If there is anywhere I don’t feel completely free, then it’s in my being free from the need to be liked by others.
Likability is my Achilles heel.
The truth is, there is an aspect of myself that wants everyone to like me. While this aspect still often runs the show, in recent years I’ve grown in my ability to witness when it’s active and also in my ability to overcome or relax it.
This isn’t the kind of fear that I can promise you is irrational or overestimated.
The truth is, as I’ve become more free to be disliked, I’ve experienced more and more dislike.
Living within the safe harbour of an always likeable way of being is very functional in creating safety. In fact, I spent a few decades building my safe harbour, and the waters within it became very calm. In other words, I got really freaking good at being liked.
This created a real problem for me though. Becoming very good at being liked conditioned me to the comfort of being surrounded by people who like me. This comfort, inadvertently, made me more susceptible to turbulence. I became even more ‘fragile’ so to speak.
How this showed up in my life is an obsession with understanding people and being understood by them. As I focused on these skills, I grew in my ability to create the safe harbour of likability, which only reinforced the environment exacerbating my fragility.
Indeed, I have cultivated many strengths through my desperation to be liked – a long hangover from years of exclusion as a young boy in grade school – but these strengths all have their dark side.
In my mid-forties now, I can see how this shadow plays out. I can see how it has me over-extending myself, holding back, and getting my priorities out of whack in all areas of my life.
Put in a slightly more productive light, my obsessive desire to be liked has made me very good at creating and maintaining relationships. Not all of it is born from fear these days. In fact, most of the habits I now wield with a confident effortlessness rather than a hopeful desperation.
In seeing the dark side of what has long been my orientation of expertise, however, I’ve been able to choose consciously not to seek that which I was long compelled towards.
In recent years, I’ve been willing, through conscious choice, to both allow and accommodate people disliking me.
By ‘allowing’, I mean that within myself, I have found peace with their dislike. When I am allowing people to dislike me, I am at ease in the face of their protests, projections, and even their disparaging statements of my character.
By ‘accommodating’, I mean that I am willing for people in my world, both virtual and real, to express their dislike of me to me – and to others as well.
The combination of these two has given me the power to speak and act in ways that, admittedly, were beyond the threshold of my character before.
Having spent the first 35 years of my life living where winters were harsh and cold, and the last 10 years living where it’s summer year-round, I can tell you two things:
First, I got very soft when it comes to the cold. I can get the shivers when it drops below 70 F / 21 C.
Second, it doesn’t take long to recover the strength. A few days of cold showers or cold plunges, and I feel herculean in the face of cold again.
If you’ve never done a cold plunge, the secret to reaping the benefit is in the intention.
In fact, the neuroscientist Andrew Huberman explains that activating the sympathetic nervous system intentionally as a means of cultivating strength has a very different physiological effect than when it happens unintentionally.
In this same way, being disliked as a result of an action that I took because I intentionally chose to allow and accommodate being disliked, produces a herculean sense of power as well.
The freedom to be disliked is not just about not being phased, it’s about actually being charged up, energized and strengthened when people dislike you.
It is a kind of transmutation of energy where what you before avoided becomes something that feeds you.
In the past, it never inspired me to hear the idea that for you to express your greatness, ‘some will love you and others will hate you’. It always just sounded like a ‘trade-off’ that one needed to make.
Now though, I understand and experience it differently. Now, when I’m at my best, I experience the dislike of others as an affirmation of my power to be myself. It deepens my trust in that which guides me to speak and act in the ways that I do…which is from something far deeper than the opinions of others or even my own.
Loving us all, JPM