just fear. You can do Models on scrap papers, in the fog on a mirror after a shower, on a cocktail napkin, on your copy of a conference agenda.
C: My name is on the conference agenda.
T: I can’t speak to more than 100 people.
A: I don’t practice my presentation, I don’t put the time in to memorize it, I put it off, I spin in my thoughts about everything I could fail at (like forgetting my lines or tripping over my own feet or dropping the microphone), and I shrink back from accepting the possibility that everything will go horribly wrong.
R: I fail ahead of time and am not prepared to speak in front of over 100 people
When I spell it out like this, it becomes super easy to recognize where the real problem is…
And here’s a spoiler alert… This is a model with potential actions and results from five years ago. I don’t believe this model anymore.
In February 2020, I presented at not one, but two company conferences, and they were such smashing successes that I’m speaking to the company AGAIN at least three more times this year.
So what’s the model that got me there?
C: My name is on the conference agenda (notice that it’s the same circumstance!)
T: I can’t wait to share my message with my coworkers!
A: Put in the time to polish my presentation, memorize the outline/script, practice and rehearse for over 40 hours ahead of my presentation slots, give practice presentations to my Toastmasters club, do full run-throughs the week of the conference in my hotel room, stand on the stage before anyone arrives to get a feel for the space, do power poses in the bathroom or while standing off to the side before I speak, deep breathe to slow my heart rate and calm my anxiety…
R: I deliver my presentation flawlessly, show that I know what I’m talking about and successfully share my message with my company.
Now that, my friends, is a lot more positive than fearing that my company will reject me for sharing my message with them.
Now What? I’m Still Fearing Rejection!
When you know what the problem is, it’s simple to fix. Changing the thought to one that will generate a feeling that actually helps you move past the fear is simple, but not necessarily easy.
It can take a long time and constant work through identifying “ladder thoughts” that maybe don’t get you all the way there in one fell swoop, but get you closer.
What are you thinking that’s keeping you stuck in fear?
Try doing a Model on it to find out! You can start the model from any line, and work up or down to fill in the rest. Keep asking yourself questions like:
- “What am I thinking about this?”
- “How does thinking that thought make me feel?”
- “What do I do when I feel like that?”
- “What do my actions create in my life?”
Managing your mind takes practice, and it’s something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life. There will never come a moment where you’ve “made it” and can stop managing your mind anymore.
The best news ever is that once you master this skill with your fears, you can apply it to any area of your life and create things for yourself beyond stepping into the person you were always meant to be.
If you ever want to ditch the fear, then the best place to start is right inside your own head.