fear of rejection

How to Not Feel Judged

This last weekend was my 20th high school reunion.  I hadn't been back since our 10th.

Nothing like a High School Reunion to Flare Up the Insecurities

What started off months ago as excitement at seeing my high school friends, many with whom I had gone to school with since first grade, turned into fear as the date got closer.

I knew it was fear because I recognize that anytime I have a voice whispering a variation of  "You're too different from them... they won't accept you" that my own insecurity is starting to put up walls of protection.  And the only time I'd need protection is if some part of me thought I was in danger.

Which of course I wasn't in danger.  But trying to convince the voice of a little insecure high school girl, who kept whispering that my marriage was too different, that my religious path looked too different, or that my lifestyle was too different, was like asking a baby to stop crying. Somewhat futile despite the best soothing.

You undoubtedly know the feeling. Sometimes it's walking into a cocktail party and assuming that everyone else knows someone, except us.  Or attending a ConnectingCircle where you hope to make new friends, but guessing  ahead of time that you probably won't have anything in common with anyone.  Or talking to someone and guessing that whatever we are (single, a mom, retired, a Christian, an immigrant) isn't what the other person wishes we were, leaving the conversation feeling very much like an outsider.

Fear Divides Us

And I knew that I wasn't the only one showing up at our reunion feeling the fear.  In fact, I guessed that there would be many who wouldn't even come, where fear was undoubtedly at the root of their reason.  With statements like "Everyone else still acts like they did back in high school," "I'm just too different," "We don't have anything in common anymore," and "I didn't even like them back then, I surely won't like them now," you can see that every excuse validates the voice of fear: "I'm too different." And the unacknowledged fear beneath that statement is that we'll be judged, or rejected in some way.

I often quote Rabbi Harold Kushner who says that our greatest human fear is the fear of rejection.  He makes a case that it is the fear of being rejected, or not being "enough," that is at the root of every other fear we hold.

If that is true, and I think it is, then we know that our default lens is often to presume we're being rejected, or somehow not measuring up.

If that's just true in day-to-day life, then the stakes definitely go up at reunions. There aren't many places in life where we "go back" to the same place and group of people.  That going back is like a mirror where we can see where we used to be, and where we are now. It's impossible to not see all the other paths we could have taken, how our choices have played out; and to then compare our current life either to those who graduated with us, or against our own hopes of where we pictured ourselves someday being.  Much like a door frame where our parents measured our growth with pencil marks, this ritual of going back can leave us feeling measured, evaluated, and insecure for any part of life that isn't "perfect."

I can feel sensitive about being judged for moving away and leaving our town; and someone else can feel fearful that I'd think less of them for staying.  Someone can come and feel nervous about being too accomplished and successful; and someone else can come feeling bad about not having finished college.  The person who is always being judged for having the "perfect" life is feeling just as insecure as the person who feels the weight of a bankruptcy, weight gain, or divorce.

What fear does is divides.  Fear whispers that we're not good enough.  Fear insists that there is a separation between you and me.  Fear focuses on the .1% that may appear different, rather than the 99.9% that is the same.  Fear forgets that we're connected. Fear builds up walls that tempt us to think someone is inside, and someone is outside.

How To Not Feel Judged...

Of course to bring our walls down means we have to feel safe.  And while most us think we need them to act loving before we can feel safe, I found it much more empowering to create my own safety.

Here are the two things I did differently this time, that resulted in me not feeling judged:

1)    First, I changed my story.

When I listen to most of us articulate our fears about what others might think of us, we say: "I feel judged for x."

Even if we don't use that word, we express those sentiments. You'll know you feel judged by the fact that you start defending yourself.  Only someone who feels attacked has to defend.  In defense mode we have two options: devalue them and/or inflate us.  We tell ourselves whatever we have to to try to feel better about our lives.

The problem with feeling judged is that it leaves us as the victims, implying there is someone doing something to us.  The story of judgment always has a perpetrator that we must defend ourselves against.

This time, every time I was tempted to take on the story of "feeling judged" I replaced it with "I feel insecure about x." I owned it!

That shift in language changed everything!  Now, instead of being a victim that needs to defend myself against someone doing something (that most often is only imagined!); I am simply recognizing that I feel the fear.  Now, I am in charge and I can ask myself, "Why do I feel insecure about this part of my life? Is it because I'm not happy with this myself? Or, am I not at peace with it in some way? What information can I take from this that will help me live my life more in alignment? Is there anything I can do to make myself feel better right now? How do I want to respond?"

Owning it as insecurity, rather than projecting judgment on others kept me loving to them with the clarity that they aren't the problem and empowered me with the information and empathy I needed to look inside and grow myself.

2)    The second thing I did was create a mantra that I said silently through out the whole weekend:

"Focus on loving people, not trying to impress them."

