Human nature is a confusing thing. Sometimes we do things for our own protection, which actually end up harming us in the long term. Sometimes, the things that we do to keep ourselves safe and content in the world can actually stand in our way and take away from what we could be—like our tendency to care too much about what other people think of us.
Now, I know that this will probably be something you’re familiar with and yes, it’s totally normal to feel like you care a whole lot for other people’s opinions of you. I have been thinking about it too… a lot. Recently I had to make a sudden return to my family’s country after spending many months traveling. I also took up a job in my village in customer service, aka where every customer is going to judge you. It may not be an unfair and negative judgment—it may even be a positive judgment. But they form an opinion of me upon interacting…. and that, my friends, is scary! So I have been thinking a lot about why it’s scary. That someone else is deciding what kind of person I am, seems so important to me. Why do I care?
Humans used to have to be accepted in order to survive. In lands where dangerous creatures and enemy tribes roamed, the protection of a social group was a survival necessity. So it’s really no wonder that people had to make themselves likable. If you were the loner, you were the one left behind. In today’s society, we don’t have that need anymore. However, much of our interaction today is still driven by the ancient instincts for survival which no longer apply.
Now you might be thinking, isn’t it still good to have friends? Isn’t it still good to be liked? Don’t social outcasts feel saddened and lost? But I was looking into my own feelings about this and feeling like a bit of an outcast, and what I found was actually very interesting. The more you try to be liked and accepted, the more you lose the person you are underneath.
If you are being completely, truly, authentically yourself, do you really think that every single person you meet is going to get along with you and be in agreement with all your opinions? I don’t think so. But I myself am guilty of shifting my opinions and bringing out/ hiding aspects of my personality to fit the person with whom I’m interacting. I display certain parts of myself which I know that person likes, and sometimes I even express an opinion opposite of my own… out of worry that my own opinion will be disliked.
This is where being all right with the idea of being disliked can work to our favor. Because when we are okay with not meeting everyone’s ideas and expectations, we can really be ourselves. We can go against what we think we should do to impress or fit in and we can express our true feelings. A study published in Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that people experienced negative emotions when they discovered that they had an opinion different from that of another, socially comparable person. This “social projection” resulted in lower mood and more negative emotions. Meanwhile, people who found that they shared a view with someone who seemed to dissimilar in appearance, were the happiest and experienced the most positive emotions.
So from looking at this, it seems that humans feel the happiest when they discover that someone outwardly different shares their view on something. But conversely, we experience negative emotions when we find out that demographically similar people don’t share our own views. In other words, trying to match your identity to others and having a hidden difference of opinion has the lowest emotional payoff, while seeming different has more positive emotional consequences whether you inwardly agree (most positive) or disagree. Being opinionated will make you happier than being friendly for the sake of getting along.
The fear of being disliked can weigh you down a lot over time. It can become a huge burden on your confidence and self-esteem, and can even cause you to change yourself. Caring less about others’ views is one way we can overcome this unnecessary emotional burden.
- Go away to somewhere where you don’t know anyone: This forces you to make new impressions and befriend new people, and you can use this as the perfect time to reshape how to approach others. Decide to go in 100% authentically, and stick to it. You will be surprised how many people you will attract who are just like you because those are the kinds of people who will pay you attention. I did this in France and met people that I instantly clicked with—just from living my truth.
- Challenge yourself to do something out of the ordinary: It doesn’t have to be incredibly shocking, never-before-seen kind of things. But something as simple as wearing a bold outfit, not wearing makeup, going to a new club, or talking to three strangers in a single day, can be really challenging when we get so used to retreating into our safe spaces and adapting ourselves to new people. So try it out and if you can’t quite do it the first time, keep trying new ways of facing it.
There is something wonderful in knowing that a friend loves you for exactly who you are. There is also something wonderful in the confidence that being able to be yourself can instill. So never underestimate the power of being disliked.
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