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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I have a thought and maybe it will be beneficial. After dealing with many many narcs in my life I’ve come to think that all their actions are out of fear. Someone hurt them in the past (way in the past) and they are on high alert now about EVERYTHING. All their attacks are pre-emptive and defensive which is why they are so mind boggling. All their accusations are based on the possiblity that we are trying to hurt them on purpose like that other person way back when. They think we are trying to hurt them and so they tell these lies (that they think are the truth) to everyone that will listen to protect themself. Or they think we will lie about them so they lie about us first, also in defense. They try to steal our opportunities because they think we are trying to steal theirs. They think we are wonderful at first because they are desperate for a “good person” to fill that void in their soul. When we make normal mistakes, they assume we are like the ones that hurt them or it is only a matter of time until we turn into that so they distance themself and get cold and unloving (because they think we are going to be cold and unloving so they prepare ahead of time or try to punish us into not becoming a ‘bad person’).
Not sure if this is completely accurate, but it is the best model I have found for their behavior.
Unfortunately, until they realize they are not constantly under attack, they will keep acting out at fake enemies and those that love them. There doesn’t seem to be any way to get through their walls and show them. It is something they have to meditate on and realize themself.
If I ever told my ex ‘no,’ he would ask why, and pick apart my answer, twisting and ridiculing any objection that I gave him to whatever it was he wanted. When I realized what was happening and began to just say NO, refusing to give him reasons, it drove his absolutely nuts. If we were not already separated, I have no doubt he would have responded with violence, as there was a history of such in our relationship. A simple NO carries a lot of power. Sometimes you have to be in a place of safety to use it.
I can truly say that after being in a relationship with a narcissist, I’ve become a better person. It helped me to clearly see the things I needed to work on and change. I didn’t know I was codependent(didn’t even know what it was) until I started researching narcissism. I was really disturbed at first because I couldn’t believe I was that person. I’m still a work in progress but it’s a great relief knowing exactly what I need to work on. Like someone commented previously, we have the ability to change but a narc… Will always be a narc!!! I’m loving the realization!!!!
@cowboy: This was an excellent statement you made: “Of course, the great difference between us and the Ns is that we can learn. The pain of dealing with them has opened many of our eyes to the work we need to do. We are able to learn and grow and of course they never will.” Yes, we see where our weakness are and choose to work to strengthen ourselves. Unfortunately, they cannot. That piece has been so hard for me to accept.
Aside from having people-pleasing issues as a recovering co-dependent person, I am also from a state that has a culture which views direct communication and saying the word “no” outright as being “brash” and “rude,” the worst possible faux pas that can easily get one socially blacklisted.
What is actually unhealthy, passive-aggressive behavior, speech and mannerisms is believed and taught to be the “right” and polite thing to do where I am from (those of you who are from the American South probably know what I am talking about, our cultures are very similar in this regard). You make up an elaborate sentence/excuse to decline doing something that beats around the bush, instead of just saying the word “no” outright. It’s common for people to “forget” to do things simply because they don’t want to do them, problem is they don’t decline to begin with.
To help combat this, I’ve finally learned how to say “no” – by SPECIFICALLY using and saying the word “no”— to express myself when I don’t want to do something, whether I simply just don’t feel like it or because the other person is trying to take advantage. This may sound silly to some, but I’ve found bringing that word into my speech and being comfortable saying it is very liberating and empowering. “No” sets up a boundary and is pretty definitive and final.
I am recalling one of the first times that I learned to embrace the word and use it after I got rid of my Narc ex:
I invited a friend of mine to attend a work event one night. I was not aware that she had transportation issues (because she neglected to mention this). The event was held downtown, near where I live, and she lives in a suburb about 20 miles away. She committed to attending but then called me shortly before hand. She asked: “Can you pick me up?” She didn’t offer any gas money with her request. Her place was not on the way to the event. In short, she was asking if I would drive 20 miles to pick her up, then back another 20 miles to the event. And how was she going to get home?
Instead of considering taking a taxi or the light rail, she was CLEARLY depending on me to pick her up and BANKING that I’d say “yes.”
The old me would have either been annoyed and picked her up anyway and then silently resented her, or declined without saying the word no. Not this time. I simply said: “No. I am not driving all the way to Your Town and back to downtown.”
It felt SO GOOD to say no! I didn’t care if she thought I was selfish or being a “bitch.” Her request was an unreasonable one, and most importantly, one that I had the OPTION to decline. So I did.
And know what happened? She didn’t get mad. She didn’t call me names. What was she gonna do? And so what if she did?
She wound up coming to the event, suddenly becoming aware of how Uber works after I said “no” to picking her up.
Try it! If it’s too hard to say, start with work emails and then text messages. “No. That doesn’t work for me.” “No. That is against policy.” “No, I don’t want to.”
Embrace and love “just saying ‘no!’”
