Boy by the Shelf

4 min readJul 22, 2020

I was eight, maybe nine years old. Sitting in front of my Mamaw and Papaw’s entertainment center, off to the side where all the DVDs were sitting on the shelves.

But I wasn’t there just looking. There was a Star Trek movie I wanted to watch. But I didn’t want to bother anybody by asking if they’d put it on, so I just sat there in front of the shelf. Hoping somebody would ask me what I was doing there and if I wanted to watch a movie.

I was trying to get what I wanted without having to risk being told, “No.”

As long as I can remember, I’ve had an awful fear of rejection. That icy-stomach fear of being told “no.” Because no would mean I wasn’t good enough. No would mean I was powerless. No would mean it didn’t matter what I wanted because I wasn’t going to get it and who the hell am I to think I should ever get what I want anyway?

That’s the line of thought, at least. And of course it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because if the number one goal is to avoid rejection you end up not going after what you want, but what you think you can get without risking rejection. Which is really just a recipe for continual disappointment and resentment, because even if you get what you can get without risking rejection, you’re still faced with the fact that you’ve never once in your life wholeheartedly gone after what you want.

And this happened in nearly every area of (my) life. Love, school activities (if I’d pushed myself maybe I really could’ve been on the high school football team), jobs, job interviews, college applications, pastimes, etc.

It comes out in my as-yet-unbroken habit of irony and sarcasm, which in the short term alleviate the pain of resentment and frustration, but only by ingraining them in patterns of thought that extend them into the future.

It comes out in grandiosity and narcissistic tendencies. But more on that later.

Why obsess so much about avoiding rejection, anyway?

So many reasons. But probably the basic fact was a conviction that I wasn’t good enough to get what I want. And that’s a painful emotion, which becomes even worse when someone else confirms it by saying “no” — actually rejecting me. So, avoiding rejection starts out as a strategy to avoid the feeling of powerlessness and inadequacy, but in the long term it creates the conditions for feeling powerless and inadequate.

So, let’s get back to the grandiosity. It’s pretty much a similar sort of defense mechanism, rooted in the feeling that at bottom I’m less worthy and less valuable than majority of people, if not all of them. Again, that’s a painful thought, so I’ll cover it over by acting like I think I’m the best and the brightest and most brilliant — which worked wonderfully in school, by the way. This has the double effect of driving away people who might challenge my self-image and attracting people who will (for reasons which are a perpetual mystery to me) support it.


Oh boy…

I guess now’s the part where according to all the conventions of internet writing I should say something like, “But that was all in the past, now I’m all better!”

God, I wish. The truth is, this has all been going on in the background of my mind for as long as I can remember. Maybe making it explicit will help things.

At first I’d intended to write about my fear of rejection only insofar as it’s had an effect on my love life. And I might do that at some later date. But as soon as I started writing I realized it’s had effects in nearly every area of my life. It’s quite a discovery when you realize you might have been sabotaging yourself ever since before you were able to form conscious memories.

I do wonder where it all came from. The constant feeling of shame. The nagging resentment. The ever-present thought that I’m not as good or as worthwhile as the people around me — which I offset by the counter-thought that of course I’m a thousand times better than any of them!

(And why am I so obsessed with myself anyway?)

I know I wrote that story about my mother and Charlie Sheen, but no. I can’t go blaming my parents for my own personal issues at 28 years old. Maybe it doesn’t even matter how it started. Maybe it only matters that I find some way to resolve this and move forward.

At least I’m writing regularly and taking some active steps toward a literary career. I put that off for years and years, first in high school, then in college, then for several years after that while I tried to set up a copywriting business when I find writing sales copy incredibly depressing.

Working towards what I actually want may help. Fingers crossed!

Maybe tomorrow I’ll actually write about love….