The Fear of Rejection
Last week, I finished a three-part series on the importance of a strong personal identity. I mentioned briefly how a strong identity can help us weather the storms of rejection, misunderstanding, and judgment. This latter issue of feeling judged is more fully addressed on Day 12 in our 21 Day Relational Challenge on this blog site (2/25/15). Today, I will further explore the issue of fearing rejection.
I don’t think there is a person on earth who has not experienced rejection to one degree or another. Unfortunately, it is a common human experience. I believe this is the case for a number of reasons, but on the top of the list it seems to stem from the healthy need to be accepted. As is the case with many of the legitimate needs we have as human beings, however, we go about getting them met in unhealthy ways.
For instance, many of us know firsthand the common childhood behavior of rejecting one person or group so as to be accepted by the person or group we desire. I remember in junior high being so relieved when I was asked to be a guard for the popular girls as they were putting a targeted individual in a dumpster! I was just glad I wasn’t the target! However, I was in the rejecting group by association. I had been rejected before and shortsightedly, wanted to avoid it. Unfortunately, I ended up being the rejected who became the rejecter!
Many of us have experienced deeper rejection at home either through a lack of awareness of who we were and how we needed encouraged all the way to blatant verbal and physical abuse. The unfortunate childhood “pecking order” rejection can normally be addressed through normal maturing especially if we have attentive parents in our lives to help us navigate the issues. However, the rejection faced in our home environments usually needs other healthy relationships or even therapeutic interventions for the attachment pain it creates.
Some of us never sought healing from these experiences and now carry this fear of rejection into our adult experiences. We naturally feel like the appropriate response is to not open ourselves up to people to avoid further pain. The problem with that is that you then only trade one kind of pain you experience for another. There is the pain of loneliness when we take that route. I will admit it is a “Catch 22” situation. The very thing that caused the fear of rejection, relationships, is the very thing that heals the pain! Let me tell you how I navigated this before you shut down and walk away from looking at this very important issue.
If you were to first turn to God WITH AN ACCURATE VIEW OF WHO HE IS, He can be the safe haven needed to navigate the imperfect, though fulfilling and necessary, world of human relationships. I emphasize the fact that it needs to be an accurate view of God because I know many who have turned to God for help with this and many other issues, but because they view God as angry and punishing, it only serves to set the person up to believe that the most important Being in the universe could also reject them. You could see how this would exacerbate the issue! The truth is God is kind, good, and loving and He is not mad at you even for your worst mistakes. He compassionately wants us to look at the issues that hurt us and others because He loves us and wants the best for us, but He is patient with our process and the mistakes we make within that process. You can reasonably deduce that if this latter view was how we see God, He could then serve as our “home base” when we navigate the healing we need for our past rejection and the wisdom we need for our current relationships where we fear real or perceived rejection.
One way He has helped me is through the “fellowship of His sufferings”. I believe if the One perfect person on earth suffered rejection, how on earth do I believe I could be immune to the experience? It helps me identify with and appreciate what He went through for me to get to the Cross so that I could experience the very need I crave: acceptance! It also brings me comfort when I know He understands how I feel so I get the validation I need. Furthermore, I get His wisdom on how to proceed (another met need!).
Most of the time, when I come to Him because I fear rejection, He gently shows me that I have no evidence that I am actually being rejected. He then encourages me to stay actively engaged with the person I am tempted to run from and even gives me ideas on what this might look like. I will say, in this wisdom, God has never told me to “let it all hang out” with that person, but He encourages incremental steps toward vulnerability. When the person handles what trust I do extend to them with love and safety, then we build on that. This step by step process over time has proven to minimize rejection and increase trust and safety.
In the case of actual rejection, the process is the same. However, the wise course of action He gives is different. He helps me set the appropriate boundaries so that, even though the person is actively sinning against me, I can keep my heart open to him or her (the very thing He does with us when we are the offender). He talks to me about the internal boundaries of my expectations, judgments, and self-protection and the external boundaries, the access, or lack thereof, the person has to me. It is a powerful, wise, and yes, loving way to live.
If you need more help on healthy boundaries, I recommend the book Boundaries by Cloud and Townsend as well as a book by Danny Silk called Keep Your Love On.
Author of this post: Melanie Connell