Let me tell you a story about a very cool guy named Albert Ellis. Ellis is reckoned to be the second most influential psychotherapist of the twentieth century by the American Psychological Association. Albert Ellis, who died in 2007 aged 93, was the founder of Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy which he admits is based in large part on the teachings of Stoic Philosopher Epictetus. Namely that it is not what occurs to us that causes us pain, but rather it is our judgments, our perceptions of what occurs that causes how we feel. Another major tenet of REBT is the concept that no one is inherently good nor evil, only a persons actions can be viewed as good or evil, and that every person has the capacity to do both good and evil actions, as Albert says; “I don’t damn any person, including Stalin, Hitler, and President Bush”. So the main point when practicing REBT is the Rational part, it’s about analyzing our irrational, exaggerated, “awfulizing” thought processes or “Self-talk” and replacing them with rational, true statements that reflect reality and ease our anxiety.
I plan to post a more complete article on the benefits of REBT and how to practice it later, but this post is about overcoming the fear of rejection so I’ll get back to the story! So at the age of 19, during a break in his college schedule, Albert Ellis gave himself an extra curricular homework assignment in what is called “In Vivo Desensitization” in order to overcome his crippling fear of rejection. In Vivo Desensitization simply means taking incremental steps to face your fears in order to slowly form a tolerance to that which you feared, to become desensitized. Ellis decided that for the next month he would have lunch every day in the Bronx Botanical Garden, and when he would spot a female sitting alone, he would sit with her and force himself to engage in at least a minute of conversation. He claims to have calmed his fears the same way he did when he spent 10 months in Hospital as a child with Nephritis (infection of the kidneys), which was to repeat to himself; “If I die, I die – fuck it – it’s not the end of the world.”
Ellis claims that over the month long experiment he spoke to 100 women and acquired a date with just 1! But more importantly he acquired a tolerance to rejection, he broke through the fear and came to the realization that rejection is no big deal. Albert later in life boasted that thanks to his self imposed homework assignment “I got to be one of the best picker-uppers of women in the United States, and finally started making it with them, a lot.” And so despite his early failure rate of 99%, his experiment lead to a life of successful socializing and interaction with attractive and interesting people that he otherwise would have missed out on.
According to Albert Ellis we defeat ourselves through the practice of what he calls “Awfulization”, which can be defined as making grand irrational statements that foster fear and stop action from taking place. Some examples, in the case of rejection might include “I won’t be able to cope if she says no! I’ll just die of embarrassment if I say something stupid! Everyone will think I’m an unlovable loser if I get rejected! She might say something really cruel that I definitely couldn’t handle!” and so on. Let’s take a cursory look at whether or not any of these statements are in fact true.
- False! Of course you’ll cope if she/he says no, he/she’s only one person in a world of billions. People just like you are coping every day from being rejected. If you never try sure you’ll never fail, but you’ll also never have the chance to succeed.
- False! Science shows that you cannot die from embarrassment. You are 100% guaranteed to say something stupid at some stage in your life, no doubt you already have and are still here, alive and kicking! People come out with stupid and embarrassing things every day, you’re going to say something stupid at some stage anyway, you can’t use that as an excuse!
- False! Being rejected by 1 person does not equal being rejected by ever person. When someone turns you down it does not effect your self worth one iota, think about how absurd that would be if it were the case! Every time someone turns you down it’s one less person you have to think about, onto the next one!
- False! If the person you approach decides to be cruel and hurtful that is nothing to you, thank your lucky stars that they decided to expose themselves as a cruel and indecent person before you got involved. Whatever pain comes from the hurtful words will heal, while their cruelty is a much more serious problem, and it’s theirs not yours.
So as you can see, through a combination of In Vivo Desensitization, that is to say a gradual expansion of your abilities to comfortably engage with people you like, and Rational Self-Talk, which is the act of identifying and analyzing your irrational, limiting thoughts and then replacing them with the true, rational and empowering ones, you can overcome your fear of rejection. Is it easy? No, it takes work, it takes time, but it can be done and there’s no ‘tricks’ or ‘lines’ or ‘plays’ involved. It’s just a matter of being genuine and approaching people knowing that you have everything you need to deal with whatever may occur. You don’t need ‘self esteem’, “‘I did well, therefore I am good,’ which means that when I do badly – back to shit-hood for me” says Albert on the subject of self esteem. And you don’t need to look like Brad Pitt (see picture of nerdy Albert Ellis below).
Now Ellis’ mid-term experiment was a little extreme to be sure, but we don’t need to talk to 100 strange women in a park every day for a month to see results, Albert had his 99 failures so that we don’t have to. To practice In Vivo Desensitization try making and holding eye contact with attractive people as you pass them by, then try smiling as they pass by. Engage in conversations in ‘low risk’ environments like with Baristas, Cashiers or bar or restaurant staff, these are great to practice on and who knows you might spark something! According to Albert Ellis In Vivo Desensitization interrupts irrational self-talk like “I must not be rejected! I’m a no-goodnik for failing to get accepted! My whole worth as a person rests on my being approved!” When approaching someone always go in with the mindset of preference toward things going well rather than a need for things to go perfectly, which is simply unrealistic. You have no control over the reaction of the other person and so it’s no reflection on your self worth whether they like you or not. Also keep in mind that although this post had been mostly about rejection when approaching people to ask them out, this also applies to fear of rejection when going for jobs or positions, submitting work or any other form of rejection out there!
And so I wish you good luck, god knows these techniques have worked for me and many others, and if you take it seriously they’ll work just as well for you :) I’ll leave you with a few final thoughts from Dr Albert Ellis on the subject:
“Being rejected does not mean your rejectors will, with their own obsessive-compulsiveness, eternally disfavor you. Even when they usually do so, that still doesn’t mean they forever will. Also, they may dislike something about you, but rarely will they dislike you totally, in every respect.You may do rejectable things, but you are never totally rejectable or worthless. Someday you may act acceptably — especially if you keep persistently trying with in vivo risk-taking.
So be heartened. Yes, you may have done badly this time but you are not what you did. You are many possible acts — some of which you will discover if you keep trying. Moral: Try it and see! If you unconditionally accept you with others’ rejections of your behaviors, you won’t always win. But you also won’t always lose. Experiment! Try it!”
- How I Deal With Rejection
- Rejection – A Poem
- A Poem About Picking Yourself Up
- How To Let Go And Move On (publishing)
Click the book titles to visit their Amazon pages, read the reviews, and sample or purchase the books.