How to Stop NEEDING to Be Liked by Others (Walking Away from Life’s Great Popularity Contest)


Life doesn’t need to be a ‘popularity’ contest

This article will help you to deal with one of the most common but harmful problems in the world: needing to be ‘liked’.

The key word here is “NEED”.

Obviously, it’s better to be ‘likeable’ than not – there’s no need to purposely be unlikeable in life.

At the same time, we can make ourselves completely MISERABLE and take our lives of track by making being ‘liked’ our main motivation.

If we only focus on getting approval from other people then it just leads to us not spending time focusing on the REAL things we could be doing with ourselves and our lives, growing into a continuously more authentic version of ourselves, and finding a ‘tribe’ or community of people that actually like – or even LOVE – us for who we actually are (not some FAKE version of ourselves that we created because we crave validation).

If you have this problem (of needing to be liked) then you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about and you’ll probably suffer from some – or all – of the following symptoms:

  • You’re often anxious, frustrated, or even depressed (even if you don’t show it).
  • You know that you’re being ‘fake’ or selling yourself out in order to make people ‘like’ you but the thought of being disliked is too unbearable or too much hassle – because it would mean rearranging parts of your life – to start being real.
  • When you’re in a group of people you constantly find yourself comparing yourself to others and trying to figure out where you stand in the social hierarchy. This just stops you from relaxing and having a good time.
  • It’s almost like you don’t really even know who you are anymore –you’re main motivation for doing things is to ‘fit in’ and be approved of by the herd.
  • You’re constantly trying to make it look like you think/feel/do what everybody else does. You just want to come across as being ‘normal’ but now you’re paying the price because you feel detached from yourself.
  • When you’re out-and-about in public or hanging out with people, everybody thinks you’re a cheerful person who’s got it all together. You know that’s just a MASK, though, because in private you struggle with emotional emptiness and question everything you’re doing with your life.
  • You often find yourself having problems with boundaries because you want to be liked by absolutely everybody and so you say “Yes” to their needs and “No” to your own (when a REAL approach is to say “Yes” to your own when you’re not hurting anybody and “Yes” to others when it suits you).
  • You’re obsessed with your own self-image and constantly need other people to help you reinforce it for you (because it’s on unstable foundations because it’s not REAL).
  • (if you can think of any other obvious symptoms then please leave a comment).

To make matters worse, having this unreal attitude towards ourselves and our lives can be made worse by drama and BS in your life.

This is because you’re probably not the only person in your life or social circle that has this problem; others in the world around you also have a tendency to crave being liked by everybody else (even people they don’t ‘like’ because of their own ego stuff) and this just leads to life turning into one big Popularity Contest.

This being the case, just leads to all kinds of unnecessarily stressful situations where everybody is in competition with each other for something they don’t need in reality in the first place: the approval and ‘liking’ of other people.

Depending on how much they secretly hate themselves and have a void to fill within themselves (because of unresolved shame, usually), people will put all of their efforts into trying to build themselves up (to mask how small they feel) and to put others down.

This Popularity Contest is completely unnecessary because it’s totally unreal in its primary reason for existence: helping people to convince themselves that things that aren’t important about them or anybody else are important.

The only winning strategy in this particular ‘contest’ is not to play.

This article will help you figure out how you can check out and be in competition with the only person that matters: YOURSELF.

The Irrationality of Needing to Be Liked

Just to be clear, this article isn’t about making yourself unlikeable but about making sure that you live in such a way that you’re not bothered if people don’t like you.

That’s a subtle distinction but it’s about embracing the reality of life which – in this case – means accepting two basic premises and learning to work with them:

  1. You can’t control what other people think about you and whether they ‘like’ you or not.
  2. What they think about you doesn’t need to affect the way that you think about yourself.

In the first case, it’s quite simple:

You can’t control what other people think about you and whether they ‘like’ you or not.

You could be the nicest, most wonderful human being on the planet and – still – somebody out there would find a reason to dislike you (no matter how hard you might try).

Maybe they’re just having a ‘bad’ day; maybe you remind them of somebody that once called them an offensive name; maybe they just don’t like the way you talk or something about the way you dress.

The point is, that people are just weird – they have likes and dislikes without even knowing their reasons behind these feelings and – because people are varied and opinions are many – there will always be somebody out there that simply doesn’t like YOU.

This kind of ‘like’ and ‘dislike’ has nothing to do with rational reasons or logic and so it doesn’t even really reflect on ‘You’ as a person – it’s more just a ‘feeling’ that certain people have when they see you because of their own emotional ‘stuff’.

If you think about it, there are probably people that you dislike and can’t even really give a good reason as to why – there’s just something about them that speaks to your unconscious mind and makes it say “No, thanks.”

