Fear of Rejection and Being Judged: Helpful Tips to Overcome This Fear

Megan Smith
 min read

Some people have a fear of rejection and make considerable efforts to be accepted by others.

Red Stamp With Notification Rejected Many Plus Size People Suffer From Fear Of RejectionHowever, it is essential to first accept and love ourselves before wanting to be accepted and loved by others.

Fear of rejection: Introduction

Human beings have several fundamental needs to be happy in their lives. These include the need for connection, belonging, and acceptance.

This is a legacy of our genetic past as defenseless primates who could only survive in groups in the face of predators. To be rejected was to be condemned to death without the protection of the group.

This article will explain why some people (including overweight people) struggle with the fear of rejection and present some tips to avoid this fear.

Why are we afraid of rejection?

When working on your self-esteem, think carefully about the following:

  • Social rejection
  • Its potential consequences
  • Our participation in these consequences, potentially causing excessive sensitivity over the years.

Carefully consider the consequences of rejection. You should act quickly and well, even if the pain is unnoticeable.

We should also pay attention to our rejection detection system. If it is out of order (often due to self-esteem problems), we may suffer greatly and set ourselves up for failure.

We must understand that “feeling rejected” does not mean that you are really rejected.

Indeed, suppose we have often undergone authentic experiences of rejection in the past. In that case, we inherit a kind of “rejection detector” that has become hypersensitive, even when our current environment has become more welcoming.

This detector is a kind of internal warning system we have developed through evolution.

Long ago, humans were social animals that could only survive in groups. Survival was linked to the ability to keep one’s place in the group. Being alone was a death sentence.

The fear of being judged

People with self-esteem problems often fear negative judgment from others because of the potential negative consequences.

The fear of being judged is rooted in the risk of being rejected in case this judgment is negative.

Generally, if we don’t value ourselves, we judge ourselves negatively. Therefore, we will then assume that the judgment of others will be as negative, unforgiving, and severe as our own.

In addition, we start avoiding what we believe to be a danger, thereby unconsciously validating the possibility of that danger.

This hypersensitivity to judgment is the emergence of the fear of rejection and is frequently associated with self-esteem problems.

Unfortunately, our self-esteem has a hard time telling the difference between being a real failure or merely thinking we are a failure due to rejection.

When in doubt, self-esteem readily believes our intuition: if a person feels rejected or unloved, it is because they are.

This hypersensitivity to rejection thus leads to emotional reasoning, which is often far from reality.

What is emotional reasoning and its risks?

This emotional reasoning “defect” is found in people with high emotional activation.

For example, because we feel uncomfortable, we are convinced that we are uncomfortable and that everyone else sees us as uncomfortable. If you feel ridiculous, you think you really are ridiculous, etc.

We take our emotions not as a warning of a potential problem, but rather as a certainty of its reality and severity.

If we are convinced of our own words or judgments, we will modify our behavior and constantly be looking for what we fear.

As a result, we may risk drawing attention to ourselves because our attitude becomes bizarre.

Let’s take the example of people who have an obsessive fear of blushing when they are looked at:

  • They may draw attention to themselves not because they are red in the face but because they are stiff, tense, and uncomfortable and lose their naturalness.
  • This type of strange behavior will eventually make them objects of attention.
  • On the other hand, if people blush while continuing to act and speak, it does not attract attention because it is common in many people.
  • Being stuck on your blush or any other discomfort will amplify the attention, make it last, and increase the risk that others will notice something is off.

Therefore, it’s recommended to watch out for and curb this tendency of “reading the thoughts of others” and self-poisoning by the false thoughts of emotional reasoning.

The danger of misinterpreting the behavior of others

Social interactions are often complex and subtle, and there is a high risk of error in decoding a particular attitude.

For example, suppose you are speaking or giving a presentation, and you feel uncomfortable:

  • either related to the desire to do well,
  • or the fear of doing badly.

Our discomfort makes it very easy to misinterpret the behavior of our audience members, such as the meaning of a look, a smile, a silence, or a word slipped into someone’s ear.

In therapy, some people often tend to be suspicious of all details and suffer from a kind of “relational paranoia,” which they are aware of but find difficult to control.

