Fear of rejection is natural. Too much fear, however, can hold you back by making you shy away from opportunities that could enhance your life.
The first step to overcoming excessive fear of rejection is to become aware of what that fear is. Although the moment of rejection might be painful, the fear is something that comes before that moment. You become afraid when you think about some event in the future where you believe you will or might be rejected. So it’s your own thoughts that are making you afraid.
Because it’s your own thoughts that are scaring you, if you examine your thoughts and check them against reality, you have the ability to stop scaring yourself.
Fearful thoughts flit quickly through your mind. Often you may not even be consciously aware that you’re thinking them. So first you have to become aware of what you are thinking.
Take a few minutes to think about an event coming up in the near future, such as a job interview or asking someone for a date, where you’re afraid you may be rejected. Don’t try and fight any fear that arises; allow yourself to feel it.
Then take a pen and paper and jot down the thoughts that are running through your mind. Try and capture as many thoughts as possible, even if they just flash quickly through your mind. Your thoughts might be something like “I’m not good enough,” or “They’ll laugh at me,” or “I don’t stand a chance,” or “I don’t deserve this,” or “I’m too ugly,” or “I’m too stupid,” or “I’m such a loser.” Whatever your thoughts are, write them down.
Once you have become aware of what your fearful thoughts are, the next step is to examine them to see if they are realistic. We tend to assume that our thoughts are valid, especially our quick, automatic thoughts, but that’s often not the case. Automatic, fearful thoughts are habits that may have been acquired during difficult childhood experiences.
As an adult who has more ability to deal with life than a child does, you don’t need to be bound by your childhood experiences. You may also have learned to be fearful by observing people who were themselves excessively fearful. By measuring your fearful thoughts against reality, rather than against what other people have taught you, you can break free from previous conditioning.
Get our your pen and paper again. Select one thought from the list you wrote earlier. Then ask yourself, “What is the evidence for and against this belief?” and write down your answers. For example, say you were going to an acting audition next week, and your thought was “I’m not good enough.”
The evidence for this belief might be that some of the other people at the audition will be more experienced and talented than you. The evidence against the belief might be that there will also be people at the audition who will be less experienced and talented than you and that you have had excellent training in acting and have acted successfully in the past. List your past successes.
Read over what you have written. Do you still believe it is COMPLETELY true that you are “not good enough”? The object here is not to be mindlessly positive, not to flip from being totally negative to totally positive, not to psych yourself up with thoughts like “I KNOW I will get the part” that are just as unrealistic as your original negative thoughts. The object is to come up with REALISTIC thoughts that don’t require a suspension of disbelief.
A realistic thought for the actor who is going to an open-call audition might be “I’m not a fortune teller. I can’t predict the future. I certainly don’t know for a FACT that I won’t get the part. I expect there will be some people at the audition who are more experienced and talented than I am, and some who are less. But it is not just experience and talent alone that determines who will get the part.
A lot of it depends on who best fits the image the casting director has of the character. That is a subjective judgment and is out of my control. Some of it is completely arbitrary. Maybe I will remind the casting director of her best friend or her worst enemy. That is also totally out of my control. I don’t like open auditions, and I don’t HAVE to like them. But I know that the more auditions I go to, the better the chances are that I will get a role, and I want to get a role very much.”
You can see how the original automatic negative thought – “I’m not good enough!” – will cause you to panic, while the new, more realistic, thoughts are not as scary.
Take the first fearful thought on your list, and write your own paragraph of more realistic thoughts that apply to your own situation. Repeat for each of the fearful thoughts on your list. Read over what you have written, and consider whether you feel less afraid now, and whether you feel more inclined to take the action that had scared you.
Don’t aim for perfection. There’s no need to be completely free of anxiety. The goal is to reduce the anxiety to a manageable level so that you won’t shy away from life’s opportunities. A little bit of anxiety can actually help you to perform better.