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Why Seeking out Rejection Can Help Teens Overcome Anxiety

Written by Evolve's Behavioral Health Content Team​:

Alyson Orcena, LMFT, Melissa Vallas, MD, Shikha Verma, MD, Ellen Bloch, LCSW, Lianne Tendler, LMFT, Megan Johnston, LMFT Meet The Team >

If you’re like many teens, you’re scared of rejection.

You really want to ask your crush or friend out, but what if they say no?

Your dream is to snag a certain internship or summer job, but how will you ever be accepted?

You want to apply to some top colleges, but is it even worth it if you’ll probably be rejected?

Social Anxiety and Fear of Rejection

This fear of rejection is related to anxiety. Teens with anxiety (particularly social anxiety) often struggle with a fear of rejection. When they’re around groups of people, they’re nervous that they will be subtly or directly rejected (e.g. being ignored at a party). Such teens can be anxious about going to school, attending any after-school events, getting a ride with someone, even walking into a clothing store, because what if they say or do something that results in someone thinking they’re weird or awkward?

Teens who battle this fear of rejection will even try to avoid asking for help or favors because they’re scared of a no. Or, they’ll be reluctant to ask any questions at all, because what if they sound stupid or their question doesn’t come out the right way, and the listener can’t understand them?

Then they’ll feel rejected. And they can’t cope with the feelings that come up when they’re rejected.

How Fear of Rejection Affects Teens

The fear of rejection prevents many teens from doing things they really want to do in life. It also prevents them from getting lots of things they need or want. Because they’re too nervous about asking people directly for favors or requests, many teens will resort to hinting to their friends what they’d like from them (and then getting upset when their friends don’t volunteer to help). Such teens are also often people-pleasers; they themselves can’t say no when someone asks them for something, because what if the other person gets mad at them?

Rejection Therapy

One young man, in a now-famous Ted Talk that has gone viral, illustrated his success overcoming his social anxiety using something called Rejection Therapy. For 100 days, Jia Jiang intentionally sought out experiences where he would get rejected. The goal was to desensitize himself to the pain of hearing “no” by exposing him to rejection many, many times. Jiang shared that his fear of rejection was eliminated after this educational, enlightening (and often humorous) project. His “100 Days of Rejection” attempts included:

  • Asking for a free burger refill at a restaurant
  • Inviting a few girls out to dinner
  • Giving a speech on the street in front of strangers
  • Requesting to speak over Costco’s intercom system
  • Asking for a free hotel room
  • Singing in public
  • Requesting $100 from a stranger
  • Asking to borrow a book from Barnes and Noble
  • Requesting to be a live model at Abercrombie

There are many, many more – click the link and read them for yourself: it’s worth the time.

In the beginning, these social experiments were a bit frightening to Jiang. But once he got used to it, he didn’t flinch at hearing no. What’s more, in some instances he was surprised to even get a yes! This taught him a very important lesson: it doesn’t hurt to just ask. You might actually get what you really want. And worst-case scenario, you’ll get a no – and you haven’t lost anything.

How to Overcome Anxiety Using Rejection Therapy

Jiang, who authored Rejection Proof after his successful experiment concluded, shared that anyone can give themselves rejection therapy. Just go out and seek opportunities to get rejected, he says. Make sure to ask for things that you’d be happy doing if the answer was yes, and don’t ask for anything illegal.

And then, afterwards, it will be easier to start pursuing all the things you’ve always wanted to do but were too nervous about. Whether it’s applying to the college you’ve always wanted to go to,  landing your dream job, or becoming close to your longtime crus, the possibilities are endless.

If You Also Have Anxiety

At the same time, consider whether you’d also benefit from mental health treatment for your anxiety. Many adolescents who have a fear of rejection also have anxiety issues. If your anxiety holds you back in life and prevents you from functioning on a daily basis, look into mental health treatment programs for teens. These include residential treatment centers (RTC) for adolescents with anxiety, or after-school programs like intensive outpatient (IOP) and partial hospitalization programs (PHP). Teen mental health treatment centers can help you overcome your anxiety by incorporating one-on-one counseling, family sessions, group therapy, experiential therapies, psychiatry, and more.

Our Behavioral Health Content Team

We are an expert team of behavioral health professionals who are united in our commitment to adolescent recovery and well-being.

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