We want everyone to like us, but we shouldn’t.
As social creatures, we are concerned, often to a fault, with whether or not we are enjoyed, appreciated, and respected by those around us. We pander to the whims of others, hoping to please everyone (or at least find few enemies). We try to behave affably, make the correct remark, and laugh at the appropriate times, all for the sake of winning the fancy of our company.
The approval of others becomes a top social priority and dictates many of our actions. At some point or another, most of us succumb to this tendency to butter the rest of mankind’s bread, which is fine. It’s natural to do so. But, we must exercise caution. You see, investing ourselves too fully into how others perceive us can have terrible consequences.
When We Care Too Much About Others’ Opinions of Us
People who frequently seek the attention and praise of others are looking for an external validation of themselves. They want something outside of them to deem them worthy, able, and good. Usually, this is because, at their core, they are filled with self-doubt. So they do what they can to increase positive feedback and eliminate negative feedback.
But here’s the problem with this way of thinking: When we act in such a way that eliminates negative criticism, we also eliminate many, many possible lifestyles, actions, and directions from our realm of possibility. We become slaves to that which we believe others will approve.
This is a tragedy! Within all of us, there are numerous things we really, deeply wish we could do — travel the Earth, start a business, build an Earthship, become a stand-up comic/vagabond, etc. etc. But the vast majority of us don’t do these things because we’re worried about what others will say or think. We end up sacrificing our selves and our dreams to try to appease those around us.
Furthermore, it has been well-documented in psychological research studies (like this one or this one) that social anxiety directly correlates to an exaggerated desire to increase validation from others and decrease criticism. This means that the more you care about how others will react to what you do, the more likely you are to be socially discontented and uncomfortable. Instead of suffering these consequences, we should adopt a different attitude.
Let’s Embrace Those Who Judge, Scoff, and Speak Ill of Us
Caring too much about what others think of you stifles your ability to take risks and disrupts your social satisfaction. The funny thing is — whether we invest energy into making others like us or not, there will always be people who don’t.
Historically, many of the most loved people were also among the most hated while they were alive. Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and John Lennon were all assassinated for spreading messages of love and understanding. So, I’m suggesting that we’d all be much better off embracing those who will find reason to despise us.
It’s so much easier to do this than to waste our lives allowing the faultfinders to dictate our actions. Moreover, being disliked by people is actually a sign that you’re doing something worthwhile.
Being Disliked Means You Stand for Something
When you simply mimic the values of your current company, your opinion stops being yours. You become a hypocritical piece of clay, molding yourself constantly to try to fit in everywhere, and in doing so, retaining no shape to call your own.
Conversely, being courageous enough to “do your thing”, stand by your values, and live your own lifestyle (even if it isn’t popular) is empowering because you develop a strong identity. Gradually, you become satisfied and confident in your own skin.
Your Friends Will be True Friends
When your top priority is to gain the approval of everyone, you’re inviting people to befriend a sham. You’ve developed a façade disguising your complex, idiosyncratic, untidy self. Most people won’t know the you that’s buried beneath, and you may begin to forget that person too.
On the other hand, habitually presenting your genuine, vulnerable, weird self does nothing but strengthen your acceptance of who you are. The people who call you friend will actually care about and believe in you, not some charlatan.
How to Stop Caring So Much About Others’ Opinions
I may have convinced you that you shouldn’t care as much about what other people think, but perhaps you have no idea how to go about doing that. Here are a few tips.
1. Stop Playing the Critic — Before you’ll be able to care less about others criticizing you, you must do your best to stop criticizing people. Realize that the act of judging others reflects your own intolerance. By rising above the behavior yourself, you can realize how juvenile it is in the first place.
2. Take Minor Social Risks — Start doing a few things that you normally wouldn’t do because of your fear of what others would think or say. Dance wildly at a show, voluntarily speak up in class, wear something edgy. Doing little things such as these will help you to understand that disregarding your fear of judgment and rejection is liberating! Others may have given you a harsh glance or whispered haughtily to a friend, but it was okay. You’re okay, and you did it. Your fears may never entirely cease, but you will learn that acting in spite of them was more important. The more social risks you take, the less you will care. That’s the God-honest truth. (For more on this, read “The Adventuring Method and 6 Other Ways to Overcome Fear“)
3. Live by Your Deeper Values — Do you know what you stand for? If you’re still discovering the answer to this question, that’s okay. However, from a young age, we all develop some form of a conscience. We inherently sense what paths are right and wrong for us. Start saying what you really feel and doing what you sense is right for you. We can develop a deeply rooted self-esteem by diligently upholding the values that most deeply resonate with us. The more you seek to align your actions with what you feel in the heart of your being, the less you will invest in the opinions of the mud-flingers.
4. Focus on Actual Outcomes — If you’re feeling anxious or afraid of someone who may be directing condescending energy toward you, ask yourself: What is the worst thing that can come of this person’s distaste? What am I really afraid of? Usually, it’s nothing more than a bruised ego. In some cases (such as bullying, harassment, etc.), more severe damage can be inflicted, and action must be taken, but most of the time, we’re just afraid — afraid of not being the best, the smartest, the prettiest, the fastest, etc. It’s okay to not be these things.
5. Love Your Good and Bad — Give yourself permission to not be the things you wish you could be. Embrace the fact that all of your qualities — both your boons and shortcomings — are essential to the equation that is you. As Kanye West once sang, “Everything I’m not made me everything I am.” Insults damage us most when we define ourselves based upon our perceived flaws. Take time now and then to number the ways in which you’re halfway swell, and embrace the not-so-swell too. Or, perhaps look into the idea that ‘good’ and ‘bad’ are cultural or psychological constructions. They may not exist; we frame the world within the good-and-bad dichotomy because our minds naturally process things in terms of what they are not.
If you want to accept yourself and let go of others’ judgments, check out 30 Challenges to Enlightenment, a course I helped create.
One Word of Caution
Sometimes, people who dislike you have legitimate reason to do so. Being genuinely yourself doesn’t do much good if you are genuinely an ignorant prick who refuses to change anything. Don’t forget to keep an open mind to constructive criticism and realize you still have plenty of shit to learn.
What Will This Mean for You?
This can mean about as much or as little for your life as you like. The message boils down to this: Your top priorities should be saying what you feel, and doing what flows organically from you (and c’mon, hopefully helping others here and there).
If you do this, more people may end up disliking you, but you will likely be more content, stand for something (not fascism, please), and derive a sense of meaning from your identity that is arguably hella valuable.
“Don’t pay any attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”
― Andy Warhol
“I pay no attention whatever to anybody’s praise or blame. I simply follow my own feelings.”
― Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
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