I want everyone to like me

Every so often, someone will send a nasty email, or write a mean comment, or tell someone that they don't like us and we start falling apart. We dwell on the 'why did he say that', and 'how could she do that', and 'why me'. We start questioning ourselves. The result can be mild for some people and debilitating for others.

Very early in my career, I worked in sales and marketing for an internet giant. I hated cold calling: telephoning unsuspecting, potential clients. Even though they were strangers, their rejection would paralyze me. I would take it so personally. Ask me to pick up the phone to call, and my heart would pound; I would hang up for the fear of rejection.

Rejection Sensitivity 

There is even a psychological term for it: rejection sensitivity. I was very sensitive to rejection, to the extent that I would change myself so people would be happy with me.

A study published in the journal Psychological Science reported that social rejection actually affects the heart. When subjects were told that others didn't like them, their heart rates plummeted,  “In other words, the body seems to carry programming which influences it to try to fit in with the herd, and when that isn't happening, the body goes into shock mode.

It makes me so upset. I don't know why it gets to me when others aren't happy with me. I feel like a failure and that I have to make it up to them or something.

Many of us are needy for  the approval of others. It is like there is a void inside us that we try to fill with admiration  from others. It cripples us when we don't please everyone around. For example, we are liked by most people and disliked by one or two. But we let those one or two people  have the biggest impact on our emotional state. We start believing that if one person does not approve of us, everyone will feel the same way.

Cognitive Distortions: Magnifying & Minimizing

Why do we do this? It is because we want everyone to love us, or at least like us. This is unhealthy and unrealistic. No one is liked universally, not even God.  (Allāh could if He wanted to but He has let humans have free will.)

We do whatever it takes to gain everyone's approval, and despite the 100 “great job's” we receive, nothing compares to the hurt we feel from the one “you suck”. Psychologists call it cognitive distortion, when we set up mental filters or magnify criticisms and minimize compliments. We magnify our faults and minimize our virtues. This is something we must do in our relationship with God, but not in our relationship with people.

The practical reality is that we live in a world full of people whose behaviors, feelings, opinions, and words are influenced by ego, attitudes, fear, greed, insecurity, social-programming, and Shayṭān. And although we want everyone to like us, there will always be people who will find faults in us.

The Need for Approval and Control

“It's almost an addiction that makes them feel like they need to be needed,” says social psychologist and author Susan Newman, “this makes them feel important and like they're contributing to someone else's life.”

Facebook and blogging doesn't help – we start needing the constant positive feedback.

I have learned that focusing on the negative can also be due to our need for perfection — to be in control. But I can't be in control of other people and the way they think– not my friends, in-laws, spouse, co-workers, and especially not complete strangers. The only control I have is over my own thinking. If I believe that the criticism is valid it will upset me.

And in an effort to be noticed and included, I think I tried hard to please people.

Sometimes it is the desperate child inside us, still wanting our parents' and friends' approval. We are still remnants of a taunted former fat kid, a geek with bottle top glasses teased incessantly, the weird ḥijābi isolated in her teenage angst, or the pimply nerd ditched in every team game.

We have nursed the hurt, fed it with our insecurities, worn ourselves out trying to please everyone around us, so we are not that reject anymore.  We edit ourselves, our words, our habits, and our boundaries in the hopes that one day we will be the popular kid who everyone likes.

Nice Guys Finish Last: Dealing with Criticisms

Why do some people not like us despite our best efforts to please them? I think this is because different people have different priorities and intentions. When we do not match up to the ideal inside another person's mind, they think less of us.

Disparagement also amplifies the power of the giver, by making the recipient feel diminished in some way, not empowered. Anger is a common tool used to manipulate others. If I am fearful of an outcome, then I have given others control over me. If my only fear is whether Allāh is angry with me, then I will stop caring about the others.

Shaykh Ahmad Zurraq says that one of the foundations of the spiritual path is indifference to whether others accept or reject you. The only one you have to spend 24 hours, 7 days a week with for the rest of your life is yourself and God. So you need to like yourself and live by a set of values that please the Creator.

Riyā': A disease of the Heart

Part of this is understanding that there may be an inclination in our hearts towards loving the ephemeral aspects of the world.

From a Prophetic ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) tradition, related by imam Bayhaqi, we learn, “When a believer hears somebody praising him, his faith (īmān) increases,” — not his or her pride or self-esteem.

