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.