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Why a fear of rejection is holding you back

11:30 Wed Apr 11 2012
Richard Bevan
Why a fear of rejection could be holding you back
Not happy? What's stopping you from making the right move? (Thinkstock)

You don't need the confidence of an action-man movie hero to be able to deliver an impressive chat-up line or approach women in bars, clubs or other social places. But the fear of being on the receiving end of an emptied glass of wine, or worse, can put a lot of men off. Likewise, worries about nailing that job interview are more than just mind over matter.

The fear of rejection can be very real. It can be a crippling syndrome, particularly when it comes between you and your hopes and aspirations. We look at why you could be letting your fears get the better of you and what you can do to cure any self-doubt.

Breaking the ice with women
Pete, 36, from Wellington admits that he only started to become self-conscious about his ability to impress a girl, after he went through a couple of embarrassing experiences.

"I was fairly confident about myself up to hitting my early 30s but then it started going down hill. I'm sure my problem was that I was still thinking I was 22 and the girls I was approaching were of the same age. But somehow I haven't adjusted to being a guy who's nearing forty. I'm not sure what the script is now. When I started to chat up a lovely looking girl at a wedding it was just a hideously embarrassing incident on the scale of a TV sitcom. She looked at me as if I was missing a few marbles for even trying. I guess drink didn't help. A few more experiences where I just felt so small, like a schoolboy, have admittedly made me hold back from taking risks."

And it is 'risk-taking' which is the name of the game and, for some, an important part of the thrill and fun when chatting up the fairer sex. The only problem being that when a guy starts to weigh up the pros and cons too methodically and sees the risk-taking not as a challenge, but as a threat to his self-esteem, that's a sign, according to clinical psychologist Linda Blair, that his social and potential love life could be in trouble.

Social pressures
Blair believes that one factor denting a guy's confidence is also linked to the pressure society puts on men and the pressure they put on themselves.

"This pressure is a problem in that it limits the things that guys might hope to achieve," says Blair. "It comes from a culture based on winners, which says that in sexual relationships and in other areas, you broadcast your successes and don't let people know about your losses. And if you're afraid that people might find out, you then avoid taking chances."

Rather than just relating the problem to awkward or embarrassing experiences approaching women, Blair believes that the desire for success and then failing can affect some men more than others. "When you absolutely prioritise success, you can become afraid of any opportunities where you can't control everything."

Do you have an issue with being in control?
Jason, 32, believes his job as a manager of a hi-tech company has contributed to a sense of having to be in control and holding himself accountable when things in the business go wrong.

"I am a bit of a control freak at heart. It's work related. Normally I've been confident socially but started to get cold feet in matters of meeting girls in bars — that I didn't have a problem with a few years before. Mainly because I feared — and still do fear — that I'm not in the driving seat.

"In work matters I know where I am, how to handle things — but with women, especially strangers I fancy, I'm thinking 'Christ', what if they turn out to be ridiculously bright, with a PhD or turn out to be so high flying in life that I look a pathetic nobody? I think guys today are more self-conscious about needing to impress jobwise, where you live, what car you drive, etc — to really make an impact."

Man image
There's something to be said about the pressure men are perhaps still put under, even in a society where caveman antics aren't necessarily needed, but where guys are still expected to be, if not predatory exactly, at least pro-active and forceful when it comes to wooing. No matter how PC and anti-chauvinist society tries hard to be, it hasn't shaken its love for He-Man breast-beating.

"Men are still judged on their successes and their failures, what they do, rather than what they are — it hits them harder," believes Blair. She also says that we're a tad more self-conscious about the possibility of failure because, through the marvel of internet and instant telecommunications, our ill-judged, misjudged or just plain idiotic moments may become Facebook-worthy gossip.

"I think the greater media presence in our lives has meant that people are more afraid of how they appear and whether a failure might be something that then marks them. Because let's face it, everything gets found out these days! So I think we all feel more self-conscious than we used to be."

Early experiences and upbringing
It might sound a bit weak to start pointing a finger at how you were brought up, but perhaps looking back at how you were treated by parents and others around you might shed some light on issues with fear of rejection or failure?

According to Blair internalising blame is one of the factors for guys taking any kind of rejection personally.

"Let's say you had a couple of bad experiences where you got rejected. Well we need to look at the age when it happened because we're vulnerable at different ages. It's really about how success and failure were treated when you were growing up. It relates to whether you were blamed when you failed and applauded only when you succeeded."

It sounds a bit like a 'Dr Spock child-rearing manual' on raising kids but does getting praise when young really matter that much?

"Yes, because if you're somebody who was praised when you tried to chase your dreams then even when you have rejection, you'll go on trying. It's because you know from an early age, that things aren't always up to you."

What you can do to beat your fears of rejection
It's not rocket science to assume that if most of your 'dating' experience is through internet dating then you need to unplug and actually get out there. Because the only way we learn is through failure, and not keeping ourselves in comfort zones in front of the PC.

Blair also advises that professional help is at hand, privately and in the form of cognitive behavioural therapy. Also, she believes there's a lot a guy can do for himself.

"Look for role models. Talk to your friends. Look for a mate who you hold in high esteem for the way he behaves, i.e. he seems to be a winner or at least seems to brush off failure. And talk to him — say, how do you do that? Because our friends are running around with the same kind of people we are so you will often get better help from them than you would from a professional. That can work as long as they don't feel in competition with you!"

Practical exercise
Another thing Blair suggests, without having to pay a therapist, is that whenever things happen to you, particularly to do with a failure chatting up a woman — simply write down your first reaction to why it might have happened. Was it something you did or because you said something stupid?

"Set yourself the task of finding five more possible reasons why that incident might have occurred, i.e. 'she's pre-menstrual', 'her friends told her not to like me', 'I remind her of someone in her past' etc. You'll find that the 'I acted an idiot' reaction will go down as you go through the list. That's when you start to get perspective. Things rarely happen for one reason. You may have been an idiot, but that won't be the whole thing. Finding perspective in all matters and realising not to take things personally is the key."

So guys, once you realise what's important is the effort you put in, not the outcome, that's when you become more robust and you can bounce back more quickly.

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