Scholars say that it is part of human nature to enjoy the good things one does and, in turn, be pleased when others recognize them. But if we are falling into an emotional abyss because someone is not recognizing the good we do, we should check the condition of our hearts. There could be sparks of ostentation-ness (riyā') in us as the “essence of ostentation-ness is being preoccupied with people” (1).  We should also check our niyyah (intentions).  I think many times it hurts so much because our intention was earning the pleasure of other people and not God.

How can you become less preoccupied by what other people think and more worried about what Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) thinks?

1. Ask yourself why? If you ever find yourself becoming an emotional wreck because of negativity around you, ask yourself why. Why am I focusing on the negativity? Why am I ignoring the good while finding the bad? Only your thoughts can upset you. Stop thinking about it. A criticism may be right or wrong. If it is wrong then it is the other person's fault. They are not perfect and have made a mistake. If the criticism is right,  it still should not be upsetting. Instead, use it as a tool to better yourself.

2. If rejection can happen to him ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) it can happen to you. Reflect on this noble Prophetic supplication that he ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) made after he was brutally rejected in Taif: “Oh Allāh if you are not angry with me than I do not care what you do with me.”

3. Try to remember the last time you got upset at someone and said something that you may have not meant, or something that you exaggerated. Did your saying that make the person totally worthless? No, of course not. So why would them saying something negative to you make you totally worthless? When you are so hurt because someone doesn't like you, you are making them perfect judges. Only Allāh is the perfect Judge, do not give them a power that doesn't belong to them.

4. Use a counseling technique:

  • Listen to your internal voice. Write down the thoughts as you hear them in your head.  Are you using negative language?
  • Categorize which cognitive distortion each thought is under. You will start seeing patterns.
  • Counter your negative self-talk, ask yourself: What is the evidence for this? Is this ALWAYS true? Has this been true in the past? Write down some alternative statements. 
  • Say these constructive statements out loud. Do this every time.

5. Question your past: If you have internalized a negative event in your life, focus on the event — ask yourself, are you generally a good person? Do people usually like you? Does it really matter what a handful of people think or thought about you?

6. Learn the Lesson: If there are people in your life who do not like you, think about why they are in your life. They may have a real lesson for you to learn. But then let it go. Concentrate on yourself, work on liking you. Is there a trait of yours you do not like? Change that. Meditate. Pray.

7. Concentrate on the benefit that your existence has on this Earth.

8. Don't fear being alone because you are never alone -- Allāh is your companion and friend in this world. It will give you sakinah, peace, knowing that there is always someone who will be waiting for you to come back to Him.

9. Build a support system around you -- people who are honest with you and let you say what you need to say. Focus on the amazing, incredible, positive people who encourage, support and love you no matter what.

10. Ask yourself if this is suma, the need to seek reputation. This is a disease of the heart.

11. Don't let the Drama Queen/King out: We only have so much energy and this is such a poor investment of our emotions. You will be exhausted trying to get everyone to like you. I know I go through this too. It is the drama queen (king) in us – we have tried to overcome her (him) through deen but s/he sneaks up on us from time to time.  Don't let her (him). S/he wants to make a big deal of something small, obsessing about the trivial. Remember feelings are just that, feelings, and they change. You will not feel the same way the next day.

Our energy is also an amānah from Allāh. So let go of the negativity. Tell yourself that this is not the best use of your energy.  It doesn't help you in any way. Imam al-Shafi' raḍyAllāhu 'anha (may Allāh be pleased with her) says that, “There is nobody except that he has someone who loves him and someone who hates him. So if that's the case, let a person be with the people who are obedient to Allāh 'azza wa jall!' (as they love and hate for the sake of Allāh and they are not unjust).”

1)      Purification of the Heart- Shaykh Hamza Yusuf
2)      Feeling Good Handbook – Dr. Burns
3)      Feeling Good- the New Mood Therapy- Dr. Burns
4)     (Hilyat al-Awliya 9/124)

31 Responses

    • Diana

      Assalamu Alaikum wa rahmatullahi wa barakatuhu

      Don’t look at this as a rejection. Maybe Allah kept this girl away as a protection for you. There isn’t a single thing that happens to a believer that is bad for him.

      Always, don’t forget to make dua. Allah knows us and the feelings inside of us. He is the creator and controller of those feelings and emotions. Ask for his help to go through this. Surely since He creates these feelings, He can take them away.

