Our Greatest Fear: Rejection

A few nights ago I attended a lecture by Rabbi Harold Kushner, who's probably most well known for his best-seller "When Bad Things Happen to Good People" but whose subject this evening was his most recent book release: "Conquering Fear: Living Boldly in an Uncertain World." The introduction caught my attention when it was said that more people have died of fear caused by 9/11 and the idea of terrorism after the fact (anxiety produced complications and deaths) than the number of lives actually lost by the events that day. Wow.

Our Greatest Fear: Rejection Interestingly, terrorism is not our greatest fear. Nor is the economic recession. Nor is it the reality of aging or the thought of someday dying. We hear a lot of about those things; the news is consumed with those subjects. But, truth be told, the most paralyzing fear we experience is rejection.

Sitting in that auditorium, that observation resonated. How much of my life choices are impacted by that fear? Whether it's doing something to try to get someone to like me or not doing something to avoid someone not liking me. Whether it's not trying for the promotion, the new job, the business idea development or the sale for risk of failure or pursuing them only to try to gain approval. Whether it's acting uninterested when I really am. Or acting interested when I'm really not. How much of our lives are influenced by the desire to be accepted or the desire to avoid rejection?

"Whether it's losing a job or being rejected in a failed romance, it can pull the rug out from under peoples' sense of identity," says Kushner. Indeed. I've been through a divorce. I know it takes a while to rebuild the self-confidence, to hold the belief that someone else could possibly someday like me. And that, coming from someone who considers herself quite self-confident! I can only imagine how difficult it would be to take risks if you've had multiple experiences of rejection that you had taken personally or if you were raised not ever experiencing real acceptance.

How our Fear Impacts our Forming Friendships I came home from that lecture thinking about how important GirlFriendCircles.com can be in this world-- an opportunity for people to connect and build a sense of belonging. Surrounding themselves with friends that remind them of their acceptance.

But on the reverse side, I thought about how hard it can also be to actually take steps to creating that community if one's greatest fear is rejection. It's a double-edge sword. We feel lonely and crave connectedness and yet can't pursue it because we fear no one will actually like us. And so we stay lonely. We hunger for acceptance, but avoid giving people that opportunity.

In our GirlFriendCircles community, there are hundreds of women who have signed up and paid and yet, haven't attended their first ConnectingCircle where they can actually meet friends. For some it comes down to scheduling, but for many it comes down to fear. We wanted friends enough to sign up, but when it comes to actually putting ourselves out there, the discomfort is too great. And so we just put it off.

And for some, we have gone to one or two events, met a few people and used our experience to confirm our fears. Someone didn't write back so instead of concluding that it might be her issue (she's flaky, her spam filter got it) we conclude that it's our issue: no one likes us. And we give up.

Or, worst, we assume someone is going to reject us because we're different and so we self-reject and project it onto them. This happens all the time. We assume since none of them have kids and we do that they wouldn't want to be our friend. Or that because they're older that they probably think I'm too young. Or she's more stylish, has more money, seems more popular, looks more beautiful, etc. so therefore.... you get the idea.

How does fear of rejection impact you in your journey of making friends?

Overcoming Fear For Kushner, conquering fear requires a combination of "rational awareness of potential consequences complemented by the willingness to reach out to family, friends and community for help."

That makes sense to me when the fear is, say, a natural disaster. But it's a tough formula if our greatest fear is rejection. For what do you do if the very medicine (reaching out to friends) is also your greatest fear?

And how I wish I had an easy answer to this. I do not. I only know that in my line of work, I often see people choose the fear of loneliness over the fear of risking rejection. The one thing we crave-- to be accepted-- sometimes isn't a strong enough desire to push us past the risk. And it breaks my heart.

All I can do is try to create a community where you know it's safe to try. Where you are reminded that no matter how wonderful of a person you are, there are simply going to be times where, to no fault of your own, you need more friends. Where you are surrounded by other women who also value friendship and are willing to risk for it. Where you have permission to take your time and do it in your own way. Where you know it's okay that you don't connect with everyone, nor does everyone need to connect with you-- that doesn't speak less of either, it simply acknowledges that the fit wasn't there and it doesn't have to be anyone's fault.

And perhaps that's all we can do-- engage in the fear together, as a community, so no one goes it alone. "If you can't solve the problem by yourself, you do a worse job when you're afraid," Kusher said. "You make things harder if you try to do it alone."

For if we can engage in relationships even in our fear. (Wasn't it Mark Twain who said courage isn't the absence of fear but rather valuing something else as greater than the fear?) Then, we're that much stronger against any terrorist, disease or crisis. And together, there is so much courage we can offer this world.

What is one step you can take today to pursue what's important to you regardless of your insecurities and fears?