Are you the type of person who always prefers to work alone rather than with a group? Are you “picky” with the type of people you hang out around? Do you stay home instead of going out with your friends?
While there is nothing wrong with any of these things, many people claim to be “independent” when they are really afraid of rejection. To figure out whether you are one of these people or not, you must honestly examine your intentions behind what you do. Is it fear? Or is it just a preference? One way to figure this out is to imagine how you would feel if you did the opposite of what you normally do.
For example, instead of sitting alone on your lunch break, you go and talk to someone that you don’t know very well. If imagining this gives you a bit of anxiety, or if you feel like there is something in your body preventing you from doing this, then you are most likely avoiding it out of fear. There is a big difference between avoiding something out of fear, and simply not preferring it over a different option. If you feel afraid of approaching someone new or starting up a conversation with a coworker, you are not “independent”, you are afraid of rejection.
The Glorification of “Loners”
Being a “loner” – or a person who tends to always be on the outside in social situations – has been very glorified in recent times. We’ve all seen it on TV shows: the cool and mysterious character who doesn’t get involved in the typical drama of people around them. Instead of going to a party, they stay home by themselves. Instead of talking and laughing with their friends, they silently judge from afar. This character is often portrayed as misunderstood and victimized. No one would understand them, so they don’t bother even trying to interact with others.
The problem with this image is that it communicates the idea that it is better and more attractive to be by yourself than with a crowd. By excluding yourself, you stand out more and other people will like you more for it. This idea is incredibly backward and harmful for anyone who adopts it. People begin to take on the identity of being a loner with the unconscious intention of drawing MORE attention to themselves. This method will only ever backfire because as long as the person sees themselves as a loner, then they will be just that: alone.
The Cycle of Self-Sabotage
You can probably see now how being a “loner” can cause a state of inner conflict within a person. The deepest desire to be loved and accepted is played out by rejecting others and isolating oneself.
The loner isolates themselves from the people around them. They do this out of a burning desire to be recognized, along with a paralyzing fear of rejection. As an attempt to shield themselves from the pain that comes with being left out by other people, they intentionally leave themselves out. After all, if you have control over what’s causing you the pain, maybe it won’t hurt as much… Right? These people self-sabotage because they would rather isolate themselves than face rejection from another person.
The reason why this causes so much pain for the individual is because all they want is to be accepted and loved for who they are. As long as they stay in the persona of the “loner”, they are not being authentic to who they are. So, even if the loner receives love or acceptance from someone else, it will not feel true to them because deep down they know that they are not being their truest selves.
People who are afraid of rejection see rejection everywhere they go. Since they are so afraid of their fear and don’t want to face it, they let it control them. They may interpret certain things as rejection when they really weren’t. Then, they continue to look back on these things and see them as rejection for the rest of their lives. This will only reinforce their belief that they will always be rejected and that rejection is scary.
Why Rejection is Helpful for Finding Acceptance
Rejection does not need to be scary, but we should all acknowledge the anxiety that comes with being rejected. It’s a biological fact that it’s bad to be rejected. To our primitive minds, rejection means that we are more likely to die in the wilderness. Without a tribe to call our own, we have no one to help protect us from the many dangers in the world. It is completely natural and normal to fear rejection. It’s what we do with this fear that makes all the difference.
Things turn around once we see the incredible importance of rejection in the process of finding a friend, a business parter, or even a life partner. Think about it… if we never got rejected by anyone and if we never rejected other people, we would have tons of people in our lives who aren’t good for us. They don’t even need to be “bad” people, but they may be the wrong people for us. Rejection, no matter what form it comes in, is a blessing because it’s a clear sign to stop investing into this person and to make room in your life for someone new.
Of course, the way that we are rejected makes a big difference. But, the truth is that we do not have control over how other people reject us. We don’t have control over other people, period. However, this scary fact is exactly what makes relationships so impactful and beautiful.
Not having control is exactly what makes life so beautiful in general. We can try to have control over our pain by inflicting pain on ourselves, but even doing this is futile. Pain will always be a part of our lives. Our choice is whether we want to control the pain or let it be.
Embracing Independence without Identifying With It
You can still be independent and also have meaningful relationships. You can still be independent and go out with friends often. You can still be independent and OCCASIONALLY rely on someone else you trust. You can also be independent and not identify with your independence.
Being independent does not mean you are scared to interact with others. It also does not mean that you crave attention and approval from others. True independence is knowing deep down that you do not NEED to rely on anyone to make you feel a certain way. You don’t need to call up a friend every time you want a good laugh. And you don’t need to be in a relationship in order to feel loved and valued. You know your worth and also you know that your relationships are an important part of life. You are willing to put yourself in situations where you may be rejected, and even BE rejected, but not take it personally and keep moving forward.
This is true independence.