Should You Try "Rejection Therapy"?

It's not comfortable, but that's the point.

What is rejection therapy and does it really work for anxiety?

Imagine lying on a yoga mat in the middle of a busy sidewalk, asking a complete stranger to borrow their sunglasses, or asking to take a nap in a mattress store. These are all examples of rejection therapy, AKA potentially risky, embarrassing moves that are designed to ramp up your social anxiety, especially since you’re likely to get weird looks or a blunt and blatant “no.”

On TikTok, rejection therapy has over 54 million posts under the related phrase. The hashtag features cringe-worthy videos where people put themselves in these types of sweat-inducing situations. The goal? To break their fear of being rejected. As they get used to being ignored, laughed at, or side-eyed, they hope to reduce feelings of sensitivity and social anxiety.

While some of these moments end up being less awkward than anticipated — one girl applied to Harvard as a joke thinking she’d get rejected, but she ended up being wait-listed — there are also plenty of examples where people get turned down in a pretty painful way.

The takeaway, though, is that getting rejected is rarely as bad as you imagine it to be, and even when it is, you always live to see another day. The more you purposefully do get rejected, the less it stings when it actually happens. And before you know it, you might even become immune to rejection entirely, thus freeing yourself from a life of fearing embarrassment.

Rejection Therapy On TikTok

Creator @kerstravelstories is the one who approached the woman who was lying on the yoga mat to ask what she was doing. “It’s rejection therapy,” she explained, while in a full savasana amongst the foot traffic. “You go and do something weird and the goal is to get crazy looks. After you do a good amount of these exercises, you’re not afraid of like, people judging you, or rejecting you, or looking weird at you.”

She said she got the idea from a book called Not Nice by Dr. Aziz Gazipura, which is full of similar suggestions. She went on to say, “It’s pretty awful. I’m super scared.” In the comments section of the video, one person said, “I’m so proud of her” while another wrote, “It’s called exposure therapy. Slayyyy.” Another cheered her on saying, “She probably has so much anxiety and is doing whatever she can to help herself. Props to her.”

Creator @samwitness, who is also trying the challenge, has made it a goal to get rejected every day for a month. On Day 29, he asked a restaurant for a for a free lunch. On Day 24, he asked a stranger to join him for a cup of tea. Sometimes people surprise him by saying yes, but more often than not they get awkward and say no — and Sam is left standing alone in the street.

Others, like creator @anamarcks, tried one week of rejection therapy, which included asking a flight attendant if she could make an announcement over the speaker on a plane. The attendant agreed, so she hopped on and meekly said, “Hi everyone, I don’t work here but I just wanted to say have a good day.” In her comments, she admitted the experience made her break out in a sweat.

Is Rejection Therapy Legit?

According to Rachel Goldberg, LMFT, a psychotherapist and founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy in Studio City, CA, the term “rejection therapy” is a new idea that’s been popularized on platforms like TikTok, but it’s also one that’s rooted in legit therapeutic practices.

“It’s just a nuanced version of ‘exposure therapy’ that is evidence-backed,” she tells Bustle. “The purpose of exposure therapy is to help individuals confront and gradually overcome their fears by exposing them to the feared stimulus in a safe environment, ultimately reducing the intensity of the fear response and promoting confidence.”

It’s a go-to treatment for anxiety disorders, phobias, PTSD, OCD, and other conditions where you might feel panicked or avoid certain places or things. “Rejection therapy appears to be a twist on that, to help individuals with various issues related to social anxiety, rejection sensitivity, and even self-esteem by gradually desensitizing them to the fear of rejection,” she says.

How To Get Rejected (In A Good Way)

If you feel super shy in public or hate the idea of getting attention, then this practice might be for you. Of course, the most viral videos on TikTok are the ones where people do something extreme or OTT ridiculous — like screaming on a street corner or lying down in a restaurant — but you don’t have to go that hard in order for it to work.

According to Goldberg, exposure therapy doesn’t have to be super uncomfortable. Not to mention, involving other people isn’t always the best idea, since you can never predict what might happen next.

Typically, exposure therapy is done with the help of a therapist in a more controlled way, she says, and there’s also a lot of conversation going on so that you can understand your fears. That said, if you want to try this trick at home, you totally can.

“For someone who wants to try rejection therapy independently, starting with small, manageable challenges that slightly push their comfort zone is advisable,” she says. “For example, they could ask a stranger if they could use their phone because they misplaced theirs, or inquire with their crush about where they purchased their shoes.”

Mildly uncomfortable interactions are a great way to baby-step your way past anxiety, nerves, and fear of rejection. “The aim would be to practice it regularly, perhaps a few times a week, and then to process the experience through journaling or discussing it with a supportive friend,” says Goldberg. “They could also rate how they anticipated it would feel and then compare it to how it actually felt, tracking progress over time.”

How Long Does It Take To Work?

While most TikTokers seem to be sweating their way through their rejection therapy challenge, others are fully embracing it. Creator @travelingwithmelanin has adopted a “you never know until you ask” mentality, which has led to hotel upgrades and other perks.

Meanwhile, creator @maureensmarketing noted that she overcame her fear of rejection in a year by eating dinner with strangers, sending photos to modeling agencies, and sending resumes to jobs beyond her experience level. (She’s also the one who applied to Harvard.) By pushing outside her comfort zone, she’s developed more self-confidence — she’s now even having fun with it.

Of course, how effective this form of therapy might be depends on your level of anxiety. “Some people may notice improvements relatively quickly while others may require more time and consistent practice,” says Goldberg. “Typically a one-time extreme event will not have lasting effects.” So opt for small, slightly scary steps outside your comfort zone, and before you know it your confidence will grow.

Studies referenced:

Hamlett, GE. (2023). Exposure Therapy and Its Mechanisms. Curr Top Behav Neurosci. doi: 10.1007/7854_2023_428.

Schaan, VK. (2020.) Effects of rejection intensity and rejection sensitivity on social approach behavior in women. PLoS One. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0227799.

Song, Y. (2022). The effect of exposure and response prevention therapy on obsessive-compulsive disorder: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Psychiatry Res. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2022.114861.


Rachel Goldberg, LMFT, psychotherapist, founder of Rachel Goldberg Therapy