Self-rejection: Why You Avoid The People And Things You Love And Want.19 min read

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Sometime last year, a friend I hadn’t seen for years came to visit their sibling in a town close to where I was staying. And, I happened to also have something to do in that town, so, we decided that a meet-up would be great.

Well, the day came, I was in the city. But, as the time for the appointment drew close, I became increasingly nervous. Just minutes before our meeting, I sent a text explaining that I couldn’t make it and promptly boarded a bus back home.

My sudden change of plans hurt them, and despite feeling a fleeting sense of relief from avoiding the meet-up, I couldn’t shake the bitterness and resentment I felt towards my own actions.

I found the strength to come clean and explain my actions to them. Knowing that honesty would heal the hurt and prevent future misunderstandings, I apologised and shared the insecurities that drove my behaviour.

Thankfully, they understood, and we arranged to meet again at a later date. Surprisingly, the encounter turned out to be a delightful experience. Despite simply walking, talking, and laughing in a busy commercial area during most of our time together, I found myself in good spirits for days after the meeting.

Perhaps my behaviour mirrors different instances in your life where you’ve backed down from your goals, plans, and desires, whether in relationships, work, or personal life. Perhaps, deep down, you already know that you aren’t living your life to the fullest, and that indeed, you are sabotaging your own happiness.

In this piece, we’ll delve deep into the issue of self-rejection and explore steps you can take to embrace authenticity, overcome fear, and pursue what you truly desire. Are you ready?

What Is Self-rejection?

Self-rejection is the act of criticising, denying, dismissing, or sabotaging yourself, often rooted in a feeling of unworthiness, but also fueled by fear, internalised unhealthy narratives, and maladaptive self-protective mechanisms. It manifests in various cognitive, emotional, and behavioural patterns that limit personal growth, fulfilment, and positive social connections. In simple terms, self-rejection causes you to reject yourself – your nature, desires, and abilities.

If you find yourself self-rejecting, you may also notice you struggle with low self-esteem, perfectionism, fear of failure, or even high self-esteem (in which case you hold yourself up to unattainable standards).

What Causes Self-Rejection?

The root causes of self-rejection can be traced back to your upbringing, genetics, and cultural influences, all of which you had/have no control over. Strict expectations and rigid social norms may have ingrained in your psyche a constant desire to fit in, rather than expressing your individuality and authentic self.

For example, if a narrow definition of what “good” and “success” means – perhaps academic achievements, material possessions, or being tall – was drummed into your head, it can fuel feelings of inadequacy and even worthlessness when you fail to reach those ideas or standards as an adult. Sadly, this is the situation most people find themselves.

Self-rejection is also not static. It fluctuates in intensity and manifestation over time, influenced by your current life events, environments, self-understanding, and coping mechanisms. And, you may also experience varying degrees and forms of self-rejection in various aspects of your life. 

“Man is the only creature who refuses to be what he is.”

– Albert Camus

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Why Is Self-rejection Bad/Dangerous?

Self-rejection is bad because it impedes your growth and happiness – it (causes you to) limit the things you do, places you go, and people you interact with, hence causing you to miss opportunities, connections, and wonderful experiences that may have led to more growth and happiness. Self-rejection can also make you hesitant to accept help from others. Feeling unwanted, they may pull away, reinforcing your belief that you’re unlovable. This creates a self-fulfilling prophecy, trapping you in a cycle of isolation and self-doubt.

Self-rejection is challenging to confront because it resides not only in the unconscious mind but also can influence the conscious mind into supporting it.

For instance, a person experiencing financial difficulties might believe they are unworthy of a beautiful and intelligent partner. Their rational mind might rationalize this fear by emphasising the importance of financial stability in a relationship. Similarly, an individual who receives a substantial payment for a project might feel like an impostor, citing their lack of experience with such projects as justification.

Self-rejection is like locking the door from the inside, and then wondering why you’re alone.

Self-rejection can adversely affect various aspects of life, including romantic, professional, educational, spiritual, and more, undermining and hindering personal growth.

What Does Self-rejection Look Like? [Examples of Self-rejection]

Self-rejection can be subtle and difficult to notice in ourselves, like our own ever-present nose we rarely see unless with effort. It manifests in diverse ways through our thoughts, feelings, and actions. 

The following examples, categorized under cognitive distortion, emotional struggles, and counterproductive behavioural patterns, can help you understand exactly what self-rejection looks like in your own life.

