Is Rejection Therapy the Secret to Getting Over Your Fear of Failure? We Asked a Psychologist

Whether you shoot your shot at the cute barista and he turns you down or you get passed over for a big promotion at work, no one likes to be rejected. Getting over the fear of these supposed failures is at the core of rejection therapy, a self-help game that encourages you to put yourself in the position to be rejected as a means of destigmatizing the negative feelings typically associated with rejection. The method is popular on TikTok, where the hashtag #rejectiontherapy has close to 61 million views. Still, rejection therapy is not an actual form of therapy (nor was it created by a therapist), so we had to get the 4-1-1 from Dr. Elisabeth Morray, a psychologist at mental health startup Alma.

Meet the Expert

Dr. Elisabeth Morray, PhD, is a psychologist and VP of clinical operations at Alma, mental health startup that helps people find a therapist who accepts their insurance, fits their schedule, and meets their needs.

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What Is Rejection Therapy?

Rejection therapy is a self-help game created by Jason Comely, a freelance IT professional from Cambridge, Ontario, in the 2010s. Per an interview with NPR, Comely’s process was inspired by the Spetsnaz, an elite Russian military unit with an intense training regime. His initial goal was to get rejected once every single day (on the first day, for example, he asked a stranger at the grocery store for a ride across town).  From there, rejection therapy became a card game, with each card encouraging players to sit next to a stranger and strike up a conversation, request a lower interest rate from a credit card provider, ask for a discount before purchasing something and so on. (Note that if you, say, ask a stranger for a ride and they say no, that's it. Do not push the issue and continue to ask.) The game and concept has since been bought by entrepreneur Jia Jiang, but the idea remains the same: Challenge yourself to get rejected—often—and eventually get over your fear of failure.

What Does a Licensed Psychologist Think About Rejection Therapy?

Morray tells us that at its core, rejection therapy is a version of exposure therapy, a common psychological treatment that was developed to help people confront their fears. She points out that it’s completely natural to fear rejection, noting, “Human beings are hard-wired for connection, not rejection—so it is absolutely normal to find rejection at minimum quite uncomfortable, and at worst, traumatic.”

She tells us that “rejection therapy” in the form of a card game, “is a form of self-help that requires an individual to perform tasks that ‘expose’ them to situations that cause anxiety because rejection is possible. Further, she tells us that many of us are already engaging in a natural form of rejection therapy when we make ourselves vulnerable in pursuing a new relationship, job or just making a request that might be turned down. This is doubly true, she explains, for people who are already in psychotherapy. “This is a process that happens in almost every psychotherapy session, whether clients (or even therapists!) realize it or not,” she says. “Therapists are constantly encouraging clients to talk about and explore what they might otherwise avoid, including fear of rejection, and to engage in behaviors other than avoidance in the presence of this kind of anxiety. Over time and with practice, people ‘desensitize’ to their anxiety—they are able to do all kinds of behaviors other than avoiding it, including risking rejection if doing so will be workable in terms of their lives and values.”

Would a Therapist Recommend Rejection Therapy to Her Clients?  

This depends on the severity of someone’s fears surrounding rejection, Morray says. “For people who are hoping to ‘expand the edges’ of their comfort zones, pushing themselves to take new risks and be more vulnerable can be a very healthy process, especially if it is in service of being able to live fully and in a manner that is aligned with their values.” However, if you find that your anxiety surrounding rejection prevents you from attending social events or engaging in healthy, fulfilling relationships, she recommends seeking the support of a mental health professional. “The risk of ‘going it alone’ is that, without the support of someone who understands how to approach exposure therapy in healthy and responsible ways, pushing yourself head-first into the kinds of situations you fear can actually be traumatic in ways that will increase your fears, rather than reducing them.”

What's the Bottom Line?

Morray tells us that while rejection therapy may do more harm than good for people who need further support and resources from mental health professionals, self-lead rejection therapy can be helpful for those who are simply looking to get out of their comfort zones a little more.

sarah stiefvater

Wellness Director

Sarah Stiefvater is PureWow's Wellness Director. She's been at PureWow for ten years, and in that time has written and edited stories across all categories, but currently focuses...