You knew you shouldn't have said it, but you did.
As the words tumbled from your mouth, embarrassment burned your face. Everyone's disgusted looks confirmed it: This was the last straw; you had to leave.
So now here you are, lumbering through the jungle, your heart pounding.
It's almost nightfall.
Was that the growl of a tiger? Or the rattle of a venomous snake?
You scramble for the nearest tree, but deep down, you know you're going to die out here tonight.
And it's all because you said something stupid in front of the tribe when you probably should've kept your mouth shut.
Is this the latest episode of Survivor on steroids? Actually, no. This could have really happened to you thousands of years ago. In fact, some believe early humans feared this "ultimate rejection" so much, our behavior is still affected by it today.
And believe it or not, understanding this fear can help you to be outgoing and feel confident when talking to new people. Which is great, because if you're like I was, you often feel too quiet socially and come up with excuses NOT to talk to the people who interest you.
Thousands of Years Ago, Your Reputation Meant Life or Death
See, for a long part of our evolution, humans lived in hunter-gather tribes of 50-150 people. Everyone knew each other, so your reputation was everything. If you said or did something the tribe didn't like, you could be shunned from the community.
That could mean the end of you. You'd be left alone in the wilderness where wild animals, hunger and exposure were real threats. So fear of rejection was a VERY useful instinct back then.
Thankfully, you no longer have to worry about being shunned into non-existence because of something you say or do.
But here's the bad news:
Your primal brain doesn't realize that and in some social settings, it's keeping you overly cautious, quiet and isolated from potential new friends.
See, some evolutionary psychologists now believe humans evolved so long in that "small tribe" environment, we have this "social anxiety" hardwired into our brains. So any time you enter a social setting where you might face rejection, your brain gets nervous.
It's still stuck believing rejection means your life is over – literally.
That's why even though you WANT to talk to that new person, you have this overwhelming impulse inside you screaming, "DON'T DO IT! YOU CAN'T; YOU MIGHT FAIL!"
And as an added fun bonus, all that nervousness and anxiety prevents you from acting naturally. In many cases, this is why you feel awkward and "not yourself."
Build Social Confidence by Catching Your Head Up with the Times
These days, this instinct to be cautious socially isn't so necessary, right? There are now 7 billion of us on the planet. And with so many opportunities to meet new people, it's possible to be completely shunned by one group yet easily start over with another.
And while you might realize this consciously, your subconscious still fears that wild jungle.
You tell yourself it's no big deal to talk to those strangers; just do it. But your brain starts feeding you fear signals, trying to warn you of your impending sprint from a tiger.
So how do you get past these fears of rejection and failure?
How do you eliminate a reaction that's hardwired into your makeup?
Those feelings are here to stay. They're part of being human. Everyone has them to some degree or another. However, you can minimize the effects of that anxiety so you can be more authentic and outgoing.
Here are a couple of suggestions:
- Realize there's nothing wrong with you when you feel you can't talk to people. A certain amount of social anxiety is built into all of us. It's our mind trying to be helpful by warning us of possible danger. The intensity of this warning signal varies by individual. For whatever reason, you may feel it more severely than others, but there are ways to chip away at it. In many cases, that involves simply changing your perspective.
- Repeatedly remind yourself that rejection is not a big deal. Not once, not twice – constantly. Every time you're in a situation you want to talk to someone but can't, remind yourself:
- It's not necessary for everyone to like you
- Your life won't implode if this person doesn't accept you
- There are plenty of other people in the world
- No matter what, you'll still be: good at your job, a compassionate person, [insert your strength here]
- THEN, go talk to the person
Unwind Your Social Anxiety Clock Through Repetition
But remember, it's the repetition that's key. This irrational fear was formed by repetition over millennia AND by the repetition of bad experiences in your past. It's through repetition in the opposite direction that you'll unwind the limiting beliefs keeping you quiet and unsatisfied.
As I mentioned above, these suggestions won't eradicate your fears of rejection.
But it can reduce the intensity of those fears. You can train yourself to act in spite of those anxious feelings to the point it's second nature. It just takes time.
And as you begin to truly see rejection as acceptable, your world expands.
- You become more authentic and bold
- You speak your mind and voice your opinions
- You take the opportunity to talk to the people you WANT to talk to
Because deep down you truly understand, if the encounter doesn't go well, so what? There's plenty other people in the world to befriend, right?
And besides, there doesn't seem to be any loose tigers roaming nearby. You should be fine.
What about you? What are some "A ha" realizations that helped you be more outgoing and social?