If your high school years were like most, you probably wondered why [insert any person’s name or high school stereotype here] didn’t like you. That’s why movies like Mean Girls resonate with so many of us: we’ve all been Cady, Janis, Gretchen, or even Regina at some point in our lives.

We may even still feel like one of those characters long after receiving our high school diplomas. The desire to be liked by others doesn’t die with our shift into adulthood. We have falling outs and meet people we just don’t click with. We beat ourselves up: Was it something I said? Maybe I smell… It was probably that horrible joke. I always stick my foot in my mouth! I guess I’m just not cool/smart/pretty/talented enough…

Why are we so hung up on being well-liked? In short, we’re wired that way.

Psychologist Abraham Maslow described a hierarchy of needs (depicted below) that drives human motivation. The most basic of needs (food, water, and sex) are at the bottom of the pyramid while the complex needs of self-actualization (higher thinking, morality, and creativity) are at the top.

Social belonging is in the middle of the hierarchy. It reflects our need to be loved and experience bonds with family and friends. It is the motivator behind our desire to be well-liked. Our need for social belonging also feeds into the next level of the pyramid: esteem. Whose ego doesn’t take a bit of a blow when they find out that someone dislikes them? The danger is when the esteem need is directly dependent upon the social belonging need.

Which brings me to my point: “Haters gonna hate.”

Well, maybe “hate” is a strong word, but there are bound to be people throughout your lifetime who dislike you. And that’s ok because you won’t like everyone you meet either. We like and dislike people for myriad reasons. The key is asking yourself if a certain person’s dislike of you matters. Odds are, if you like you, it doesn’t.

The more you can come to accept others as who they are, to resist fixing them or changing their opinions, and to listen with patience and compassion, the more you can move forward with your goals regardless if someone likes you or not.

If you are doing the best you can with what you have, worrying if people like you or not is a waste of your most precious resource: your energy.*

Who wants to waste energy on people that dislike them? The moment we stop over-analyzing every rejection and compromising ourselves at any hint of disdain, we put the value where it really matters: on those who don’t need convinced of our worth (and hopefully, that includes you).

One of my favorite scenes in Mean Girls is the Burn Book intervention in the gym when the girls all came clean about their indiscretions toward one another. One girl reads, “I wish I could bake a cake filled with rainbows and smiles, and everyone would eat and be happy.” I love that line because that’s what I wish for everyone.

But that happiness starts with you–not with what others think of you.

Further reading: 10 Reasons to Be Okay with Being Disliked.

*Quote source here.

4 thoughts on “THE LIKE FACTOR

  1. This actually is very timely for me as I just severed ties with an ex I was trying to be friends with. There’s a whole story behind that–that I won’t share–but it did prompt me to comment.

    I grew up as a people pleaser. I never really had my own opinions and–when someone disliked me–it REALLY bugged me. Mostly because I worked so hard at being perfect. That lasted until my middle-ish 20s. Then, a friend killed himself (which is a whole complicated story), and I realized I had spent my entire life being “likeable” and benign so I wouldn’t burden anyone with being me. Only I had burdened me by not being me. I had no idea who I was, and any friendships I did have felt fake because I had never been myself (hard to be yourself when you’re pleasing everyone else). My mother died right after that, and it suddenly became a lot easier to just be me. In fact, it became impossible to be anyone else.

    The thing I’ve struggled with since then? It’s not needing to be liked. I just mostly get angry at people who treat me unfairly–who make assumptions about me–or just treat me badly for no reason at all. I have become more accepting of those emotions and have learned to put them in perspective. But people just being mean for the sake of being mean? I can’t accept that, and I really don’t want to.

    • Alma, if I could “like” your response, I would. For all intents and purposes, just assume that there’s a scribbled red heart next to your comment.

      “Only I had burdened me by not being me.” That’s exactly how I feel. It takes a lot of work to win and maintain everyone’s approval. I don’t know how people do it. Seems like it would be utterly exhausting and stifling! There was a girl in our social circle in high school who would agree with pretty much anything anyone said. I don’t remember anything about her other than that.

      Meanness just for the sake of it is usually a symptom of a bigger issue (as opposed to dislike, which is more a preference thing). It’s more a reflection of the person being mean than the target of that meanness. And while it’s easy to say “Don’t take it personally,” it’s hard to actually do it. When someone has been inexplicably mean/unfair to me, I consult the folks I trust to feel it out. They may have insight into why the situation escalated the way it did or they may tell me that it was completely unwarranted and silly and to just brush it off. It’s been difficult, but I’ve learned to trust these people in alerting me to those instances of meanness that require further action. They’ve saved me from a lot of reactionary badness of my own.

  2. Ashley, this is the second reference to Maslow I’ve read this month, the other from my stepson.

    I have found that to be genuine is the heart of a lot of this. If we bend and sway to appear to be something that we are not, for the sake of being liked, we actually are less likeable.

    People want to know what to expect from others. This goes deeper than being liked, it goes to trust. If people can trust you to do what you say, they may disagree with you, but at least they will decide whether or not to “like” you based on the genuine you, not the false you.

  3. Yes, Scott, exactly! It kind of goes back to my WYSIWYG post about genuineness. It takes courage to be genuine all the time in all situations–for exactly the reason you pointed out: people may dislike the real you. That’s some scary stuff, especially to the person who wants everyone to like them. (I really need to find a way to “like” or “+1” comments on this thing. Good additions, you guys.)

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