Fear of Rejection, Fear of Failure, and Depression

Posted on October 2nd, 2011 by admin


Fear of rejection and fear of failure are opposite sides of the same coin. Fear of rejection comes first experientially (early in life); fear of failure, second. A person fears failure because it may (and sometimes does) result in rejection by other people. Without fear of rejection, failure usually has much less significance. Rejection can take the form of criticism, ridicule, shaming, humiliation, shunning, ostracism, abuse, etc. These are the very reactions that failure can also elicit. The reason why one fears rejection by others is because their rejection is internalized (taken inside) and becomes transformed into self-rejection. In other words, when a person is rejected by others, he/she rejects himself/herself in turn. Relentless criticism, ridicule, shaming, humiliation, etc. of self follow. One sees oneself through the eyes of the rejecting party and treats oneself as badly, or worse, than he/she is treated. Rejection by others only becomes a psychological (emotional) problem when it is internalized, resulting in self-rejection and self-condemnation. Some people believe that they need to be perfect in order to avoid rejection. These are individuals who have grown up in an environment where human imperfection of any kind was not tolerated by others and punished. They have had long-term, close relationships with people who are judgmental, critical, demanding, controlling, intolerant, unforgiving, shaming, abusive, etc.. These are the individuals with the strongest fear of rejection and failure.

Rejection and failure can (and often does) cause a loss of self-esteem, with all of the associated unpleasant emotions. Among other things, depression may serve as an avoidance (defense) mechanism, protecting a person from rejection and failure. If doing something is risky, because it may result in failure (and, thus, rejection), then avoiding that activity is a sure way to prevent failure and, therefore, a loss of self-esteem. By rejecting personal desires, goals, needs, etc. and strictly prohibiting their expression through mental suppression or repression, one is able prevent oneself from doing anything that might lead to rejection or failure, or cause other problems.

People who are afraid of rejection and failure generally avoid any action, activity, situation, and so on. that may result in that which is feared. The stronger the fear the more these individuals need assurance (guarantees) of success before they even attempt to do anything that is perceived of as precarious. This means that they are extremely cautious in their approach to doing anything the outcome of which is uncertain or unknown. They find it very difficult to live by faith, as they constantly require tangible proof that they will be safe (from rejection and failure). Consequently, their lives are quite restricted in terms of what is permitted and what is disallowed; and, not surprisingly, they are largely dissatisfied with how things are going for them.

A person who is depressed may sometimes wonder if he/she is trying to avoid something in particular by being depressed. The answer to that question may be specific, but more likely the reply is that he/she is avoiding anything whatsoever that is risky (may result in rejection or failure). Of course this includes a variety of things, since doing many things entails some risk. This is especially true of the primary adult ego goals of independence, success, and marriage. The attainment of all of these not only requires a great deal of effort but, also, includes much uncertainty (for anyone) about how each will turn out in the end. If a person is unwilling to take the necessary steps and chances, these goals will remain only as fantasies and not be realized. And self-esteem, which typically depends heavily on their attainment, will suffer terribly. This in itself will result in depression. And if, furthermore, one does not allow oneself  (for other reasons) even to attempt to pursue those goals, depression will only get worse over time.

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