Because it’s an emotional thing and beyond any logical reasons or argument then you can’t bargain or reason with these people to make them ‘like’ you (and if you respect yourself you shouldn’t waste time doing that anyway): you just have to accept it and move on. It’s literally all you can do.

Maybe they’ll change their minds one day; maybe they won’t. It doesn’t matter. You can’t control it and so – like anything else in life that can’t be controlled – you just need to ACCEPT it.

Trying to make everybody like you is just as irrational as trying to convince yourself that the sky is usually green. It’s just the way it is and so you either accept it or make yourself miserable by going up against reality.

Trying to make everybody like you is just as irrational as trying to convince yourself that the blue sky is usually green; it’s just the way it is and so you either accept it or make yourself miserable by going up against reality.

What they think about you doesn’t need to affect the way that you think about yourself.

The second point to be made is that not only is what people think about you outside of your control (so you don’t need to worry) but, also, just because somebody thinks something about you doesn’t mean you need to believe it or change the way YOU think about yourself.

Let’s say that again for the people at the back:

What people think about you is just their OPINION; you don’t have to take it on board as a FACT about you.

In other words, what you’re dealing with is an INTERPRETATION, not REALITY.

Obviously, this isn’t always as easy to live as it is for me to write down in words – if somebody says something ‘negative’ about you then your initial instinct might be to feel a pang of shame or doubt or some other unhelpful emotion.

When this happens, you can get carried away to wherever that emotion wants to lead you, distort your own view of reality,  and get sucked into the ILLUSION that another person’s words or opinion somehow have power over you.

This isn’t a sign that their opinion is valid (though of course it could be but that’s up to you to decide – it’s not true just because they said it); it’s a sign that you have some unresolved emotional ‘stuff’ that’s making you BELIEVE that what they said could be true.

This is a key point:

If you are fully aware of your own realness and are able to ACCEPT YOURSELF UNCONDITIONALLY then you will have a good opinion of yourself and the opinions of others won’t change this.

This is ultimately about a concept I’ve talked about before on this site and in my book Shadow Life: being Outcome-Independent.

What this basically means is that your sense of self-worth and levels of self-acceptance are not dependent on external outcomes – like how people might think or feel about you, for example.

The main thing that stops you from being outcome-independent and instead being dependent on outcomes (or external validation, ‘likes’, etc.) is that you have an unhealthy relationship with your own emotions, especially in the form of SHAME.

When you feel shame at some level of your ‘being’, then you’re more likely to do two things:

  1. Create a false image of yourself that you hide behind to try and hide your shame from yourself and the world.
  2. Try and get other people to help you keep this false image or mask in place by trying to control your relationships with them (in terms of what can be said/done/felt, for example).

Unfortunately, because this false image is completely untenable – because it’s not REAL – you can easily start to doubt yourself when people ‘dislike’ you in some way.

This is because, actually, they’re not doubting the real ‘You’ – which can’t be doubted because it’s real ; they’re doubting the false image which you also doubt because you KNOW it’s not true.  Naturally, this triggers an internal conflict within you (and your normal coping mechanism for this conflict is to just try and be ‘liked’ so it goes away).

Quite simply, the reason that you doubt yourself is because you’re not being yourself – you have lost touch with what’s real about you and so you have started to yourself if the negative things they’re saying about you are true.

If you were being REAL then you would, of course, realise that these things are not true because you would be standing on a more solid foundation.

What is that foundation? The knowledge that when you’re being real you can’t be JUDGED in either ‘negative’ or ‘positive’ terms – you’re beyond either.

The problem, then, isn’t that you’re scared of being disliked but that you don’t know the truth about yourself and so seek it in other people (who probably don’t know themselves either).

The solution is to stop looking for answers about who you are in the OPINIONS and interpretations of other people and to instead ACCEPT who you are, CHOOSE who you want to become, and to DO the real work of becoming that person.

You can’t control what other people think about you and whatever that happens to be doesn’t need to affect your relationship with yourself anyway (unless you CHOOSE to let it).  That being the case, you might as well figure out what you like about yourself and then keep doing it instead.

The Psychology of Needing to be Liked All the Time

So if needing to be liked all the time is irrational because you can’t control other people’s opinions and those opinions don’t matter anyway then why do some of you need to be liked?

The short answer is that there are two main reasons:

  1. Reasons of the Self
  2. Reasons of the World

Reasons of the Self

The reasons of the Self are just any of the reasons related to your own psychological relationships with yourself that make you DOUBT who you are and have to create a fake version to deal with this doubt.

Normally, this comes down to  three emotions (or a cocktail of the three): shame, guilt, and/or trauma.

Shame: Makes you feel that there’s something inherently ‘wrong’ with who you are and so you try to make people like you to compensate.

