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The Fear of Acceptance: Are We Afraid of Being Rejected or Accepted?

Attachment Theory suggests that we’re wired to seek love and acceptance. So the fear of rejection is understandable. But might there be a corresponding fear that is less visible — a fear of being accepted?

Much has been written about the fear of rejection, but not much about the fear of acceptance. The fear of rejection makes obvious sense. If we’ve had a steady diet of being shamed, blamed, and criticized, we learned that the world is not a safe place. Something within us mobilizes to protect our tender heart from further stings and insults.

This protective mechanism doesn’t make subtle discriminations. Our defensive structure not only safeguards us from possible rejection, but also from the prospect of being accepted and welcomed. Our vigilantly scanning antenna that protects us from danger might also give false readings.

Being Accepted Can Be Frightening

There can be scary implications for being accepted. You meet someone at a social event who likes you. This person asks for your phone number. What now? You may be flooded by fear. What if this person begins to see who you are? What might they see? What if they don’t like you? And what if they really seem to like you?

Being accepted and liked might be scary if:

  1.  We have blocks to receiving.
    You may not know what to do with compliments or positive attention. You might shut down so that you don’t have to let down your defenses and allow yourself to be seen. And what if they no longer accept you at some point? That might really hurt! So you play it safe by distancing as a preemptive defense against possible future pain.
  2. We cling to core negative beliefs.
    When someone likes or accepts us, then negative core beliefs might be up for review. If we believe that we’re unlovable or that relationships always fail, we might not know how to respond when evidence contradicts our core belief.
  3. We have an avoidant or ambivalent attachment style.

The fear of acceptance may be operating if we tend to avoid relationships. In addition to fearing rejection, we might keep distant because we don’t trust that any incipient connection or acceptance will last. If we’re ambivalent about relationships — some part of us wants connection and another part is frightened by it — we might succumb to our fear and pull away at the first sign of discord.

Overcoming the fear of acceptance may mean exploring blocks to receiving and examining core beliefs that keep us stuck. This might involve a radical change in our self-image. Viewing ourselves more positively, and our potential to love and be loved more hopefully, means that our life might change. Change can be scary.

Accepting Ourselves

It also can be scary to accept ourselves. Practicing radical acceptance — embracing ourselves just as we are –means not judging ourselves but rather honoring the full range of our feelings and desires. It can be scary to open to our human hurts and sorrows and accept that this is simply a part of who we are. Or shame may block us from seeing and honoring our true feelings.

Shame creates an inner contraction that prevents us from accepting ourselves as we are. We may strive to be perfect in order to avoid being shamed. We may think we have to project an image of being strong, intelligent, humorous, or unruffled in order to avoid being rejected or humiliated. These shame-driven behaviors disconnect us from ourselves and isolate us.

We move toward a courageous self-acceptance as we realize that we are a vulnerable human being — just like everyone else.

When you are with someone whose demeanor or smile or kind words suggest that they respect or accept you, how do you feel inside? Do you notice some inner squirming or discomfort? Can you allow those feelings to be there and be gentle with them? Perhaps take a breath and let in how it feels to be accepted. You might learn to like it.

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Accept/reject sign image available from Shutterstock

The Fear of Acceptance: Are We Afraid of Being Rejected or Accepted?


John Amodeo, PhD

Dancing with FireJohn Amodeo, PhD, MFT, is the author of the award-winning book, Dancing with Fire: A Mindful Way to Loving Relationships. His other books include The Authentic Heart and Love & Betrayal. He has been a marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco area for over thirty-five years, has conducted workshops internationally on relationships and couples therapy, and has appeared on CNN, Donahue, and New Dimensions Radio. For more information, articles, and free videos, visit his website at: www.johnamodeo.com.


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APA Reference
Amodeo, J. (2018). The Fear of Acceptance: Are We Afraid of Being Rejected or Accepted?. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 17, 2019, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-fear-of-acceptance-are-we-afraid-of-being-rejected-or-accepted/
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych Central.com. All rights reserved.