Letting Go of the Need to Please
We all want to be liked, it’s part of the human condition, but that need can become excessive and unhealthy when it becomes our primary focus. Codependents often have a very strong impulse to please others, especially those that reject them. It’s a unique dynamic where the more someone pulls away from them, the stronger the lure is for the codependent.
Early on in my journey I noticed it when I began dating again. I was six months removed from my momentous break-up and I had entered into the revolving door of on-line dating. I spent most of my time preoccupied with whether or not these men liked me. My thinking was still other-person-focused. I had a lot of insecurities and I needed the external validation to raise my low self-esteem. I didn’t spend the time I should have getting to know them and focusing on my needs and wants and whether or not they matched up – that would come much later – my initial focus was only on whether or not they liked me.
The Need for External Validation as a Spectrum
I think the “need” to be liked by others is a spectrum, with Narcissists and Codependents on one end, seeking extreme validation and the Massively Over Confident – to the point of arrogant, on the other, with Healthy and Insecure somewhere in between.
Healthy, confident people look to see if the person they date fits them and their needs – first. Of course they want to be liked, but they are self-focused and their primary concern, when dating, is if their date is a suitable match for them followed by, are we suitable together. If their date isn’t interested they don’t internalize the rejection, they just skip along to the next one.
Insecure individuals are concerned with whether or not they are liked, but they are, at the same time, thinking about whether you are a good match for them. One slightly insecure gentleman explained it to me like this, “If I see a girl I’m attracted to, first I’ll approach cautiously and gage her interest. I’ll be sweating for sure. If she seems interested then I’ll talk to her, get to know her. If I hate her laugh, or her voice annoys me, or I start to see things that I don’t like in her personality, my effort level will drop.”
When you get out there and you start dating again it’s important to always be aware of your needs. Gage where you are on the Need to Be Liked Scale and ask yourself always – Do I like you? Are you good for me? Are there things I should be concerned about? Pay attention to any red flags. It’s okay to have some insecurities, but your primary concern should always be- is this person good for me. If that isn’t your mindset and you’re too wrapped up in whether or not they will like you- stop dating and work on your self-esteem. When you approach dating from an unhealthy place and you are other-person-focused you are setting yourself up for failure. You cannot hope to enter into a mutually fulfilling relationship without knowing what you want and actively seeking it. Get yourself to the point of being self-focused, then when you go out on a date you will feel more confident, more in control and you’re not inclined to let anyone walk all over you, or bust your boundaries.
When You Allow Your Emotions To Be Controlled By Others
Many years ago a co-worker stormed into my office and let me have it over something I thought was pretty trivial. Because my self-esteem was still a work in progress at the time, I got really upset. I felt lower than low and I felt like crying. I was so insecure and unsure of myself that I needed to talk about the issue to other co-workers. I needed them to agree with me and be on my side.
It wasn’t until much later that I gleaned two very important lessons from that experience. The first came by way of a quote, “Inner peace begins the moment you choose not to allow any person or event to control your emotions.” That quote really resonated with me and it taught me that someone else’s upset, their emotional-ness, their inappropriate behavior has absolutely nothing to do with me. They may be acting the way they are because they’re unhealthy, because of their past experiences, or they’re playing off of old childhood scripts. I cannot control someone else’s behavior, I can only control how I react to it – so in all cases where I am forced to deal with someone who is acting irrationally I choose not to react and I instead don’t internalize their behavior, I leave it where it belongs, with them. If someone is acting hysterically and you don’t participate they will feel and look pretty silly after a while being emotional all by themselves.
The second thing I learned was that I don’t need back-up. I don’t need to have the masses behind me so I can say, “See so and so agrees with me, so that makes me right.” I can be right all by myself. It’s knowing that what I think – is good enough and all I need. I don’t need another to validate my opinion. If I’m wrong I can woman up and admit it, but I don’t need to be voted right by public opinion.
One of my brothers vehemently disagrees with me about our mother’s dysfunctional behavior. He was her favorite, the golden child and he’s 12 years older than I am, so of course his experiences were different than mine. He’s not the most enlightened person and I don’t think he’s ever done a minute of introspection. One night a family friend asked me about my childhood and I told him my views as honestly as I could. My brother was in earshot and piped in with, “Oh please. You’re always so hard done by. Always the victim.”
In the past his comment would have really upset me, fortunately I was well on my way to feeling good about myself and I calmly said to him, “I don’t need you to validate me. My experiences were not your experiences.” And I turned back to our friend and continued my conversation. He seemed a little dumb founded that he didn’t get the reaction he was used to getting. I realized at that moment that the key to dealing with disagreeable people is to not feed them any emotions which negates their pay off.
Not Everyone Has to Like Me
Many years ago I sent an email to a friend of mine. She worked for a TV station and I asked her if she could get a few contact phone numbers for my other friend, who was a TV producer, looking for a contract. Her response was, “No I don’t want to ask (her boss) for anything. I want to stay as far away from him as possible until my contract runs out. I don’t owe (my other friend) anything. He’s never done anything for me.”
My first reaction was, ‘What a bitch. Who talks like that and thinks like that?’ I thought she was so selfish and I didn’t talk to her for a long time. I came across that email recently while cleaning out my inbox and now when I read it I thought, sure she could have worded it differently, but I had changed since I’d first read it. Now I recognized what it meant to put yourself first. I knew that her boss made her feel uncomfortable. He was sexually harassing her and she didn’t want to have to be indebted to him for any reason. She was protecting herself. She was being self-focused and taking care of herself. She didn’t care if she looked like a bitch doing so and she wasn’t afraid to say no to something that could cause her harm.
I’ve had many experiences lately saying no to people, who may interpret my behavior as selfish, or bitchy and that’s okay. I don’t purposely go looking for conflict or animosity, but I’m alright with the idea that not everyone likes me. Not everyone has to. When you move from being other-people-focused to self-focused it changes your perspective and the way others perceive you. You stop being afraid to say no. You stop being afraid of not being liked, or how others will perceive you. It’s not about being selfish – it’s about putting yourself first, your needs first and believing that what you want is important. It’s about enforcing your boundaries even when it’s not the most popular thing to do. When you become self-focused you care a lot less about being liked and more about doing what feels right to you regardless of popular opinion.
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Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at freedigitalphotos.net