Tag Archives: Fear Of Rejection Symptoms

The Long-Term Effects of Parental Rejection

childhood trauma and parental rejection

My father walked out on my mother when I was eight. Always highly disturbed, my mother became yet worse, and threw me out of the house when I was thirteen. This made it necessary for me to go and live with my father and his new wife, where I was not wanted. Indeed, the sense of this was unremittingly palpable.

It pretty much goes without saying that both a mother’s and father’s acceptance of, and love for,  their child is of paramount importance in relation to (to give just 4 examples):

– how the child’s personality develops

– his self-image

– his self-esteem

– how he learns to relate to others

parental rejection

Being rejected by parent/s can have an enormously negative effect upon each of these. Not only can these effects last throughout childhood, but, without therapy, can extend years and years into adulthood ; in fact, they can last a lifetime.


Ronald Rohner, of the University of Conneticut, an expert on the effects of parental rejection, is quoted as saying the following on the subject :

‘In our half-century of international research, we’ve not found any other class of experience that has as strong and consistent effect upon personality development as does the experience of being rejected, especially by parents in childhood. Children and adults everywhere, regardless of differences in race, culture and gender, tend to respond in exactly the same way when they perceive themselves to be rejected by their care-givers and other attachment figures.’

A major part of Ronald Rohner’s research was to carry out a meta-analysis (an analysis of a large number of studies – in this case 36 involving about 10,000 participants) of research, that had already been conducted by others, upon the effects of parental rejection. This analysis revealed, amongst many other things, the following :

1) the pain of having experienced parental rejection during childhood tends to extend into adulthood

2) those who have suffered parental rejection in childhood tend to develop difficulties forming trusting relationships in adulthood

3) neurological studies (studies of the physical brain) suggest that parental rejection activates the same part of the brain which is activated by the experience of physical pain.  (I myself remember telling various psychiatrists that I felt a perpetual extreme pain in my head, and, at the time, thought I was going crazy, especially as they offered no explanation. I am now relieved to have discovered the likely cause).

Indeed, Rohner goes on to explain that this type of pain can go on for years. This happened in my own case ; I was almost totally incapacitated – I very rarely left my flat, stopped practicing even the most basic form of self-care, was unable to read, or even watch television.


Contrary to popular belief, the effects of  a father’s rejection of a child can have at least as powerful an adverse effect on the child’s psychological development as rejection by the mother, according to Rohner’s review of the available evidence.


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2014 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD) – Treatments.



As has already been discussed in part 1 and part 2, those suffering from avoidant personality disorder will generally endeavour to avoid social contact with others as a strategy to prevent themselves being rejected and rebuffed. Over time, others become aware of this aloofness, and, frequently, will likewise avoid him/her (this has been termed ‘reciprocal avoidance’).

Worse still, especially if young (at school, for example), s/he may attract the attention of bullies who may apply derogatory names to him/her (eg ‘loner’ etc) as they see him/her as an easy target and perhaps as too timid to stand up for him/herself. Adults, too, who suffer from APD, may be similarly discriminated against, albeit often in a more subtle manner.

Those with APD often find themselves trapped within a vicious cycle : his/her withdrawn and aloof behaviour leads to others not being well disposed towards him/her, this in turn leads to lowering the self-esteem of the APD sufferer further, which, in turn, leads to further withdrawn behaviour…and so on…and so on… As the cycle continues, the problem becomes increasingly intensified.

Because the person with APD is hypervigilant for any possible signs of rejection, as well as being hypersensitive to such, this can often lead to him/her perceiving rejection where none, objectively speaking, exists; or else s/he may greatly exaggerate and magnify minor signs of rejection. In the mind of the person with APD, any signs of rejection are deeply personal – they see the perceived rejection as confirming the ‘fact’ that they are a bad and worthless person. They assume that the perceived rejection is based on an in-depth and accurate analysis of their personality (whereas, in reality, it is much more likely to be due to superficial reasons, because the perceived rejector is in a bad mood, or for any number of reasons that are not personal in relation to the person with APD.

It has been pointed out by the psychologists Millon and Everly that conditioning is at play in the development of APD; specifically, a type of conditioning known by psychologists as NEGATIVE REINFORCEMENT. A behaviour which is NEGATIVELY REINFORCED is one which becomes associated with avoiding an undesirable outcome. In the case of the individual with APD, the behaviour which is negatively reinforced is aloofness as it can help the individual avoid the undesirable outcome of rejection. The more a behaviour is reinforced in this way, the more ingrained the behaviour becomes.


3 types of treatment available for APD are :

1) Behaviour Therapy

2) Family Therapy

3) Medication

Let’s briefly look at these in turn :

1) Behaviour Therapy – this form of therapy involves the therapist encouraging the person with APD to interact with others in social situations for longer and longer periods of time whilst giving him/her support, encouragement and positive reinforcement.

2) Family Therapy – in part 2 of this article I described how the development of APD might be contributed to by the sufferer having been ‘infantalized’ by his/her parents. If this is suspected to be the case, family therapy may be appropriate.

3) Medication – doctors sometimes prescribe anti-depressants to those suffering from APD which can help reduce the anxiety contributing to the condition.


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David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD). Part 2 – Causes



Evolutionary psychology (the study of why behaviours evolve) explains in part the behaviour of those who suffer from APD. Our ancestors developed the ‘fight or flight’ response to things that they feared, and, as individuals with APD, at root, fear other people, they can become hostile to others (reflecting the ‘fight’ response), or do their best to avoid others (reflecting the ‘flight’ response). However, research suggests that ENVIRONMENTAL factors play a larger part in the development of APD than genetic factors (Millon and Everly).

