What To Do When People “Don’t Like You”

Author: Rebecca Fishbein Source: Lifehacker

When I was in high school, I found out that my friends didn’t like me. One of the girls in my “group” told me I wasn’t invited to a birthday party because “everyone” thought I was annoying—which, to be honest, at 15 I probably was—and for months I was ostracized. It took some time for me to worm my way back into the gang, but until then, I was devastated, and I swore I would spend the rest of my life being likable.

But, as David Foster Wallace (sorry) wrote in Infinite Jest (sorry again), “certain persons simply will not like you not matter what you do,” and no matter how likable you think you are, you’re not going to win over every person you meet. “Remember that it is impossible to please everyone,” Chloe Brotheridge, a hypnotherapist and anxiety expert, tells us. “You have your own unique personality which means some people will love and adore you, while others may not.” Of course, while this concept is easy to understand on its face, it’s difficult to keep your perspective in check when you find you’re, say, left out of invitations to happy hours with co-workers, or getting noncommittal responses from potential new friends, or you overhear your roommates bad-mouthing you. Rejection is painful in any form, whether it be social or romantic, and it’s a big ego blow to get bumped from the inner circle.

Before you freak out, keep in mind that it’s not just normal to be occasionally disliked, but in fact, it’s healthy. Rejection is a way to suss out who’s compatible with whom, and just as getting romantically dumped by someone leaves you open to finding a better suited partner, getting axed from a social group gives you space to find folks that are a little more your speed. Plus, it’s empowering not to fear being disliked—not that you should run around violating social norms, but when you’re not wasting energy molding your personality to someone else’s to be accepted, you’re more likely to find people who genuinely like you for you, and those relationships are far less exhausting to keep up.

Still, it sucks to feel disliked. Here’s how to get through it without falling down a rabbit hole of sadness.

It’s okay to feel the pain

Humans are social creatures, and so we experience painful biological responses to rejection. “Historically it was essential for our survival,” Brotheridge explains. “When we were evolving and living in tribes, being rejected and kicked out of the community would have been a matter of life or death.” When we get rejected, our brains register an emotional chemical response so strong, it can physically hurt. We’re also likely to cycle through a series of responses that’s not dissimilar to the stages of grief. First, the blame game starts. “The first stop on the train is self blame: ‘It’s my fault, I did something to upset them,’” Sean Grover, a psychotherapist and author of When Kids Call the Shots, tells us. Up next is shame: “You feel ashamed, you feel humiliated, you feel weak,” Grover says.

Then, like any dumped individual, you’ll probably try to win back your rejecter. “Not because, necessarily, you want them to like you, but you just don’t like this feeling of being disliked,” Grover says. “It’s, ‘Let me get you to like me so I can feel better about myself.’” Last but not least, you’ll likely feel like you’re a failure, and that’s when it gets dark. “These are very, very, primitive early feelings. For somebody not to like you, it induces a regression,” Grover says. “Generally, that brings you back to high school, middle school, elementary school, when it was all about whether you’re cool or not. Once you get caught in the feeling, it really pulls you under, and then you’re struggling.”

These feelings aren’t exactly pleasant, but they’re also perfectly healthy and normal, so long as you don’t end up dwelling on them, preventing yourself from moving forward.

Know that it’s not (totally) your fault

This type of rejection is literally personal, and it’s easy to start questioning your self worth when someone makes it clear they don’t like you. But we all act out of our own insecurities and unique experiences, and for the most part, being disliked is a measure of mutual compatibility. So, it’s not really that it’s not you but them, so much as it’s both you and them. “This person, this situation, where they are in their life, it’s not compatible to where you are,” Jennifer Verdolin, an animal behavior expert and adjunct professor at Duke University, tells us. “We have preferences in terms of personality, and that’s not to say that your personality is bad. It’s different from mine, and I prefer to hang around people who are similar to me.”

Sometimes, the people who dislike you don’t think certain facets of your personality jibe with theirs; sometimes, you just don’t offer them enough social capital to be worth their time. “Because we’re a very social species with a pretty intense dominance hierarchy, especially when it comes to work, and sometimes in social situations, people make specific strategic alliances and switch alliances as it suits them to meet their needs as they define them,” Verdolin says. “So people will try to achieve status, and a lot of time, whether they like you or don’t like you may have nothing to do with who you are.”

Either way, likability has a lot to do with what you bring to someone else’s table, whether or not you realize it. “We see this in all kinds of species. They preferentially tend to spend time, outside of mating, with either individuals who are similar to them in status, individuals who are similar to them in personality, individuals who are similar to them in some sort of way genetically, so, family,” Verdolin says. “So if you don’t have anything in common that is equally valuable to both parties, then you will likely be rejected. It’s kind of an inevitability.”

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