Thank you for reaching out on The BetterHelp Platform with your question:
How can I over come fear of rejection, I have been rejected many times in my life, at home, school?
I am glad you have reached out to request support with what you are struggling with at the moment. It sounds to me as though you are describing your attachment style which I would consider might be anxious-avoidant.
I will share some information and some practical tips with how you can manage this situation.
I would also suggest you reach out for some professional support which I will also discuss later.
Understanding The Anxious Avoidant Attachment Style
One of the most defining personality traits for any given individual is their attachment style. Attachment style refers to the relationships people establish with one another. Some styles are healthy than others, and some styles are more or less social. We're going to take an in-depth look at each one. By the time you have finished reading, you will hopefully have procured a deeper insight regarding yourself and those around you.
There are two schools of thought concerning attachment styles. The first one consists of three theories: Secure, Anxious, and Avoidant attachment. This model is an excellent place to start because its rigidity makes it easier to understand. The drawback, ironically, is also its rigidity. The simplicity with which it addresses so complicated a question limits its accuracy.
The prevailing theory is one that incorporates the use of a spectrum. There are categories, yes - and you will end up in one of them - but there is a difference. This model considers the degree to which one meets the criteria of a category, as well as the degree to which one meets the criteria of the others. As a result, you get a complete picture of the attachment profile. The category you are placed in is your dominant style, but it will not adequately describe you.
This model consists of two variable axes, labeled "self-esteem" and "perception of others," or something similar. Your results on each measure will place you in one of four quadrants: secure, preoccupied, dismissive, or fearful. The "fearful" quadrant is also known as "anxious-avoidant," and that is what this article will cover.
What Is Anxious-Avoidant Attachment?
Secure individuals score high on both measures. They can form healthy relationships and have no aversion to pursuing them. The other two are less healthy, with preoccupied individuals trusting people recklessly and dismissive individuals being apathetic toward relationships altogether.
Someone with a fearful attachment style has placed on the low ends of both the "self-esteem" and "perception of others" spectrum. You might describe this person as someone with negative affect and high levels of neuroticism. Not only are they unable to trust other people, but (perhaps more importantly) they are unable to trust themselves.
You can imagine how difficult it would be to have this outlook. Fearfully attached individuals are unable to reach out to anyone, and anyone that tries to reach out to them is promptly denied. As social creatures, we humans suffer when we are unable to make connections with others that we inherently need.
Some will try to explain this phenomenon as a simple tendency toward introversion. This is not the case, however. Introversion, defined by the comfort found in solitude, is not affected by self-esteem and perception of others. Because low metrics on those spectra characterizes anxious-avoidant attachment, it can be easily separated from an introverted personality.
In fact, that explains why this attachment style is so painful to have. These people do not want to be left alone. They are deprived of affection from themselves and others, and they know they need it. They are just too afraid to take the risk.
This can have serious implications depending on the severity of the anxious avoidance. Those on the far end of this spectrum may find themselves struggling to feel fulfilled. They may have trouble finding a job, relaxing, or feeling happy at all. Extreme isolation has been known to cause depression or even hallucinations.
Someone closer to the center, however, might only experience negligible effects. This person could still function and find happiness in their lives. While a secure attachment style is always the best-case scenario, being in the middle is better than being incredibly anxious avoidant.
For example, Edward Scissorhands, from the movie of the same name, is anxious avoidant. He wants to be loved and accepted but is so mortified of rejection that he becomes a hermit and suffers anyways. You can see how this differs from secure attachment, where one pursues relationships, and the ones they have are healthy.
How Is This Attachment Style Formed?
When I first learned about attachment styles, my immediate reaction was, "I don't want to be anxious-avoidant." It sounds incredibly difficult to live with. This begs the question: what determines someone's attachment style?
It is generally accepted that attachment styles are formed in early development. A child's relationship with their parents sets a precedent for what relationships are like in the world. Young children are continually learning, and what their parents teach them about love is sure to stick.
Children who spend a healthy amount of time with their parents and learn to trust them will eventually score higher on "perception of others." Likewise, if the child is allowed to explore, take risks, and learn through trial and error, they also will learn to trust themselves, scoring higher on "self-esteem." It follows, then, that those who score lower on these measures when they grow up did not have a foundation of trust for themselves or others.
Children can behave in ways that are very indicative of the attachment style they will grow up with. This can be observed at any time a child's parent leaves them alone, such as dropping them off at school. Depending on their style of attachment, they will react to being separated from their guardian in different ways.
Securely attached children are likely to cry at first, but they will eventually learn to make friends and be social. Kids with a preoccupied attachment style will cry incessantly, desperately wishing for the parent to return. Dismissive children will not even care - they will just find some toy to play with and seem overall apathetic about being on their own and meeting new people.
Anxious-avoidant children, though, have it the worst. They will be very shy and emotional. They will want to make friends, but their hesitation to talk to new people will be very apparent. While the other kids play together, they will sit on the outside, waiting to be invited but too afraid to jump in on their own. This is why we call it fearful attachment - it is characterized by a persistent fear of relationships and their worst possible outcomes.