This person’s mind is filled with questions. For example, if one of their colleagues will answer a question without looking them in the eye when they have yet to ask the question. Or if their colleague said hello to everyone but them.

Some people may start having paranoid thoughts and must make significant efforts to fight these thoughts.

Others will distance themselves from others, even from close relationships.

For example, when people with low self-esteem perceive their spouse as critical or dissatisfied with them, they tend to cool the relationship, distance themselves, and think negatively about their partner.

The spotlight effect: Relax, not everyone is fixated on you!

We must be vigilant of our own mental processes. Suppose we doubt ourselves and our social recognition and acceptance, we will act in the following way:

  • We watch our own behavior
  • We’ll start thinking that others are doing the same
  • We then have the unpleasant and often false impression of being the center of attention.

This overvaluation of our “remarkability” in the eyes of others is called the “spotlight effect” since we have the impression of being in the spotlight all the time.

An amusing study measured the gap between the impression of being observed by others and the reality of this observation:

  • First, the volunteers had to wear a T-shirt with the face of a famous but now unpopular person.
  • Then they had to sit in a room with other volunteers, not knowing what would happen.
  • Before that, the researchers asked them to predict how many people would notice their ridiculous T-shirt.
  • Then, the researchers asked the other volunteers if they remembered the face on the T-shirt of the volunteers who entered after everyone else.

The results of this fun study were as follows:

  • The T-shirt wearer was sure that at least half of the people would notice the cheesy photo. However, only a quarter of them had a vague recollection of it (half as many as expected).
  • Then, the percentage dropped to one-tenth if the face on the T-shirt was that of a popular person.

The moral of this study is that we usually overestimate how many people are observing us by at least 50%.

What would have been even more interesting to ask the observers if wearing this tacky T-shirt devalued the person in their eyes and, if so, to what extent?

Indeed, this is often the way things are: not only are we looked at less than we think, but when we are looked at and judged, we are looked at less harshly than we think.

A whole series of research studies on this topic confirms that when volunteers are made to fail various tests under the gaze of others, the external judgments are always much more favorable than we think.

Example of exercises performed in therapy

When we are judged negatively, know that it is possible to reverse this judgment through interactive and positive social behavior, which can correct the first impression given by us.

During therapy, this first step of awareness of our flawed detection of social judgments and rejections is essential. It must then be consolidated by practical work in the field.

Patients in therapy are asked to do ridicule exposure exercises during which, like the experiment volunteers, they go out in the street wearing an item of clothing that exposes them to social judgment.

For example, patients may be asked to walk around with their pants pulled up to below their knees, have their shirt off or fly open, wear a silly hat, etc.

Of course, all these exercises are not imposed on people who feel they would not be able to cope with them.

They can start with smaller “doses of ridicule.” For some people, the threshold for feeling ridiculous can be very low.

For example, it can begin with asking for directions in the street or needing help understanding a salesperson’s explanation.

To empower the patient and make them feel more at ease, the therapist can do the exercises first, before the patient and under the patient’s eyes.

Namely, it is one thing to give advice and another to apply it.

How to deal with the fear of rejection

Several strategies can be used to deal with the fear of rejection. Here are some examples:

Accept the idea of being judged by others

Rather than trying to avoid this judgment at all costs, why not accept it? This strategy requires you to first accept that others will judge you. Then, you can peacefully observe how you could improve their judgment.

This should be done from the point of view of a global self rather than a focused self that is too focused on its limits and defects.

Suppose you think you look too fat in your outfit. Then, try to be friendly, open, and talkative.

Even if people think your clothes don’t suit your body size, chances are that’s not what they’ll remember about you. Instead, they will remember you for being nice to talk to.

Accept that some people will judge us no matter what, whether on our appearance, weight, love handles, double chin, accent, manners, or awkward social behavior.

So yes, it’s true there will always be people who judge you, but you should know that these people are not the majority. (Unless you are in an environment where appearance is paramount, such as the fashion or movie industry.)

Therefore, why spend most of your energy protecting yourself from potentially critical people?

Ultimately, this will prevent you from enjoying interesting exchanges and conversations with more accepting people.

