How to conquer a fear of rejection


Imagery 20th Century Fox, Paramount Pictures

Words: Emma Vidgen // @emma_vee


When I first started researching this story I thought, “Great, finally some baggage I don’t have!” It’s not that I have bulletproof confidence – FAR from it – it’s just i’ve never consciously counted rejection among my list of top phobias, which, for the record, include bananas, heights and dried fruit.

I’ve made my fair share of cringe-worthy first moves and struck up conversations in a room full of strangers. Don’t get me wrong, “trying” is the operative word with these situations – succeeding, well that’s an entirely different story. I reckon my strike rate is about 1 in 10, but even if I’ve been knocked back a hundred times, (and believe me, I have) I’m usually always willing to at least have a go (except if “having a go” involves blagging my way into a party, jumping a queue or experiential theatre, then, I out).


But on closer inspection, it turns out I’m not immune – I just didn’t realise it was a fear of rejection that was lurking behind some of my biggest hang-ups. People pleasing, struggling to say no, seeking approval, apologising constantly – turns out all these habits stem from an innate fear of rejection.

Emotional intelligence expert Daniel Tolson explains. “Women who are raised with conditional love become preoccupied with the opinions of others,” says Daniel. “The average person is sabotaged by the fear of rejection, by his or her concern for the opinions or approval of others, whether consciously or unconsciously. This fear of rejection can feed upon itself until it literally controls a person’s entire life.”

That mightn’t sound like such a big deal but as any Brene Brown fan will tell you, vulnerability is KEY to finding joy; and a fear of rejection is like kryptonite to vulnerability. “Fear of rejection interferes with performance and inhibits personal expression. Today less than 36 per cent of the population identify their emotions at any given time,” says Daniel. “Those who are overly concerned with the opinions of others will struggle to express themselves fully…Fear of rejection stops us from enjoying life because we stop trying, we stop giving new things a go, we fly under the radar, we don't want to “rock the boat”. Nodding along yet? Me too.


Interestingly, a fear of rejection doesn’t stem from a bad break-up or a Ducky-level of infatuation or unrequited love. “Humans are born with two fears, the fear of falling and the fear of loud noises, everything else is learned,” says Daniel. “Dr Morris Massey says these fears are learned during the imprint period which is from the age of conception through to about age 7. During this time the child is like a sponge, soaking up everything positive and negative in the environment, learning everything good and bad.”

Daniel believes 99 per cent of the population suffer from some from simultaneous fear of criticism and rejection. “It is the biggest killer to success in adult life,” he says. “William of Occam, a 14th Century philosopher and theologian from England introduced the principle that became known as Occam’s Razor: He says ‘With any problem or goal, the simplest and most direct explanation or method is usually the best and most effective.’ Here  is the best way to move forward…. Do the thing you fear!  You have to systematically desensitize yourself to the thing you fear.”

In his work as a business coach, Daniel encourages clients with a new idea to rush out and get their first 100 rejections ASAP. “What I've found is that by the 100th no, you no longer care about the opinions of others, the no’s roll of you like water rolling off a duck's back,” he says. “You then trigger off the ripple effect and careless about others opinions in other areas of your life.”

All well and good if you have the time (not to mention emotional fortitude) to hear “no” a hundred times. But surely there’s another approach that’s not quite as time and energy consuming? “Use what I call the worry buster,”  Daniel says. Here’s how



1.     Clearly define your worry in writing. This step often leads to an obvious solution.

2.     Determine the worst thing that could happen if your worry came true. When put in writing, the worst consequence may not appear to be as bad you had feared, thereby reducing the stress.

3.     Having defined the worst thing that could happen, resolve to accept it, should it occur. When you have determined that you are willing to accept the worst consequence, there remains nothing to worry about.

4.     Having come to peace with the worst, set about doing your best to ensure it will not occur. In business, this is called the “minimax” solution, as it requires that you minimize the maximum worst possible consequence.


So there you have it. A simple journaling exercise to help work through anxiety and manage a fear of rejection. I’m not sure I’m ready to hit the phones and start shooting for my first 100 “nos”, but setting aside time to actually put into writing the worst possible scenario, and then how to avoid it? There’s an idea I could get behind…


For more information on Daniel’s work as a business coach and emotional intelligence expert check out his website.