Does this mean that all shy children are fearfully attached, and all the outgoing ones are secure? Certainly not - remember, this is evaluated on a spectrum. These are examples of the most extreme conceivable cases. Most children will probably exhibit some mixture of all these behaviors and traits.
Can I Change My Style?
This question is similar to the infamous "Nature v. Nurture" debate, which has no simple answer. As such, there is little consensus on this in the scientific community. It is important to evaluate both sides' arguments and form an individual opinion.
One side says no, you cannot change your attachment style. The experiences you had as a child have already had their effect on development, and your tendency toward this attachment style is set in stone. The best option, then, is to employ strategies that allow you to cope with this disposition.
The other camp says yes, you can. New experiences are very much able to influence your brain today, just as they could when you were younger. We have seen both good and bad events change people we know completely. Why would attachment style be any different?
The correct answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. Early experiences certainly have their permanent influences, but new ones cannot be completely discounted either. In any case, the question has yet to be definitively answered.
It is worth considering that your parents, while they set the stage for your social future, are not the only people you have relationships within life. There are grandparents, brothers, and sisters that may be present when you are young as well. We cannot neglect the friends we make as children, either. Could good experiences with family and bad experiences with peers lead to a strong in-group bias that this model does not account for? What about the opposite?
Attenuating The Effects
Regardless of whether or not attachment style can change, someone who is extremely anxious avoidant probably wants to make an effort to be more socially at ease. There are steps you can take to make your life better. One of them might be seeing a therapist.
As we’ve discussed, it is very difficult for people with the anxious-avoidant attachment style to build relationships with anyone. It is essential for these people to find someone they can trust. Once they can let down their walls, the weight of the world will come off their shoulders. Psychologists understand the human mind and have certainly had to break down these sorts of barriers on more than one occasion.
For hundreds of years, psychologists have studied human behavior, trying to determine exactly why we do what we do. Time and time again, the question of “nature versus nurture” has arisen: do genetics govern how we think and act, or is the environment in which we're raised the deciding factor? Scientific evidence seems to suggest that, in most cases, it's a combination of both.
When it comes to our relationships, however, nurture seems to play a greater role. For example, individuals who grow up in healthy households tend to develop secure attachment bonds and attachment styles that typically lead them to have stronger, longer-lasting relationships in adulthood.
On the other hand, if you grew up in a household with inconsistent or unreliable parenting, you may have greater difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships. People in this category may have experienced insecure attachment bonds to their parents or primary caregivers.
"Therapy can accelerate the healing process and help you shift your attachment style, in order to create a more secure attachment bond."
Insecure attachment is a negative, fear-based relationship style—the deep, even unconscious fear of abandonment or unmet needs. This fear-based style is based on the formation of an insecure attachment bond in early childhood, and it's surprisingly common.
Living with the weight of a fear-based attachment bond can be very frustrating and feel overwhelming, but there is hope. While some experts believe that attachment styles and the original attachment bond remain consistent throughout the lifetime, recent research has actually found that individuals with an insecure attachment style can actually form secure bonds through intimacy-building activities.
In this article, we'll discuss the characteristics of insecure attachment, the effects of insecure and secure attachment bonds, and strategies to break a negative attachment bond and create a more secure attachment style. This information may help you recall relationships and experiences that contributed to your attachment style in the past, but you'll also learn how to strengthen your bonds with others in the present.
Understanding Insecure Attachment
As mentioned previously, an individual's attachment style appears in early childhood and is the result of the formation of an insecure or secure attachment bond; infants and young children develop a secure attachment through repeated positive experiences with caregivers. This secure attachment bond gives infants an early outlook on life. Early in life, they learn that their needs will be met on a consistent basis, and as children, they don't live in fear of being neglected, abused, or abandoned.
When caregivers fail to provide consistent care and emotional support, an insecure attachment bond and insecure attachment style form. Babies and young children who are insecurely attached learn to expect inconsistency in relationships, leading them often to operate from a place of fear. This is especially true of children who have been left by their caregivers (by choice or by death) and those who were abused or neglected. It can be difficult, but not impossible, to overcome the effects of developing an insecure attachment bond.
Even if their physical needs are met, children whose caregivers are distant or cold also tend to form an insecure attachment bond. In some cases, children also can develop an insecure attachment because their primary caregiver swings back and forth between being nurturing and acting detached.
Children with insecure attachment bonds tend to behave differently toward caregivers than kids with secure attachments. Depending on their circumstances, a child may act aloof or overly clingy toward their caregivers. In addition, the child may easily show anger, irritation, or fear, and they may exhibit extreme reactions to stress.
Unfortunately, the problems that arise from forming an insecure attachment style do not end in childhood. For adults, insecure attachment often manifests as anxiety or codependency. Some individuals with insecure attachment styles avoid relationships altogether.
Here are some ways to create a Secure Attachment
Later, we'll share how therapy can help individuals who are living with an insecure attachment style break a negative attachment bond and create a secure attachment bond, but first, we'll talk about strategies you can use to help you form and maintain strong, lasting bonds.