So this time... I listened with empathy to that little high school girl inside of me that just wanted to be accepted.  I heard it, validated the hunger, assured that little girl that others felt the same way, and decided that my own odds of feeling accepted would increase if I came in ready to give that to others.

I decided that I'd rather leave people feeling good about themselves rather than worrying about them feeling good about me.  That means I chose to affirm them, share the very imperfect parts of my life with honesty, and listen deeply-- all things that can't be done with a heart of fear.  Walls don't lend themselves to connection and love.

And truthfully, people like people who like them so odds increase that if they feel good--as opposed to insecure-- talking to you, they'll like you! Acceptance has a way of breeding acceptance.  Which is what we all want anyway... so why not just get straight to the point?  :)

You probably don't have a high school reunion coming up... but I'll leave you with this prayer:

May you know your worth, feeling deeply how valuable you are.  May you remember that while your default mode is to feel rejected, that you can choose acceptance instead.  May you continue to grow in accepting yourself and giving that gift to all whom you meet.  We are all accepted, all good enough, all created with love....we just forget sometimes. Let's remember...

 

Defending the Introverts, Defining Mutuality

If I had to put money on the table next to what I thought was a primary barrier to women building new friendships, I'd put it next to a mistaken view of what mutuality means. Sure, lack of time will be listed as a more common excuse, but when a woman decides to be more proactive about fostering healthy friendships around her, the fear of unequal give-and-take can stall many budding friendships before they have a chance to get started.

Our Fear of Unequal Give-and-Take

We use language like "the ball is in her court" and "I don't want to impose" and "I invited her last time so this time I'll wait to see if she reciprocates." We justify our wait-and-see approach by reminding ourselves that we sent the last email or initiated the most recent plans, and we conclude that we're always the ones doing the inviting.   Not this time, we say. This time it's her turn.

While we may not call it a fear of rejection, we are in part acting out of that fear. We don't want to come across as desperate. We don't want to feel like we're putting ourselves out there all the time, unsure if it's wanted.  We've been told we don't need to put up with any behavior that isn't perfectly mutual. We want to feel like they like us too.  We want to feel wanted. We definitely don't want to be the ones who give more than we receive again.  So we protect our egos and wait her out.

In the meantime, our budding relationship never gets momentum so it never really happens.  And we're left complaining that no one out there seems to be interested in a mutual friendship.

Our Misunderstanding of Mutuality

On Friday evening I was sitting in a room with two friends.  Both lean toward introversion when it comes to interacting with people.  (Which means they have amazing people skills but being around people can cost them more energy than it gives them.) I was basking in the glow of how intimate those relationships felt, both of them so able to engage in deep, beautiful, meaningful conversations.  Their questions were thoughtful, their intuition spot on, and their love so genuine.

But if it had been up to either of them to get the three of us together it wasn't likely to have happened. I initiated.

As I had the week before.

And as I had the week prior to that.

The truth is that there are just many, many people out there who have so much to offer a friendship-- but initiating and scheduling may not be their forte.  That doesn't mean they don't love us or want to be with us.  And it certainly doesn't mean they don't have other meaningful ways to give to us. It just means they aren't going to assertively send out the invitation. Or if they do, it won't be as frequently as it might be for some of the rest of us.

This is not limited to introverts.  Take any self-awareness inventory and there are always types of people where scheduling and initiating will not come naturally for them. I've been studying the Enneagram which has nine types of people, and three of the types are withdrawing types, which means they tend to step back or retreat when there is stress (which any new situation can cause.) So that's at least a third of our potential friends who won't be out there trying to schedule time with us.

Even beyond personalities and types, we know that we all have different love languages.  Someone with the love language of quality time might tend to be more aware of reaching out with invitations than someone with the love language of gift giving.

Just add stress and busy-ness to any of our lives (even those of us who are extroverts, schedulers, and assertive types) and we may not reciprocate in the way you want, when you want.  But that also doesn't mean we wouldn't make great friends who will give to you in other ways!

What Does Mutual Really Mean?

As I sat there Friday evening thinking how lucky anyone would be to have these two individuals in their lives, it occurred to me how few people will get that opportunity if they only build a friendship with someone else who reaches out an equal amount.

Mutuality cannot be confined to 50/50 scheduling.  Equality doesn't mean sameness.  Being in a give-and-take relationship doesn't mean we give-and-take in the same ways.

For those of us who live with someone-- we know that having someone else divvy up the household chores doesn't mean we each vacuum half the room and cook half the meal. It means I tend to track our finances and he tends to make sure dishes don't pile up in the sink. Balance doesn't mean we split up every chore, but that we both contribute to the overall picture.

Somehow, in friendship, we have elevated the scheduling and initiating "chore" to becoming the litmus test for an equal friendship.

