I am afraid of rejection, getting hurt, and becoming heartbroken. I am not alone. This is the most common statement I hear from those entering committed relationships, “I’m just really scared of rejection. I don’t want to get hurt, you know?”
Fear and anxiety affect us all. It doesn't matter how successful, accomplished, or courageous we are, fear can strike and blind us beyond belief. Even without the fear factor, people tend to set limits for themselves. Tack on fear to the formula, and it can stop us dead in our tracks. We allow fear to determine how much we will risk and limit the range in which we live. Understanding the root of our fear, how to view it, and ultimately how to handle it are necessary steps toward breaking its grasp on us.
The Spawning Of Fear
Think back to the first time you fell in love. Do you remember experiencing fear? I didn’t. I had a clean slate from which I had no roadblocks or constructed walls, and nothing to encumber myself from falling head-over-heals in love. I had never been heartbroken therefore I wasn’t aware of what it felt like. If you ask me now, I could write a whole novel on the topic. The final sentence of that novel would read, “I never want to experience this emotion ever again.” This is the root of my fear of rejection.
Fear doesn’t only stem from heartbreak. You could have experienced rejection from your father, mother, best friend, or other important person in your life. Nonetheless, the same sequence of events takes place – someone did something to make you feel rejected, and you decided to avoid experiencing that emotion ever again. However, rather than floating through life trying to avoid being hurt, we should learn how to view and handle this inevitable emotion and use it to our advantage.
How To View Fear
We begin at the source of fear: our thoughts. Most people categorize the outcome of an event into two boxes: success or failure. From now on, these boxes do not exist. Rather, we should view events as life experiences from which we learn, grow, and feel alive. The only way to truly grow as a person is to live through hardships and heartbreaks. Though it's extremely difficult at the time, multiple life lessons are entangled into the experience, and the naiveness that was once there is now replaced with a sense of awareness.
In the film Garden State, Zach Braff self-medicates for a lifetime due to his mother’s tragic accident and death for which he blames himself. He drifts through life feeling numb and emotionless, scared of what he may feel if sober, until he finally decides to throw out his prescriptions and fully feel again. Don’t avoid opportunities just because you are afraid of what you may feel.
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be continually thrown out of the nest. Take advantage of the full spectrum of human emotion available to us. Allow yourself to feel rather than suppress. The more you push your feelings away, the more likely they are to sit in the back of your mind, subliminally nagging at you.
If you are going to live an inhibited life, fueled by fear and non-action, then what is the point of living?
How To Handle Fear
- COME FROM A KIND AND UNDERSTANDING PLACE People assume the worst when fear and vulnerability arise. However, it’s best to come to the table with a clear and open mindset, free of assumption and individual (often narrow) perception of the situation. Remember, your perception is your reality.
When we feel rejected and abandoned, it’s easy to immediately feel angry, sad, and propelled to lash out with passive-aggressiveness or hurtful language. Don’t do this. This will only leave you feeling empty and unfulfilled. Instead, come to the situation with a kind and understanding heart. Engage in open communication, address the issue, ask the question clearly (not in ambiguous language), and listen to the answer without preconceived notions.
- COMMUNICATE CLEARLY Ninety percent of the time, feelings of rejection and fear are purely mental. Meaning, it’s only individual perception – not rooted in reality. For example, your girlfriend stopped calling on her lunch breaks, or your boyfriend doesn’t text "goodnight” as he previously did. It doesn’t mean that it’s directly correlated to your relationship. The best way to navigate and settle your thoughts is through open and honest communication.
The act of communicating doesn’t have to be a long, emotional, and needy dialogue that leaves you feeling naked and vulnerable. A simple, “I really care about you and I want to make sure we’re on the same page” can go a long way. You may be surprised at how bringing an issue to light can make you realize there was nothing to be worried about in the first place. The worst case scenario is that you two are on different pages – or in completely different books – in which case it’s better to know now than to let it drag on.
- AVOID SELF-SABOTAGE People handle fear in different ways, however, it seems self-sabotage is a common method. Think back to a time when you felt rejected, vulnerable, and fearful. Did you immediately want to tell your significant other it’s over? That way, you would be the one to end things first before your partner had the chance, leaving you in the driver's seat? If this sounds familiar, you may be prone to self-sabotage.
THREE MAIN CAUSES OF SELF-SABOTAGE
- The familiarity of failure.
We're so used to situations not working out that it feels easier to behave in some way that either worsens or destroys something promising.
- An unconscious need to be in control.
If we feel something is bound to fail, we might engineer its failure somehow so as to maintain a sense that we are still in control (because we caused it to fail).
- Feeling unworthy.
Low self-esteem may drive people to feel they don't deserve success or happiness.
All self-sabotage stems from negative self-talk. “She’s losing interest,” “I like him more than he likes me,” “She’s into someone else,” or “He doesn’t care as much as he use to” are all forms of negative self-talk. When we experience these negative thoughts, it propels us into a sort of frenzy and we wrestle with ourselves to get out of it. We begin making plans inside our minds, such as plans to retreat from the relationship in order to make him realize what he’s missing, or smother her with gifts to make her realize what she has. Both can be forms of self-sabotage in a relationship. Behavior is said to be self-sabotaging when it creates problems and interferes with long-standing goals.
Fear is an inevitable emotion that is bound to creep up on us at certain times throughout our life (or throughout our day!). However, it’s how you view and handle fear that makes the difference. Don’t let fear drive you to inaction, rather, as the saying goes, you should feel the fear and do it anyway. Ask yourself what your long-term goal is and how you can best achieve it…
…because in the end, isn’t love worth the risk?