There are millions of different ways to compensate here and if you look at the world around you (especially on social media, etc.) you’ll see shame-driven people everywhere.

Guilt: Makes you feel that there’s something inherently ‘wrong’ with the things you do, want to do, or have done. Whereas shame is always perpetuated internally, guilt always comes from some external source (that’s usually trying to control you).

When you have less shame and can see reality clearly then guilt is less likely to affect you – when it does affect you, it makes you dance around through hoops trying to be ‘liked’ again (by whoever is trying to make you feel guilty in the first place).

Trauma: Trauma is the most severe thing that can happen to a human being – it essentially means that something happens to you that makes us doubt – and even fear – your own power.

When that happens, it’s much more difficult to trust and believe in yourself and so you end up trying to outsource that trust and belief to others (which always fails because you can’t control what people will think about you and their opinions don’t really matter anyway).

Reasons of the World

When it comes to the psychological ‘Reasons of the World’ (aka SOCIAL reasons) for why you have a NEED to be liked, the short-version is that being ‘liked’ offers survival value.

Quite frankly, if nobody likes you then you’ll find it harder to have success in your career (because all business is ultimately about relationships), you’ll have no friends watching your back if things go sour somewhere, and people won’t really care what happens to you (in the most extreme cases) and so will leave you to die in the gutter (only a slight exaggeration).

If nobody likes you then that just means that – in the eyes of society – you’re lacking in status and that you’re not offering any value to the world (I know that’s harsh but it’s how it is).

We could probably say loads here about how this goes back to our “evolutionary past” and how human beings needed to hunt and live in tribes but all you need to know now is that being liked by the right people is a ‘good’ thing – living to make the wrong people try and like you to keep masking your own shame isn’t.

In terms of your own psychology, then, there are two things going on with a need to be liked:

The first is that you have unresolved emotional ‘stuff’ that’s preventing you from walking away from unhealthy relationships or causing you to outsource your ‘good’ feelings about yourself to others (which – as we saw above – is irrational because you can’t control what they think and their opinions about you are redundant anyway). Also, these ‘good’ feelings are really just a short-term high that comes from the release of tension of thinking you might not be ‘liked’.

The second is that you have all kinds of social instincts that are part of your biological makeup that make you feel like you have to be one of the herd/tribe/pack or you’re going to be cast aside to die in the (proverbial) gutter.

To give up the need to be liked you need to work on your relationship with yourself and listen to your own opinion more than others (and, for the record, if you have a ‘bad’ opinion of yourself then that means you’re being unreal and have picked up external standards or conditioning that you’re judging yourself in accordance with).

You also need to realise that your instincts to follow the herd and blend in are not reality – they’re just impulses that can help you survive but that you need to be selective with.

If you just follow any old crowd, then you’re going to end up being miserable because you will lose yourself in the crowd and no longer know who you are.


How needing to be liked all the time can hold you back

Just to drill the point home, here is a list of the symptoms you’ll face when you have the fundamental problem of NEEDING to be liked because of your unresolved emotional ‘stuff’.

I’ll also give you some quick tips so that you can actually start DOING something about this issue and moving towards a life that’s more REAL.

You’re never present because you’re always following an unreal agenda.

Problem: The first problem that arises from needing to be ‘liked’ all the time is that nobody really knows you because you’re always acting to come across in a certain light (that’s actually shadows), rather than being the REAL you.

As an example, maybe you need to be seen as being ‘nice’ (because your toxic shame can’t stand the idea of you being a ‘bad’ person or whatever) and so you have to constantly turn the volume up on how polite you are, hold back what you really think, never express your true feelings, etc.

This may help you to get what you want in the short-term, but in the long-term all you’re really doing is distancing yourself from other people and never truly being ‘seen’ (which is all any of us really want, at the end of the day).

Solution: The solution here? Start letting the REAL you out. You don’t have to go overboard especially if you’ve built a lot of the relationships in your life on an unreal foundation.

Stop being so AGREEABLE and start saying “No” – that’s always the first step to setting healthier boundaries and that’s what you’ve ultimately given yourself: a BOUNDARY PROBLEM.

Next time you catch yourself doing something purely because it will make you look ‘Nice’ (or whatever) then allow yourself to say “No” and be REAL instead. Overtime, this will definitely make you feel better about life in general.

You’re constantly comparing yourself to others

Problem: Another problem you’ll face if you need to be liked is that you’re going to constantly find yourself comparing yourself to others. This will be for two main reasons:

  • You want to compare to see how you’re ‘ranking’ in terms of whatever quality your ego has convinced you you’ll be liked for (being ‘nice’, ‘intelligent’, ‘alpha’, ‘beautiful’ whatever).
  • Your underlying SHAME (which is the main driver of needing to be liked) will want to make sure that nobody is ‘better’ than you because that will just make you catastrophise and act like there’s something WRONG with you (which is irrational but we’ll save that for another post).

