As social creatures, we are concerned, often to a fault, with whether or not we are enjoyed, appreciated, and respected by those around us. We pander to the whims of others, hoping to please everyone (or at least find few enemies). We try to behave affably, make the correct remark, and laugh at the appropriate times, all for the sake of winning the fancy of our company.
The approval of others becomes a top social priority and dictates many of our actions. At some point or another, most of us succumb to this tendency to butter the rest of mankind’s bread, which is fine. It’s natural to do so. But, we must exercise caution. You see, investing ourselves too fully into how others perceive us can have terrible consequences.
When We Care Too Much About Others’ Opinions of Us
People who frequently seek the attention and praise of others are looking for an external validation of themselves. They want something outside of them to deem them worthy, able, and good. Usually, this is because, at their core, they are filled with self-doubt. So they do what they can to increase positive feedback and eliminate negative feedback.
But here’s the problem with this way of thinking: When we act in such a way that eliminates negative criticism, we also eliminate many, many possible lifestyles, actions, and directions from our realm of possibility. We become slaves to that which we believe others will approve.
This is a tragedy! Within all of us, there are numerous things we really, deeply wish we could do — travel the Earth, start a business, build an Earthship, become a stand-up comic/vagabond, etc. etc. But the vast majority of us don’t do these things because we’re worried about what others will say or think. We end up sacrificing our selves and our dreams to try to appease those around us.
Furthermore, it has been well-documented in psychological research studies (like this one or this one) that social anxiety directly correlates to an exaggerated desire to increase validation from others and decrease criticism. This means that the more you care about how others will react to what you do, the more likely you are to be socially discontented and uncomfortable. Instead of suffering these consequences, we should adopt a different attitude.
Let’s Embrace Those Who Judge, Scoff, and Speak Ill of Us
Caring too much about what others think of you stifles your ability to take risks and disrupts your social satisfaction. The funny thing is — whether we invest energy into making others like us or not, there will always be people who don’t.
Historically, many of the most loved people were also among the most hated while they were alive. Jesus Christ, Abraham Lincoln, and John Lennon were all assassinated for spreading messages of love and understanding. So, I’m suggesting that we’d all be much better off embracing those who will find reason to despise us.
It’s so much easier to do this than to waste our lives allowing the faultfinders to dictate our actions. Moreover, being disliked by people is actually a sign that you’re doing something worthwhile.
Being Disliked Means You Stand for Something
When you simply mimic the values of your current company, your opinion stops being yours. You become a hypocritical piece of clay, molding yourself constantly to try to fit in everywhere, and in doing so, retaining no shape to call your own.
Conversely, being courageous enough to “do your thing”, stand by your values, and live your own lifestyle (even if it isn’t popular) is empowering because you develop a strong identity. Gradually, you become satisfied and confident in your own skin.
Your Friends Will be True Friends
When your top priority is to gain the approval of everyone, you’re inviting people to befriend a sham. You’ve developed a façade disguising your complex, idiosyncratic, untidy self. Most people won’t know the you that’s buried beneath, and you may begin to forget that person too.
On the other hand, habitually presenting your genuine, vulnerable, weird self does nothing but strengthen your acceptance of who you are. The people who call you friend will actually care about and believe in you, not some charlatan.