13 signs your fear of rejection is holding you back in life

We sometimes include products we think are useful for our readers. If you buy through links on this page, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate disclosure.

Rejection is painful for every single person who experiences it:

If you care about somebody else or achieving something in life and you are rejected, it brings up immediate feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration. 

For some it also brings up feelings of unworthiness, victimhood and deep depression or anxiety. 

This can then turn into a pattern of fearing rejection so much that a person begins building up all sorts of walls and defenses to get away from being rejected. 

The downside is that these walls don’t just stop rejection, they also prevent many opportunities, which is why it’s important to take a look at them and become more aware.

Unhealthy things people do when they become fixated on avoiding rejection: 

1) People-pleasing

People-pleasing often comes from a place of insecurity and a deep fear of rejection. 

When you want badly to be accepted and liked, it seems like the easiest way to do it is to make people happy.

Do what they want, say what they want, be who they seem to want.

Then they’ll like you.

Ironically, this often backfires. Not only do you feel inauthentic centering your wellbeing around pleasing others, they also drift away from you, feeling that you don’t have a sense of self beyond pleasing others. 

2) Trouble saying no 

There’s a lot of trouble saying no to people when you fear rejection a lot. 

It becomes almost an instinctive ache in your bones:

The idea of saying no to anyone, much less somebody close to you fills you with nausea. 

The chance that this will lead to rejection fills you with dread. 

This ties a lot into the people pleasing I mentioned and the inability to feel a sense of value apart from the validation of others. 

3) An inner feeling of inadequacy 

This need for validation is often coupled by an inner feeling of inadequacy. 

It’s not that you necessary feel bad about yourself or even have low self-esteem. 

It’s that you feel you’re not enough specifically. 

In other words, you feel scared of being found inadequate or unsuccessful. You want more than anything to be found worthy and up to the task. 

That’s why it’s not so much that you want people to give you compliments or like you. That’s nice, sure. 

But your focus is that you want to actually succeed and not have to face failure and rejection in the tasks you attempt.

4) Hiding how you really feel from others 

When you dread rejection deeply you may find that you often hide how you feel. 

If you don’t think your feelings are compatible or a neat fit for those around you, you put them under a mask. 

This is where you smile when you want to cry…

This is where you pretend to like your boyfriend’s favorite TV show even when you think it’s a revolting immature debacle…

This is where you try to please the image others have of you even if it lets down your true emotions and values. 

It’s sad to see, but extremely common, and many of us do it in small ways every day.

5) Letting yourself be put down

When you dread rejection it doesn’t always mean you have low self-esteem

But it does mean that you rely a lot on the opinions and judgments of others. 

You fear being alone and you fear being found unworthy in some way. No matter how highly you think of yourself, you want badly for others to also think highly of you. 

For this reason, you may find that you often fail to really defend yourself even when somebody else crosses the line. 

A really off-color joke, a racist comment, a stupid interaction that really disrespected you?

You’re standing there awkwardly waiting for it to be over instead of doing what somebody else would do:

“This is enough. I don’t find that funny.”

6) Dating people you’re not that into

In the same way that you will often not stand up for yourself that much, when you dread rejection you tend to settle. 

It makes sense in a twisted sort of way, but it’s very sad to see. 

A person is so scared of being told no by somebody they actually have feelings for that they go out with somebody they know will never reject them, but for whom they have zero feelings. 

This is when you know the roots of a fear of rejection go very, very deep. 

A person who could objectively do much better but they are settling for a partner who they don’t even feel a connection with because it’s safe. 

7) Staying in toxic relationships

When you dread rejection you also may find that you stay in toxic relationships

It’s not that you believe you can’t do better or even that you believe you deserve it. 

It’s just that you don’t want the pain of leaving the relationship and hurtful feelings of abandonment when you’re single once again. 

So you just stay in the relationship and hope that it will get better eventually. 

8) Engaging in codependency

Codependency often gets into a disempowering cycle in relationships, and those who fear rejection are especially vulnerable to it.

They fall into a role of being either a victim or a savior, only feeling well when they are “saving” their partner or being “saved” by their partner. 

This leads to a relationship that’s not about love but about a kind of addiction where each partner centers their wellbeing outside of themselves. 

It doesn’t end well. 

9) Dreading criticism

When you fear rejection so much that it holds you back, a big sign is that you can’t take criticism

You find that it triggers feelings of real inadequacy inside you and that even small negative feedback comments make you want to just go in your room and shut the door. 

Disagreement and minor debate makes you go into your shell and try to hide from the world. 

Even if it’s meant well, the tiniest critique makes you feel like you’re under attack. 

The worst thing is that it’s not just that you find criticism very hard to take…

It’s that you also think people who say kind things about you aren’t serious…

10) Doubting the sincerity of compliments

When somebody compliments you, what’s your reaction?

A healthy and balanced reaction is to feel thankful and appreciative and perhaps return a compliment. 

But when you fear rejection, its specter haunts you everywhere. You read into compliments and think they’re insincere or sarcastic. 

You have trouble believing that people would really just give you a compliment out of the blue or appreciate something about you. 

You always think there must be an agenda or some manipulation going on.

But sometimes a compliment is just a compliment: sincere and not attached to any ulterior motive. 

11) Pursuing perfectionism 

The perfect is the enemy of the good. 

When you’re very afraid of rejection it can become tempting to fall into this trap. 

Perfectionism becomes an excuse not to do anything at all. 

It’s a way to not get rejected by not taking any risks and by abandoning everything half-way before it really has a chance to fail (or succeed). 

This ties directly into the next point… 

12) Avoiding taking risks 

Avoidance of risk is a key feature of those who deeply fear rejection. 

By not taking chances in love, in business and in life, you hope to avoid the stinging pain of feeling rejected. 

This is sadly all too common and becoming more common. 

The pandemic made it even worse in my opinion:

People locking themselves indoors, turning to their computer for solace and avoiding going out or facing real human interaction.

It may have been good for physical health but it wasn’t good for mental health. 

It made many of us even more fearful of taking a real chance on things like moving somewhere new, making new friends, dating somebody new or starting out new business opportunities. 

13) Being paranoid about trust

It’s hard to trust someone even if you haven’t been badly rejected. 

In business, in dating and even in short-term interactions there are times when you don’t know somebody that well yet and you wonder if you can really rely on them. 

But when it becomes a fixation this reaches the next level. 

If you fear rejection so much that you always start from a position of suspicion and paranoia, it can be very problematic. 

People will pick up on your suspicion and also begin to doubt whether they can trust you and whether you’re a good individual to get involved with as well. 

8 unexpected signs you’re living your life right, according to experts

If someone is secretly mad at you, they usually display these 12 behaviors