Nothing has stunted my growth and purpose more than the desire to be likable. I hate when people dislike me. I fixate on it, I try to figure out what I did and attempt to remedy it. I am okay with being the quirky friend. I am okay with being considered nerdy. I can live with a lot of different opinions, so long as I am liked.
Without going into a detailed psychological analysis, it is something I have always struggled with. I had issues on occasion sticking up for myself when I was being treated unfairly. I was prone to saying yes to favors for friends and colleagues, even when it stretched me beyond my limits. I would be careful not to be frank with some of my opinions because I wanted to avoid offending someone. I only got real with people once I knew them well. And even still, I was always a little afraid of losing them with my candor.
This issue was amplified during the last presidential election. I was an outspoken critic of Trump as a human being. It was not a popular viewpoint here in rural America with my main audience being republican church-goers. I still took the chance and was honest with my appraisal of Trump. I thought because I was a woman—who does most of my work with churches—that some of what I said would resonate with people.
Admittedly, I was very passionate in my rebuttal to Trump being a valid Republican candidate, yet he won the presidential primary for the Republicans. I became more vocal in expressing my disappointment in American politics and American voters leading up to the general election. And in doing so, I gained quite a following of “haters.”
I was not in a place emotionally to handle critics. It hurt. It felt personal. Some of the things directed towards me were extremely personal. Many attacks came from people I believed were my friends. Even though I received a lot of praise and messages from people applauding my stance and conviction, criticism always stuck with me.
I became fixated on the people that were genuinely upset with the stances I took regarding issues facing our country, and I began to censor myself. My desire to be likable sanitized my writing and caused me to hide my true feelings. I played it safe, and as a result, lost myself. Ultimately, I lost my desire to write.
As time went on, I noticed I was not just losing myself, but the people around me. No one was chased off with offensive behavior or conversations. Nothing was done to cause anyone to leave. I was a shell of a human. There was nothing to ignite a fire in me once I lost my voice. I was boring. Invisible. Sterile.
I quieted my voice in efforts to gain followers, likes, and approval of those in my community. I tried to remain quiet on things that may spark emotional reactions from the people around me. On occasion, I would be with a person who thought like I did, and for a moment, I would unpack my heart and be real with another human. But more times than not, I played it safe.
So much time was spent trying to be viewed as nice, accommodating, and meek. Desperately, I kept shaving parts of me off to fit in this community. I silenced myself to gain permission to be seen and heard. And as time marched on it was becoming clear that permission was never going to come. And through it all, there were people who passionately disliked me despite all that I did to change.
Even then, I struggled with accepting that people did not like me. I tried to remedy it. I prayed about it. Nothing worked. But it woke me up to a vital truth as a human being, writer, and activist:
Not everyone will like you, and it is okay!
Just like that, I began unpacking lifelong issues that kept me stuck. I began to recognize the various things that occurred in my life to condition me to be overly sensitive to the opinions of others. I explored why I needed to be liked, why I struggled with saying no, and honestly—it was a result of abandonment.
It was a process working through all the crap that caused me to cling tightly to what people thought of me. As a result, I relinquished the need to keep people in my life. If someone is not here for me—the real me—there is no need for that relationship. I began leaving friendships that were not authentic or healthy. In letting go of the fear of losing people, I learned that my voice matters, and it is powerful. I learned that critics are more than just people to ignore or rise above. They may offer valid points and reveal weak areas in need of improvement. Critics can strengthen a voice, help build a more solid stance, bolster character and offer a mirror to hold work up to. Critics also taught me that I do not have to engage in fruitless disagreements. My time is better spent discussing things in a civil and educated way. I do not have to defend myself against every person who wants to say something negative.
I also learned to listen to those saying good things about me. I opened my heart to the positive things being said, instead of questioning them.
My biggest lesson, though, was learning to see all that is worthwhile in me without anyone else having to tell me. I cannot wait for approval or permission to be myself. No one here on earth can validate my voice or make me see my worth. I can have a chorus behind me singing amen to every point I make, but if I cannot believe in myself, the chorus means nothing. I will always be waiting for a critic to affirm the negative things I already think about myself.
Being a person who stands for something means there will always be someone trying to knock you down. Keep standing. And if they manage to knock you down, get back up.