Have you ever suffered from social rejection anxiety?
You want to be more social–experience new things, meet new people–but the potential for judgement, rejection, and the resulting pain is just too great to overcome.
Finding yourself in a situation where you think you could be judged and rejected is enough to paralyze you.
Once you feel it, it’s something you don’t want to experience again.
While the fear of social rejection might keep you safe from having an individual or group reject you, you feel pain just the same because you feel isolated, disconnected, and probably subject yourself to unforgiving self-denigration.
The Origins of Social Rejection Anxiety
My first memories of feeling the sting of social rejection go back to elementary school.
It was so stunningly painful that my self-esteem was sent plummeting so far down that I really didn’t start to recover it until my late 20s.
Unfortunately, I immediately connected my adolescent pain with my “being”.
In other words, it seemed to me that my pain was a sort of punishment for being who I was: how I looked, my personality, my intelligence, the sports I played, where I lived, who I was friends with.
Someone, or some group, deemed me not acceptable, and that led to rejection and pain.
As a formerly happy and sociable boy (my mom swears I was extroverted and I do recall someone nicknaming me “smilely”), I transformed into a alienated teenager who had absolutely no confidence academically or socially, particularly with girls.
The pain of rejection caused all my experiences to be filtered through this ridiculously powerful and unshakeable notion that I was inherently flawed.
The only possible explanation for negative events, and the pain I felt, was due to my inherent suckiness, unlikability, and average physical appearance.
This low self esteem made my social life difficult.
Not only did I find it hard to meet friends in any new or unfamiliar environment, I found it extremely difficult to talk to women or progress past friendly conversation.
Luckily, I knew this wasn’t confined to just me. I had a wonderful group of friends in college, and a number of them had the same social anxieties as I did.
Beer and bourbon (lots of bourbon) were our constant companions.
For many men, their difficulties arise from the fact that rejection hurts. You physically feel rejection in your gut and chest. The anxiety attached to rejection is something you’d prefer not to feel again.
I was terrified by the prospect of rejection.
If I approached a girl, I opened myself up to rejection.
If I let a girl know I was interested in her, I opened myself up for rejection.
If I kept it a secret, I couldn’t be rejected.
Sure, I’d beat myself up over being such a wimp, but that was nothing new.
That was my thought process.
Self-preservation, I suppose.
The Unavoidable Pain
Pain is real, suffering is man made. That’s what I’ve learned.
Feelings are what make us human, and when feelings are involved in our social interactions and relationships, some degree of pain will be present if they don’t turn out the way we hope.
There is no getting around this fact, so there is no point in trying to prevent or deny it.
On the other hand, suffering is what occurs when we misunderstand pain, by seeing it as a result of who we are, rather than a sensation that is interwoven into human existence.
Pain is viewed as something to try and avoid, and that’s what you try to do.
Yet it always fails.
Physical Pain and the Brain
Physical pain acts as protection for the body. Pain informs you that something has gone awry and a particular body part needs to be shut down for repair. Physical pain, while unpleasant, is absolutely necessary for our well being.
A fascinating tid-bit about physical pain is that in order to feel it the brain has to decide a pain response is warranted.
If you bang your shoulder into a door frame, the brain takes into account all of the sensory information available to it at that point in time, and then makes you feel pain or not.
And interestingly, you can feel pain in a body part even when there is no tissue damage. You may have previously hurt your shoulder, but even when it is fully healed you still may feel pain for quite some time afterwards.
For some reason, your mind is still deciding that a pain response is deserved.
It’s as if your mind is trying to protect you from doing something to re-injure the shoulder, even when it no longer needs protecting. Just walking under a doorway (the memory tucked away in your subconscious) could be enough to trigger a sensation of pain.
It seems to me that emotional pain often works in much the same way. You experience a painful situation, often in your youth, and your mind “learns” from it. The pain you feel, and the anxiety you experience over feeling it again, is enough to prevent you from engaging in certain social behaviors, even if you desperately want to.
Is the Pain Warranted?
Is the pain experienced from social rejection warranted? Clearly your mind thinks it is and it will do its damnedest to prevent you from feeling that again.
But in my view, the pain results from a misguided understanding of reality and ourselves.
Pain doesn’t happen because you have done something wrong, or because something is wrong with you, or because you can’t get your shit together.
Those are self judgements not based on any objective reality.
Pain isn’t some sort of punishment for being who you are. It’s not a universal assessment of your worthiness.
Pain happens because you are human and have normal human feelings.
That shift in thinking has changed my life.
I no longer fear rejection because I have removed the personalized nature of rejection, and thus, in my mind, rejection hardly exists at all.
I may feel some sort of disappointment if a relationship, be it personal or business, doesn’t work out the way I desired, but I no longer believe it’s because of any inherent flaw in my being.
Disappointment occurs because I have human feelings, and I’ve learned not to be judgemental about those feelings. These feelings aren’t right or wrong. They just exist, like they exist for all humans.
If someone chooses not to work with me, no problem.
If a woman doesn’t return my affection, it’s fine. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t think I’m a bad person, and her thoughts on my attractiveness are purely her opinion.
I no longer look at it as a problem with me.
Essentially, all the things I felt bad about myself for, and what I thought I was being rejected for, things I just knew to be true about my experience, I now know have no absolute truth to them.
Might I feel disappointment? Sure.
But pain, not so much.
P.S. If you found this post interesting or helpful, please “like”, “share”, or send to someone who needs another perspective on life. You never know what can change someone’s life for the better.