My childhood background
Growing up as a teenager, my family attended an Anglican Church and one of the religious rites was to take Holy Communion. But to do that, I had to be ‘confirmed’ by a Vicar/Bishop first (a coming of age type of thing)- a ceremonial event that takes place in front of the entire church congregation. So in preparation for this, I attended rehearsal classes with other kids who needed to be confirmed, weeks before the big event. During these classes, we learnt our recitals, were told where to sit on the day of the event and we each had a partner whom we practised our steps to the altar with for the Holy Communion ceremony amongst other things.
If you’re wondering what this story has to do with the topic, please hang on, I’m getting there.
My childhood incident
So the D-Day arrived. I wore a lovely dress that was specially made for this ceremony. There was so much excitement in the air and the church was packed to the brim. My partner and I had rehearsed our lines, knew when to take our steps and we were eager to display this. And then the service began.
The whole church was seated except the Vicar. The only other group of people that were allowed to stand were those going to the altar to be confirmed, which meant everyone’s eyes were on us. The other kids that went ahead of my partner and me gave perfect performances, they were in sync and we were eagerly waiting for our turn. Then it arrived- the time for my partner and me to stand up and walk to the altar. Guess what. I missed my steps.
I don’t know what overtook me at that moment but I miscounted my steps. Our ‘performance’ was ruined and my partner who was visibly pissed off went ahead of me and I had to play catch up to meet her at the altar. I was sooooooooo embarrassed; I ruined an important moment for us both. My partner was livid, she gave me a curt look at the altar and ignored me the entire duration of the ceremony. I tried to apologise and explain to her afterwards but she snubbed me. It hurt. Even after that incident, she and her friends didn’t speak to me and I felt really bad. I kept telling myself over and over- ‘they don’t like me’.
Why we want to be liked
Katie Couric, a popular American TV host says that “You can’t please everyone, and you can’t make everyone like you.” And she is right. It’s been over 20-something odd years since that incident but I still remember it like it happened yesterday. Luckily, I recovered from it.
We are humans with an inherent need to be liked and various factors affect how intensely we crave/desire it. I mean, being liked is a factor for being accepted by people, to fit in and belong, it makes navigating social circles easier, it’s a confidence booster and a criteria for approval. And it actually matters to be liked under certain circumstances. For example, when you go for a job interview- you want the hiring manager to like you. Because if he/she likes you, your chances of getting the job are higher.
Being liked helps us forge connections and in some circles, your advancement boils down to how likeable you are. But sometimes we take it too far and are so desperate for this approval to our own detriment. Such a way of life is not sustainable, neither is it healthy and based on my personal observations and experiences, these are the 4 things we tend to when we are desperate to be liked.
4 things you do when you are desperate to be liked
1. You overanalyse things. You analyse every single move you make, checking if it increases your likeability appeal. Truth is no matter how charismatic, bubbly, positive, amiable, generous or saintly you are, you will NOT rock everyone’s world. Does everyone rock your world? Of course, I knew you’ll say no. So, simply accept that you won’t rock everyone’s boat, the same way you don’t do everyone’s and be at peace with yourself. You have no control over people’s behaviours, attitudes, biases towards you so accept that and start living genuinely. That time you use worrying about if someone likes you or not can be diverted into other things.
2. You turn into a people pleaser. Because you crave approval, you start doing things that other people want and it doesn’t matter to you if it’s not what you want- it’s like dying a slow death. When wanting to be liked takes priority over everything else, your self-esteem levels go yo-yo and the likeability scoring card is imbalanced- because people are not ‘scoring’ the real you. Don’t for once think that people spend their waking times thinking about you- we as people are generally selfish and think more of ourselves than we do others. So, stop basing your feelings on the approval or likes of one person or a few people.
3. You lose your authenticity. When you act to be liked, you don’t voice your honest opinions. You live off people’s energies and take on their emotional burdens. People have issues that they deal with and it’s unhealthy to feed off their actions to live your life. Don’t let someone having a bad day, frowning and not smiling at you get you thinking that you’ve done something to offend them and that they don’t like you anymore. Be yourself.
4. You avoid and fail to deal with necessary conflicts. Not all conflicts are bad. When you give up the unhealthy need to be liked, you can confront conflict, stand up for yourself and set healthy boundaries. You can verbally express your expectations/views and people know where you stand. But when you are living under the pressure of being liked, you avoid conflict, you don’t get to be heard and you suffer in silence, putting up a façade and limiting yourself.
So, how’s one to deal with it?
1. Civility is a good key to curbing the need to be liked. My definition of civility is being polite while trying not to keep score of others’ attitude towards me. Civility lessens the need to be approved and makes your environment conducive and live-able. It doesn’t matter if the other person doesn’t applaud or behave decently towards you, what matters is that you are in control of your behaviour towards others, as much as is possible.
2. Attempt bravery a day a time by staying honest and true to yourself. When you are truthful to your self, you will always be at peace. It’s when you act out of self that you get flustered and disturbed.
3. Ask yourself if you like everyone. You see? So just accept that you will not be everybody’s cup of tea. That is the gospel and you need to embrace this truth. Not being liked is not an anomaly- it is perfectly normal and acceptable.
I’ll leave you with some words from Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata- “Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story.”