Ask Ariella: How to navigate a fear of rejection
38/f ; introvert; some social anxiety. I’ve had 3 gf’s my entire life and I rarely date because I have an intense fear of rejection and don’t think I am enough (in every way imaginable). I am so old that at this point, I’m not sure if I’ll ever get over it. I won’t even go up and talk to a stranger at a bar. I just sit and people watch and I guess that makes me look unapproachable?
I’m an athletic trainer so when I have to interact with athletes/coaches, even ones I don’t personally know, I have no problem because I’m confident and know that I’m good at what I do. I just can’t get this to carry over
— Fear of Rejection
Dear Fear of Rejection-
There is so much present in your question that it’s hard for me to choose a concise way to answer it. So much of what is referenced here is exactly what I teach in Date Better Bootcamp. I don’t say that to sell you the program, but deeply communicate that you are not alone. The themes in this question are EXACTLY what most people struggle with as it relates to dating.
So let’s dive in a little bit. On the surface it seems like you are asking about how to navigate a fear of rejection, but when reading into what you wrote, I think the real question is how to cultivate more of a sense of unconditional confidence. How do you become your trainer self, able to communicate with strangers because you know what you can do and what you’re good at, outside of the training space? Although that might be a tricky feat it’s a worthwhile endeavor.
Sometimes, even scarier than being rejected, is the story we tell ourselves about the what the rejection means about us, or about what we have to offer. Though the root of a fear of rejection might vary depending on the person, if you are someone that has low self-esteem/self worth as you mentioned, any rejection might be misinterpreted as evidence to support that idea. Knowing you are enough already and feeling confident in what you bring to the table will help you cultivate more rejection resilience because you won’t feel like your sense of self is dependent on the whim of someone else’s decision making or opinion.
If therapy is accessible to you and you have a therapist you trust, it might helpful to rewire that core belief with the support of a mental health professional. The deep work of creating foundational self esteem can be tricky, and there is SO much to say about negative thoughts and how our brains are wired for protection. But to just give you a jumping off point, I’ll share one of my favorite tools to start that work:
Poke holes in your own theory.
Can you already see how in the latter part of your question you poked holes in your theory of “not enoughness”? Can you see and acknowledge how positively you talked about yourself?
Here’s a great question I heard recently that might also help you poke holes in your “not enoughness” theory. It was related to reflecting on 2021 and creating goals for 2022. It was, “What went well in 2021? And what was your contribution to what went well? How did your actions, values, behavior help create what went well?” Can you find exceptions to your “not enough in every way” here too?
When we start to gather evidence for a new belief over and over, with time, patience, and persistence, we might start to believe it.
Why is this important?
Last week, I heard this amazing quote about attention. It was along the lines of, “At the end of our lives, what we will have paid attention to IS our life.”
In the past, I’ve heard quotes related to, “What we pay attention to grows,” but this idea of, “What we pay attention to is our actual life,” blew my mind.
You can start the work of increasing your self-esteem/self-love/self-compassion simply by shifting what you’re focusing on. Focus on the holes in your theory and the exceptions to your rule, until the evidence becomes undeniable: you are enough.
When you have a firmer grasp on that belief, see how scary rejection actually feels. (And then we can work together on adjusting how you’re expecting yourself to meet people as an introvert.)
Hope this is a helpful jumping off place! Good luck!