What we risk if we wait for equal initiations is missing the gift that introverts or non-initiators can bring to our lives.  And we risk feeling rejected if we wrongly attach that meaning to their lack of initiation.  And worst of all, we're still left without the friendships that we crave because we just sat and waited, allowing the momentum to falter.

Give. Give. Give.

I am all for balanced friendships.  I don't want you to feel used.  I want you to be in a relationship that feels mutual.

But if you are a GirlFriend who is good at initiating-- then do it. Generously. Invite her five times in a row.  Be the one who is okay calling to start the conversation. Give where you're best, knowing you will be blessed by how she gives to you in different ways. And know how lucky you are that you have the ability to give in a way that starts friendships!

And if you recognize that you're someone who struggles to initiate-- then at least be sure to tell your friends/potential friends how much you appreciate it when they do. Express your gratitude, lest they ever feel that you're not interested. Tell them what it means to you that they keep calling. Recognize that this gift they give is a necessary ingredient in the building of a friendship.

What we need is a little less judgment of each other and a little more hopeful curiosity to discover and appreciate who the other person is.

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I blogged on the perceived imbalance in give-and-take friendships for a two-part series for the Huffington Post: In Friendship, Do You Give More than You Receive? and Six Ways to Bring Balance to Your Relationships if you're interested in more reading on this subject.

Nothing Kills a Potential Relationship Faster

Momentum.  The lack of it can kill a relationship quickly. A romantic relationship would never get off the ground if the two of you went out for a date, then ended the evening saying "That was fun... we should do it again next month."

When it comes to love, we clear our calendar for possibility. And yet for friendship it somehow seems normal to only see each other every couple of weeks or months? We schedule her several weeks out, even if for him we'd make it 2 days later. The irony being that the women you meet for friendship have a higher likelihood of actually being in your life longer than most of the men you date.

momentum

We understand momentum clearly in romance.  But why not for friendship? Is it for lack of prioritizing our female friends as important? Is it because we need the assertiveness of the testosterone to initiate? Is it because we don't know how?

Why We Lack Momentum

My guess is that it is partly due to priority and partly due to fear.

The priority part is easy to see.  We are inundated with wanting to be chosen by a romantic partner our entire lives.  We will give up almost anything for "love." We think there is someone out there who will complete us.  We are accused often of neglecting our friends once we start dating or get married.

But the other part is fear, I think.  Almost every hesitation in our lives can be linked to our fear of being rejected in some way, a fear of not being totally loved and accepted. No one wants to feel embarrassed in any way.  Therefore, we erroneously think that to have time/desire to meet you again next week might somehow communicate that I'm desperate, lonely, needy, or unimportant?

Oddly enough, if a guy were were interested enough to see us next week again-- we'd be flattered.  But we're unwilling to give that same gift to a platonic friend.  We don't want to appear more interested than they seem to be.

Interest Is Contagious

But here's the honest truth: we like people who like us.

With romantic dating, we know how to flirt and show interest.

With friend dating, we all too often show up with a reserve that says "Prove that you're interesting first."  We put up our guard until they appear valuable to us.  And if they mirror the same wait-and-watch attitude, then momentum rarely happens.  We feel judged because we're judging.

What would happen if you showed up without fear?  If your self worth weren't attached to how a stranger responded, or didn't?  If you could show up-- give love, interest, compassion and kindness before they "earned" it?  We all want the other person to be that way, but few of us are willing to be it first.  Remember the golden rule.

How You Can Contribute to Momentum

If you're in the GirlFriendCircles.com community, receiving invitations to ConnectingCircles, one easy way to contribute to momentum is simply to RSVP immediately.  You would all completely laugh if you saw how many customer service emails Maci receives from women waiting to see if anyone else is going to RSVP to an event before they do.  Imagine a bunch of women all waiting for 1-2 others to sign up before they feel safe doing so-- and it getting cancelled because none of them actually took that risk.  (And what's the real risk anyhow?  You're in a community where the only people who can see it is other women who are also signed up to meet new friends!)

The worst case scenario? You sign up and no one else can-- the event gets canceled. But that isn't a reflection on you-- except that it shows you're confident, and willing to actually put a wee bit of action behind your intention for meeting new people.

And the best case scenario is well worth the risk of the worst case, in my opinion. For what usually happens is that as soon as a local event has 1-2 women signed up... the rest of it fills up.  And now, because you started the momentum-- 5 or 6 women have the chance of starting a friendship.

This plays out true whether we're talking about ConnectingCircles or any other events.  Be the initiator!  Don't attach your ego to it.... write again, invite for a different date, follow-up.

Our friend dating doesn't have to look like our romantic dating where we schedule something every 2-3 days for several weeks... but can't we at least give 20% of that same energy and intention to people who actually have a higher probability of being in our lives a year from now?

Give the gift of momentum to one of your friendships.  What you crave is a meaningful and comfortable friendship.  Put in the momentum to get there!