Thanks for the post. It reminded me of two things. First, there is a terrific book called The Book of No, by a woman named Susan Newman. I got this some years ago and used to read it every year or so. It lists over 250 ways to say no to various types of requests. Second, I sometimes have to deal with people from cultures where saying no directly is a no-no. It can be maddening! I often will use a friend who speaks the language and knows the culture to translate. If I really need to nail something down in a meeting — really need a yes or no answer — I can ask my friend, off-line, whether what I heard in the meeting was a “real yes” or a “no yes”? Apparently there are a host of subtle cues, but I can’t always pick up on them. I have learned the hard way that what sounds like yes is not always yes. One thing this has taught me — besides how invaluable “cultural translators” are — is the great virtues of being direct. I am often tempted to be diplomatic, beat around the bush etc., but being on the receiving end of this has made me more likely to just say yes or no directly. It is actually more respectful to the other person to be direct than it is to avoid the dreaded “no” and leave things ambiguous.
@Cowboy — I know what you mean by the “real yes” and the “yes no” and how frustrating it can be. In terms of doing business, some cultures really feel that the hard “no” is what is rude and disrespectful — as crazy as it may feel, you getting the runaround is them being respectful toward you. We do have this element in the cultural makeup of my home state, too, but not to this extent. But When in Rome, right? I think it’s helpful to know how to play this game when needed, but only when working in an environment where this type of communication is expected.
I don’t want to say that it’s right or wrong, because that is relative, but I’ve found that the way I was raised to communicate (more on the passive aggressive side) just does not work for me and for what I need. Being direct, upfront and saying “no” has made my personal life much, much easier.
I will pick up this book that you mentioned here, I’d love to see what it says!
I always was consumed with what others thought of me. I was made fun of as a child because I was not the typical beauty. I had a awkward stage but I blossomed as I got older. I get more attention now. I always feel good when people give me compliments. I like a lot of attention and sometimes crave it. I have to work on building myself up so I can feel secure with or without the compliments.
I had been doing better until someone in my family made a derogatory comment to me in treating me. They said Hi crazy, twice at the same family outing. I had was getting bothered by the comment. I had to stop and realize I don’t have to accept other people’s labels. I also realized why I had stop coming around that side of my family. I could sense the negativity energy directed at me. It reminded me that not everyone is happy when they see the new changes in you. They sometimes want to resort back to putting you in their box. No one else can define me. After years of being with a Narcissist, you start to think and act like you are not worthy. I heard the authors of ” He’s just not into you” book say she changed her hair dramatically. She wanted to change her look, did healthier habits in doing so she convinced herself that the new her was no longer a door mat. I had to change my hair and my look, so the “new me” wouldn’t dare go back to his emotional abuse from him or anyone. I am looking better and feeling better. I am focused on putting my needs first. We share a child together, I do see him during visitation time. I have boundaries so that he can’t bother me anymore. I don’t engage any negative behavior and I keep it strictly about our child. This website has been so healthy for me. Thank you posting great articles to help us on our journey.
Greetings! This is a great post Savannah. I think that the best lesson I took from my experience (even now, my stomach churns..) is that we need to watch out for these kind of people in different contexts – not the same ones. The next time I meet a user/nasty/narcissist, it probably won’t be a man. It won’t be the same context – my brain has taught me about that, but what my intellect and mind need to do is to transfer the lesson to OTHER situations, OTHER people. That’s why the post you have put up here is spot on: it’s not just about men, it’s not solely even about narcissists. It’s about protecting yourself, and keeping your eyes and ears open, to new people, and to those whom you know for a long time. Nothing ever stays the same, and relationships fall into that category, too. They need to be evaluated constantly, and that’s where all these skills come into play. Judge a man by his looks again? Na, wouldn’t do that. But if you judge a street, or a social class, or a woman or a book by her looks again – well then, you haven’t learned anything worth learning from your dalliance with the Narcissist. That’s my take on it, that’s how I see it all now. It has changed the way I view all of life – not just men. That’s the easy bit. xx
My wish would be that these somatic boomerang narcs wouldn’t so so damn hot. Their hours at the gym do pay off–makes them great to look at but that’s about it. I get frustrated with myself for finding them so physically desirable; I just have to keep telling myself, no, No, NO! He will only cause hurt!!! They’re like kryptonite. LOL
I just learned that I’m codependent, after 50 years, from a painful relationship with a narcissist, who taught me that my mom is a narcissist and that’s why people-pleasing seemed so critical to my survival, because as a child, it was. Powerful words here – thank you!
I grew up in an environment where I often received negative feedback for asserting my boundaries and positive feedback for “going with the flow” and being submissive to behavior that really was not fair. The negative I heard and intuited: you are too needy, difficult, sensitive, selfish; you won’t have any friends or boyfriends; if you get what you want it has to be exactly what I want too, if not I’ll pout and make you regret asking for something; silence/annoyed look; I’m better than you so if you want to be with me you have to do what I say; I’m a mess so you have to put up with my bad behavior or you are uncaring. It was so ingrained that I’m still working on it. But now that this issue/dynamic is conscious for me and I understand it, it has been easier for me to recognize when an unhealthy person doesn’t respect my boundaries and pushes back when I assert myself. Most of the time it’s subtle, maybe just a look of disapproval or a withholding of kindness so staying aware is crucial. Otherwise I easily slip into my unconscious pattern of guilt and fear of rejection and suddenly I’m violating my own boundary, giving them what they want and inevitably getting angry afterwards.