Two main influences on the development of APD are :



Let’s look at each of these in turn :

– PARENTAL REJECTION : according to research conducted by the psychologist Kantor, parental rejection is the environmental factor which is most strongly associated with an individual’s later development of APD. This is borne out by the fact that those who suffer from APD are far more likely than others to have experienced rejection; furthermore, their experiences of rejection have commonly been found to be particularly intense and frequent.

Parental rejection will often set up the mindset (either consciously or unconsciously) in the rejected individual which runs along the lines of : ‘If my parents can’t accept me, how can I possibly expect anybody else to?’ This can have a catastrophic effect upon the person’s self-esteem, self-worth and confidence. It will often, too, lead the individual to become profoundly self-critical, even to the point of self-hatred.

– PEER REJECTION : if, when we are young, our home environment is rejecting, critical, hostile and undermines our sense of self-worth, but, on the other hand, outside of the home we have many experiences which are positively reinforcing to us (eg supportive teachers, friends or other social networks), the latter experiences may enable us to develop sufficient PSYCHOLOGICAL RESILIENCE to protect us from the worst emotional effects of our home-life.

However, if a young person is rejected not only by parent/s, but, also, by siblings and peer group, APD is far more likely to develop in later life, especially if the various rejections continue over a sustained period of time.

The experience of continual rejection and humiliation can lead to the individual internalizing others’ negative view of him/her (ie coming to see him/herself in the same negative light in which others appear to see him/her).

This leads him/her to become yet more self-critical and to feel even more inferior. These feelings of worthlessness lead to even greater withdrawal from others, and, thus, increases to an even greater extent the person’s loneliness and sense of isolation. In the mind of the person becoming increasingly cut off from society, the rejection by his/her peers seems to justify and validate the parental rejection. In the end, the individual may retreat so far from others that APD develops.




I briefly outline these two possible contributors to the development of APD below :

– INFANTALIZATION : parents who infantalize their children (ie are overprotective and don’t let the child develop a sense of self-responsibility) may make it hard for that child, as s/he grows up, to relate to others outside of the family on equal terms. This may lead to the individual becoming regressive and/or dependent in extra-familial relationships.

– TRANSFERENCE :  (‘transference’ refers to the psychological mechanism whereby we transfer a feeling we have for somebody close to us onto a different person. An example would be a person who fears his/her father later transferring that fear onto authority figures in general, such as their boss at work). Transference can lead to avoidance behaviour when the person with APD distances him/herself from others who remind him/her of someone s/he was afraid of as a child (usually a parent).

Part 3, the concluding part of this article on APD, looks at ways in which it can be treated.



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).

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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery

Childhood Trauma : Avoidant Personality Disorder (APD). Part 1.



If our experiences of relationships in childhood are largely negative and painful, in extreme cases, we may develop social phobia as adults, or, in even more severe cases, avoidant personality disorder (APD).

What is APD?

APD is similar to generalized social phobia, but of greater intensity. The person who suffers from it tries to avoid social contact due to an underlying fear of being humiliated and rejected.

The Diagnostic Statistical Manual (DSM), which is a reference manual used by psychiatrists and psychologists to help in the diagnosis of mental disorders, lists the following symptoms of APD :

– a pervasive pattern of social inhibition

– feelings of inadequacy

– hypersensitivity to negative evaluation by others

– preoccupied with being criticized and rejected in social situations

– views self as socially inept, personally unappealing and inferior to others

– reluctant to take personal risks or engage in new activities which run the risk of embarrassing self

– avoidance of occupational activities that would involve a significant degree of social contact due to fear of criticism, disapproval or rejection

– reluctance to enter into intimate relationships fear of being shamed or ridiculed

Typically, APD starts to develop in early adulthood and it affects both males and females equally. Research by the psychologists Millon and Everly listed the main areas of functioning affected by APD in a person as :







Let’s briefly examine each of these areas in turn :

BEHAVIOUR : this will usually be withdrawn and wary, sometimes hostility may be displayed towards those who attempt to be friendly. Tendency to reject others before they can reject him/her.

SPEECH : tendency to remain silent in company

INTERPERSONAL CONDUCT : tends to mistrust others which leads to difficulty forming relationships. In the case whereby a relationship is started, the person with APD will tend to keep the other person at a distance, be reluctant to share feelings or to become in any other way vulnerable. General avoidance of intimacy.

COGNITIVE STYLE : the term cognitive style here refers to the kinds of thought processes and thought patterns the person with APD tends to undergo in social situations. There is a tendency towards excessive monitoring of how others are reacting to him/her, with possible signs of rejection being constantly looked for, to which s/he is highly sensitive – in other words, the person with APD is HYPERVIGILANT for signs of rejection, and, because s/he is also HYPERSENSITIVE to such signs, will often detect them when, objectively, they do not actually exist.

AFFECTIVE STYLE : the term affective style here refers to how the individual with APD tends to respond emotionally during social interaction. S/he will tend to show little emotion in such situations due to fear that this will make him/her vulnerable to rejection and humiliation (Kantor et al). To others, the individual with APD may appear tense and anxious (Millon et al).

SELF-PERCEPTION : Individuals who suffer from APD tend to have low self-esteem, feel inferior to others, feel unworthy of being in a relationship, be extremely self-conscious and lonely. Furthermore, they tend to view any accomplishments they may have to their name as of little or no value (Millon et al).



David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).


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Copyright 2013 Child Abuse, Trauma and Recovery