With the exception of close-talkers, slow-walkers, and loud-eaters, few people truly deserve to be disliked.
(Okay, okay, we can admit that there are probably some perfectly nice slow-walkers out there.)
But the truth is that, even into adulthood, most people — no matter how loudly they chew — have a desire to be popular or well-liked by their peers and others. We’re humans; it’s human nature.
So what do many of us do when we get the sense that someone doesn’t like us? Panic.
Why we need to be liked
Some psychologists pin our need to be liked or popular to childhood embarrassments or struggles. Also, as humans who once faced life-or-death situations on a daily basis, negative thinking is kind of hard-wired into our DNA. Making matters worse, we tend to bristle at ambiguity. And so, as a result, not only do we fear being disliked, we are also constantly on the lookout to confirm how people feel about us one way or another. (How exhausting, right?)
It could be our next-door neighbor or a stranger we’ll never see again but, whether we realize it or not, many of our interactions are laden with these judgments and calculations.
Overcoming the need to be liked
The psychology of the human need for approval is certainly fascinating. But for the purposes of getting unstuck, let’s focus on a shift in mindset that can help us minimize the trouble that this obsession causes. The answer, dear readers, is to turn our gaze outward.
It’s safe to say that most of us have been in a situation where we’ve reacted in a way that had nothing to do with our immediate surroundings. Like that time you missed lunch and a smiley stranger walked past and you said some horrible about them under your breath. (Okay, maybe that was us.)
In reality, most of the feelings or opinions that other people have about us (if any!) are informed by things that have nothing to do with us. In an interview with The Cut, Roger Covin, a clinical psychologist and the author of The Need to Be Liked, offered this suggestion: Think of yourself as an inkblot in a Rorschach test:
What a person sees says more about them than it does the inkblot, and the same thing is true interpersonally. The very qualities that make you likable to one person are the exact same qualities that will make you unlikable to another person.
This is how someone who seems self-assured to one person comes off as arrogant to another. Or someone you think is sweet appears timid or meek to another person. In other words, it’s mostly out of your control.
Of course, none of this gives you license to be a total jerk. Because then no one will like you.