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Why We Want Them to Like Us (And Why We Don’t Need Them To)

“If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.” ~Maya Angelou

I’ve been a world-class worrier about what other people would think about me for a long time.

The clothes, the hair, the shoes. The books I read, the movies I liked, the music I listened to. The hobbies, the people I hung out with. The things I liked and the things I disliked.

They all got scrutinized under the “am I doing the right thing?” filter.

Am I being exactly the right amount of cool? Am I being reasonable and responsible? Am I being interesting enough?

It was a full time job, making sure I was being the “right” version of me.

It was time-consuming. It was energy-consuming. It was draining.

I was going through the motions of living a life that looked great. But without realizing it, I became more and more absent in my own life.

What were the clothes that I really liked? What were the books that I really loved? What were the hobbies that could really make my heart sing and soul soar?

Those became tough questions to answer. Those became questions I forgot to ask myself. Those became questions I stopped asking myself.

Instead, I did the next logical, reasonable thing. Instead, I was busy reading other people’s minds to figure out what they liked. Instead, I did my best to be the flawless perfect version of me.

Because that’s what happens when we believe that we will be happy once everybody likes us. When we believe that everybody will like us once we are perfect. When we believe that it’s possible and vital to our happiness to make everybody like us.

I’ve learned that it doesn’t work like that. It’s not possible to make everybody like us. And it sure is not vital to our happiness. Quite the contrary.

When we believe that we will be happy when everybody likes us, we work hard to…make everybody like us.

So we figure out who we think we’re supposed to be. We figure out the “right” things to do and the “right” way of doing things. We figure out the “right” amount of being quiet or outgoing, the “right” amount of being enthusiastic or cool, the “right” amount of being interested or bored. We figure out the “right” things to have and “right” things not to have.

And slowly but inevitably, we turn ourselves into some manufactured version of ourselves. The “right” version. The “perfect” version.

Even that “right” and “perfect” version cannot guarantee everybody liking us. There will still be people thinking we’re too quiet or too outgoing. There will still be people thinking we’re boring and stupid. There will still be people thinking we’re uncool and ridiculous.

And that leaves us feeling scattered and alone, lost and insecure, small and lacking.

Because our only conclusion can be that we’re doing it wrong. That there’s something wrong with us.

So we resolve to work even harder to be flawlessly perfect and to do the “right” thing at the “right” time in the “right” way even better.

The thing is that even that “right” and “perfect” version cannot guarantee everybody liking us…

See the vicious circle coming?

The irony is that even when people do like us, hang out with us, approve of us, we still feel disconnected and alone—because we’ve unknowingly and unwillingly gotten out of touch with ourselves.

We are working hard to hang out with people that don’t get us. We are working hard to do things that we pretend energize us, but that, in truth, drain us. We are working hard to be someone we are not, never sure we’re “doing it right.”

Was I too loud? Too quiet? Too thoughtful? Too outgoing? Too polite? Too harsh?

We’re always second-guessing ourselves, eating away at our confidence.

Not everybody will like us. Accepting that creates space for happiness to come into our lives. Accepting that creates space for us to be who we truly are.

It allows us to hang out with people who get us, because we are willing to alienate people that don’t.

To do things that inspire us and make us feel fulfilled from the inside out, because we are willing to be seen as boring and stupid by people that don’t get what we’re doing.

To connect with people over something that genuinely inspires them and us, because we are willing to be seen as silly and crazy by others who don’t feel the same way about it.

That’s a win for us.  And a win for them. Because we both get to spend time with people that are a great fit. And it’s a win for the world.

When we allow ourselves to be who we truly are, we get to share our unique message with the world.

We use our talents instead of hiding them because they’re “not right.”

We use our voice instead of shutting ourselves down because we might say the “wrong” thing.

We use our style instead of copying theirs.

We use our ideas instead of figuring out what they’d think.

We create our own brilliant unique work, which only we can bring into the world.

Not for everyone to like, but to delight some, who will love it. Need it. Crave it. Get inspired by it.

And to delight ourselves, making our heart sing and soul soar.

We thrive and feel fulfilled, from the inside out.

And all that happens because we were willing to upset some.

Who are you willing to upset?

Photo here

About An Bourmanne

An Bourmanne loves mentoring people pleasing perfectionists to confidently and unapologetically do their thing in the world and create a sizzling life that makes their heart sing and soul soar. She rediscovered her long-lost love for teaching and writing, which she does weekly at http://ownyourlifecoaching.com.

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  • Just A. Guy

    “‘Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’ he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.”
    (The Death of Ivan Ilich, Leo Tolstoy)

    This line had a profound effect on me when I first read it, and it has taken a lot of years to live it. It has been worth it!