Cognitive Distortions: Your Thoughts Are Unhelpful and Unhealthy

  • Negative self-talk: You often find yourself saying things like, “I am not smart”, “I look and sound stupid”, “Everyone hates me!”, etc.
  • Rumination on past failures: You struggle to move on from failure, like failing the JAMB exam, getting turned down by a crush, or not passing a job interview. You believe you will always be a failure or disappointment.
  • Catastrophizing future possibilities: You are always thinking of the worst possible outcomes. For example, you think to yourself, “She will embarrass me”, “My Visa will not get approved”, “My father will kill me”, etc.
  • Mind-reading: You find yourself always assuming others have negative thoughts and intentions towards you. You often think, “They don’t like me”, “He thinks I am ugly”, “They won’t accept my kind”, etc.
  • All-or-nothing thinking: You see things in binaries – perfect or worthless, successful or a failure, loved or rejected. For example, you often find yourself thinking “I am a complete loser”, “White people are smarter”, “Girls cannot be trusted”, etc.

Emotional Struggles: You Feel Bad About Who You Are or What You’ve Done

  • Low self-esteem: You struggle to see yourself as being good enough. Maybe you constantly compare yourself to the “perfect” Instagram models, influencers, and gurus, and end up feeling invisible and insignificant. You find yourself often thinking things like, “Who am I?”, “I am not good enough!”, “I need to make more money to be able to do X”, etc.
  • Shame: You fear that people will not love and accept you because of a part of you that you are not very proud of, or a mistake you made. You might find yourself always avoiding coming out in public or being vulnerable/transparent about who you are. You avoid talking about your past, won’t share your true feelings, and feel you deserve to be treated poorly. 
  • Fear of rejection: You always back down from asking for what you want. For example, you find yourself frozen and unable to ask for the phone number of the people you like, or you tremble at the prospect of asking for a promotion or raise.
  • Crippling Anxiety: You become overly tense and restless when something important is about to happen. For example, you get sweaty and shaky when you need to give a talk or panic when someone you admire asks you out for a drink. 
  • Apathy or resignation:  You worry so much about failing that you somehow convince yourself that what you want is not important so you stop even thinking about it. You worry you will be rejected and so you do so yourself rather than waiting for theirs. For example, you convince yourself that you don’t need a partner, promotion, or raise.

Counterproductive Behavioral Patterns: Your Actions Limit or Harm You.

  • Self-sabotage: You do things that set you up for failure. For example, you don’t bother reading for an exam because you believe it is too difficult and you’re not smart enough to understand the subject. Or, you randomly ghost friends and romantic partners.
  • People-pleasing: You sacrifice your own needs and desires to please others because you fear they will disapprove and reject you if you speak and act how you truly feel.
  • Procrastination: You keep putting off tasks for when you are fully prepared. Which, of course, is just avoidance and only allows problems to pile up.
  • Perfectionism: You overly obsess about the tiny details, put in an unreasonable amount of time, energy, and resources into chasing unattainable standards, and consequently burnout, run out of time or get stuck doing one thing forever (making no actual progress).
  • Social withdrawal: You feel inadequate or awkward appearing in public. For example, you may worry you’re too fat to go to the gym, or not wearing fancy clothes to go to a party or Church.
  • Avoidance of opportunities: You avoid going for what you want because you feel you are not ready or are not sure if things might work out, so you choose the safer option of missing out. For example, you’d rather stay back home than go to an event where you might meet someone, or you avoid posting on social media because you fear your content will not be good enough. You give up on your passion so you don’t risk failing publicly.

Paradox of Self-Rejection: Why Trying To Overcome Self-rejection Almost Always Backfires

Escaping self-rejection can be tricky and counterintuitive. This is because the very act of hating, resisting, and trying to cut off that self-rejecting part of yourself is also a form of self-rejection – which can lead to self-hate, depression, and other forms of suffering. And, trying to satisfy the demands, prerequisites, or conditions of your self-rejecting part is like pouring fuel into a fire. This is because self-rejection feeds off of self-criticism, and there are no limits to what it desires.

As a result, 

Pursuit of Success Can Become a Curse

Trying to overcome self-rejection by becoming more successful is like chasing a mirage in the desert. While having some form of success will solve practical issues, chasing success in hopes that it will silence that inner critic will merely expose and intensify deeper insecurities.

