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)
Eid Lameness Syndrome: Diagnosis, Treatment, Cure
How many of you have gone to work on Eid because you felt there was no point in taking off? No Eid fun. Have you ever found Eid boring, no different from any other day?
If so, you may suffer from ELS (Eid Lameness Syndrome). Growing up, I did too.
My family would wake up, go to salah, go out to breakfast, come home, take a 4+ hour nap and then go out to dinner. I didn’t have friends to celebrate with and even if I did, I wouldn’t see them because we stuck to our own immediate family just as they did.
On the occasion that we went to a park or convention center, we would sort of have fun. Being with other people was certainly better than breakfast-nap-dinner in isolation, but calling that a memorable, satisfying, or genuinely fun Eid would be a stretch.
I don’t blame my parents for the ELS though. They came from a country where Eid celebration was the norm; everyone was celebrating with everyone and you didn’t have to exert any effort. When they moved to the US, where Muslims were a minority, it was uncharted territory. They did the best they could with the limited resources they had.
When I grew up, I did about the same too. When I hear friends or acquaintances tell me that they’re working, doing laundry or whatever other mundane things on Eid, I understand. Eid has been lame for so long that some people have given up trying to see it any other way. Why take personal time off to sit at home and do nothing?
I stuck to whatever my parents did for Eid because “Eid was a time for family.” In doing so, I was honoring their cultural ideas of honoring family, but not Eid. It wasn’t until I moved away that I decided to rebel and spend Eid with convert friends (versus family) who didn’t have Muslim families to celebrate with on Eid, rather than drive for hours to get home for another lame salah-breakfast-nap-dinner.
That was a game-changing Eid for me. It was the first non-lame Eid I ever had, not because we did anything extraordinary or amazing, but because we made the day special by doing things that we wouldn’t normally do on a weekday together. It was then that I made a determination to never have a lame Eid ever again InshaAllah.
I’m not the only one fighting ELS. Mosques and organizations are creating events for people to attend and enjoy together, and families are opting to spend Eid with other families. There is still much more than can be done, as converts, students, single people, couples without children and couples with very small children, are hard-hit by the isolation and sadness that ELS brings. Here are a few suggestions for helping treat ELS in your community:
Host an open house
Opening up your home to a large group of people is a monumental task that takes a lot of planning and strength. But it comes with a lot of baraka and reward. Imagine the smiling faces of people who would have had nowhere to go on Eid, but suddenly find themselves in your home being hosted. If you have a big home, hosting an open house is an opportunity to express your gratitude to Allah for blessing you with it.
Expand your circle
Eid is about commUNITY. Many people spend Eid alone when potential hosts stick to their own race/class/social status. Invite and welcome others to spend Eid with you in whatever capacity you can.
You can enlist the help of close friends and family to help so it’s not all on you. Delegate food, setup, and clean-up across your family and social network so that no one person will be burdened by the effort InshaAllah.
Don’t worry if you don’t have a big house, you’ll find out how much barakah your home has by how many people are able to fit in it. I’ve been to iftars in teeny tiny apartments where there’s little space but lots of love. If you manage to squeeze in even two or three extra guests, you’ve saved two or three people from ELS for that year.
Outsource Eid Fun
If you have the financial means or know enough friends who can pool together, rent a house. Some housing share sites have homes that can be rented specifically for events, giving you the space to consolidate many, smaller efforts into one larger, more streamlined party.
It can be a challenge to find Eid buddies to spend the day with. Try looking for people in similar circumstances as you. I’m a single woman and have hosted a ladies game night for the last few Eids where both married and single women attend. If you are a couple with young kids, find a few families with children of similar age groups. If you’re a student, start collecting classmates. Don’t wait for other people to invite you, make a list in advance and get working to fend off ELS together.
The Prophet ﷺ said: تَهَادُوا تَحَابُّوا “Give gifts to increase love for each other”. One of my siblings started a tradition of getting a gift for each person in the family. If that’s too much, pick one friend or family member and give them a gift. If you can’t afford gifts, give something that doesn’t require much money like a card or just your time. You never know how much a card with kind, caring words can brighten a person’s Eid.
Get out of your comfort zone
If you have ELS, chances are there is someone else out there who has it too. The only way to find out if someone is sad and alone on Eid is by admitting that we are first, and asking if they are too.
Try, try, try again…
Maybe you’ve taken off work only to find that going would have been less of a waste of time. Maybe you tried giving gifts and it didn’t go well. Maybe you threw an open house and are still cleaning up/dealing with the aftermath until now. It’s understandable to want to quit and say never again, to relent and accept that you have ELS and always will but please, keep trying. The Ummah needs to believe that Eid can and should be fun and special for everyone.
While it is hard to be vulnerable and we may be afraid of rejection or judgment, the risk is worth it. As a survivor and recoverer of ELS, I know how hard it can be and also how rewarding it is to be free of it. May Allah bless us all with the best Eids and to make the most of the blessed days before and after, Ameen.
Broken Light: The Opacity of Muslim Led Institutions
Habib Abd al-Qadir al-Saqqaf (may Allah have mercy on him and benefit us by him) explains how we are affected by the spiritual state of those around us.
