Would you rather be respected or liked?
When asked the question, 100% of the people I polled answered they would rather be respected. Not surprising. No one wants to admit to wanting to be liked, but truthfully we all want to be liked. Let’s just be real. For those rolling their eyes, muttering, “I don’t give a fuck what anyone thinks of me,” hear me out.
The desire to be liked is a fundamental part of being human, down to an existential and evolutionary level. In ancient cultures, to be disliked or an outcast literally could equate to death. Ancient society and culture depended on being liked included. An individual had to prove their value with a skill to be accepted and embraced by their tribe. You had your hunters, basket weavers, shaman and gatherers, etc. All of these roles had a purpose and furthered the community. If you lacked the ability to hunt, identify what plants would nourish you verse kill you, being kicked out or left by your tribe could mean your early demise. Today, we can just run down to the local store, and as long as you have money, you can buy and eat all you can afford. Evolution has not caught up with technology and humankind still operates as relational animals fighting for survival.
Dr. Roger Covan explores in his book, “The Need To Be Liked,” why the need to be liked is as crucial as clothing and food. Being accepted and being liked helps sustain emotional fulfillment. Being rejected causes pain. Our body reacts to the pain of rejection as it does physical pain. The body has a desire to live and thrive. The amygdala in our brain helps us to appreciate potential threats to protect ourselves from the threat of emotional and physical pain, to keep us alive. Protecting ourselves from the pain of rejection is part of the evolutionary fight for survival.
The desire to be liked can become problematic if the threat appraisal of rejection is too high. Dr. Covan explains that we all have individual core belief structures about ourselves and relating to others that help form our ability to apprehend pain, including the social pain stemming from rejection. If an individual has poor beliefs about themselves than the threat appraisal for rejection will often be incorrect.
Essentially, the more poorly you feel about yourself, the more likely you will assume others feel poorly about you too, leading to misjudging the threat of rejection as part of the body’s attempt to protect itself and thrive. The incorrect threat appraisal leads to behaviors to alleviate the perceived imminent threat of pain. Some people will cling to others, become aggressive, some will withdraw and some will directly push others away to avoid the perceived threat of this pain.
So let’s look at the classic love story of boy meets girl. Boy and girl get on well. Boy and girl begin dating. After a period of dating, boy has a really busy week at work and on top of that, comes down with a sudden illness. Boy spends his days working and quickly collapsing upon crossing the threshold of his living space due to exhaustion from aforementioned circumstances. Boy doesn’t call girl for a couple of days. Boy’s failure to contact girl or spend time with her has nothing to do with her. If girl has good core beliefs about herself she will understand and maybe even offer to bring boy some soup. She will not perceive this as rejection. If girl has poor core beliefs about herself, girl could interpret this behavior as a sign of rejection.
Girl could react to this perceived sign of rejection in several ways. She could show up at his home professing her undying love for boy and flooding him with attention and signs of adoration that totally overwhelm boy. Girl could become angry and demand explanations for his oversight and accuse him of unsavory behaviors. Girl could withdraw inside of herself feeling abandoned and forlorn that her beau has lost interest. This belief causes her to act aloof and disinterested in boy leading him to eventually give up on the relationship. Girl could go as far as to break up with boy to avoid the rejection she perceives. With it all leading to the same result of what being rejected would cause, the relationship ending.
Poor core beliefs about onself, lack of self love and poor self worth leads to being rejected in one form of another. Lack of self love and poor self worth also demonstrates a lack of self respect. Therefore, if one does not love themselves, they cannot respect themselves, he or she will lack love and respect from others around them oftentimes due to their own behavior.
Even further, poor core beliefs and lack of self love cause people to stay in unhappy relationships, accept poor treatment from others and foster an inability to draw healthy boundaries with others.
Nobody respects a doormat that allows people to walk all over them. Nobody respects that clingy person that constantly demands attention. Nobody respects the person who becomes angry and aggressive every time you do not respond to demands for attention. Nobody wants to continuously put effort into someone who appears aloof and disinterested in them, because the other person fears rejection so intensely, the other person puts zero effort into the relationship.
Respect comes with a level of sincerity and morality that seems starkly contrasted from the need to be liked, but really they are related. To act with respect, means you take no shit. You assert your needs. You stand up for whats right, irrespective if someone likes you for it. To be respected comes with a level of authenticity. The you when no one is looking. The you when you have no one to impress. This person has their own voice and point of view that is unwavering to others opinions and perceptions of them. This person knows they are worthy. They know they are loveable and okay if everyone does not accept them.
Someone who loves themselves and respects themselves knows their worth so does not need to cling, be aggressive, withdraw or push away. The person with a healthy amount of self love and solid core beliefs respects themselves and therefore gets respect from others.
So yes, even the most independent of independent individuals need to be liked, but taken too far leaves a person without being liked or even respected.