Yesterday, my son and I were having a discussion on the amount of time that he was spending with his ipad (it is summer vacation after all), and I gave in to his point of view – as often happens with us. However, I was feeling very uncomfortable with ‘our’ decision and so I decided to inquire into my own discomfort. Among the many fears, beliefs and agendas that had influenced this decision, one particularly caught my attention yesterday. I realized that somewhere deep inside of me I did not want my son to dislike me (and through logical extension of that, dislike anything I said or did).
This realization struck me like a bolt of lightning and since one my favourite hobby these days is to clear my head of limiting beliefs I got to work on this one. In working with beliefs picking on one, often brings out a whole conglomerate of associated beliefs. So even though I started out by working on a simple ‘fear of being disliked’, what came up eventually was much more. The process of inquiry took me back into my childhood where I had at some point concluded that I needed to be liked by my parents and all the other people around me. I realized that I had associated ‘being liked’ with ‘being safe’ (and probably there was some truth to that as a child). I also had learnt to interpret other’s liking as a sign of approval that what I was being or doing was indeed right. This way I had landed up making other’s liking very significant in my life – perhaps to an extent that in many situations it started subconsciously overruling other criteria and often even overpowered what intuitively felt ‘true’ or ‘best’ for me. From the cascade of insights related to ‘the need to be liked’ that tumbled into my awareness yesterday – here are three that brought me the greatest relief.
- Being disliked is not necessarily a bad thing
Even though I had philosophically come to terms with the idea that not everyone will like everything, somewhere inside I was still holding on to the premise that being disliked was a ‘bad’ thing. It was just one of the things we had to get used to since we cannot please everyone. When I started playing around more and more with the ‘fear of being disliked’ I started to wonder if ‘being disliked’ was necessarily a bad thing? I thought of vegetables like Bitter Gourd and Brinjal that my son does not like. In fact I know many people who do not like these vegetables but that does not make these vegetables bad. To challenge the assumption even further, I pushed myself to think how being disliked might sometimes be a ‘lucky’ thing. I looked at my garden which has no fences and noted to my amusement that the flowers that were least likely to be picked by passersby were the ones that people did not particularly ‘like’.
2. My need to be liked can handicap me from living my truth
This point is evident in my opening example but I realized that this is true in so many other aspects of life as well. I have felt this pinch the most when it comes to giving people feedback on their work. It is easy for me to tell what is right in their work, but far more challenging to tell them where they have gone wrong, or share what I might not have liked in their work. I also often find myself in trouble because the need to be liked makes me overcommit to things. I have landed up saying yes to assignments and invitations where I would have actually wanted to say no, only because I feared that saying no would mean the other person would dislike me. I have sometimes even chosen to be unkind to myself and stress myself out just so that the other person or party concerned will continue to like me. In some drastic situations I have even withheld my own truth because I have feared that somebody will dislike me if I tell the truth.
3. By insisting that my loved ones should like me I deny them their freedom
This last point was my greatest ‘aha’ moment yesterday. While wading through the awareness of beliefs and assumptions that had been holding me captive I could clearly sense how challenging some of them would bring me greater freedom and peace. What I did not realize was that challenging these assumptions would also set my loved ones free. It hit me quite strongly when I first saw that I had been holding my friends and family members captive through my insistence that if they loved me they had to always like me. Limiting my own choices is one thing but holding these other people captive because of my own need to be liked is quite another. What if it is okay for them to not like some things I might do or say, and on some days perhaps dislike me itself. Could we still be friends, colleagues, siblings, and parents and have tender and special space for one another in our lives. A space that allows the other to be there with us with no conditions attached – including that of liking us? A space that allows both them and us to be and relate without fear?