  • Jennifer Phillips

    When your happiness is based off of pleasing others, you will never find it because everyone wants something different from you. This has been a big subject for me lately. Thank you for the post. I wrote some of your words in my journal for safe keeping 🙂

  • Claudia Goodfellow

    <3 I love it when messages find you just when you need them most. I was recently faced with the fact that some people will never get me. They will always think my ways of doing things are stupid, foolish, irresponsible and basically wrong. I've spent my WHOLE life seeking everyone's approval, so this kind of disapproval, was a very hard and emotional realization; and just as necessary. It allowed me to accept who I really am, by exploring My true interests and passions. I've started to surround myself with people who are also free thinking and spirited and they inspire me. Your post gave me validation that I'm on the right track, and for that I'm infinitely grateful <3

  • bneangie

    This is my chronic disease. I finally became aware of it a few years ago, and I am trying, patiently, to overcome my need to be accepted. For me its come down to loving myself, and you’re right, sometimes I wonder if I know myself after trying to please others for so long. So for now I’m trying to help myself love myself, as I am, with my flaws. I hope that journey will help me with this problem as well. Anyone out there beaten this that can share wisdom and experiences on how they succeeded?

  • Liz

    Thank you so much for this post! It really resonated with me. I need a little pick-me-up, and this was it! 🙂

  • iamskeletonmeat

    This spoke to me. Awesome! Thanks!

  • Nicole

    Oh, my! I’ve been struggling with this issue, some small victories but mostly self-perceived failures of not caring about the right things or putting time into what the world finds interesting in the moment, being as outgoing or introspective as I “should”, or not doing things the way they are most popularly done…it’s so easy to find yourself “wrong” when you’re just not comfortable enough with yourself to be different and gracefully so. The beautiful way this was written brought me to tears. Thank you!

  • Great article An. I love your “we use” mantras! Thanks for sharing!

  • Well

    Really boring post

  • James

    I just finished reading this work for the first time. It’s as sobering as Ecclesiastes.

    Near the end, Tolstoy writes (Penguin Classics, Briggs translation):

    “He sensed that the pain came from being thrust into that
    black hole and, what was worse, not being able to get through. What was
    preventing him from getting through was his insistence that his life had been a
    good one. This vindication of his lifestyle was holding him down, preventing
    him from moving on, and causing him the greatest suffering.”

    He goes on to try to apologize to his wife and son. So, did he have a change of heart from what he thought earlier, in your quote?

    I’m at the stage of my life where I’ve also been giving a lot of thought to these issues. What’s it all about, Alfie? 🙂

  • Angela Lam Turpin

    Great article about self-acceptance leading to general acceptance. Most people have it the other way around. Thanks for reminding us we are the hub and everyone else are the spokes. Together we function like the wheel of life.

  • I tend not to think how others view me, but I do think that if I behave a certain way that others will like me. Interestingly when I focus on myself and becoming more of the person I want to be, then others follow. I become more open to others and they see me for who I am (not as I want to be seen).

    Thank you for the verification of my own insanity

  • Lightbulb Moment

    Oh man, this is definitely where I’m at in my soul seeking stage. My husband and I are actually both currently taking this on. We’re contemplating why we care so much about what others think of us, and it’s been the most liberating experience to correct that way of thinking. We realized that even when we do things for others, out of being nice or our weakness to say ‘no’ (because god forbid they don’t like us), we just end up doing what others want. We’ve started to realize that these people we work so hard to please aren’t too concerned with doing what we want, so why are we so afraid to do the same? Anyways, this post clearly laid out the feelings and process of working through the fear of not being liked. Great work and thanks.

  • Talia

    This is a fantastic message, and I appreciate you sharing your insight and wisdom. Thank you, An!

  • Monica Ghali

    I really relate to this and have been struggling to find a way out of this pattern for myself. I know its what I need but haven’t been about to break out of the cycle. Anyone have any practices that have helped them?

  • brightyoungthing

    Great post! I have struggled with this off and on – and what has helped me most is to just stop trying. I am most me when I am not trying.

  • The Dude

    Just wanted to say thanks for writing this. I’ve been in therapy for social anxiety issues and this hit really close to home. Thanks so much!

  • C

    oohhhhhh thank you thank you thank you thank you. you just illuminated the entire 28 years of my life right here. this was lovely.

  • Bex

    This post brought me to tears as well. I realise that every single thing I do, I try to do it in a way that will please the others around me, make me accepted, fit in and help them like me. But I need to realise what it says here, that not everyone will like you, we all are unique and like different things for a reason. I try so hard not to offend people, but it is a vicious cycle and I will never succeed in this.

    I came across a little poem called On Being Yourself (stuck on the wall in a little forest cabin that I spent new years in), and it simply captures the idea that you can never make everyone like you, and if you try you will never be the best version of yourself that you can be.

    I love, LOVE this post. Now just how to put this into action somehow…