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.
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 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 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 it can happen to you. Reflect on this noble Prophetic supplication that he 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’ 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)