I’ve also learned that asserting myself in a respectful, gentle, thoughtful manner means that I’m doing my utmost to open the door to a respectful dialogue and the other person cannot shift the blame to me for using a disrespectful communication style. As the post states, it’s not selfish- I’m really just seeking equanimity in my relationships and interactions: we both give and take equally and treat each other fairly- I’m not looking to stack the deck in my favor. Protecting my boundaries and caring for myself so I am healthy and have something worthwhile to give has been an essential perspective as a starting point. The visual image I have for this is the instruction you receive on an airplane to put the oxygen mask on yourself first so you are alive and able to put it on your child.
This is all a work in progress for me and I look forward to reading the comments here for added insight.
I have had to learn many of the same lessons. And I bet many others on here have too. Scratch an N victim and you will very often find a codependent person, or at least a very giving person. Ns have a great radar for those who want to help, so they pick us out. Your point that we are at the far end of the external validation spectrum, along with the Ns of the world, is true I think. We are more alike in this than we care to admit. Or at least, we are highly complementary. For the Ns, as the saying goes, “They need everyone. So they don’t need anyone.” And for me, I would say, “I need someone. So I’ll take anyone.” This same need for external approval carries over in all parts of life.
Of course, the great difference between us and the Ns is that we can learn. The pain of dealing with them has opened many of our eyes to the work we need to do. We are able to learn and grow and of course they never will.
I like the tools you mention here. Awareness of where we are on the spectrum of external approval is extremely helpful. Self-affirmation helps me when I am trying to counteract the pull to please others, or the internal drive to have someone else approve of me. Affirming myself helps keep me from being manipulated. I might say, “there is a young part of me that wants this person’s approval. But I approve of myself. I love that young part of me, and all the parts of myself. I am whole and complete.”
I also like the idea that we don’t need a committee of people to stamp our decisions for approval. We are enough, our preferences are enough. I have learned to ask a very simple question that was hard for me to formulate in the past: “Is this good for me?” If the answer is no –that’s it.
Some other tools I have learned are these: on the top of my to-do list every day I write “Say NO.” This reminds me that I have this right! Another aspect of this is to have a policy of never agreeing to any big commitment on the first phone call or in response to the first email. I stall for time, putting off a decision, because I know I am pulled toward saying yes, to please the person asking me (and often for the immediate strokes of getting the affirmation of the person asking me, e.g., “oh, you’re so nice and so helpful, thank you”; or “oh, this event will be so great with you participating, etc.” I know I am susceptible to overcommitment because I crave that praise, so I put off making a commitment. I protect myself from that hunger for approval. I say “Ill think about it,” or “I’ll check my schedule,” or whatever. I buy time to connect with myself and what I want and need.
Another good tool is when I say no to either not give reasons (people can argue with reasons, then I might weaken and give in), or to give the type of reason people cannot argue with (“that just doesn’t feel right for me at this time,” or “my gut is telling me no on this one.” And I try not to apologize for saying no! I try to remember I am doing them a favor by even considering the request!
People pleasing was a natural response to my childhood environment. That’s why I need grown-up tools to counteract it. Thanks so much for the refresher course!
@Cowboy — This post made me realize how much I used to rely on rallying a committee in my decision making and to validate how I felt about something, because I had no faith in my own perceptions and beliefs.
I used to need to consult a few friends when certain things happened in my life, especially when I felt that I had been wronged or when it was time to make a big decision — my own feelings, desires and ideas were not enough, I needed the external approval of others.
Looking inward instead and trusting my own gut has helped build my confidence immensely. If I feel a certain way, it is valid simply because I feel it and my feelings do matter. By taking the steps to not reach out and look inward instead to solve my own problems, I’ve solved a lot of dilemmas on my own and have made big decisions that I stand by. Even making the old Pro and Con list helps me at times if I feel stuck, or just listening to my gut.
As I was reading through this weeks post, I was thinking I use to do it like that and my ex N/P would tell me how cold I was for saying no to someone especially him, or I needed to be more kind towards people. That I was selfish if I didn’t drop everything immediately to help. What happened is I was conditioned to accept what he said instead of paying attention to his actions. He played the nice guy always there to help anyone, at the expense of his family and friends. Manipulate people, mostly helped women, lied, cheated helped people he thought he could gain something from someday. I made mistakes, I wasn’t perfect but I am realizing I had some good boundaries and the manipulative games theses N play find their way in to any little crack and its like a game to them to see how far they can push you and erode everything that you are confident about. Do they get like extra supply vibes from this??? I just don’t get their cruelty as much as I have studied and come to understand I have just resolved to get me back, pay attention, watch for red flags, enjoy life again.
Very interesting article, reminding me of the “doormat” issues of my youth. I really appreciate your writing. Thank you so much.