Know what triggers your fear of rejection

The situations that trigger our fear of rejection are all the times we find ourselves in a position of observation, competition, or performance.

What may seem trivial to others may be unnerving to some. For example: playing a general knowledge board game, participating in a social discussion where they use difficult words and cultural knowledge, etc.

During these times, the first step is knowing that we tend to overestimate the judgments made about us.

Here are some tips to avoid increasing your fear of rejection and of being judged:

  • Don’t focus on yourself, nag yourself, or focus on your shortcomings. Instead, rejoice in the talents of others or enjoy their desire to show their capabilities.
  • Be grateful for being a part of the social group and not alone and forgotten somewhere.
  • Accept yourself as you are: quiet, kind, and attentive.
  • If you don’t like yourself like this and think that you will only be accepted if you speak or shine, let others be the judge.
  • Accept the judgment of others instead of imagining and anticipating it. Sometimes it will be favorable, sometimes unfavorable. But if you are the one judging yourself, it will always be against you.

Adopt proactive social behaviors

It is recommended to fight the first signs of fear of rejection by disobeying this fear.

For example, suppose you arrive at a party or a gathering where you don’t know anyone and feel the fear of rejection and the temptation to withdraw.

The best thing to do is introduce yourself and start talking to the people you don’t know.

Bravely approaching others is the best way to drown your fears and increase your chances of being pleasantly surprised when you meet a nice and interesting person.

Don’t wait for people to send you social “signals of openness,” and don’t wait for others to make the first move. Especially if you have self-esteem problems.

Often, people with low self-esteem think that if people come up to them to talk, it’s because they really want to. Whereas if they go to them, they force them.

However, several studies have confirmed the toxicity of this “wait-and-see” attitude which comes from the fear of rejection, especially in sentimental situations.

Consequently, the stronger the fear of rejection, the more we will overestimate the visibility of our own signals and the more we will wait for others to perceive and decode them, hoping they will understand our discomfort and make the first move.

However, be aware that these signals of openness, which we think are clear and obvious, are often invisible to the other person.

And since we believe we’ve shown enough, we’ll sit back and hope and wait. Then nothing will come, and we will inevitably be disappointed.

This wait-and-see situation also explains the frequency of sentimental disappointments in people with low self-esteem symptoms.

Whether it is their preferences or interests, both are much less visible and identifiable than they think.

Thus, the advice is to make them clearer! Indeed, you will have to choose between two risks:

  • That of a potential rejection
  • Or that of eternal regret for not having made a move.

Be aware that the weight of regret is sometimes heavier to bear in the long run than that of rejection.

Remember that other people are also mostly thinking about themselves

Know that you are not at the center of the world, as your discomfort would sometimes lead you to believe.

Indeed, if others are not observing and judging you, they are thinking about themselves, just like you.

A study has been conducted that can reassure you about this. The research involved about 100 cases of fake doctors who practiced in Great Britain.

Most of them had been unmasked, not due to their incompetence, but due to small details such as non-medical fraud, irregular administrative status, excessive lying and boasting, etc.

If people were so concerned about judging the worth of others, these fake doctors would never have lasted the years that many did.

Moreover, the study obviously did not take into account all those who hadn’t been unmasked.

Fear of rejection: Conclusion

Generally, people with low self-esteem struggle with the fear of rejection from others.

Instead of focusing on not being accepted by others or possibly being judged or rejected by them, start being your own best friend and start believing that there are other people out there who are bound to be interested in you.

Also, remember that just because you feel rejected by others doesn’t mean you are.

Also, you are not the center of the world; rest assured, not everyone is watching you. So many are too wrapped up in their own minds anyway.

Deal with the fear of rejection by regaining self-confidence and taking the first step toward others (learn to overcome feelings of shame and embarrassment).

Accept the possibility of being judged by them, and don’t wait for others to make the first move (you need to assert yourself more)!

About Megan Smith

Megan has been fighting overweight and her plus size since her teenage years. After trying all types of remedies without success, she started doing her own research. Megan founded Plus Size Zeal to share her findings. She also developed various detailed buying guides for plus-size people in order to make their lives easier and more comfortable. Read More