For example, someone who has been self-rejecting romantic love because of their financial status may discover that what they consider to be “financial stability” keeps receding as they approach it. At first, they may consider having a spare 100k enough, but once they hit 100k or even 300k, it becomes 1M, then 10M, and so on. I know because I have been that guy. 

But that’s not all. If – perhaps thanks to their intelligence and hard work –  they overcome the insecurity around having enough money, they may only end up discovering that there are other equally important things that they are lacking. For instance, their looks, educational attainment, and so on. The insecurities might even morph so that they start worrying that people connect and love them because of their success/achievements and not for who they are.

In worse worst-case scenario, success brings out the worst in them. For example, upon getting “rich”, some guys start overcompensating or seeking some form of revenge indirectly. For instance, men who were broke-shamed, may eventually make money and set out to brandish their wealth through ostentatious lifestyles and also try to get back at “women” who rejected them when they were broke by humiliating, harassing, or objectifying the women around them (aka Misogyny).

Success with the wrong reasons can become a curse!

Self-improvement Can Become a Trap:

Trying to overcome self-rejection through self-improvement can become a trap, just like an insect trying to escape a spider’s web getting more entrapped as it tries to wiggle free. Reading books, attending seminars, and even going for therapy can become like trying to move forward while on a treadmill – where you keep chasing perfection, acceptance, validation, and love by finding new issues to “fix,” – but never truly make progress. 

The constant pressure to “fix” yourself can lead to burnout, anxiety, and a distorted sense of self-worth based solely on external factors. This inevitably breeds the feeling of being damaged/broken, unlovable unless when performing flawlessly, and ultimately, distorts how you see the world as you begin to see the connection and love around you to be all conditional, hence not real.

Striving for flawless performance in every aspect of life can be paralyzing and exhausting. It sets unrealistic expectations, leading to constant disappointment and frustration, ultimately fueling self-rejection rather than overcoming it.

Self-improvement with the aim of pleasing, performing, or perfecting is ultimately a subtle art of self-rejection that only makes you better externally, but leaves you feeling emptier internally.

How To Deal With Your Self-rejection

You overcome self-rejection through self-acceptance. There are several ways to attain that state of self-acceptance. You could do some inner work, take therapeutic approaches, embark on a spiritual and religious journey, or seek external support. Whatever works for you. 

Nevertheless, below are some of the universal and most important steps you must take as you proceed on your journey towards self-acceptance:

Identify your self-rejection patterns:

Remember that pleasing, performing, and perfecting are subtle indicators of self-rejection. Whenever your actions are driven by these motives, it is important to pause and reevaluate your actions.

To help you easily identify your self-rejecting pattern, you can do the following;

  • Practice Mindfulness and meditation: Quieting the mind and observing your thoughts and feelings without judgment can help you cultivate a deeper understanding of your thoughts and feelings.
  • Practice writing and reflection: Regularly exploring your thoughts and emotions through writing can help you see and probe your thoughts and feelings. It’s a bonus when others get to read the content and give feedback. I’ve found this to be profoundly powerful.
  • Practice self-introspection: Learn to ask yourself key questions to uncover your true motives. You can employ the 5 Whys exercise. For instance, if you find yourself hesitating to approach someone you admire, delve into the reasons by asking: Why do I lack confidence in pursuing this opportunity? Because I perceive myself as not attractive enough. Why do I believe I’m not attractive enough? Because I tend to compare myself to others and consistently find myself falling short. Why do I compare myself to others? Because I have been conditioned to link my worth to my appearance.  

Challenge and hush the inner critic:

Remember that worthiness does not have prerequisites. And so, rather than listening to voices that tell you that you’re not enough for one reason or the other, challenge it.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to practical issues, but you should always reframe and rephrase them into more positive and realistic versions. For example, instead of “I’m not good enough,” try “I’m still learning and growing, and I’m capable of achieving my goals.”. Instead of, “I’m a complete failure and an idiot”, say, “I made a mistake/failed, but now I know better”.

It is also important to remind yourself of what is important. Rather than listening to the inner critic tell you about a hundred things you need to be happy, subtly remind yourself that you have been happy before that voice. And, it is worth taking a step back to think about what was happening when you were most happy in your life. Perhaps it was that time everyone was at home eating and singing, or that time your best friend stayed over at your place and you talked till late at night.

You can also employ art, music, or dance to help you quiet the voice when it is overwhelming, shift focus to the other beautiful things around and about you, and help you tap into your authenticity, expressing your true self freely.