1. Focus On Healing
Childhood situations and experiences that promote insecure attachments also tend to create shame and self-esteem issues. Living with shame can result in self-neglect (focusing on everyone else's needs while ignoring your own), self-criticism, self-sabotage, and even self-destructive behaviors. Beginning to heal from these symptoms will help you lay the foundation to form secure attachments.
These feelings and behaviors are often connected to a deeply rooted, self-imposed belief that an individual does not deserve happiness or healthy relationships. While healthy guilt can help an individual make better choices, the shame and self-loathing that often accompany an insecure attachment style can make a person feel perpetually stuck in insecurity.
Many people wonder how to forgive themselves for mistakes they’ve made in the past. While the process of self-forgiveness is a highly personal one, the following steps are a great place to start:
Evaluate your past decisions. Were some of the factors involved out of your control? Did you do what you felt was best at the time? How do you see your actions differently today?
Earn your forgiveness. Steps toward forgiveness include taking responsibility for your actions, apologizing, and making amends. If you find that forgiving yourself is difficult, try writing out a meaningful apology to yourself. You can also apologize to anyone else who may have been hurt, and you may be able to identify actions to make things right. Finally, vow to move forward.
Aim for progress, not perfection. If this process seems easier said than done, use self-compassion exercises to keep you moving through the healing process, such as Build Self-Esteem
Self-forgiveness provides a fresh start. Once you're no longer bogged down by the pain of the past, you can work on building yourself up. You might have years of experience with negative self-talk, shame, and criticism, so it's time to turn things around. Here are some practical ways to build self-esteem and help create a secure attachment style:
Make yourself a priority: People with low self-esteem tend to neglect themselves. They can ignore their health, hygiene, and emotional wellbeing because they don't feel worthy of self-care or self-compassion. If you're in the habit of neglecting your personal needs and desires, make a list of the things you've neglected. Do you need to go to the dentist? Does your diet need adjustments to keep you healthy and satisfied? Would you like to give up drinking or smoking? Once you have a list, commit to tackling these issues one by one, and practice self-compassion if you find yourself falling into old patterns. Remember, it’s not about perfection.
The three compliments journal: This exercise is included in a great self-esteem building. You'll need a blank notebook and a pen or a pencil to get started. Then all you have to do is jot down three compliments to yourself each morning. Looking in the mirror can be part of the ritual, but if this practice seems awkward or uncomfortable, a mirror isn't required. The goal here is to acknowledge your positive attributes on a regular basis. This practice will help you see yourself in a more positive light.
Try a new hobby: Part of learning to value yourself is finding activities you love and pursuing them wholeheartedly. If you enjoy taking photos, take up photography. Try a new sport or physical activity or settle into a crafting activity that calms you. Not sure which hobby to try? Check out the world’s largest list of hobbies to discover an activity you love!
Practice positive self-talk: For individuals who have spent their lives filled with negative self-talk and shame, this process can seem daunting, but it's worth the effort. Whether in a journal or just in your head, remind yourself of your talents, positive attributes, and accomplishments, big and small. When negative thoughts creep up, make a conscious effort to combat them with positivity. For example, you may think, "I can't do anything right." Stop yourself by stating, "That isn't true; I'm great at a lot of things, including ______ and ________." By fighting off negative thoughts and replacing them with positive ones, you'll build self-esteem and begin to create a secure attachment style that will allow you to trust yourself and others.
3. Acknowledge Your Attachment Style
A third way to flip your type of attachment is by confronting the negative aspects of your insecure attachment style. If you're an anxious, insecurely attached person who is overly focused on your partner and his or her needs, try shifting your focus inward. By acknowledging your own needs and building your own self-esteem, you'll feel more content, which will help you to form and maintain healthy relationships.
If you consider yourself insecure avoidant, meaning that you tend to shy away from meeting the needs of a partner, child, family member, or friend, make a conscious effort to begin meeting your loved ones' needs (without sacrificing your own). If you feel an urge to pull away, acknowledge the feeling, and open up to someone you feel comfortable confiding in. Silence exacerbates shame, so it's important not to keep your feelings bottled up inside.
Helpful Resources to Create A Secure Attachment Style
Many free and low-cost resources can help you on your healing journey. Here are a few:
Kristin Neff's Self-Compassion.org is a great resource for anyone in need of extra self-compassion. Neff offers seven well-structured guided meditations that are completely free.
Attachments by Dr. Tim Clinton and Dr. Gary Sibcy is an eye-opening resource for people who struggle to form and maintain close relationships.
Attached by Dr. Amir Levine and Rachel Heller is a user-friendly guide that explains the science behind attachment and how to find love based on attachment style. This book is particularly helpful for individuals who seek a lifelong partner.
Of course, you’ll work with your therapist to develop the best approach for you, but you probably want a sense of how likely therapy is to help you, right? One common type of talk therapy is cognitive behavioral therapy (which is one of the most effective treatments for social anxiety disorder. CBT can be used to treat so many things including attachment issues.
I hope you are able to apply some of these tips I have shared and reach out for some professional support from a mental health therapist.
There is hope and there is help for you.
I wish you much luck!