Thursday, January 22, 2015

Overcoming the Fear of Rejection

Are you afraid of being rejected? Do you shy away from other people because you fear rejection? Do you avoid getting close to people because you fear that they will reject you?

If so, cognitive therapy has a potential solution.  It’s called exposure therapy.

It’s not about discovering the meaning of your fear. It’s not about a story you are telling yourself to explain the fear.

You can discover why you fear rejection and still not know how to strike up a conversation with someone you see in the park. You can articulate the rejection narrative you are telling yourself, the one where you deserve to be rejected because you have done bad things or thought bad thoughts.  You will still not know how to engage in human contact.

As I have been at pains to point out, raising your consciousness or gaining more understanding about a problem will not solve the problem. If you try to transform your mind by finding a new meaning, the exercise will have no direct effect on your bad habit.

NPR reports on a Canadian man named Jason Comely who was suffering from a fear of rejection. In order to avoid the trauma of rejection he was limiting his social life. So much so that he decided to do something about it.

His effort was not as momentous as Bill Wilson’s creation of Alcoholics Anonymous, but it is worth noting that someone who was suffering from a psychological problem was able to concoct a treatment without consulting with a therapist.

Had he consulted with a cognitive therapist he would have learned that the technique he developed is called exposure therapy.

I am intrigued that Comely decided to deal with his fear of rejection by inventing a game. In my view, as I have mentioned in my book The Last Psychoanalyst, it is more constructive to see life as a game than to see it as a drama or a narrative.

Comely’s game was simple: instead of avoiding encounters that could lead to rejection, he would seek them out.

NPR explains:

Without knowing it, Jason had used a standard tool of psychotherapy called exposure therapy. You force yourself to be exposed to exactly the thing you fear, and eventually you recognize that the thing you fear isn't hurting you. You become desensitized. It's used in treating phobias like fear of flying.

Jason kept on seeking out rejection. And as he did, he found that people were actually more receptive to him, and he was more receptive to people, too. "I was able to approach people, because what are you gonna do, reject me? Great!"

Why would people be more receptive to someone who is playing a rejection game? Perhaps because the more Comely was willing to open himself to other people the more other people were open to him.

Offering an open hand of friendship is surely a better tactic than avoiding human interaction. The more you see value in your gesture and do not believe that its value lies in the way people react, the more they will react positively.

Then, the enterprising Comely had the idea to turn his rejection game into a real game, something he could sell.

In NPR’s words:

That was when Jason got another idea.

He wrote down all of his real-life rejection attempts, things like, "Ask for a ride from stranger, even if you don't need one." "Before purchasing something, ask for a discount." "Ask a stranger for a breath mint."

He had them printed on a deck of cards and started selling them online.

Slowly, the Rejection Therapy game became kind of a small cult phenomenon, with people playing all over the world.

Comely’s technique seems to resemble the techniques taught by pickup artists. They are not.

He concludes:

That most fears aren't real in the way you think they are. They're just a story you tell yourself, and you can choose to stop repeating it. Choose to stop listening.

"Don't even bother trying to be cool," Jason says. "Just get out there and get rejected, and sometimes it's going to get dirty. But that's OK, 'cause you're going to feel great after, you're going to feel like, 'Wow. I disobeyed fear.' "

The point is, Comely's game teaches you to face and even to disobey your fears.

Another example of the same technique comes to us from a therapist, Dr. Joy Bliss (of Maggie’s Farm.)

She shows how the technique works in clinical practice:

I once helped a very shy young fellow deal with his fear by commanding him to introduce himself to a pretty girl on a daily basis - including in NYC markets. He complied, and in a very few instances they liked the cut of his jib and his apparent confidence and phoned him. Cured by Reality Therapy!

Will rejection or reality therapy always work? Probably not. There is no such thing as a psychological treatment that works all the time. And yet, it is surely the most constructive approach we know of. This assumes that a patient suffering from this anxiety is willing to follow the instructions offered by a therapist. And it assumes that a therapist will, like Dr. Bliss, succeed in persuading her patient to try to learn how to play the rejection game.


Ares Olympus said...

re: The point is, Comely's game teaches you to face and even to disobey your fears.

The key to this strategy is "nonfatal failure". Fear of rejection may be "fatal" towards a specific relationships, but most of us are surrounded by tens of thousands of people ready to reject us, AND it only takes one YES to change everything.

