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Unlearn Your Need to Be Liked

As a teenager, I was the last to be picked in any sport, team or in physical education class at school. I was the last to be chosen for any group or activity. That’s not to say that I didn’t have friends, because I did. But it is to say that the cheerleaders, Geeks and science nerds avoided me. I didn’t have a set group. I belonged to the outside group.

I believe the result was I grew up with an intense desire to be liked and to be chosen. Even more so than other people. It was important that groups liked me more than I was able to join a group or an organization. My friends chose me, I didn’t choose my friends. And as age and wisdom caught up with my incredible desire to have others like me, I realized my mistake.

By this time I had children and I was teaching them it was more important for their friends to choose them, than it was for them to choose their friends. I was passing on my incredible desire to be liked by others to the next generation.

This type of superficial behavior will eventually rot you from the inside out. It’s essentially toxic and not being you will eventually destroy the you, you want to become.

It took me years to stop wanting to be liked and chosen by others. I still struggle with laughing at jokes I don’t find funny or going places I don’t necessarily want to go. I don’t so much mind eating at restaurants I don’t enjoy, but I draw the line at doing activities that aren’t in my nature.

Before I could change, I had to grow. Before I could learn how important it was to like myself, I had to learn to like myself. It was a journey that was eye-opening and sometimes expensive – and it started with motivation.

I was motivated to teach my children that it was more important to be you, the person  you were born to be, than it was to be liked by those around you. You can always find new friends, but you won’t find another you.

What you may not realize, is you can’t sustain a life trying to please others. You can try, but the price you pay will be heavy. This should scare you – and maybe provide you with the motivation you need to make a few changes.

Support

The foundation you need to become the person you want to be is to find a supportive and nourishing environment. One friend. On confidant. One person is all you need to be accountable and reveal the real you. When one person knows you –  the real you – and they still love and respect you, it becomes easier to recognize that others will do the same. And – ultimately – not everyone has to like you.

That was difficult for me – not everyone has to – or will – like me.

I grew up believing it was important to be a likable person. My mom taught me the importance of getting along to get along. And then I took it to a whole ‘nother level.

I may have reversed the trend a bit further in the other direction today, but I’m happier with myself today than I have been in the past.

Something else I learned over the years is . . . if someone doesn’t like me, the world doesn’t end.

Have you ever watched “Friends?” It was a sitcom about six mid-20s (growing into their 30s) friends who lived life together. Each of them had their problems and challenges and each had their talents. Monica was the woman who couldn’t stand it when anyone didn’t like her. She went to extremes to be sure other people liked her, and almost made herself sick when they didn’t.

One Christmas she began making chocolate candies, placing them in a basket outside her door. The hope was to meet her neighbors. What she created were neighbors ravenous for her chocolates, who didn’t care who she was or how the candies arrived in the basket. People knocked on the door at 3am when the basket was empty, and she volunteered to make more.

It’s painful to watch her character as the behavior is exaggerated. But, it’s likely the same behavior I exhibited for years, just not as BIG.

I kept myself small – so no one would notice me.

Negativity

Changing your behavior may mean cutting ties with negative people in your life. You know who these people are – they don’t like what you do or how you do it, and they make sure you know about it. You feel horrible each time you share something with them. You feel better when you aren’t around them.

And yet, if you struggle with being liked, it may be difficult to cut ties.

Self Talk

This was something that was difficult for me to learn. If I asked myself honestly, I didn’t realize that I was talking to myself at any point. I knew that I would daydream, but I didn’t count that as talking to myself. However, after much reading, learning and even counseling, I realize that what I said to myself was something that my brain believed.

So as I walked through my day, when I would jokingly say, “oh gosh that was a stupid thing to say/do,” or “I can’t believe I just did that, how dumb!” I learned those statements were heard by my brain and believed.

This was demonstrated in an exercise I learned several years ago. It’s really rather fun and you should try it because it gives you a very real understanding of how what you say out loud or to yourself is heard by your brain and interpreted by your body. The exercise requires two people and you don’t have to believe it in order to see the results. Here goes. . .

Start with both arms out to your side, shoulder height. Have your partner push down on one arm while you try to keep it up. Ask your friend to feel how much effort they have to push in order to get your arm to move.

Next, put your arms to your side. Say out loud three times – “I’m not good enough.” Be sure to repeat them slowly, out loud three times.

Now do the same strength test as you just did, with your arms at shoulder height and your friend testing how much effort it takes to move your arms.

You will likely be VERY surprised (as I was!) at how much strength you lose just because your brain hears your comments.

It’s one reason athletes talk out loud to themselves before a competition and “talk themselves up” – so to speak. What you say has an effect on your mind, your body and your performance.

Ignore Others

There’s a fine line we walk between believing what others have to say when they are people we trust, and listening to everyone for their garbage into our brains. It’s important to ignore the people who need to be ignored and identify the people you can trust.

I recently joined a discipleship group and one of the topics in last week’s small group was about finding people in your life with whom you develop a trusting relationship. That relationship is so deep that these are the people who know you best and will call you on whatever you’re doing wrong.

Although it’s not easy to let other people’s opinions go, it is simple. It is simply recognizing and understanding that their opinions don’t mean anything. They can have whatever opinion they want because God has given us the ability for free will and free choice. And, if you live in America, the government gives you the same choice. However, with that choice comes responsibility and it’s time to exercise the responsibility of knowing when to listen and when to let go.

It’s not easy but it is simple and this is where an accountability partner or trusted friend can help immensely. When you bounce these ideas off of someone you trust, you learn to hear the truth in what others say. The more you practice, the better you get at it.

I eventually learned to let go of much of my desire to be liked by others because I knew I was teaching my children a habit that was not healthy. I was teaching them and they would be teaching their children. And suddenly, I was looking at generations of people who would value the opinions of others before they value their own opinion; who would change themselves in order to be liked by others while in the meantime disliking themselves.

Today is the day to start looking at your own future and determining it for yourself, because remember, your children are watching!

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