Thankfully, most of our holiday anxieties have subsided, but like the pile of returns in the corners of our rooms, some things linger. Among those might be the same fear of rejection we carried across the country en route to meeting significant others’ friends and families. Whether single, dating, married, or other, the fear of rejection will find a way to creep in. On my holiday commute, I tuned into NPR’s Invisibilia, a podcast that through storytelling and research investigates the “invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions” . There, I heard the fascinating story of Jason Comely and his eccentric defeat over the fear of rejection.
Comely’s story: the birth of Rejection Therapy™
Jason Comley, then owner of 4 cats, freelance IT professional living in Cambridge, Ontario found himself crippled by a fear of rejection. His wife left him 9 months ago (from when the story was recorded) and he was looking for ways to stay busy on his computer, his method of escape and avoidance. Extremely self-conscious, self-described as “completely weird around people,” yet never thinking himself a fearful person, Comely needed an action plan to overcome rejection.
Naturally, he thought of the Spetsnaz, an elite Russian military unit with an aggressive training program (think Navy SEALs); the kind that would put a soldier in a windowless room with only a spade and an aggravated dog. Comely dedicated himself to inverting his world–battling rejection head on. He made it his mission to get rejected at least once a day. He did just that.
There are infinite ways to get rejected. Here are a few of his:
- ask a friend to do your laundry
- ask a friend to drive you out of town and back
- request lunch with a facebook friend you’ve never met in person
- ask for a ride from a stranger even if you don’t need one
- ask to cut in front of a long line
- ask a stranger for chewing gum
- get someone’s opinion on a recent news event
Comely slowly began to feel more at ease around people, using rejection therapy to overcome everyday fears. In fact, he reflects, “it is harder to get rejected than I thought. People were actually saying ‘yes’.” He continues to explain that fear comes mostly from the stories we tell ourselves: “those stories become a reality for us, and that’s the problem.” Disobeying fear became liberating for him. Comely now owns 6 cats.
Is Rejection Therapy Science?
While Comely’s new trademark game Rejection Therapy™ has not been clinically validated, it begs an interesting comparison to practices that have. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) the leading treatment for social anxiety disorder, relies heavily on homework assignments that include what psychologists call exposures . Exposures are when you put yourself in a situation that makes you anxious, but not too anxious; one that you can handle long enough for your body to acclimate and for the anxiety levels to reduce. This effectively retrains your brain to experience the situation as manageable rather than sending you into a fight or flight state of mind. But this is only one piece of the puzzle.
So where does this stack up with CBT?
One could definitely make the argument that Comely’s method of getting rejected daily serves as a series of exposures in his own version of therapy, but clinically validated CBT requires another component: cognitive restructuring strategies. These teach us to recognize when we are having anxious thoughts and to reframe them to be more accurate and helpful. Learning how to stop and assess our thoughts, which dictate our experience in the world, is incredibly empowering. These strategies also bolster our courage and ability to have successful exposures by providing a framework for sorting through anxious thoughts that arise before, during, and after the anxiety inducing experience.
In CBT for social anxiety, this cognitive restructuring process works in tandem with exposures to help harness experiential gains. Simply put, if exposures are the building materials for a house, cognitive restructuring strategies are the blueprint and supervising engineer. While each element is inherently and independently valuable, the union of the lot is strongest.
In conclusion, Comely’s Rejection Therapy does resemble the CBT strategy of exposures, but does not include guidance for thoughtfulness surrounding those exposures. A CBT program like Joyable incorporates both components in a synergistic approach to overcoming social anxiety, which could include fears of rejection. Take our social anxiety test to see if it is the right program for you.
David is a Client Coach at Joyable, helping people tackle social anxiety goals and supporting them throughout the process. In an age ripe with new social media such as Tinder, Instagram, and Facebook, he spends time thinking about social dynamics and their shifting expression. He also thinks about coffee. Often.
NPR. Accessed January 21, 2016. http://www.npr.org/podcasts/510307/invisibilia.
- Hope, Debra A., Richard G. Heimberg, and Cynthia L. Turk. Managing Social Anxiety: A Cognitive-behavioral Therapy Approach: Workbook. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.