When someone tells me, “I don’t care if people like me,” they are showing me the emotional wall they use to block the hurt of rejection.
All of us care if people like us. Humans are social animals. According to the psychologist Abraham Maslow, feeling love, affection and belonging is necessary before we can reach the highest levels of consciousness and wisdom.
We need each other to survive, from infants through schooling and throughout our professional careers. Many studies have shown that social connections help seniors to live longer and happier lives. The greatest form of punishment is isolation.
To think you can realize your potential without the help of others is an illusion. While trying to navigate your work and home life, you need people to talk to, to listen to you, and hopefully, someone who will challenge some of your rambling thoughts. I often need a human mirror to see how much I've grown in the past year and to remind me of my strengths. I, like most of you, excel at reminding myself of my weaknesses, so I elevate my self-awareness with the aid of my trusted friends and colleagues.
Based on this need for social connection, your reactions to rejection, negative judgment and stinging sarcastic remarks can range from minor hurt to bouts of depression. The ability to let a show of dislike roll off your back is a learned skill. You have to consciously balance your need to be liked with understanding what is true about the current situation.
1. Catch yourself reacting defensively or shutting down. The first step to handling a negative situation is to recognize your reaction. Instead of stuffing your emotions, you need to stop three or four times a day and ask yourself, “What am I feeling?” Do you feel fear in your chest, betrayal in your heart, anger in your shoulders, gut or head, or humiliation in the pit of your stomach? It takes practice to discern your feelings, but the first step is to identify what emotion has shown up in your body so you can choose what to do next.
2. Ask yourself what is true about the situation. When you sense yourself shutting down or feeling defensive, ask yourself what you believe the person meant to do to you. Did they truly mean to insult you, betray you, disrespect you, or make fun of you? Your brain works very hard to keep you safe, so it will judge a situation as threatening if there is any possibility of social harm. This is not a logical process. When you react to a person’s words, ask yourself, “What was the intent of the comment? Is it true they meant harm? Is it true that others will agree and judge me negatively because of their words?" Would it be possible to ask the person if they meant to insult you or discredit your ideas? Often people do not realize the impact of their words. You will feel better if you discover they meant no personal harm.
3. If you are sure the person meant to be negative, determine if their target was you personally or your ideas. When our brains sense a possible threat, we react as if we were personally attacked, meaning we take things too personally by nature. Take a breath to relieve the stress and ask, “Was the person commenting on my idea or on me as a person?” If you aren’t sure, take another breath and feel it enter your stomach. This will ground you in the present and take you out of your chattering mind. If you can, look the person in their eyes. Then ask yourself the questions in point #2 to determine if the remark was a personal attack that needs to be addressed or just a disagreement you can live with.
4. Finally, if you believe the person doesn’t like you, ask yourself if this matters. Some people will like you. Others will not. Will the person’s judgment of you impact your work or life? If not, what can you do to release your need to be liked or even respected by this person? And, what can you do to stay neutral and not return the dislike? The more you can come to accept others as who they are, to resist fixing them or changing their opinions, and to listen with patience and compassion, the more you can move forward with your goals regardless if someone likes you or not. According to Charlotte Kasl, PhD, author of If the Buddha Dated, when you dismantle your personal censor you can achieve your highest potential. Rise above the discord by mentally forgiving the person for not appreciating what you contribute and forgiving yourself for reacting with fear or anger.
If you are doing the best you can with what you have, worrying if people like you or not is a waste of your most precious resource: your energy.
--Adapted from Outsmart Your Brain: How to Make Success Feel Easy by Marcia Reynolds