Just like a punch to the gut...
Everyone wants to be liked. Even me. As much as I would love to tell you that my confidence can surpass even the most petty slings and arrows of another's judgement, that's not always the case. Sure, as I approach 40, I feel more put together and capable than at any other time of my life, but that doesn't mean I'm bulletproof. There are days when the harsh rejection of a peer, or even a personality disordered patient can shake me for a moment or two. I hate that feeling, just like a punch to the gut. Why don't they like me? After all, I'm a perfectly likable person! Then... there are the other people who couldn't give two figs about what other people think. They are awesome in every way, and if you don't think so, it's your problem. I've never understood those people, though quietly admired them. What makes us so different? How do you get past the deep and unquenchable desire for others to accept you?
There are a few pieces to this puzzle. When someone's personal worth is based even partially on another's view of them, a huge red flag goes up for me. It says codependent. Yes, codependency sounds like a naughty word only exchanged in dark rooms filled with cigarette smoke, and a circle of peers passing the kleenex. That may be the case, but in most scenarios, it's simply a person who has historically thrived from pleasing others. Likely, in their home growing up, there was a parent or caregiver that was perfectionistic, had a high standard of performance imposed on their children, possibly an addict/alcoholic, or someone suffering a personality disorder. Pleasing others becomes an adaptive skill that allows the individual to keep the peace. Unfortunately, this can result in a pattern of behavior that becomes excruciating over time. Picking relationships that aren't equitable, and possibly abusive. The unfortunate fly in the ointment, is that these people pleasers are often very compassionate and kind people, just just take their kindness a little too far.
Unfortunately for my daughter, she inherited the people-pleaser gene. It doesn't matter how many peers find her amusing or talented, if there is one little girl that doesn't care for her flavor of perky, she will feel tortured over it indefinitely. I can tell her, "You should never have to convince someone that you're worthy of their attention." I can tell her, "You have a dozen friends that love you just the way you are!" I doesn't matter. So I came up with a genius cognitive game to cure almost any case of insecurity. Buckle up.
She inherited the people-pleaser gene...
I just wanted to make sure you know...
About a week ago, I was driving when my daughter exclaimed, "You're pretty!" I said thank you, and went on reading billboards and switching songs on the radio (I'm totally an attentive driver. I swear). Not five minutes later she blurted out again, "You're pretty!" Ok, this was something. I felt a teaching moment coming on. "Honey, thank you for thinking I'm a pretty mama...why did you tell me twice? Do you think I'm worried about how I look?" She paused, and gingerly retorted with, "No, I just wanted to make sure you know." Now, as any child of a social worker will tell you, this is the moment when they wish they hadn't spoken up...a lecture was about to emerge.
Sweetheart, I'm worried that I've given you the impression that being pretty is more important than other attributes. In fact, it doesn't even make my top five. I love that you want to tell me you love me with compliments, but can you think of other traits that might be more important than being pretty?
After giving it some thought, she began to recite the Girl Scout law, which itemizes positive attributes that we should all aspire to be:
Relieves the sting of rejection...
While this memorized response was somewhat of a copout, I do admire her resourcefulness. She wasn't wrong. All of these attributes are desirable in a friend, or better yet...in the mirror. What she had really done for me, was to itemize what she values in other people. Here comes the challenge. I asked her to write these qualities on paper and essentially grade the girl she had been desperately seeking approval from. Did she have these qualities? Did she share the same values? As it turns out, this girl got a 20% on this self-made assessment. WOW! What my daughter learned, is that she was trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. With two kiddos sharing different values and interests, there would be no common ground with which to nurture a relationship. I can't say she stopped caring about their interactions. I can't say she's stopped trying to befriend her. However, she has embraced a greater acceptance and understanding that relieves the sting of rejection. Quite frankly, isn't that what we are all looking for?
List of things I value most in friends...
This exercise isn't just for social workers to inflict upon their spawn. It works for grown-ups too! Just a few months ago, I was toiling over an interaction with an old friend, that wasn't so fruitful. Despite my best efforts at self-talk and reframing, it continued to haunt my fragile little ego. In turn, I busted out my journal and began to list the things I value most in friends (in no particular order of importance):
- Advocate for the underdog
- Doesn't gossip
- Present for me during hard times
- Work ethic
- Emotional stability
- Creative expression
- Music taste
- Political affiliation
- Affirming nature
- Parenting style
No wonder we weren't vibing the same as before!
Granted, all of these characteristics are not necessary for someone to be my friend. That would be elitist and ridiculous. However, I had the opportunity to check in with this list to see if my value system was in alignment with this person. Guess what? Long ago, our values were similar, but over time, had changed dramatically. No wonder we weren't vibing the same as before! This took a huge load off of me. Not only was I relieved to know it wasn't just me, but I didn't really care as much about our interaction, with the understanding that she couldn't fulfill the values I hold in a friendship anyway. Look at it this way... If Pat Robertson came up to me and told me I was a sinful and vile creature that was going to hell, that would mean nothing to me- because we don't share (not even close) the same value system. But if Pope Francis said, "Audrey, you've really disappointed me with your behavior." I would be devastated. Not because I'm catholic (I'm not), but because I genuinely admire the guy.
If I was better, cooler, thinner...
This reframe provided me with the tools to drop my insecurity, and accept the situation for what it is- a chapter that has passed. Now, this exercise works for almost any panicky "they don't like me" moment. Like I said, few things feel worse than the sting of rejection. Think about that person that doesn't quite click with you. You have spent a lot of headspace on them, and when you do, the insecurity wells up-making you feel smaller. You think, "If I was better, cooler, thinner, more successful (fill in the blank), they would like me." It doesn't have to keep hurting. Look at them, and look at your value system. Do they match? I would bet you a Diet Coke (something very valuable to me), that they aren't in alignment. The moment you realize that dynamic isn't equitable, the power you have given them over your happiness- melts away. I urge you to take back confidence and pride in the person you are today. Just as I have told my daughter, you should never have to convince someone that you are worthy of attention. You are just as you should be. You are enough.