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How To Handle Fear Of Rejection When You Start Making Friends In College

As we grow up, that saying about your friends being your “chosen family” becomes more and more true. The people we choose to surround ourselves with can inform our decisions, our character, and how we spend our days. In college, making forever friends and building your support network is equally as important as the academic side of things. You don’t only want to leave with your degree in-hand, but also with friends you can continue to make memories with long after you walk across that graduation stage. 

Making those forever friendships will happen gradually, but what happens when you run into people along the way who make it clear they don’t want to be your friend? Being rejected by anyone hurts — whether it’s a friend, potential love interest, sports team, or club — so it’s totally normal to fear the sting that comes with rejection, at any and all stages of life. 

Whether you’re trying to ask someone in the freshman orientation GroupMe to be your roommate, trying to click with your orientation group but it’s not working, or are getting rejected by that club you really wanted to join when you got to campus, learning how to navigate your fear of rejection during back-to-school season can be done. To face rejection is to take a risk, but it’s definitely a risk worth taking. 

Why do we fear rejection?

I think it’s safe to say no one likes being or feeling rejected. As human beings, we all have an innate desire to connect with others and find out where we belong. Rejection combats all of that… and the bottom line is that it’s just super uncomfortable. 

There’s some psychological history behind the phenomenon of rejection, too. According to Healthline, the pain associated with rejection appears to activate the same brain regions that physical pain does. Understandably so, seeing as loneliness, anxiety, depression are the result of fear-based thoughts filling up our minds. 

According to licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist, Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, Ph.D., LPC, it’s important we recognize the universality of the fear of rejection. “Psychologists believe that this fear is deeply ingrained in us from very long ago, and that it developed for protection during tribal times. During this time, it was crucial to be accepted by your tribe for your safety and survival because being on your own was not sustainable, and thus equated to death,” Dr. Fedrick tells Her Campus. “Consequently, when there is a risk for rejection, our brains do everything possible to try to stop us from engaging in this situation, because there is an inherent fear that it might result in our actual demise.” 

Rejection remains scary, but it certainly is helpful to know that it hasn’t gotten rid of us humans yet. It’s a phenomenon that’s just always been a part of life, and we will continue adapting and learning how to be less afraid of it. 

Rejection, friendships, & handling both in young adulthood  

The same things that help you make friends in college may also have the potential to cause fear about making new friends and/or being rejected by them. I’m talking sorority recruitment, club fairs, going to class, floor meetings in your dorm, grabbing a bite to eat in the dining hall, and more. Of course, the benefits should outweigh the fear that’s often associated with any of these activities at the beginning of college — especially since the biggest benefit is that you’ll be finding new friends to experience the rest of your undergraduate years with! However, understanding how rejection works (and how it may keep popping up throughout college) is very important. 

Jackie, 21, a rising senior at the University of Michigan, opens up about her transition into college life and how rejection was a factor in that process. “When I first got to college, I really struggled with adjusting to rejection. High school was more of a ‘big fish, little pond’ scenario whereas my 30,000+ undergraduate university is definitely more of a ‘little fish, big pond’ situation,” Jackie explains to Her Campus. “I’ve applied to lots of different clubs and jobs and have been turned away — but learning how to bounce back from hearing ‘no’ has really helped me grow as a person and become more confident in myself.” 

Getting back up and trying again is the key to pushing past rejection and not letting it ruin your college experience. Reyna, 20, a junior at the University of Alabama, shares similar advice with Her Campus, specifically when it comes to friendships that can come out of rejection scenarios.   

“I was actually rejected by my dream sorority when going through recruitment my freshman year,” shares Reyna. “It crushed me and I wanted to drop out of the process altogether, but my stubbornness actually convinced me to stick it out. In turn, I was going to try and convince others that the sorority I ended up in was the one I wanted all along. Turns out I didn’t even have to pretend, because I found that I truly did belong there and all of the girls in the house are now my best friends. Sometimes, rejection is just a part of fate (or whatever you want to call it) doing its thing, seeing as it all works out in the end.”

It’s tough to embrace anything that may feel the slightest bit uncomfortable, but sometimes people are pushed out of our paths for a reason so we can find the people and the energy that we are truly meant to surround ourselves with.

Combatting a fear of friendship rejection 

So, let’s talk about facing the fear. Unfortunately, facing rejection won’t end with college friendships: It coincides with many important facets of life, such as dating, job interviews, applying to grad schools, business dealings, and more. Luckily, as we break down how to combat the fear of friendship rejection, we can later understand how to combat some of these other rejection-based fears as well. 

It’s important to focus on not letting the fear of rejection become a self-fulfilling prophecy. In order to combat fearful thoughts, try to come up with your own recipe on how to fight back against your own negative thoughts. A splash of confidence, the extraction of avoidance, and a dash of outgoingness (whether you have to force that ingredient or not), and a pinch of resilience are just a few ideas of things that can help you face the fear of friendship rejection head-on.   

Olivia, 19, a rising sophomore at Texas Christian University, worked to overcome her fear of friendship rejection during her first year of college. “I used to literally sit in my dorm all day every day when I first got to school last fall,” Olivia admits to Her Campus. “My roommate ended up getting through to me and encouraged me to branch out, join some clubs, and make new friends on campus. I was just really nervous to interact with new people because I was afraid of how they might judge, but looking back that fear feels kind of silly now.”

Going from sitting in your dorm all day or night to putting yourself out there and making friends can certainly feel uncomfortable and may even be a little stress-inducing. “The best advice I can offer when it comes to combating a fear of rejection when making new friends is to force yourself to get out of your comfort zone,” Olivia says. “It’ll feel uncomfortable, but taking the time to out yourself out there is what’s going to earn you those new, fun friendships, and I promise the uncomfiness won’t last forever!”

Similarly, Dr. Fedrick reminds us that the fear of rejection will always be a part of our lives, but we don’t have to allow it to control our lives. “The first thing we can do is recognize that not only is the fear of rejection normal and common, but that rejection in and of itself, is also very common. People experience rejection all the time, not because they are defective or there is something wrong with them, but because it is inevitable and happens to everyone. Secondly, it is crucial to keep in mind, you will survive every rejection you encounter,” Fedrick shares. (Read that line again, everyone!)

There might also be a silver lining in all of this, even if it doesn’t seem that way in your first few weeks on campus. “Rejection can be used as a learning experience,” Dr. Fedrick concludes. “When we are rejected, there is often a reason. While this reason is not always our fault or within our control, there are times when we can take this feedback and work on improving in areas that are important to us, and that is actually a beneficial aspect of rejection.”

Again, it’s totally okay to feel scared or fearful about making new friends when you get to college. You’ll probably feel the same way once you graduate and are learning how to make friends in the workplace, too! Finding your people takes time and a lot of perseverance, but I can guarantee that it’s much better than the alternative of missing out on some really wonderful opportunities and relationships. In the end, it’s all worth it once you have a strong support network at your side, no matter how long it can take to build it.

Rylie Walsh is a recent graduate of Loyola Marymount University, where she earned her degree in Communication Studies and English! She was President of Her Campus LMU for the 2021-22 school year and is also a Her Campus National Writer. When she's not reading, writing, or working, you can find her hanging out with friends, SoulCycling, or enjoying her all time favorite dessert: a Pressed freeze.