Every person has rays which emanate from their soul. You receive these rays when you come close to them or sit in their presence. Each person’s rays differ in strength according to the state of their soul. This explains how you become affected by sitting in the presence of great people. They are people who follow the way of the Prophets in their religious and worldly affairs. When they speak, they counsel people. Their actions guide people. When they are silent they are like signposts which guide people along the path, or like lighthouses whose rays guide ships. Many of them speak very little, but when you see them or visit them you are affected by them. You leave their gatherings having been enveloped in their tranquillity. Their silence has more effect than the eloquent speech of others. This is because the rays of their souls enter you.
The Organizational Light
As a Muslim organizational psychologist, I know that organizations and institutions are a collective of these souls too. Like a glass container, they are filled colored by whatever is within them. So often Muslim organizations have presumed clarity in their organizational light and looked on with wonder as children, families, and the community wandered. The lighthouse keepers standing in front of the beacon wondering, “Where have the ships gone?”have
Our Muslim led institutions will reflect our state, actions, and decisions. I do believe that most of our institutional origins are rooted in goodness, but those moments remain small and fade. Our challenge as a community is to have this light of origin be fixed so that it can pulsate and extend itself beyond itself.
Reference is not being made regarding any specific type of institution and this is not a pointed critique, but rather a theory on perhaps why the effect our variety of institutional work wanes and dissipates. Any type of organization or institution — whether for profit or nonprofit, whether capital focused or socially conscious — that is occupied by the heart of a Muslim(s), must reflect light.
Our organizational light is known by an ego-less assessment of intentions, actions, and results. We must move our ‘self’ or ‘selves’ out of the way and then measure our lumens. If the light increases when we move out of the way, then it is possible that we — our ego, personality, objectives, intentions, degree of sacrifice, level of commitment, and possibly even our sincerity — may be the obstructions to our organizational lights.
The Personal Imperative
What will become of our institutions and their role for posterity if we neglect to evaluate where we stand in relation to the noble courses they mean to take? We may currently be seeing the beginning what this may look and feel like.
When was the last time you walked into a Muslim led institution and felt a living space that drew you in because of the custodians, leadership, individuals, and community that made up its parts? It was probably the last time you and I looked deeply inward at our lives — our intellect, our relationships, our purpose, our spiritual state, our work, our decisions, and our intentions. If we cleanse our hearts so infrequently the dust which settles can become thick making them opaque. And perhaps this individual and collective state is what limits the reach and impact of our communal work thus, resulting in the opacity of Muslim led institutions. Note: Lighthouse keepers clean the lens of the beacon every day.
We must consistently assess the intellectual, emotional, and spiritual loci of our individual and organizational states. They are not fixed givens. Rather, they are capricious states that necessitate vigilance and wara’. Being aware of this will help in our organizational design and work.
The Collective Affect
When we are prepared to evaluate the efficacy of Muslim led institutions with the inclusion of some form of spiritual assessment, we will give ourselves a better opportunity to determine where, how, and why we may be missing the mark. The inefficiencies and inattentiveness we have on an individual level can permeate our relationships, our work, and our organizations. As organizational leaders, we must critically assess the amount of light our work emanates to illuminate the lives of the people we serve.
These inward evaluations should be in the form of active and ongoing discussions we have internally with our teams and colleagues, and ourselves. If done with prudence and sincerity it will not only strengthen our organizations but our teams and us God-willing. This collective effort can lead to a collective effect for those we serve that inspires and guides. We — and our institutions — can then return to the Prophetic example of being beacons of light that help ourselves and others arrive to a place of sanctuary.
And Allah always knows best.
Mindful or Mind-full? Going From AutoPilot to Aware
“Remember that God knows what is in your souls, so be mindful of Him.”
[Sūrat al-Baqarah 2:235]
Mindful or Mind-full?
Ever felt frustrated when you were trying to talk to your spouse, your children, your students, or your youth group and they would just not pay attention? This is a prime example of being on autopilot and getting carried away without actually being aware of what is most important in the present moment.
A recent Harvard study shows that our minds are not present in the moment and wander about 47% of the time1. In a world of technology and continuous sensory overload, the lines between work and home, friends and family, necessity vs. purpose, world-centric vs. Allah-centric have become blurred. We are either living in the past or ruminating about the future, and in the process, we are forgetting to live, enjoy, cherish, and make the most of our present moments.
For parents, teachers, youth leaders, and anyone in the beautiful role of guiding, teaching, coaching, or mentoring others, we can make a huge difference by modeling Mindfulness ourselves. But where do we start? The answer is to go from autopilot to becoming aware.
Autopilot to Aware
Being on autopilot is when you are distracted in the present moment, where your mind is wandering into the past or the future, and you are less aware of yourself, surroundings, or others. Autopilot can actually be pretty helpful for your regular habits. Waking up, brushing your teeth, getting ready for your day, going to school or work – many of the things we do habitually every day can be done more seamlessly without having to think, and that is a good thing. But there are times when you have to learn to turn off your autopilot to become aware. But how?