      Wa Alaikum assalam

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    • Omar

      Bro, say Alhamdulillah. Rejection is good experience, it toughens you up.
      Trust in Allah’s decree, have tawakkul, and be sure that she was not the best for you. Move on, trust in Allah, and the best will surely come.

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  1. Abu Yusuf

    AsSalaamu ‘Alaykum,

    I think many Muslims are very sensitive and unable to laugh at themselves and unable to self-deprecate. We tend to dismiss or be hurt by criticism even though it may be constructive or it may be a valid one that just happens to go against the grain of our current mode of thinking. I have seen over the past couple of years…the more ostensibly intelligent the editors of MM are, the more sensitive they are, which is counter-intuitive and counter-productive. A post criticizing the content of an article is never an attack of the person but rather on the content. I have seen such criticism edited out with the blink of an eye but much larger offenses like the commentaries praising the Hindu god Ram are left unedited which is really a shame – an affront to the humans is not tolerated but an affront to the Lord of the Universe is left on the commentary sections untouched? Also, I know Yasir after having studied at Yale is open to freedom of speech and critiques/criticism of content of articles but the students/editors who report to him seem decidedly autocratic and often arbitrary in their editing methods. Frankly, if Wharton supremo Amad can write commentaries encouraging Muslims to host superbowl parties and if he can flippantly dismiss the great fiqh scholar ibn Uthaymeen in one of his posts and if he can write posts calling commentators “trolls” and threaten them with “eviction”, and if Hindu gods can be praised on a Muslim blog (repeatedly) by Hindu contributors, then most assuredly the critique of one Muslim by another Muslim should be tolerated and embraced for what it means – i.e. criticisms of methods/content, rather than criticisms of a person. 

    By the way, keep up the great work Sr. Zuberi. We enjoyed the Sudani Imam recitation posting.

    PS: Br. Muhammad12, don’t worry about rejection by a female, you will most assuredly earn two fair wide-eyed beauties in due time in Jannah.

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  2. Hassan

    My comments on one of your previous posts was conveniently deleted/edited out. That is one way of handling the criticism.

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    • Anonymous

      Brothers,
      I know some of you have had complaints about the comments policy on MM. I try not to moderate my own posts. We have a comments team which handles moderation. We have made a committed effort to change the atmosphere on the MM threads. Constructive (not personal) criticism is always appreciated.

      I am also not a veteran blogger and did not join MM to argue back and forth on the internet.  If there is civil discourse, I make an effort to engage, inshaAllah.

      If you disagree with my posts, please forgive me and make dua for me and I pray that a day will come when we are brothers and sisters in Jannah, facing each other without any ghil in our hearts. Ameen.

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  3. Ahmed Brown

    Jumping off the cliff featured in the article == bad way of dealing with rejection/criticism

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  4. Muhammad12

     actually Dr. Bilaal Phillips is my cousin, and I don’t really agree with his talks. He is way too much of a feminist, and getting your son married at 17, is probably not the best idea. I mean which 17 year old guy is ready for marriage? I don’t know any 17 year old who can support himself, and a wife unless of course you are some sports prodigy, which dr. phillips son isn’t.  And you have to be a fool to commit zina. People should have self control, its really not that hard. I live in America, where the girls are about 10000 times hotter than the british girls, and I am a virgin mA. Also, girls from England are stuck up, and gold diggers. I mean, I am a baller mA, but I want a girl who will love me for who I am, not for my bank account. So no to the England girls! Also, I really hate the british accent, its so not hot! And the girl and I both liked each other, but the only reason her family said no to me, was because she was a sikh. Her family said, “we don’t want no muslim in the family”.

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    • Aly Balagamwala | DiscoMaulvi

       Dear Brother Muhammad12

      Alhamdulillah you are blessed to be the cousin of Dr Bilal and have personal access to such a source of knowledge (may Allah preserve him).

      I also would like to commend you for your resolve and will power. However, beware the Shaytaan for he is a powerful enemy. Read this story http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=335048193206050

      As for the girl that you liked who was a Sikh, maybe Allah (SWT) wanted that you marry a Muslimah and so thank Allah for His favor upon you.

      -Aly

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    • Fizaa

      I’m rejected too…the went to his country and got married there and told me when he came back.
      Its so hard to find a real love now a days..I don’t trust anyone anymore.