But other fears have physical dangers. Like my dad had a ham radio tower in our backyard, and he had a platform at about 40' above the ground, and he'd climb around with ease, and even sit up there adjusting antennas or whatever, and said he was afraid fo heights and acclimated himself to it because no one else was there to do it for him when he was younger, living as a single child on a farm.

But the best I could do is climb the metal ladder and stretch to touch the platform, but I knew falling from that height I'd seriously hurt myself, so the idea of climbing onto that platform seemed crazy to me.

But my brother surprised me and bet me $5 in middle school he could climb it and went right up. Then I told my best friend, and he went right up. Years later I told a girl I liked, and she went right up. So that was enough to tell me that my "rational fear" wasn't entirely rational.

I did learn more about the fear, like I never minded cautious tree climbing, so having lush thick branches in all directions around me felt safe at the same height, and it was the 360 degree open air at the top of a tapering tower that brought out my fear.

So you could say I was more interested in defining my fear than overcoming it. Without seeing other who were not afraid I would have just assumed it was "natural" for everyone to be afraid of heights.

So a fear of heights is not an unduly limiting fear, and I can spend the rest of my life without facing it. And if I wanted to face it, I'd probably try one of those rock wall climbing places where you're in a harness, and even let myself fall a few times, so I'd know what that felt it.

Other fears I can't even imagine is like what a surgeon does. Sure, I cut into some dead things in 10th grade biology, and glad they didn't do pig dissection, and I admit cutting into things did demystify living things a bit, and I could see there were some sort of biological systems, and we were not simply walking miracles.

That makes me think back to the middle ages where people were superstitious, and wouldn't allow cutting into the human body, so if I remember, it was the plagues that gave the mad scientists both a mystery and a chance to practice their dark arts on all the available dead bodies, and again see how things worked. And war does this too, without the carnage of the U.S. Civil War, we've never had the experience to discover what saves lives and what doesn't.

It is a curious idea, to see how we're all dependent upon people with skills that can only exist by facing fears most of us would rather never face. So at some level we want to judge doctors or soldiers or police or anyone willing to threaten life to protect it, while if we're unwilling to do what they do, at some level we're more like children, and they're the adults who we're not in a position to honestly judge.

Ares Olympus said...

In regards to fear of rejection, I saw TED released this "feel good" speech with a woman admitting after 16 years that she is a Lesbian.
Morgana Bailey has been hiding her true self for 16 years. In a brave talk, she utters four words that might not seem like a big deal to some, but to her have been paralyzing. Why speak up? Because she’s realized that her silence has personal, professional and societal consequences. In front of an audience of her co-workers, she reflects on what it means to fear the judgement of others, and how it makes us judge ourselves.

I was curious how this blog topic might apply. Maybe you have to see there's two types of rejection - personal and social. Personal rejection means one person doesn't like you for their own reasons, while social rejection means there's a truth about yourself that you can keep hidden, but if known could affect ALL relationships.

And she speaks of living in Kansas where there have been recent legislative efforts to allow businesses to refuse to serve someone based on religious beliefs, looks like from a year ago.

And actually that brings up a complicated subject of rejection. I 99% agree laws that limit discrimination serve a noble purpose, but on the other hand, laws that limit freedoms always have the effect of pushing behavior into the underground.

So mostly I'm unsure whether I'd rather be a libertarian or authoritarian, since both sides contain weaknesses.

So I might play a libertarian and say as long as a business doesn't have monopoly power, then its better to allow open discrimination, and voluntary segregation.

I mean what self-respecting gay person wants to go to a restaurant where the owner doesn't want to serve you? So why not make it a popularity contest and "inclusive" businesses can compete with "exclusive" ones, and let people decide.

So again that shows something else. There's a cost to gay people "coming out", and there's a cost to "discriminists" people "coming out".

Both cases contain a fear of being judged, and both cases contain a desire to "hide in a collective", so gays build up their supportive organizations, and "discriminists" hide in churches or other private institutions where they can feel safe in expressing their biotry without judgment.

Much of the time I'd try to take the libertarian approach, but I don't have a google handle in what allows any community to stay whole, and religion would seem to be a good way for like-minded bigots to get mutual reinforcement to believe they are on the rigt side of God, and that acting above the law is necessary.

So I'm back with the authoritarians, and say a secular government must be careful giving religions too much power to self-segregate.

Oh, for the record, I'm all for people "coming out" in self-identity, but think "gay pride" parades with half-naked S&M couples making out in the street is a bad bad idea.

So as you said "Comely's game teaches you to face and even to disobey your fears." doesn't mean you need to put your fears in other people's faces.