I spoke with an ex last night.
I broke up with him many years ago because I always felt like I wasn’t good enough for him. I wanted him to like me as I was - and he didn’t.
We dated on and off for two and a half years. The more he didn’t approve of me, the more I worked to show him I was worthy of love.
It all sounds so obviously unhealthy when I describe it now.
I even knew it was unhealthy when I was living it.
And yet, I stayed.
I knew my self-worth and validation should come from inside, but I still REALLY wanted it from him too. From the one person who knew me most intimately, saw me every day, heard all of my stories, knew what life was like for me - I really wanted THAT person to like me.
And I think that’s ok.
Our romantic partners should like us.
Also, wanting to be liked is part of our social hardwiring. We need community and belonging keeps us connected and safe.
Where “please like me” goes astray is when we forsake ourselves in order to gain approval or belonging from others (called self-abnegation).
It can happen in our romantic relationships, friendships, or even with strangers.
Self-abnegation looks like ignoring our own needs, such as needing more sleep, more physical touch, or more alone time. It can look like forcing ourselves into situations and environments where we don’t want to be or feel comfortable, such as going out when we really want to stay home and rest. It can look like not voicing our opinions or feelings for fear of how the other will respond.
It’s a gradual shrinking of the self.
Denying parts of ourselves: opinions, feelings, needs, hobbies, joys, etc.
It is painful to be with someone and not be liked.
It is painful to be in a family and not feel understood, seen, or heard.
It is painful to not be liked for who you are right now.
It is painful to feel like you can never “get it right” or be what they want.
These are some of the hardest lived experiences I work on with my therapy clients.
Similar to me, every single one of my clients WISHES they didn’t care so much. That their own self-approval was sufficient.
I think the first step is acknowledging that it’s ok to want to be liked.
It’s ok to want to be seen, understood, and heard.
It’s ok that it hurts when we don’t receive that.
AND, we need to honor our own needs. We need to show up for ourselves. We need to protect ourselves.
We have to learn how to sit with the uncomfortable emotion of being disliked (distress tolerance). To know it’s ok that they did not like us. Whether someone likes us or not has far more to do with THEM than it does with us.
Then we need to know how to respond to being disliked in a way that honors us (for example, spending less time with the person, changing the subject, reaching out to someone who does appreciate us, etc.)
When I spoke with my ex last night, I was surprised by how quickly my old desire for wanting to be liked came back.
Just like always, he gave me unsolicited advice about how I could be doing things better. I wanted to explain myself more. To say, “No look, I’ve thought this through and I am acting with great intention and purpose. Please understand and see I’m doing this well.”
But I knew that would get me nowhere with him (for it never got me anywhere in the past.)
Instead, I changed the subject and proceeded to end the conversation.
For me, that was growth. I didn't need to prove myself to him anymore.
Small steps is how growth happens. Choice after choice after choice.
Do you need support as you dismantle people pleasing behavior?
I am accepting new therapy clients.