A People Pleaser’s Guide to Being Disliked
For the majority of my primary school career, I was a rather neutral figure. People knew who I was; I was involved, I held leadership positions, I spent time flitting between a pretty wide variety of social circles. But I was never a person who other people talked about. My athletic successes were advertised enough on the school website, my name was on the honor roll list in the hall; while I certainly wasn’t invisible, I also wasn’t exactly conversational.
Then, one year ago, it happened.
I spent my time in ~the high school rumor mill~.
Did I do anything wrong? Nope. Did I change one single thing about my demeanor or my actions that would give people any grounds for slander? Nope. Was one single word that was said about me true? Nope.
But everybody talks. And they spoke lie after lie after lie. I heard things about myself that truly made me laugh out loud, they were so outlandish.
Still, it hurt. It made me doubt myself, even though I knew I had nothing to doubt. I had spent years building this immaculate reputation, and a few purely mean, self-absorbed girls had felled it with a single whisper. I thought, as seventeen year olds with a lot of growing up to do always do, that my life was over.
And then, I actually thought.
And let me tell you, those three months, where everybody “hated” me, may have been the best thing to ever happen to me.
Here’s what I was thinking while everyone was talking, and here’s what you can ask yourself, and expect, if you ever find yourself the subject of a nasty lie or the victim of a social armada.
- How much of me is a social invention?
I sat down with my journal about two weeks after the chatter started, and I made a T-chart. On one side, I listed words that I had heard being used to describe me. I read them over and over and over. I separated myself from them, and thought carefully about each one. I found that truly, none of them applied to me at all. But I could see where some of them, like “competitive” and “cold”, might seem plausible to someone who doesn’t actually know me. I do work hard, and I make that very clear. I do want to be good at the things that I spend my time on. And I do suffer from anxiety that may make me seem closed off or hyperfocused. But that’s not something I could change. It also wasn’t something I felt like I really should have to change.
It did, though, make me begin to question other aspects of my personality. As I filled in the rest of the chart, with who my close friends, my family, and I know me to be, I realized that other people couldn’t probably see many of those things because I kept them hidden for fear of judgement. I love to experiment with clothes, but I was always concerned with what people would think if I wore anything other than the current trends. And I love to write and I’m actually very creative, but my circle of “friends” was super intent on being “science minded” and sticking to fact and following a comfortable, classical medicine or business track in college. And I have very leftist views, but the people around me are the polar opposite. I was keeping my mouth shut to fit in. I was totally conforming, sometimes even vocalizing opinions different from my own, just so I could slip into conversation with ease.
I didn’t like that. So that week, while people were still spreading rumors about me, I did a pretty brave thing and I started to be authentically me, rather than who others wanted or expected me to be. And some people really didn’t like me, then. But some really did. Which leads me to my next point…
- Who do I actually like?
I like people who don’t ask me about my day just so they can tell me about their own. I like people who genuinely care how my day was. I like people who push me to be better and to go out of my comfort zone. I like people who hold me accountable and ask me deep , difficult questions. I like people who I have real, heavy relationships with, who are truly on my wavelength and who I connect with authentically. I like people who make me laugh without putting other people down. I like people who are kind, and I like people who are real.
I was able to count on both hands the number of people like this in my life. Everyone else, I cut out, or at least began to distance myself from. I realized that I don’t have to like everyone, and if I didn’t pretend to anymore, if I didn’t let people who were always subtly trying to compete with me or one-up me back into my circle, I would get hurt a lot less.
- How many opinions actually matter?
I also came to realize that not everyone has to like me. OUCH. My perfectionist, people-pleasing heart had a tough time coming to terms with that. It was the support of my teachers and school administrators that honestly flipped the switch in my head. They were mature enough to see right through to the truth and to love and support me in spite of everything being said. I decided that I did care way more about what adults thought of me than of what petty teenagers thought of me. Kids weren’t writing my recommendation letters, or helping me to become better intellectually, or keeping my best interests in mind. Kids were being kids. And there’s not an awful lot of credibility there.
I grew up a lot and finally realized that we’re all going to grow up eventually, and in a year, we would all graduate and never see each other again, anyway. So as long as my true friends, my family, and the influential adults in my life believed in me, I could believe in me too. My people are the only permanence.
- Is this permanent?
Nope! Nope! Nope! Nothing is… but I’ll save that blog post for another day. 😉
- How big is the world?
Who constitutes “everybody”? I remember breaking down to my best friend one night, telling her that “everybody” hated me. She just rolled her eyes. “7 billion people in the world. So really? Everyone hates you? Everyone?”
Yeah, Lexi, you’re not that special. I could literally move one county over and start all over. This is a big world. I’m a small person. Though this was, at the time, the most pressing issue in my life, it wasn’t the most pressing issue in anyone else’s. It wasn’t even really an issue.
THEN, PREPARE YOURSELF TO:
- Find that love has become easier to give.
Compassion is not a trait we are born with; rather, it is a lesson that we learn. And sometimes it takes some awful life experiences to realize how cruel this world can be. Love despite it. Love because of it. Love because you know what loneliness feels like, what pain feels like. And when you feel like nobody cares about you, plaster on a smile and go care about everyone else. Love pushed outward is a more sustainable goal than love soaked in.
- Find that ties have become easier to sever.
Pick your tribe and foster those connections recklessly. Let the rest of the world fall to the wayside. You do not need everybody, and everybody does not need to need you.
- Learn to put yourself first.
Because there will be times when the only person looking out for you is you. You have to start believing, truly believing, that you are deserving of being a priority. Take care of yourself. Do what you need to do to meet your needs. Love yourself so much that it doesn’t matter if anyone else does. As Lana del Rey once said, no one is going to take your soul away. So hold it tight.
- Finally meet your own soul.
Other people think they know you, but do you even know you? Find out. Find you. And then shake hands with yourself and become your own greatest ally. You’ll realize that you are the only person who can know you so deeply, and once you get over how scary that is, you’ll realize how sensational that is.
- Rise above.
There is never an ounce of regret in being the bigger person. Hang in there and keep your eyes to the sun.
This, too, shall pass.
And you will be better because of it.