Awhile ago, after a weekend of ruminating over why no one was replying to my text messages, I found myself in a meeting wondering why no one was smiling at me when I spoke, and Googled, “Why do I always think everyone is mad at me.” (And of course, asked my therapist about it later.)
If you’ve found yourself worrying about past disagreements to solve the no-response mystery, feeling like you said something stupid, or that all the people you love and respect most are conspiring against you, you’re not alone. I have an intense internal desire to be liked by everyone. I mean everyone—friends, friends of friends, family, colleagues, even cashiers and yoga instructors. At some point along the way, I’ve been conditioned that liked=good, and disliked=bad. Likely, you can relate on some level. The desire to be liked is very human—we all want to be liked and accepted.
I know objectively that being liked by everyone is simply not possible. As a woman with strong opinions, values, and personality, it would be naive to think that I will be everyone’s cup of tea.
Yet despite how much we can talk ourselves back to reality, it doesn’t fix the terrible, anxious thoughts and feelings we experience in the moment. Wanting to be liked isn’t inherently bad. In fact, in some cases it allows us to be thoughtful, sensitive, and kind. However, when our desire to be liked becomes intense or feels overwhelming—i.e. thinking everyone is mad at you—there are two main problems.
First, it can be really easy to lose a sense of self. When you try to practice everyone else’s values, you are left with none of your own. Because I want everyone to like me and I’m afraid of upsetting people, I find myself fearing true self expression, like expressing my opinion or standing up for what I believe in. However, I find that when I do, people actually like me more.
The thing is: people like you when they trust and respect you. And people trust and respect people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in, set loving boundaries, and show kindness, compassion, and love to themselves and the world around them.
Second, always acting to please others deflects the work that goes into looking inward and developing internal resilience, validation, and confidence. We “pleasers” get so much validation from external sources that we spend our time constantly looking to fill other people up. Not only is this exhausting, it holds us back from the real joys in life, which actually come from the inside work.
So… what do we do?
Since the desire to be liked is a very human feeling, I don’t want to eliminate that part of who I am, but instead I try identify why I want to be liked. I want to be liked for the right reasons: for being me. Despite working on this, anxiety can get the best of me, especially in times like these. When the rumination starts, it’s hard to stop it from spiraling into more stories, more people being mad at me or not liking me—like the cashier at the grocery store.
Yes, I know. Wow.
When I really think about it, it actually feels like a pretty self-centered thought to have. Let’s be real: people aren’t thinking about me that much. As it turns, out people are really busy with their own lives, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
At the end of the day, it has nothing to do with being liked, valued, and respected by other people. It’s about being liked, valued, and respected by me.
For me, feeling like everyone is mad at me is a manifestation of anxiety and a reflection of my desire for perfection. In my mind, I often feel like nothing I ever do is good enough and that there’s always more that could be done.
Fortunately, there are moments when I’m not feeling anxious or trying to please. These moments usually come when life feels more certain, I’m not in the middle of big changes, and when I am taking care of myself, monitoring my stress levels, and doing things that make me feel good. In these moments, I get an opportunity to reflect and pivot.
It can be really hard to take stock of our emotions while we’re having them and find the opportunity to reflect and pivot, but here’s the process I use with myself when I feel those nasty anxious feelings creep in.
1. Create a foundation
Start by developing a mindfulness practice. This will not only help you but will also support you in developing a strong intuition around your needs. Your mindfulness practice can be anything that helps you connect your mind and body. Things like journaling, meditation, breathing exercises, and mindful movement are a few great places to start. I also like to take the time to learn about everything from psychology to health and wellness to identify new practices I can adopt.
Take a couple of minutes a few times each day or when you’re experiencing extreme emotions to pause and assess how you’re feeling. It’s like a quick temperature check. Ask yourself what is that feeling? Where is it coming from? Why am I having it?
We’re so accustomed to running through life without intentionality, pausing allows us to get in touch with ourselves, expand your perspective, and supports relaxation.
3. What is really happening?
So often, when we start ruminating, we tell ourselves stories that aren’t true. Identify what’s really happening in the situation by asking questions like: “Did I really do something wrong? Was I disrespectful? What is going on for this person that might be impacting their life?”
This reality check can be hard when you’ve worked yourself up to truly believing your own stories, but these questions and gentle reminders can help us feel more grounded when our minds feel out of control.
If this feels overwhelming, deep breathing is equally impactful. Try simple box breathing: breathe in for four, hold for four, exhale for four, hold for four. In just a few breaths, you’ll feel more relaxed and clear.
4. Get empowered
You’re way more wonderful than you think. Now you just need to believe it. When you feel empowered, you’ll value yourself more and the desire to be liked less. This will enable you to show up in life as your truest, most authentic self.
Identify your true beliefs and the things that you like about yourself to support you in developing confidence and feeling empowered.
Here are a few beliefs and mantras I have that make me feel empowered:
- Do I agree with everything everyone else says/do? Nope. Does that make me like them any less? NO. Actually, it often makes me like them more.
- It’s OK if you mess up. No one is perfect.
- Perfection is BORING.
- I act in alignment with my values.
- My opinion matters.
- If someone doesn’t like me because of who I am or what I believe, that is OK. I know that I am a good person.
- What else could you be focusing on right now that would be more productive than wondering if people are mad at you?
- Where are these feelings really coming from and how can you deal with them?
- Sometimes, I need to be extra gentle with myself and I just repeat, “it’s OK, you’re OK, you’re safe here” as if I was speaking to a younger me who felt lost and confused.
This is not the last time I will spiral thinking people don’t like me, but by implementing these practices and reflecting, it stings a little less each time. I’ve given myself the opportunity to quell the vicious anxiety cycle, develop self-love and respect, and gain confidence that allows me to live life in a way that feels more meaningful.