How does fear of rejection impact our intimate relationships?

Notes from research interviews I conducted in preparation for my course Cultivating a Loving Practice.

The following are notes from research interviews I conducted for my course Cultivating a Loving Practice.

I had 11 people reach out (only interviewed 9), which already tells me that people are interested in, and thinking about how they show up/navigate relationships.

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These interviews were meant to validate my hypothesis that QTBIPOC want to deepen their relationships, and are looking for spaces where they can learn and be supported in an accountable community.

Things I found interesting...

Several people seemed stumped when I asked who their "peers" were, but not when I asked who was in their community. However, I received more useful descriptors based on the peers version of the question.

  • There are people who are very "other" oriented and find taking care of themselves difficult, people who are great at prioritizing their needs but struggle to connect with others, and people who seem to find a balance between doing both.
  • Only my last interviewee named childhood abuse as a root cause for the complications that show up in their adult relationships.
  • If I didn't explicitly ask a question about how people take care of themselves, the interviewee didn't address their relationship to themselves as a relationship.
    • Related: Most to least mentioned types of relationships were friendships, colleagues, romantic partners, self, and family. Only one person mentioned spirit/ancestors, and it wasn't in the context of a relationship to maintain.

Common Themes...

These are some of the challenges that came up throughout the interviews, as something explicitly stated or what I interpreted someone describing.

  • People talked about boundaries not in what behavior they'll tolerate from others but around their own capacity for showing up for people.
    • Related: people are experiencing conflict around misaligned capacity to engage with each other.
  • Shame came up around how people experience the difference between how they "should" feel/think, the role they "should/shouldn't" be playing in their relationships, and what they "should" be doing in their lives overall.
  • Folks are struggling with getting their needs met in relationships for several reasons:
    • Worry about being a burden/too much/overbearing to the person they're asking
    • Downplaying their own needs to the point that they've talked themselves out of making a request
    • Fear the other person will interpret the request as criticism and they'll find themselves in conflict
    • Have an internal narrative that they have to be solely responsible for satisfying their needs, or that other people are not capable of helping meet a need
    • Weren't taught how to identify their needs or see them as a priority
    • Want people to offer help without them having to ask
    • Taught that saying how you feel was rude
    • Feeling like they will owe the person if they do something for them
    • Being so overly accountable for the needs of others, that your needs have little/no space
  • Maintaining relationships across time and space is difficult
  • How to show up at work authentically and if that's something that's even necessary to do for your own wellbeing/sense of self
  • Fear of rejection is a bitch... there's a lot of rejecting yourself before anyone else can reject you
  • Trying to find a way to exist under capitalism while living an authentic life aligned with your values
  • Building trust with self and others, knowing when/where to be vulnerable
  • There is often a difference around how one person wants to show up in a relationship versus another

Solutions people identified for satisfying relationships...

  • Abolishing capitalism (and all systems of oppression)
  • Not jumping into problem solve/help a friend in need, but giving them space to Be
  • Allowing people to show up authentically and with difference
  • Better communication and conflict resolution skills for EVERYBODY
  • Understanding that relationships have seasons and that your connection with someone may look a certain way now, but doesn't always have to be that way. Needing to assess how/if you can be satisfied in the relationship as it is now instead of trying to make it your dream situation
  • Recognizing that everyone doesn't have the same or even similar relational skills, there's a need to work on bridging that gap together.
  • Building the courage to be vulnerable with others and ask for what you need
  • Establishing a code word/emoji to use with your loved ones so you don't have to do all the work of identifying exactly what you need and making a request, but can drop the code and your people know to check in on you

Who is in our community...

Generally, people described their peers/community as queer and trans people of color, but out of that broad category, it's mostly Black femmes. These are folks who are aware that the world we inherited is deeply flawed, and are invested in doing the work necessary to heal and "reclaim what was taken from us".

They are loving, caring, funny, authentic, nurturing, unapologetic, confident, radically honest, have healthy boundaries with others, are committed, open to navigating conflict even when it's hard, collectively-minded, reliable, consistent, trustworthy, open-minded, curious, inviting, and people feel seen in their presence.

Things people said that struck me...

Purposefully anonymous and edited for clarity.

  • "A perfect world is where I show up for myself"
  • "Friendships are a safe place to do the healing work that scares us"
  • "Do they deserve all of you?"
  • “Sometimes the things that fulfill you are also what tire you out”
  • “A barrier to connection is that we don’t know what we’re doing with each other”

Ideas I'm sitting with...

  • Need requests may not feel equal in their significance. There are small requests that are easier to ask for because they benefit both parties and large requests that are harder to ask because the other person doesn't appear to "get" anything out of it.
  • Doing the work of relational healing requires resources like time, money, and capacity. Someone may deeply desire transformation in this area of life, but lacking these resources impacts their ability to show up fully in their process. This can often look like consuming self-help material but not being able to act on what you're learning because you're focused on meeting material survival needs. Something to keep in mind as we reach out to others...

Going forward...

The common themes that came up have shifted my hypothesis and what I want to focus on in the community I'm building. It seems like people are well aware of and working on deepening their relationships, but are struggling with understanding their capacity, asking for what they need, and living a values-aligned life. I still want to ground the program in creating accountable and intentional practices.

I want to think more about how we become someone who's easy to say no to. We have these unmet needs that are rooted in our childhood and make us feel vulnerable/scared. Asking for needs to be met is a really daunting thing for some of us and we place a lot of emotional weight on how a person may respond. That fear of rejection is placing a Grand Canyon-sized distance between us.

The question I asked about peers/community is informing how I understand my ideal audience. I'm realizing that my people are pretty damn radical and actively engaged in doing healing work for themselves and their communities. These are people who want to give abundantly but with that comes people-pleasing and over-extending yourself.