Self-doubt, our need for approval and the fear of rejection


This blog post will be a rather personal one, since this is a topic that is very dear to my heart. In fact, this very second I am wondering if I should even write about a topic like that, because it means I would have to admit weakness and imperfection. But you know what? I’ll do it anyway. And it’s okay.

I’ve been struggling with self-doubt all my life. It has gotten much better in the last few years, because I made some changes in my life that were significant. But I still occasionally feel this nagging pain of not being good enough or looked at as weird.

What is so problematic about self-doubt is that even if you try and rationalize it, it still manages to sting. You still feel it.

And the more I am willing to put myself out there the way I truly am, the more vulnerable it makes me feel. It is very strange to notice this fear of rejection build up inside.

Usually, the creative process is a fairly easy one for me. Let’s take for example, writing a blog post: I sit down, I research, I think, I write, I edit. Done. It’s that moment right before I hit “publish”, where all these thoughts start rushing through my brain: “Is this crap?”, “Should I have put more effort into it?”, “I must have forgotten to mention a few things”, “I’m sure I made some typos”, “Maybe I shouldn’t post this”, “Nobody will want to read this”, “This should go in the trash immediately”… I could go on and on, but I’m sure you’ve made similar experiences in your life. I think we all have. Everybody has these feelings. Some have them more often than others. Some are more impaired by them. And others are vigorously able to block them out of their mind. But they are there.

“This thing of darkness I / Acknowledge mine.” – William Shakespeare

I know, I’ve touched upon that subject before, but I feel it needs be talked about more openly because it’s one of those skeletons we all hide in our closet. And it’s important to talk about it freely and not bury it in silence and shame. Shoving it under the rug is not gonna help it.

We’re human. We have feelings. And we have beliefs that are so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize what they are doing to us.

If you think about it, what this fear of rejection boils down to is a struggle for survival. One that has become obsolete in this day and age, but it’s still controlling us.

This is, for one, rooted in human history. We are a tribal animal. Back in the days, our survival depended on living together in small communities and working together in order to ensure survival. If one was expelled from this community, that person probably didn’t make it for very long.

But even more close to our lives today – our childhood. When we are born, we are pretty helpless little beings. Innocent and dependent, we need our parents to take care of us. Now, when you grow up as a child you start to connect love to good behavior. If you’re a good boy or girl, mommy or daddy will pet your hair, and granny might give you a lolly. And you start to believe that love is not something that is unconditional but tied to submitting to what is viewed as good behavior – societal rules and beliefs. It’s then that you learn what is considered socially acceptable and that you have to try and please people or you’ll get punished for it (and certainly not rewarded).

Then, you grow a little older and you start going to school. That’s when this belief gets even more ingrained. You believe you need to be like the others, behave like the others, do as the others do – all just to fit in. Because when you haven’t fully developed your personality yet, it’s very hard to deal with the amount of peer pressure that exists in schools. We all want friends. And if we think that “fitting in” is the key to that, we do our best to fit in.

A lot of people stay in that mindset for the rest of their lives, though. They never dare to stand out and never dare to be who they really are. They don’t even dare to explore their inner desires and wants, for the sole reason that they are afraid what people may think of them.

That’s a dangerous path to go down, because you start to deny yourself to be who you want to be. You start to squander your potential. And you give yourself up just to please others.

What many fail to realize is that as soon as we seek approval, we submit to the limiting beliefs others have of us. Their beliefs of who we are are based on the small fraction of what they see of us. And often they misinterpret what they see. Most of the time, the beliefs others hold about us are fundamentally different from who we really are. And the more dependent we get on their opinion, the more we start to fulfill those limiting beliefs.

Nobody can see into the workings of our minds and hearts and often times we are so blind to them ourselves that we think what others see in us is the truth about who we are.

It’s a vicious cycle. The more we limit ourselves to fit into the little boxes they create for us, the smaller these boxes become.

But we are so much more than that. It really shouldn’t be other people telling us who we are and what we are capable of or not. YOU are the one defining yourself – on your terms. Don’t ever give that power away. Don’t dim yourself to comfort others.

And it’s comforting them indeed, if we live in these little boxes. It makes us predictable. The fact that there might be more to us than what they can see, scares them. It scares them because everything that is unfamiliar or unknown gets viewed as a potential threat. It’s fear of the unknown. So in order to make someone not view us as a potential threat, we believe we need to comfort them by being “normal”.

It’s silly. Really. There’s 7 billion people in the world. There is no normal. So why should we even bother to try and fit in?!

It’s mostly us trying to protect our ego anyway. Everyone is dealing with their own issues, so people are really not that preoccupied with what you are doing. Some of them are but those are doing it because you either are holding a mirror in front of them that makes them painfully aware of their own shortcomings or because they have nothing else to do and want your attention. But that is a whole other story… And it’s their issue. Not yours. The people you should really care about are the ones who support you in being you and truly wish you well, because those are the ones who already have decided to live on their own terms.

From “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield

So what happens when we realize that other people’s beliefs are holding us back is that we fall into the trap of trying to remedy this through achievement. We believe that as long as we seek out achievement, we can prove to them that they are wrong. We can prove to them that we are capable of more than what they think. It’s a trap.

It leads to a society that is geared towards achievement. A society that values more, more, more. Bigger, better, faster, stronger. And it didn’t make people the least bit happier or more content. Maybe on a superficial level, but really what they create is just a gigantic vacuum underneath a shiny surface that sparkles seductively. It does nothing to add real meaning and value to our lives.