Here is a Mindfulness tool that can be done in just a minute or two for you to become more aware.
Step 1: Breath as a Tool. Say Bismillah. Focus on your breath. See where you experience the breath – the breathing in and breathing out of your body. Is your breath stemming from your nostrils, your chest, or your stomach? Just bring your attention to your breath and relax and stay with it there for a few moments.
Step 2: Body as a Tool. Relax your body. We carry so many emotions in our bodies2. Our stress from the past or anticipation for the future sometimes finds its way into our necks, other times in our chest muscles or our backs. Pay attention to what emotions and sensations do you feel, and try to relax all parts of your body.
Step 3: Intention as a Tool. As you have centered your thoughts to the present moment through your breath and your body, ask yourself: “What is most important now? In this present moment?”
Just simply being aware makes us more mindful parents, teachers, youth and professionals – being aware makes us more Mindful of Allah SWT. Mindfulness is the ability to be aware of your mind and body and bring your attention to the present moment.
Real Life in the Present Moment
You are an on-the-go parent: It has been a long day and you have to pick up the kids from school, but work is still pending. You’re picking up the kids from school, feeding them, and then shuffling everyone to their afterschool activities, be it Qur’an, softball, soccer, swimming, or the million other things that kids seem to have these days. You squeeze pending work in between drop-offs and pick-ups, and you function by living from one task to the next.
The Autopilot Impact: You’re getting a lot done, but are so engrossed in quickly moving your children along from one thing to another that you are unable to really cherish your time together.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: You can try to go from autopilot to awareness by focusing on your breath, paying attention to your emotions, and relaxing your body. As you do so, ask yourself: “What is most important now?” Make the intention to slow down, listen to the children more mindfully, and cherish and enjoy your time together.
You are a busy teacher: Last night you had to take all the grading home and spent two hours poring over students’ work. This morning, you woke up early to pick up some classroom supplies after dropping off your own kids to school. You’ve already had two cups of coffee and are trying to think through everything you have to do today. You like the idea of Mindfulness, living life in the present moment, and enjoying every day to its fullest, but your mind is not free to even enjoy the beautiful morning sunrise as you drive to school.
The Autopilot Impact: You want to listen and pay attention to every child’s needs, and enjoy the rewards of their growth, but you can’t. What’s more, you judge yourself for just trying to get through your activities for the day. You wish you could connect with your students better.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: Whenever you are stressed with an unpleasant parent or student interaction, think about breathing, relaxing your body, and asking what you need to focus on now. Try to do one thing at a time, and relax into what you’re doing.
You are an overstretched youth director: You are a role model. You have this major weekend event you are planning with the youth. Your budget is still pending from the board, you have to call all these people, have to get the graphics and remind everyone about the event, you have to visit all these masjids and MSAs to announce and remind people about the weekend.
This weekend’s theme is Living a Life of Purpose and you are super passionate about it. However, the whole week you have had a hard time remembering to even pray one Salah with focus. Instead, your mind has been preoccupied with all the endless planning for this weekend. You love what you do but you wonder how to also be mindful in your everyday worship while you are always prepping and planning engaging activities for the youth.
The Autopilot Impact: You enjoy shaping the youth but you are losing steam. You are always planning the next program and unable to focus on your own personal and spiritual development. It is difficult for you to pray even one salah without thinking about all the events and activities planned for that week.
The Mindfulness Suggestion: Get serious about taking some time for yourself. Know that becoming more mindful about your own prayers and self-development will also make you a better role model. Take a minute or two before every Salah to practice the simple, 3-Step Mindfulness Tool. You say Bismillah and breathe, focus your mind, and then relax your body. Empty your mind from everything else – what has past and what’s to come – and ask “What’s most important now?” to develop better focus in your Salah.
In Conclusion: Practice Simple but Solid Steps towards becoming more Mindful Muslims
Mindfulness is to open a window to let the Divine light in.
[Imam Al Ghazali]
Mindfulness gives us the ability to be aware. We can use Mindfulness tools to remember Allah , refocus, renew our intentions, and engage with the present moment in a more effective and enjoyable way. Mindfulness also invites awareness of our potential negligence in being our best selves with both Allah and His creation. To put it simply, being more aware of our selves can help us be better versions of our selves.
Mindfulness is both an art and a science, with brain and behavioral science research validating the importance of Mindfulness in improving our health, managing our stress, navigating our emotions, and positively impacting our lives3. In today’s modern and distracted world, let us treasure every tool that helps us center our attention on what matters the most.
- Bradt, Steve (2010). Wandering mind not a happy mind. Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2010/11/wandering-mind-not-a-happy-mind/
- Lauri Nummenmaa, Enrico Glerean, Riitta Hari, Jari K. Hietanen (2013). Bodily maps of emotions. National Academy of Sciences. https://www.pnas.org/content/early/2013/12/26/1321664111
- “What are the benefits of mindfulness,” American Psychological Association: http://www.apa.org/monitor/2012/07-08/ce-corner.aspx
To learn more about how to become mindful take the Define Course on Mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence.
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