What should you do if you have a quality or characteristic that other people dislike?
Knowing that another person dislikes us usually evokes the same emotional responses in most people -- usually sadness, disappointment, anxiety and even anger. Such experiences can also get you thinking about whether there is something more fundamentally wrong with you -- something that is not only undesirable to this one person, but others as well?
If true, the question would then be -- should I change a perceived flaw to maximize being liked by more people?
Unfortunately, many people who fear rejection and negative evaluation make many changes to their behaviour, thinking, appearance, and even personality in order to avoid instances of rejection and the knowledge that someone dislikes them.
Constantly trying to avoid being disliked can take its toll on one's mental health. Indeed, most of the people I have seen in therapy with such an issue were more harmed by the worry and anxiety caused by the possibility of being disliked than by actual instances of rejection or negative evaluation.
So, we return the question of what to do with characteristics that may result in being unaccepted, rejected or disliked. Should we change something about ourselves?
To help answer this question, try the following exercise:
Imagine that you could spend time with every person on the planet -- all 7 billion of them. Now ask yourself two questions:
1. What percentage of them would say they "like you" following this time together?
2. How did you arrive at this number?
The goal of thinking about these questions is to facilitate the process of accurately evaluating who you are and how you function interpersonally. Instead of considering likeability in an abstract way (i.e., will someone reject or dislike me) and unrealistically (of course, someone will dislike you), answering these questions makes the issue more concrete and allows you to accept the reality that many people would not like you.
Allow me to elaborate on how answering these questions could be helpful, using myself as an example.
I often do this exercise with clients I work with, and I honestly believe that at least 20% of people in the world would dislike me. This means that 1.4 billion people probably do not like me.
Now, why do these 1.4 billion dislike me? I assume that a good proportion would not like me for simply superficial and demographic qualities (skin colour; religious beliefs; the fact I am a huge Steelers fan, etc.). This would apply to everyone as various regions and cultures both favour and dislike a range of qualities.
Let's now examine more personal qualities, which can be divided into two broad categories. First, there are qualities about me that a lot of people like, but that other people really don't like. For example, my style of humour tends to be on the dry and sarcastic side. This quality would certainly be rejected by a certain proportion of the world's population. Which creates a dilemma -- do I change my style of humour to maximize being liked by the greatest number of people? Well, that would just create a whole new category of people who dislike me for being disingenuous and insecure. Also, constantly changing who you are from person to person is wrought with the potential for long-term problems to your mental health, such as problems with clarity of your self-concept.
The second category of personal qualities would include those that most people probably don't like -- in other words flaws. Now, the fact that I have flaws is not surprising or unexpected. Based on feedback I have received over the years from friends, family and even strangers, my sense is that the flaws are not deal-breakers for most people. But there a number of people who simply could not be around me because of one of these flaws. Indeed, when considered on a worldwide scale, it would probably include hundreds of millions of people.
Now, if there were critical flaws that caused significant problems with most relationships, I would certainly be forced to consider making changes in this regard.
What can I conclude from this exercise? I can conclude that I have a mix of good and bad qualities that would probably lead to 5.6 billion people liking me -- generally speaking. Even if my estimate of 20% is too generous, it is still probably the case that billions of people would accept me as I am.
It is also helpful to accept that 1.4 billion people do not like me. Rather than waste time and energy worrying and modifying who I am to make everyone like me, it is simply easier to accept that there are lots of people who dislike me. In fact, of the 1.4 billion people who dislike me, I assume they are interspersed throughout my day -- a few at the grocery store, the Tim Hortons lady I see everyday, and the guy who thought I was driving too slow on the highway, to name a few. Knowing that they are all around, and yet rarely cause much in the way of direct problems or stress, helps reduce the worry of being rejected and disliked.
Rather than feel anxious about the possibility of someone disliking you, it can be empowering to accept that hundreds of millions and even billions of people dislike you, and yet you are still a fairly likeable person to most. In this way, we can treat a complex issue (likeability) fairly, without having to resort to absolutist thinking by trying to squeeze ourselves into a likeable or dislikeable category.
You don't have to be liked by everyone, and the next time you learn that a co-worker or peer dislikes you, just think "I am not at all surprised and it is completely OK."
FACT: There is huge difference between a therapist and your best friend. "There's a myth that you pay someone to be nice to you and care for you -- what I tell my clients is that you pay for time and expertise and the caring is free," says Noah Rubinstein, founder and CEO of therapist directory GoodTherapy.org. Rubinstein adds, therapists are trained to avoid dual relationships and can't see their clients outside of the office.
FACT: Most people are raised to be independent and solve problems on their own. "Seeking help is not a sign of weakness and the truth is, we all suffer and getting help doesn't mean you're 'crazy,'" Rubinstein says. He also adds that people at some point in time will go through periods of depression, hurt or feeling worried and mainstream media often has misconceptions of what a patient or client looks like. "Most people who go to therapists are ordinary everyday people. They don't have manic episodes or are hospitalized -- and I wouldn't call this 'crazy' either," he says.
FACT: No, therapy isn't a never-ending session that will take over your life. "A lot of people are afraid that if they go to therapy it will go on and on," Rubinstein says. Depending on the type of therapist you see, therapists are trained to create a target plan of treatment. "Some people may never heal in this lifetime but for most people, the average therapy course is three or four months," he says.
FACT: Yes, seeing a therapist often can get expensive. Rubinstein suggests looking at your insurance providers to see if you can get benefits -- relying solely on paying out of your own pocket can get costly. But he also advises a holistic view. "When you think about price, what's the cost of not doing therapy? Your job performance?" he says. Think about how your distress many conflict with your work or relationship and then make a decision about pricing.
FACT: "This is something that comes directly out of Dr. Phil. Therapists are portrayed like Dr. Phil and he blames, shames and confronts his clients -- this is not how therapy works," Rubinstein says. Good therapy is about compassion, he adds, and is intended to let the client experience their own emotional breakthroughs at their own pace.
FACT: Rubinstein says that not all problems can be fixed with medication. "The medical model assumes that most psychological problems are caused by biochemistry, rather than viewing biochemical changes as a symptom, and can overlook the experience of losing jobs, divorce, deaths in the family etc.," he says. Emotional stress, he notes, cannot be solved with just medication, and people relying solely on pills should look at their options for one-on-one therapy.
FACT: Rubinstein says many people also think therapy is passive. Just think about all the scenes in movies or television shows where a therapist does nothing but nod his or her head. "Therapists are taught active listening skills and are trained to understand the client's struggles," he says.
FACT: 'Think happy thoughts...think happy thoughts.' Yes, but not always. "Many new clients expect their therapist to change their perspective and convince them they should be happy. But therapy doesn't work by thinking happy thoughts, In order to become happy, a person needs to face the parts of them that aren't," he says. Working with a client one-on-one, therapists are able to go through a person's painful past and give them hope for a peaceful future.
FACT: There's always an assumption that therapy is about moving forward and never looking back. "When we do this, our past still haunts us. Good therapy allows people to go to those places where they have been wounded and burned and resolve these feelings," he says.
FACT: Yes, you will go back into the past and yes, it may bring up some bad memories. But don't be afraid. "Good therapists guide their clients through painful experiences, but in a way that is safe and not overwhelming."