By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, author of Bouncing Back from Rejection
Sometimes it may seem like you are a perpetual motion machine in taking care of life’s to-do list, but you also feel like you are just doing what’s necessary. Anything less and other people will have no use for you. Still, you have to admit that it takes a lot of effort. You might even feel like there is something wrong with you for having to work so hard.
Some downsides to your massive efforts—to your almost constant busyness and actions—are that you seem to always feel deeply unfulfilled, at the end of your rope, or like you have no gas in your tank. But slowing down might not feel like an option. You may fear that this would only reveal your flawed self to everyone…and that would lead to the unacceptable fate of them dismissing, abandoning, or rejecting you. Yet, continuing at your current pace feels impossibly draining.
If you are nodding as you read this, then it is extremely important that you understand: Life does not need to be this way. There are people who do their best, take care of themselves, and have a positive self-image, despite not being the best at something or not meeting their own or others’ expectations. Not only are these people often outwardly successful, but they also feel good as a person even when other people don’t like them, are critical of them, or outright reject them.
With this in mind, reflect on your efforts to perform well and their effects on you.
Are You Doing Too Much?
To determine whether you are working too hard, choose a situation in which you think you are acting in an extreme way, such as regularly working seventy hours a week or never saying no to a friend’s requests. Then, do the following:
Make a pros and cons list. The pros side of your list might include that you feel like a good friend or you are excited about advancing at work. On the cons side, you might note that you have no time for friends or activities that you enjoy. For people who stay motivated through self-criticism, the cons list will also include things like continual self-doubt and general unhappiness despite any successes.
Reflect on your list. Ask yourself, “Does this ultimately make me happy or feel fulfilled?” If you accept that you are making sacrifices now for the future, consider whether there will really be a time when your actions will lead to a sense of success and fulfillment. If you realize that you are not happy and expect that you will forever be chasing approval, be clear with yourself that your excessive efforts are not working well, even if you are outwardly succeeding in the moment.
Consider an alternative approach in which you accept your needs and your limits. Imagine choosing a more balanced life. Fears of failure and rejection will undoubtedly arise. As they do, challenge the criticism that probably accompanies them. For example, question whether you would really think less of a colleague or friend who led a more balanced life.
If you can see how your fears of rejection lead to your excessive busyness, but can’t seem to change it yet, that’s okay. Remember, this is just one step toward your goal of overcoming your sensitivity to rejection.
You may want to pay daily attention to how your excessive efforts are related to your self-criticism, fear of rejection, and unhappiness. Consider what your reaction might be to others whom you respect, but are not so perfect. You might also find it helpful to keep a diary of these observations and thoughts.
Many people sense that they cannot expect to be loved for who they are, but rather need to earn the acceptance and caring of others. So, when they feel that they have been dismissed or abandoned—especially by attachment figures—they often respond with protests, pushing back against the rejection or trying to earn (or earn back) approval.
Some of the many actions people take to protest rejection and try to gain other people’s approval are:
- Requesting practical help and emotional support
- Remaining almost constantly connected with people in person, on the phone, or through social media
- Being highly physically affectionate, such as with hugging, kissing, and being physically intimate
- Using deceit and manipulation to keep people personally engaged
At other times, they engage the anger they feel by:
- Expressing hostility (This can be both an honest expression of anger and an “opportunity” for others to show caring by trying to appease them.)
- Being passive-aggressive (For instance, while fearing that expressing your anger toward friends for perceived rejections would lead to even more rejection, you may often not return their texts or calls.)
Paying attention to your protests against rejection will likely make you more conscious of your feelings of rejection. As you become more self-aware, you can practice reflecting on how you want to respond to these experiences rather than reflexively reacting. For instance, being aware of your inclination toward caretaking, you might be conscious of how you immediately insist that your friend choose the restaurant when the two of you plan to go out to dinner. You might also notice that you are suddenly disconnected from any sensations of hunger—an experience that you know is related to sublimating your own needs.
In addition to becoming more aware of your actions and related experiences, you might reconsider your perceptions of the other person. Let’s say that you tell your friend who prefers barbecue that you want to eat Chinese food. Now you fear your friend is frustrated. Even if that is true, contrary to how it feels, maybe they still like and accept you as a whole person. Or perhaps they are not upset with you at all. Instead, they might be distracted or upset with something having nothing to do with you.
With a greater appreciation of the needs underlying your protests, you will be more inclined to respect them. You will have a conscious choice for new ways of acting that you never had before: attending to the other person’s needs, advocating for yourself, or finding a way to balance both.
Adapted from an excerpt from Bouncing Back from Rejection by Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD, is an internationally published author, speaker, and psychologist. She is a trusted expert on relationship issues that people have with themselves, as well as with others. She is author of Bouncing Back from Rejection and Insecure in Love. She writes the blogs Making Change for www.psychologytoday.com, and Relationships for www.webmd.com; and is the relationship expert for WebMD’s Relationships message board. In addition, she has created a library of short videos on her YouTube channel to offer people the opportunity to learn how to feel better about themselves and their lives. Becker-Phelps has a private practice in Basking Ridge, NJ; and is on the medical staff of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Somerset, where she previously served as clinical director of women’s psychological services, and chief of psychology in the department of psychiatry. She lives with her husband and two sons in Basking Ridge. Find out more about her at www.drbecker-phelps.com.