Trying to find happiness in achievement is like hunting an invisible unicorn. You’re not gonna get it, because you don’t get it. You don’t understand that your happiness should not be tied to achievement. Ever.

Because that is when the dangerous “If only…” comes into play:

“If only I made a little more money, I’d be happy.”

“If only I was a little bit thinner, I’d be happy.”

“If only I had a shiny new car, I’d be happy.”

“If only I’d get that raise, I’d be happy.”

But you wouldn’t. Another trophy added to your list is not gonna make you any more happy than you are right now. Because getting smarter, richer, thinner, or more popular is not going to solve what’s inside.

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t strive to improve yourself. It just means that the solution is not the result, but the journey. And the journey is learning, opening your mind and changing your perspective. There is no external solution to your insecurity – only an internal one.

If you’re acting out of a mindset of competition with others, more can be lost than gained. You don’t need to compete with others to have what you seek. Because it’s within you. The Tao approach takes the route of creativity over competition. Whatever you do should strengthen you and your sense of true purpose.

It’s sharing your gifts in order to inspire and not to impress.

So what is it that you can do about this little devil on your shoulder chewing your ear off about how insignificant and worthless you are?

Kill it! Kill it with fire! The fire burning inside of you! (Although, that might be a little drastic here…)

In reality, it’s awareness, acceptance, and a good portion of honesty with yourself and others.

We can’t delete a lifetime of ingrained beliefs. But we can become aware of them and we can question them. Your fear of rejection can either become your path to limitation or your path to illumination. You choose. But if you harness it, it can take you way beyond yourself.

If you feel self-doubt rising within you, acknowledge that it’s there. Accept it for what it is. That doesn’t mean you have to put up with it. It is what it is. Observe it. Watch it happen. Then ask yourself the question, if it’s really worth investing your energy toward. If I had to guess, the answer is probably no.

It requires some courage and effort, but you have to let go of your emotional stirring spoon once in a while to fulfill your purpose in this lifetime. And it is more than worth it.

I dare you. Question the self-image you have about yourself. Every single day. Shake the foundation of who you belief to be and who others think you are. Question your convictions, your beliefs, thoughts and feelings. Don’t be a slave to the beliefs you hold. Challenge them. Keep asking yourself “Should I really do this?” and if the core of your being answers with a resounding “yes!”, then it’s probably a good idea.

The desire to share your gifts with the world and being of service to others by doing so has to become greater than your desire for approval and greater than your fear of rejection. Your purpose is not to accumulate money, fame, more material goods, more friends and more trophies. Your purpose is to contribute and connect in a meaningful way.

Don’t let other people’s expectations define you. They probably grossly underestimate you. But you don’t need them to overestimate you either. Be honest, be genuine and authentic about your strengths as well as your weaknesses. Give yourself permission to be yourself – whatever this entails.

“Be yourself – not your idea of what you think somebody else’s idea of you should be.” – Henry David Thoreau

Once you do, you’ll realize that you’re actually becoming more radiant and magnetic to others than ever. The more vigorously you are yourself, the more people you’ll attract into your life that love you just because of that. Besides that…

“I’d rather be hated for who I am, than loved for who I am not.” – Kurt Cobain

Deep inside, everyone craves to be allowed to be themselves. What many don’t realize, however, is that they can just reclaim that power. Easily. They just don’t dare to do so.

Don’t imprison yourself. There really is no good reason for it. Break out of your little box and show others that it’s possible. Some might actually follow suit.

– Gabriela

Photo credit: martinak15

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11 thoughts on “Self-doubt, our need for approval and the fear of rejection

  1. Very awesome. Your writing is very impressive and your insight is even better. I’m sharing this on my Facebook wall. More people need to read this. Great job.

  2. Nice article! Atm I am listening to the 50th Law, Mastery is next and after that I will buy Art of War.. I think it is exactly a book I need.

    • Any other books you recommend? Do you have a book list like Elliott ?
      Also, as I am changing my lifestyle, I started reading books too,
      Actually my first book I read besides ”school” books.
      I think if I continue, I will have more to offer and understand the world, the people better and draw connections.


      • Oh definitely! That’s what this blog is all about – learning and experiencing all kinds of things, so then you have the dots to connect and get a better understanding of the bigger picture. I don’t remember who said it but there’s a quote: “chance favours the connected mind.” and that’s what I believe in.
        I wrote my entire ebook on that topic as well! ^^

        So yeah, I plan on spending some time in the summer to create some resources for that and the “bookshelf” is actually one of those things. Great you bring it up! :)
        I think I will group them according to overall topic as well (some stuff on philosophy, creativity, health etc.) but it will take me a bit of time to sift through everything I’ve read and filter out the great stuff ;)

  3. I love it! You convey emotion very well and I can relate to this topic. After realizing the games people play in terms of hiding their true selves and expecting me to do the same, I cut off many of my “friendships” and went into deep introspection. It was there that I learned a lot of the nature of existence and that we all have infinite potential. I saw that we are interconnected with everything and here in this “shell” for just a short time. I know that this existence is just a fraction of what we truly are and this perspective allows me see beyond people and their expectations because I know the truth, that there are no rules, limits, or structure. Life is ever-changing energy and I will never limit myself to fit any mold. We are all meant to shine as untamed light.

  4. Thank you for capturing all of the elements that make up our fear of rejection and constant search for approval. One way I’ve heard it said is: “Stop searching for happiness forever, for happiness is right next to you.”

  5. Couldn’t sleep so visited this site. Looked through my old favourites, goodness I’m happy I had a gander!

Let me know what you think and leave a comment below.