Fear of Rejection: How to Get Comfortable With “No”

Rejection is one of life’s realities, and while there is no way to avoid rejection completely, you can learn how to become more comfortable with hearing the word no. Most women are afraid of being rejected and terrified of hearing the word no. Learning how to accept the word no makes rejection much easier to handle. But before you can get comfortable with no, it’s important to understand where the fear of rejection comes from and how it manifests itself in your mind and body.

The Origins of Fear

Back in the time of the cavemen, also known as the Paleolithic Era, cave dwellers survived by hunting and gathering. They survived because the ‘fight or flight’ response was hard-wired into their brains. The fight or flight instinct served as a mechanism to keep them alert and attentive during times of danger. 

While the fight or flight response was helpful when cave dwellers encountered wild animals, modern life doesn’t present us with the same life-threatening situations. When was the last time a triceratops faced you with just a stick or a club for your defense? Yet, the fear we feel when faced with rejection is the same fear cave dwellers experienced centuries ago.  Fear is designed to protect you from danger and haunts us, even when that fear is not logical.

How Your Body Responds to Fear

Your body has an inherent response mechanism when danger arises. In response to the emotion of fear or acute stress, your body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated due to a sudden release of hormones. The reaction begins in the amygdala, which triggers a neural response in the body. With the onset of fear, real or imagined, the body experiences a sudden rush of both epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine (noradrenaline).

These hormones play an important role in the fight or flight response by increasing blood flow to all important systems to prepare your body to respond to impending danger. None of this requires thought on your part. However, the fear of rejection triggers this same fight or flight response.

The fight or flight mechanism is essential when faced with genuine life and death situations. But what happens with the fear of rejection is that the body goes haywire and rushes into action when your life isn’t being threatened? When you encounter 21st-century stresses, fear takes on a whole new meaning. Stress in the workplace triggers a milder fight or flight response. The same fight or flight response paralyzes you in front of a meeting while giving a report? The fear of rejection paralyzes you when faced with a situation that might end with rejection, such as asking for a raise, interviewing for a new job, or going after a promotion. Suddenly the life-saving mechanism of flight or flight no longer works to your advantage. It can be even more damaging.

For instance, if you need to give a presentation at work, you become nervous and worry about how others will view your presentation. You become afraid your ideas will be rejected. Your autonomic nervous system kicks in, and your heart beats faster, your palms become sweaty, and your breathing becomes more shallow. The fight or flight response kicks in.

Living an ever-stressed lifestyle nurturing the fear of rejection means you will experience continued anxiety, stress, and tension in the body. As a result, your body will continue pumping out epinephrine, and norepinephrine constantly. This wreaks havoc with your health, your relationships, your career, and your business.

Fear of Rejection

Being afraid of rejection is a major mental block for many women. The very thought of rejection conjures up a feeling of not being good enough, especially in the corporate world, where only 5.8% of women hold CEO roles in Fortune 100 businesses. Many women fail to chase their dreams because of this fear. They are afraid to apply for the role they always wanted, and many female entrepreneurs even give up on their dreams because of this fear.

Examine the Part You Play In Rejection

If you were going into a job interview with a fear of rejection, this would show in your confidence levels. You will likely come across as weak or insecure. If you have trouble negotiating a work contract, you may be leaving increased benefits on the table. If you’re tasked with making prospecting sales call and are afraid to pick up the phone for fear of rejection, you won’t meet your targets. 

Once you recognize that you are playing a major role in rejection, this gives you something to work with. Rather than limiting yourself and your potential, it’s time to put in place strategies to overcome rejection. 

Here are seven ways on how to overcome the fear of rejection.

Overcoming the Fear of Rejection

1. Redefine the Word Rejection

What would you do if you knew you couldn’t fail? You would go after your wildest dreams, wouldn’t you? You wouldn’t be afraid of rejection, knowing you weren’t ever going to face the word no. This is not going to happen; therefore, redefining the word rejection will empower you on how to get comfortable with hearing no. 

