Can rejection therapy really heal your social anxiety? TikTok suggests so

By Fatou Ferraro Mboup

Published May 18, 2024 at 09:00 AM

Reading time: 3 minutes

A few days ago, I stumbled upon a thought-provoking video featuring a girl lying across a busy pedestrian area in London. As a concerned passenger approaches her, she calmly reassures them that she’s engaging in a unique practice known as “rejection therapy.” Despite not being prompted further about it, she goes on to explain that this technique is a deliberate effort to step out of one’s comfort zone, gain confidence, and not fear judgment from others.

The (slightly odd) concept has gained significant traction lately, especially among younger generations seeking to bolster their resilience and confidence in the face of social anxiety. It’s a method aimed at desensitising individuals to the fear of rejection by deliberately seeking out various rejection experiences. But what exactly is rejection therapy, why is everyone obsessed with it, and why is it crucial not to confuse it with humiliation rituals?

 

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What is rejection therapy?

Rejection Therapy is a social self-help game originally created by Canadian entrepreneur Jason Comely where being rejected by another person or group is the sole winning condition. The player can attempt any kind of social rejection, or try a suggestion from one of the Rejection Therapy suggestion cards available. The game can be played for any length of time, although many undertake the 30-Day Challenge.

In November 2016, Jia Jiang acquired the game and became its sole owner. As stated on the company’s website, Jiang’s “goal was to desensitise myself from the pain of rejection and overcome my fear,” a point he delved more into in his TED talk What I learned from 100 days of rejection.

These scenarios can range from mundane requests like borrowing money from a stranger or asking for a burger refill to more outlandish endeavours such as speaking over Costco’s intercom or delivering pizza for Domino’s when you don’t actually work there.

The rise of rejection therapy has been fueled in part by social media platforms like TikTok, where users share their own rejection challenges and experiences with millions of viewers. These clips often go viral, inspiring others to embark on their rejection journeys and document their progress along the way.

@maureensmarketing

I ate dinner with strangers

♬ Sun - Adrian Berenguer
@travellingwithmelanin

Replying to @kdizzle DAY 2 of rejection therapy: asking to take a rabbit on a trial walk 😅 #rejectiontherapy #rejection #fearofrejection #sayingno #selfdevelopment #fyp #exposuretherapy #animals #personaldevelopment #rabbit #personalgrowth #100daysofrejection

♬ Collide (sped up) - Justine Skye

Why are Gen Zers obsessed with rejection therapy?

What motivates younger individuals to voluntarily subject themselves to rejection? For many, it’s a means of overcoming social anxiety and building confidence in social interactions.

Among our generation, there’s a growing demand for effective treatments to address this pervasive issue. With one in three 18- to 24-year-olds now reporting symptoms indicating they have experienced a common mental health problem, such as depression or anxiety disorder, compared with one in four in 2000, rejection therapy offers a novel approach that resonates with many young people seeking to break free from the shackles of social anxiety.

@anamarcks

Day 6 of rejection therapy - giving my number to a guy #denver #dating #rejection #rejectiontherapy #anxiety #socialanxiety #selfhelp #denverinfluencer

♬ original sound - Ana Marcks

However, the efficacy of rejection therapy as a treatment for social anxiety remains a subject of debate. While some swear by its transformative effects, others question its long-term benefits and potential risks. Critics argue that exposure to repeated rejection experiences could potentially exacerbate feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt if not approached with caution.

Speaking to Dazed, Dr. Peter Tuerk distinguishes between the regular experience of daily embarrassment and more serious pathological disorders. “I employ rejection therapy as a tool to assist individuals with functionally-impairing conditions. I wouldn’t use it for a teenager who’s just an awkward teenager, because they’re likely to still be embarrassed at the end of the day.”

In a world where confidence is often elusive and social interactions are fraught with uncertainty, the allure of rejection therapy lies in its promise of liberation and self-discovery. However, as some argue that certain exercises may push boundaries too far, it’s important to also recognise the potential risks involved in this pursuit of personal growth and empowerment.

What’s the difference between rejection therapy and ritual humiliation?

While rejection therapy may sound similar to ritual humiliation on the surface, there’s a crucial distinction between the two. Many conspiracy theorists believe that humiliation rituals are an Illuminati concept created to—you guessed it—humiliate anyone wanting to join any of their many enterprises. This allegedly includes the Hollywood film industry and Western music labels.

“The males usually have to feminise themselves and act girly along with possibly engaging in homosexual behaviour (even though not inclined). Younger males also have to go through this (paedophilia). For females, it is more about having intercourse with other ‘initiated’ members like fellow actors or singers. For males, it’s about public and private humiliation as stated as the reptilian barbarians who run this sinister entity love to degrade human males and emasculate them,” reads a Quora entry with over 27,000 views.

For example, when Tom Brady recently stated that he has some regrets about doing his Netflix roast special after a few of the quips hurt his children, many netizens claimed the show had been part of a humiliation ritual.

 

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Brady, 46, was roasted by several high-profile figures—including stand-up comedians, celebrities and ex-teammates—in a live Netflix show earlier in May 2024. A lot of the ruthless material contained jokes about his divorce from Gisele Bundchen, 43, after 13 years of marriage, which he has admitted didn’t go down too well back at home.

In contrast, rejection therapy is about confronting fears and building resilience in the face of rejection. It’s presented as a proactive approach to personal growth rather than a punitive one.

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