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What is OCDOCD SubtypesFear of social rejection

Fear of social rejection

5 min read
Jithin Vijayan, MA, LPC

Possibly related to:

OCD surrounding the fear of social rejection can be described as a persistent, recurring fear of being socially rejected, accompanied by actions done or avoided in an attempt to prevent being socially rejected or reduce anxiety around social rejection.

Fear of social rejection and OCD

OCD with themes of social rejection, sometimes referred to as Social OCD, involves fears of being socially rejected or of being unwanted, abandoned, ostracized, or judged negatively by others. 

Such fears can lead people to experience intrusive thoughts and feelings that lead them to worry that anything they say or do could be interpreted negatively by other people or lead others to reject them socially. This can lead to perfectionistic tendencies in social settings, as individuals with OCD focused on a fear of rejection put pressure on themselves to always say and do the right things out of fear of judgment or social rejection. 

These pressures can in turn lead them to feel extremely anxious and avoid social interactions. Often, people with social rejection themes in OCD will go to great lengths to avoid interacting with people in unfamiliar situations or seek frequent reassurance from others that their social behavior is “normal” or socially acceptable, even if they have no reason to believe otherwise.

Common obsessions experienced by people with social themes in OCD include:

  • Are people looking at me? What are they thinking?
  • What if someone hears me?
  • What will they think if I do that?
  • Do they think I’m being weird, creepy, or inappropriate?
  • What if I really am weird, creepy, and inappropriate?
  • They must not want me here.
  • That person seemed upset. Was it my fault?
  • I’ll never seem normal to other people, so I should avoid them.
  • Do I smell bad?

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Common triggers

People with OCD focused on fears of social rejection may be triggered by social interactions they are currently engaged in, memories of social interactions in the past, and any social interactions that may occur in their future. 

They may find it very difficult to accept feedback or criticism from others and may tend to interpret social situations or interactions negatively, engaging in “black and white” thinking about their social interactions and value. If they feel at all unclear about how an interaction went, they can interpret it very negatively and perceive themselves as unwanted or rejected by others.

Common triggers for people with social themes in OCD include:

  • Social interactions in the past, present, or future
  • Feedback or criticism by others
  • Unclear social situations or interactions
  • Social situations with personal stakes, like dates or interviews
  • Public spaces, like buses or trains
  • Getting dressed for public exposure
  • Social media activity

How can I tell if I’m experiencing social themes in OCD and not Social Anxiety Disorder?

There can be a lot of overlap between themes of social rejection in Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Social Anxiety Disorder. Both disorders involve a fear of being judged or rejected socially. 

Unlike Social Anxiety Disorder, however, individuals with social themes in OCD are more likely to struggle with intrusive thoughts and feelings associated with their fear of social rejection, and engage in various mental or physical compulsions that give them a feeling of certainty or control over fearful situations. 

Moreover, an individual with rejection themed OCD is more likely to experience other OCD-related themes throughout their life, rather than being solely concerned with social interactions, which is more indicative of Social Anxiety Disorder.

Common compulsions

When people with themes of social rejection in OCD experience intrusive thoughts, images, feelings, or urges that cause distress, they may engage in various mental or physical compulsions that give them a greater feeling of certainty and control over fearful situations. They may excessively ruminate on or rationalize any social interaction they engage in or anticipate engaging in, draw conclusions from other people’s tone or body language, seek reassurance from others about how interactions went, or adhere to rigid rules that they feel they must follow to avoid criticism, judgment, or social stress generally.

Common compulsions performed mentally or physically by people with social themes in OCD include:

  • Rumination or overthinking about social interactions
  • Rationalization and self-reassurance
  • Seeking reassurance from others about interactions
  • Drawing conclusions from others’ tone or body language to gauge how they must really feel
  • Adhering to self-imposed social rules and restrictions
  • Avoiding social interaction

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How to overcome fear of social rejection

OCD focused on themes of rejection can be debilitating and interfere in all areas of life, but like any other type of OCD it is highly treatable. By doing exposure and response prevention (ERP) therapy with a trained professional, one can gradually face their fears, step outside of their social comfort zone, and learn to manage OCD long-term. 

Rather than assuming their fears to be true or giving in to their urges to gain certainty over their thoughts, people with social themes in OCD can work with their therapist to test their thoughts and predictions and build confidence and courage in their ability to interact with others socially.

Examples of possible exposures done to treat social themes of OCD include: 

  • Visualizing social interactions in various scenarios
  • Role play exercises while resisting compulsions like reassurance-seeking
  • Engaging in real life social interactions without avoiding interaction or ruminating on what was said

If you’re struggling with OCD and are interested in learning about ERP, you can schedule a free call with the NOCD Care Team to find out how treatment can help you. All of our therapists specialize in OCD and receive ERP-specific training and ongoing guidance from our clinical leadership team. Many of them have dealt with OCD themselves and understand how crucial ERP therapy is.

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