2. Think of Failure as a Learning Experience

For most women, the word no conjures up an image of being a failure. Who wants to be a failure? No one wants to fail, yet can you think of a single person who hasn’t experienced failure at some time in their life? Instead of looking at rejection as shame, guilt, or failure, think of the word failure and rejection as a learning experience. When you think of rejection as a learning experience, you come to understand that for every no, it gets you closer to a yes.

Instead of thinking of rejection as a personal attack on your self-esteem and self-worth, think of it as an opportunity to learn, grow, and flourish.

3. Engage in Rejection Therapy

A great way to learn how to become comfortable with hearing the word no is to engage in a game called rejection therapy. Challenge yourself for the next 30 days to desensitize yourself to the word no. Start small and ask for something as simple as asking to cut in front of someone or ask a stranger for a bite of their sandwich at lunch knowing you will be told no. As you build your resistance, you can then level up and scale the size of your requests. You will soon learn who to ask, how to ask, and instead of being thrown by the word no, you expect it, thus desensitizing yourself from rejection. This approach conquers your fear of rejection.

4. The No Gets you Closer to the Yes

As you practice rejection therapy and use this as leverage to the point where you get comfortable with no, you learn that every no gets you closer to a yes. For instance, salespeople know how many prospecting calls they need to make to get to a yes. One may need to make ten calls to get to a yes and understand they need to follow up five times to close a sale. As you become more practiced at handling nos, you will soon learn how many nos on average will lead to a yes. This approach takes away the emotion of rejection, knowing that with each no, eventually you will strike a yes.

5. Adopt Realistic Expectations

If you have just graduated from college, you can’t expect to land a job as the CEO of a major corporation that required a master’s degree and ten-fifteen years of experience. If you did, most likely, you would receive a rejection letter or email. When this happens, you aren’t being rejected; they aren’t saying no to you personally; they are saying no to your lack of experience and qualifications. It’s not personal because it’s just that you had unrealistic expectations.

6. Embrace Rejection as an Opportunity to Grow

You can look at rejection two ways, wallow in negative feelings and allow the word no to prevent you from ever taking a risk again or take what you learned and grow from the experience. If you applied for a job and got rejected, look at your resume and try to improve upon it. If you had a job interview and were rejected, look at how you handled the interview. Ask yourself, did you prepare adequately and do the necessary research? Analyze how you answered the questions and grow from the experience so the next time you are in the same position, your personal growth and confidence will shine through.

7. Fake it Until You Make It

Learning to become comfortable with hearing the word no also requires a little courage. Heard the expression, “Fake it until you make it?” Fear of rejection becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If you go into a situation and believe you will get rejected, you most certainly will. If you go into a situation where you believe you won’t get rejected, you significantly increase your chances of getting a yes. Research tells us that building your self-confidence will help you become more comfortable with hearing the word no. By acting more confident, you become more confident.

Don’t Leave Yourself Open to Rejection

A compelling reason for women to learn how to get comfortable with the word no and overcome the fear of rejection is that they leave themselves open to manipulation. Expert manipulators prey on the insecurities of others. They know how to keep someone who has a fear of rejection on edge, which undermines their confidence and prevents them from asserting themselves in a world that already sees women as the underdog.

On the whole, women don’t go after the job they want, believing they need to be better than men to make it in the corporate world. Women often are the ones who hold themselves back. They believe they need 100% of the skills and experience listed on a job board or in a job description. Men think I have 80% and will learn the rest on the job.

As a woman, feel the fear and do it anyway. Do your “homework” and ensure you are well prepared before you go after what you want, a job, a raise, or a promotion! Ask for constructive criticism or feedback and be willing to change and embrace it. When you see a closed door or a “No,” – think of it as an opportunity for growth. Above all, know that overcoming the fear of rejection and getting comfortable with the no is the secret to your success.

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