I had a friend in college who insisted that not a single person on Earth disliked her. This is not to say that she believed everyone liked her, or even preferred her; rather, that no one actively disfavored her. “That’s just not my personality,” she said. “I don’t rub people the wrong way. Maybe that’s true for you too.”
I was particularly puzzled by this assertion because I could easily have named a dozen people who hated my guts and another three who had bashed this very friend the night before. “God she rubs me the wrong way,” they all agreed. “She’s such a bitch. I’d like to put her face on fire and then stub it out with a pitchfork.”
If my friend ever knew these people felt this way about her she would have been not only terrified for her face, but would have been psychologically devastated. She truly believed (or at least really wanted to) that she was free from the disdain of others.
Now make no mistake: this wasn’t narcissism on her part. She wasn’t grandiose or self-entitled, had plenty of empathy, and never exploited another person to meet her own needs. The reality is most narcissists know that plenty of people can’t fucking stand them but they just don’t care because they’re “special,” or “gifted” or lots of other amazing qualities they actually are not.
No, this was more of a childlike naiveté that helped her obtain worth because she wasn’t able to simply value herself by the sheer fact she was a person and therefore of worth. She had to obtain validation from others. She needed to believe she was unconditionally accepted to at least some degree by others. This grand-scale coping mechanism isn’t only unnecessary, it’s self-defeating: because someone doesn’t like you, it doesn’t have to matter.
How do I know – other than by the hate mail I receive – that some people don’t like me? It’s simple: I’m human. That means at times I’m obnoxious, irritable and certainly disagreeable (just ask my colleagues). These negative aspects of people are simply part of the spectrum that composes the human psyche. These states make a person real.
My friend disagreed that she was ever those things. Shy at times? Sure. Outgoing at others? Of course. Independent at various points in her life, more conforming at other moments? No doubt. But mean-spirited, acrimonious? Never. She believed she had people tricked by having more benign quirks. Even if this was true, however, there are some people who simply don’t like one or more of those qualities as well. And because humans are prone to drawing large-scale conclusions based on a small sample of behaviors, inevitably there will be those who simply dislike you for being a full person.
The great Albert Ellis said that one of the best ways to create misery is to work from the mindset that all people must like you at all times. You’ll fail at it, plain and simple. Not only that, but this approach to life will cause you to constantly be modifying your own thoughts, behaviors and identity to suit the perceived desires of those around you. This saccharine façade will ultimately be detected and people will know you aren’t being your true self. This just won’t cut it.
Unfortunately for my college friend, she never learned this lesson. Rather, when she was told about someone’s dislike for her she fired back with “well, that person must have her own issues then.” That’s Polite Person Code for “if that slut doesn’t like me then she’s a total skank slag!” The reality is it’s easier to get angry and point the finger then sit with aspects of ourselves that might be uncomfortable. The problem with this is that it’s not only short-sighted, it’s factually inaccurate. And unless my friend found herself a good therapist she is probably still living out this perpetual dream, viewing others as toting neurotic baggage instead of acknowledging that she’s sometimes a pain in the ass.
Do I relish the fact that some people don’t like me? Of course not, I’m not a masochist. Unconditional love at any and all times sounds kind of sweet. But I have to accept this fact, and that subtle difference can change everything. I can always prefer that things be different on this score, but knowing that it’s not going to happen makes my day that much more manageable because I can simply be me, free from the emotionally draining pressure of seeking validation from others.
Some people learn this simply via experience, witnessing repeatedly that the world doesn’t end in an apocalyptic frenzy when someone dislikes them. Other people require a model, a therapist, a life coach or peer, someone to drive home the point that what we desire and what is necessary is not one in the same. And if you’re me, you need both, to help you sit with the fact that no matter what you do or say, someone won’t approve of you. And when you can simply sit there and embrace that, you recognize that nothing truly horrible happens, that what might feel like a glass ego isn’t all that fragile.
What, if anything, should you take from this? That it’s desirable to work on modifying specific behaviors for a greater good. However, this must come not from a desire to be loved by others but simply for yourself and the promotion of a greater society. In other words, you can change plenty of things about yourself, but accept that you are permanently fallible and that some will simply not accept you because of that. This will make your life much easier. And if you’re really, really lucky, you might even get your face lit on fire.