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Why do rejection sensitive individuals fear rejection? An interpretative phenomenological analysis

Drury, J.L. (2010). Why do rejection sensitive individuals fear rejection? An interpretative phenomenological analysis. (Unpublished Doctoral thesis, City University London)


Research demonstrates that rejection sensitivity develops through early, continuing, or acute experiences of rejection from caregivers and significant others. Rejection sensitivity refers to individuals who anxiously or angrily expect, readily perceive, and intensely react to rejection. The question regarding why rejection is feared by rejection sensitive individuals remains unanswered by existing rejection sensitivity literature. Therefore, the current study answers this question using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to analyse 8 participants' experiences of rejection sensitivity. Four superordinate themes emerged: `experiences of parenting'; `impact of rejection'; `coping with the concept of rejection'; and `identity'. The primary fundamental finding indicates that rejection sensitivity is the same concept as abandonment anxiety. Participants in the current study demonstrate both rejection sensitivity and abandonment anxiety. Furthermore, the origins and characteristics of both concepts are identified as the same. Therefore, these findings indicate that rejection is feared for the same reason that abandonment is feared. In childhood, abandonment is experienced as terrifying and therefore defences are adopted to avoid further abandonment. The concept of `past in present' means that childhood feelings can be timelessly re-experienced in adulthood as actual and unchanged. Therefore, later rejection situations are perceived as abandonment and accordingly alert an individual to impending danger. As a result, rejection is feared because it is perceived as abandonment and as a threat to survival. This finding is fundamental to the fields of rejection sensitivity and abandonment anxiety, in terms of research and therapeutic work with clients. Integrating existing literature provides much greater depth of knowledge and support for these concepts. Recommended therapeutic approaches for abandonment anxiety can also inform interventions for rejection sensitive clients. Findings also suggest that participants experience annihilation anxiety in relation to perceived rejection, which further increases fear. Clinical applications and implications with respect to the findings arc discussed.

Publication Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
Departments: School of Health & Psychological Sciences > Psychology
Doctoral Theses
School of Health & Psychological Sciences > School of Health & Psychological Sciences Doctoral Theses
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