In both of these cases, your need to be liked has caused you to create an ILLUSORY/BS standard to compare yourself and others to which is causing you to waste time in negative thinking and comparison.

This just stops you appreciating yourself and having REAL relationships with others (because you’re too busy comparing yourself to them to see them clearly).

Solution: First and foremost, you need to be AWARE of the fact and then ACCEPT the truth that human beings are incomparable – there will always be somebody that’s ‘better’ that you at some things but you’ll also always be better at some things than them.

Secondly, you need to try and develop an ABUNDANCE mindset – this just means realising that there’s enough goodwill in the world for everybody to be ‘liked’. Just because somebody else is likeable doesn’t mean you can’t also be likeable.

Thirdly, you need to stop worrying about other people and creating illusory competitions in your head by choosing a PURPOSE for yourself and your own life and focusing on that. When you’re busy GROWING REAL, you won’t have time to compare yourself to others: you’ll just be DOING YOU and getting things DONE.

You’re always criticising yourself

Problem: All this needing to be liked and comparison just sets you up for FAILURE. It sets you up for failure because you’re trying to do the impossible which is to change REALITY.

If you don’t realise that this is what you’re doing then you just end up living according to a bunch of EXPECTATIONS about yourself, the world, and reality that can never be met and you end up constantly criticising yourself.

This is because you keep telling yourself you ‘SHOULD’ get certain results but you never do (because you nobody can). In this particular case, the ‘SHOULDS’ in question are to be liked by everybody, to always be the best, to be perfect, etc. etc.

When you keep failing then your inner monologue (as an extension of your EGO) will keep chastising you and beating you up (or tell you you’re not good enough in the case of Imposter Syndrome).

Solution: You need to do the work to align your expectations with reality and to ACCEPT  the realities of life that we’ve talked about here today in this article.

You never focus on your own goals because you’re wasting time on trying to impress people etc.

Problem: When you CHOOSE to live as though you’re only purpose here on earth is to be ‘liked’ then you make choices that reflect that – because most of these choices are UNREAL and our lives are just a consequence of the choices we’ve made then… it leads to your life being UNREAL too.

This is because in life the most important things we have – because we’re gonna be dead one day – are our time, energy, and attention.

Every time you CHOOSE to hide yourself behind some fake image of yourself, you’re wasting your LIFE.

Every time, you CHOOSE to not do that thing you really want to do because of shame or guilt, you’re wasting your POTENTIAL.

Every time, you CHOOSE to try and impress people or beg them to like you with desperate actions, you’re wasting the opportunity to be really KNOWN.

If the CHOICES you make are motivated by unreal, shame-driven, egotistical reasons then you’re not living YOUR life.

Solution: You need to start asking yourself what you really WANT from life, create a vision for it, and COMMIT to taking the actions that will help you realise it.

When you have a real vision then it makes it a lot easier to make CHOICES that are a reflection of you who really are, who you really want to become, and what you’re committed to do to get there.

Not being  REAL to yourself or others.

Problem: In short, when you act like you need everybody to like you before you can like yourself then you stop being real.

This is a one-way ticket to misery because being unreal always leads to eventual frustration (see the symptoms we talked about above) and frustration always turns to misery if you don’t do something about it.

If you can’t be real with yourself (or others by extension) then you’ll never truly feel ALIVE – this means that one of the best and most urgent ways for you to improve your life is to start working on this stuff and actually moving towards self-acceptance and a life of ‘liking’ yourself first and foremost.

Solution: You CAN solve this problem but it will take a little patience with yourself and some time for you  to readjust and reconfigure the shape of your life based on the CHOICES you’ve already made.

You do this by putting some thought into what you truly VALUE and INTEND to do with your life and then start dedicating yourself to that instead of the FALSE MISSION you’ve created for yourself (the mission that you think is to be LIKED more than anything REAL).

The Final Word

This has been a long article but I hope it’s helped you to see (if you had the problem we’ve been talking about) that focusing on being ‘liked’ only causes more problems in your life.

Not only does it distance you from yourself but it distances you from other people and wastes the precious time that you have here on planet earth.

If you want to start making changes in this area then you need to spend a little time becoming AWARE of who you really are and how this ‘likability’ problem is holding you back.

After you’ve gained this AWARENESS you need to ACCEPT the truth about yourself and the ways that you can express this truth in a real way through ACTION.

By dedicating yourself to that ACTION you’ll know what you want to say “YES” to (real life), that will make it easier to start saying “NO” to the unreal things we’ve been talking about, and you’ll increase your odds of meeting REAL people that actually like the REAL you for real reasons.

Don’t be liked; be real. The rest will fall into place.


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