Working with hundreds of people has brought me to a strong truth – many of the most disruptive patterns in our lives come from a fear of being disliked. Our anxieties, our difficulty boundary setting, our shame. Sadness, difficult relationship patterns, challenging life transitions – many come from the fear that you will be rejected.
How Families Impact our Desire to be Liked
The human need to fit in, to be loved, to be accepted is so incredibly strong. As young babies, it is developed as a survival instinct. We must be accepted. We must be loved. We must fit in. Otherwise, we are rejected and we are not cared for. We will not survive.
As we grow up, we learn from our families that in order to keep the unit in tact, we must agree to certain ways of “behavior”. In the therapy world, we call this “unspoken pacts”. Everyone in the family knows what they are expected to do and who they are expected to be in order to keep things in “homeostasis”. Homeostasis is the attempt to keep things stable or the same.
Even when “keeping things the same” might mean that someone in the family suffers.
A family system is VERY strong. And, it’s desire to maintain “homeostasis” can make it difficult for members of the family to grow and adapt. This where we first develop a fear of being disliked. We don’t want our parents to reject us, so we do whatever it is we are expected to do to be accepted and loved by the family.
Essentially, families create a system in which the message is “follow our rules or we won’t know what to do with ourselves and we will lose our shit”. By rules, I don’t mean the 5 house rules that were hanging on your refrigerator. I mean the rules of engagement.
This means, the way your family is used to everyone behaving. The expected responses to requests, the expected management of mismanagement of boundaries, etc.
When a family member does try to change the rules of engagement, they are often met with this message “you are wrong, change back”.
This is why many people feel so guilty or bad about creating boundaries or developing their own lives by their own rules. Throughout their young lives, their family taught them “hey you’ve got to stay the same! If you change we won’t like you!”
Learning to Lead Your Own Life Takes Courage
Learning to live as your “true self” takes courage – the courage to speak up, to live fully, to set boundaries. It brings up the possibility that people will dislike what you are doing or dislike you. The fear of being disliked is a major influence and can create limitations i our lives.
The book The Courage to Be Disliked, translated from Japanese by Ichiro Kishmi & Fumitake Koga, is written as a conversation between a philosopher and his student. They discuss with each other what it takes to reach inside ourselves to find the courage to change and to grow. The ability to move past limitations that we have created in our minds – mostly focused on interpersonal issues – to truly move forward in life.
The fear we will be disliked or disappoint is a fundamental human fear and it often keeps us stuck in place. It certainly has been one of my biggest fears and I consider many of the ways it has impeded my growth:
- Turning down opportunities because I feared “I was not good enough”
- Agreeing to do things because I was worried saying “no” would make me seem “mean”
- Dating people that are not good for me because it was important to keep them liking me.
- Avoiding difficult conversations
and the list goes on and on.
Beneath the issues we each face, there lies a fear of being unaccepted by others.
7 Lessons on Being Disliked:
- You cannot please everyone
- Your relationship problems mirror the conflicts you have with yourself.
- Seeking recognition will never fulfill you.
- You are not responsible for the tasks of others.
- Feeling inferior and feeling superior are from a distrust of self. And a need to be liked.
- Building close relationships is brave because it requires you to face the fear of rejection.
- When you radically take care of yourself it might make other people uncomfortable.
Having the courage to be disliked means being able to risk rejection, judgement, and abandonment. It means living honestly. Having radical understanding of what motivates your conflicts. Having radical understanding of your feelings.
It means, trying to connect without pretense. Offering kindness and tenderness because it is what feels right, not because you want to be applauded or because you fear what will happen if you do not.
It means setting boundaries and saying “no” even if you are not sure how the other person will respond. It means not fearing assertiveness.
It means understanding your growth won’t be for everyone. That some people will see your self care as an affront to them. That means they aren’t where you are, yet. But it doesn’t mean you need to go back.
Having the courage to be disliked means having opportunity to be truly seen and then truly liked by those around you. It opens the door for strong and healthy relationships with yourself and others.
Your growth might make people uncomfortable
It will not be easy for everyone around you. As you are changing and evolving, some people will get upset. This might make you believe you have caused relationship problems. Hear this: Your growth did not cause them. Your growth uncovered them.
People are resistant to change. If you have ever worked somewhere that has a major workplace overhaul, you will notice that people totally lose their minds.
If you start practicing self care, setting boundaries, and being assertive there will be people that support and love you. They will respond better than expected. You will see it is okay to be you.
However, there will be a few people that push back or pull back. This might make you feel like your focus on growth is wrong. It is not. It is just triggering relational issues that were already there.
This provides a clear picture of how we can and cannot engage with certain people. It offers opportunity to deepend connection or end it.
Boundaries sounds like…
One of the biggest ways you can have the courage to be disliked is to learn how to set boundaries.
Boundaries sound like:
- “I check my e-mail when I get into the office. I will respond then”.
- “My weight is not a topic of conversation. Don’t bring it up again”.
- I can help out on a Thursday afternoon. I am not available at any other time”.
- “I can stay until 10 PM”
- “I need space”
- “We don’t have money for that.”
- “I already have something scheduled at that time. What about tomorrow?”
- “I can’t do this but I can do..”
Boundaries are neutrally stated, direct, and to the point. They can offer flexibility without being porous.
Boundaries don’t require you to explain yourself, defend yourself, or criticize the other person. They only require your need or request and, perhaps, your offers of flexibility.
The more you set boundaries, the easier it gets. You start to recognize that the reactions of other people are not caused by you. When your boundaries are set with good will towards the other person you are opening the door to a successful relationship.
It is important to set them at work, with friends, your children, your family members, and your romantic partners.
They are actually a wonderful act of love – towards yourself and the other person. They let people know where the door is and how to enter it. How to authentically connect with you.
The power to change
As you begin to assert that you are a valuable person that deserves to care for yourself and grow, your relationships will change. Rather than see this a failing, see it as powerful. It will give you the opportunity to see your relationships as they are. You can address issues authentically or end relationships with confidence that they were not for you.
Continuing to practice expressing yourself and setting boundaries will make it easier over time. It will reduce chaos in your life, reduce resentment, and reduce fear.
Elizabeth Earnshaw, LMFT
Elizabeth is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Philadelphia, PA. Elizabeth provides individual and couples therapy in her Philadelphia, PA office and is passionate about helping people improve their relational health.
Want to contact her? E-mail Info@abetterlifetherapy.com