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  5. jamaldeen

    Excellent article! Really pulls out the meaning behind the quranic message:

    And do not fear the blame of a critic. That is the favor of Allah; He bestows it upon whom He wills. And Allah is all-Encompassing and Knowing
    [5:54]

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    • Anonymous

      SubhanAllah, which of our Lord’s favors will we deny? 
      JazakAllah khayr for sharing this verse, what more do we need when Allah swt says it so clearly.

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  6. Hashir Zuberi

    The hardest part (especially in context of deen) –
    The one you aim to please, and whose appreciation you crave, and whose rejection you fear, is your parent. 

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  7. Anonymous

     Assalamalaikum Dreamlife,

    JazakAllah khayr for sharing Shaykh Sattar’s talk. May Allah swt protect him. It added volumes to this thread.

    Alhamdulillah, positivity does lead to positive thoughts. We don’t dwell on them and thank Allah for the countless positive moments we experience,  we really have no right to complain or obsess over negative experiences.

    It is not easy for some people and we have to work hard at it. We have to make the choice, am I going to let this negativity, or this criticism, or this rejestion get to me or am I going to use it to bring positive change in my life.

    …Positivity doesn’t have to mean praising someone, criticism can be positive too as long as it is constructive.

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  8. Anonymous

    Dear Dr. Newman,
    I am excited that you stopped by to comment. I have benefited from you articles and look forward to reading your book.
     

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  9. Fatimah Minji Park

     Being too sensitive toward other’s reaction is a disease i kept fighting. Not knowing what to do, whom to talk to I am heartbroken… I even want to seek professional help,but I won’t be comfortable to tell my feeling to non-muslim therapists. I would be appreciate if  you suggest any good way to solve this problem. Jazakum Allahu khair.

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    • henazuberi

      Sister Fatimah and Fizza,
      Have you tried using the counseling technique that I recommended. Try it for a week, write down every single thought that comes to your head and notice exactly how you are letting the words affect you. There are also duas that you can recite when in anguish.

      Laa ‘ilaaha ‘ illallaahul-‘Adheemul-Haleem, laa ‘ilaaha ‘illallaahu Rabbul-‘Arshil-‘Adheem, laa ‘ilaaha ‘illallaahu Rabbus-samaawaati wa Rabbul-‘ardhi wa Rabbul-‘Arshil-Kareem.There is none worthy of worship but Allah the Mighty, the Forbearing. There is none worthy of worship but Allah, Lord of the Magnificent Throne. There is none worthy of worship but Allah, Lord of the heavens and Lord of the earth, and Lord of the No

      Allaahumma rahmataka ‘arjoo falaa takilnee ‘ilaa nafsee tarfata ‘aynin, wa ‘aslih lee sha’nee kullahu, laa’ilaaha ‘illaa ‘Anta. 

      Laa ‘ilaaha ‘illaa ‘Anta subhaanaka ‘innee kuntu minadh-dhaalimeen.There is none worthy of worship but You, glory is to You. Surely, I was among the wrongdoers.O Allah, I hope for Your mercy. Do not leave me to myself even for the blinking of an eye (i.e. a moment). Correct all of my affairs for me. There is none worthy of worship but You.

      Additionally, there maybe Muslim therapists in your area. I don’t know your age but there is a youth Naseeha hotline run by Naseeha – Muslim Youth Helpline – 1-866-627-3342

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      • Faiza

        Jazak Allah..
        How often I can read this dua?
        I’m so much depress now a days I’m keep calling him and begging him.
        I want to stop this but I don’t have self control.

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      • Hena Zuberi

        Faiza, read the duas as often as you can. Truly in the remembrance of Allah, you will find peace. If it is written in your fate that this man be a part of your life, it will happen, without you having to degrade yourself. Not a pin can drop without His Will, right? This is our belief. Even though this post was not specifically about romantic rejection, I hope I can help with a few words of advice.
        Most men do not like desperate women, and by begging him instead of begging Allah swt you are wasting your energies and making it look like you have little respect for yourself. Your self worth is not dependent on his acceptance. Whatever joy you may have felt being a part of his life is not worth the humiliation. It is hurting you so so much because you have created an attachment to human being, one who is not perfect, who has his flaws. Let it go.
        What if the situation was reverse and you were the one who had rejected him. How would you feel if he kept calling you and begging you? Would you have respect for him?

        If he is meant for you, you will be a part of each other’s lives but if you are not nothing that you do can force it to happen except dua.

        The only Love that is Eternal and Perfect is the one for Allah. May Allah swt make it easy for you.

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