Practice self-compassion:

Learn to be kind, understanding, forgiving, and supportive towards yourself, just as you would be to a friend who made a mistake or is going through a tough time.

If you are religious, you can pray for forgiveness, offer sacrifices of ablution, and remind yourself of all the ways God/the Universe loves you and has blessed you.

Rather than hating yourself, you can make peace with yourself by engaging in activities that benefit others – a sort of penance for your wrongs, and a way to love yourself more.

Practice Self-acceptance:

The key to overcoming self-rejection and unlocking that deep sense of belonging and love is believing you deserve to be loved, just as you are.

“The main difference between those who feel a strong sense of love and belonging and those who struggle for it is that those who have a strong sense of love and belonging believe they are worthy of love and belonging.”

– Brené Brown

Self-rejection tells you that you’re not good enough and that your flaws and imperfections render you unworthy of love and belonging. It then promises that with enough effort you can become pure, perfect, and feel in control. However, all that is just a sneaky way of avoiding vulnerability. You are simply afraid to be seen as imperfect, flawed, and not in total control.

And, even though self-acceptance doesn’t guarantee a solution to your imperfections or a constant state of euphoria, it provides something far more valuable: clarity. A clear, unfiltered view of yourself, stripped bare of “should be’s” and self-deception.

This clarity may not feel instantly attractive, especially when the world around you is expecting you to be perfect. But remember, discomfort is better than resentment and regret

Don’t be afraid of being rejected for who you are. Trust that being your authentic self will attract what is most aligned for you and filter out what is not. Remember, this messy, flawed life of yours holds its own kind of beauty. And, no one is without flaws.

Embrace your unpolished self, flaws and all. It’s in the acceptance that you truly find your place among others, and ultimately, within yourself.

Focus on growth, not perfection:

Don’t think self-acceptance means giving up on your dreams or ceasing to strive towards being a better person. No. When you accept yourself fully, your aspirations shift from chasing an idealised/unrealistic image to fulfilling your authentic potential. You set goals that align with your true values, not societal expectations. Instead of striving for an external definition of success, you focus on becoming the best version of yourself, fueled by self-compassion and a growth mindset. 

It’s like finally understanding that different seeds have different needs, features, and ultimately fruits. Even though seeds may look similar, they usually grow up to become radically different trees, each magnificent in its own way. One doesn’t need to envy the other’s strength or lament about their weakness. Self-acceptance teaches you to appreciate and nurture yourself, to blossom with your own strengths, rather than trying to contort yourself into another shape to be worthy, to be beautiful, to be enough.

Celebrate growth, progress, and wins with people who love you for who you are.

“Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”

– Dr. Seuss

Educate yourself on the subject

If you’re reading this, you’ve already come a long way. It takes a lot of self-awareness, honesty, and humility to identify, admit, and go in search of solutions to your challenges. And, even though I tried my best to make this blog post as helpful as possible, I believe you will find more insights and helpful information consuming more educational content on the subject:

I recommend you read “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brené Brown. 

You can see a video of her TEDx talk below. 

The power of vulnerability | Brené Brown | TEDxHouston

Seek professional help:

Sometimes, we just need help, and there is no shame in that. If you had an injury, you wouldn’t be embarrassed to go to the doctor. So also, you should feel free to reach out for help if you find yourself struggling with self-rejection.

If your self-rejection is severe or causing significant distress, consider seeking help from a therapist or counsellor. They can help you identify the root cause of your self-rejection, develop coping mechanisms, and build healthier self-esteem.

Conclusion: What Would You Attempt To Do If You Knew You Could Not Fail? Now Go Do It!

One remarkable thing about life is the way our fears diminish as we approach them. This is especially true if you are good at learning from your failures.

I vividly recall a time when sending a simple message in a 100-person WhatsApp group used to terrify me. Today, hundreds view my Status daily, and our Community boasts over a thousand. Similarly, there was a period when the prospect of reciting the Periodic Table of Elements in front of a class of about 25 would petrify me. However, during my university days, I found myself able to address a full lecture hall with well over a thousand people.

However, it’s crucial not to get too absorbed in my story. I just shared aspects where I’ve grown in. But, I still have other areas where I suck at. I am still in the process of learning to fully accept myself. I am far from perfect. 

The essence of this piece is that you too can gradually confront your fears and evolve into a better version of yourself – a version that embraces your quirks and loves yourself for the continuous efforts invested in personal growth.

What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail? Now, go do it!

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