It can be hard when someone doesn’t like us, but does it have to affect our self-esteem? We ask some New Zealand women how they feel about it and what to do when someone doesn’t like you.
We like to be liked. Who doesn’t? Humans are creatures who need each other to survive and thrive. The need to be liked is hardwired into us. When we were sharing juicy cuts of antelope as hunter-gatherers – and as we aged and lost our teeth – being liked was crucial to staying alive. Ostracism could spell death.
In the 21st century, we’re still interdependent, if not in quite the same way. We interact with people every (or nearly every) day, at work and at play. Naturally, most of us want to be liked and approved of, because that helps us in life and, well, it just feels nice. Inevitably, though, given the number of people we’ll encounter as we move through life, some people just won’t like us. And that can be hard to accept.
Clinical psychologist Dr Marcia Reynolds has written an article for Psychology Today called What to Do When Someone Doesn’t Like You. “Humans are social animals and need each other to survive,” she writes. “The idea of realising one’s potential without the help of others is an illusion. Based on the need for social connection, a person’s reaction to rejection from others can be strong.” Anyone particularly sensitive to rejection may believe they are, at their core, unlikable, so they’re more likely to be bothered by someone disliking them.
Whether it’s a colleague, a friend of a friend, an acquaintance, the mum of your child’s friend, someone from your book group, or anyone at all, it can feel stink when someone doesn’t like you. “I’m pathetic in this regard,” a friend tells me. “Even when I dislike someone, I’d still rather they liked me. And I’m pretty mouthy and I think I sometimes come across weird, so logically of course not everyone will like me!” Another friend says: “I find it really, really hard if I know someone doesn’t like me – I think maybe because I generally like everyone. My threshold of not liking or trusting someone is really high”.
When someone doesn’t like you, it can be hard to accept
When someone doesn’t like you, how do you prevent this impacting your self-esteem? A good starting point could be unpacking your thought process around it, as Tracey*, an academic from Auckland, does. “A) being a good person is important to me, but I’m mostly okay with people being ‘not my kind of people’ [not liking me] – and sometimes you gotta do hard stuff that some people won’t like you for. B) I work on the philosophy of ‘who I am is my business and that of those I love, and what others think [of me] is none of my business.’ C) If something is really rattling my cage about another person’s response to me, I dig a bit deeper. What is that bringing up for me – i.e insecurity, fear, worthiness or lack thereof? I try to work on that instead of the person’s feelings towards me.”
“And, D) it’s hard to truly identify the feelings or motivations of others as our own emotional lenses are very thick – so it’s good to be introspective, and not too worried about others. But none of this means it being disliked doesn’t bother me!”
It’s worth remembering your radar could be off. Someone you think doesn’t like you may have a terse tone with everyone, or may be dealing with things like health or relationship problems. We don’t always know what someone has going on. Still, most of us can tell on a gut level if someone dislikes us.
What to do when someone doesn’t like you
Christine*, an administration assistant from Christchurch, says “I’m always surprised when people don’t like me, and I’m also surprised when they do! But in general I expect that plenty of people won’t like me, because I also don’t like lots of people. I only mind if someone’s openly hostile or mean to me, or if it’s someone I work with and it makes that difficult, or if I’ve been misrepresented or misunderstood. I’d struggle with being famous, because people would believe or invent stories about me that aren’t true.”
There’s actually a book called What You Think of Me Is None of My Business. That’s an empowering concept, I reckon. Because it suggests you don’t need to try and control or change what people think of you, and just accept it.
In her Psychology Today article, Dr Reynolds outlines what to do if, after unpacking our own responses and other factors, we’re sure that someone doesn’t like us. “Ask yourself whether this matters. Some people will like you. Others will not. Will the person’s judgment of you impact your work or life? If not, what can you do to release your need to be liked or even respected by this person? And, what can you do to stay neutral and not return the dislike?” (If you do, though, totally understandable.)
We can also flip it; if we don’t like someone, how do we handle that? Liz*, a creative from Wellington, admits there are plenty of people she doesn’t like. “I work in a people-heavy job and have lots of acquaintances, so I’ve learned to be friendly to people I don’t like. I’m pretty sure most of them don’t know I don’t like them. But I find it lazy and annoying when people don’t hide their dislikes – if I have to be friendly, everyone should have to be!”
Liz knows not everyone likes her, and she’s fine with that. “Sometimes I have a good look at the person who doesn’t like me and see that they like, for example, a certain political party, vanilla-scented candles, weak tea and cargo pants, and then I’m pleased they don’t like me cos IMO they have bad taste and I don’t want to be a thing they like.” Fair enough, too.
For Kapiti Coast researcher Penny Ehrhardt, it’s about context. “If it’s someone I work in a team with, have a close personal relationship with, or, worst of all, respect and admire, then it’s very hard. But if it’s a random, I’m pretty close to not giving a fuck. I believe everyone has a choice about who they like. Someone missing out on my brilliance is their loss. I know I’m not everyone’s cup of tea. Occasionally that makes me anxious. But mostly I find my bunch of geeks, freaks and weirdos whose company I can enjoy. Not being popular is liberating.”