We all want to be loved and liked. Whether we are introverted, extroverted or ambiverted (the middle ground between introversion and extroversion), social needs are at the very heart of our pyramid of needs as described by Abraham Maslow. Can it be any wonder then that Maslow’s hierarchy or pyramid of needs remains one of the core tenants in the humanistic school of psychology?
Humanistic psychology not only teaches us that our social needs are important, but they are even more basic to our lives than our needs for self-esteem (our emotional feelings about ourselves based on our self-concept, that is our intellectual opinions about ourselves) and transcendence (our spiritual needs or needs to connect to something greater than ourselves). So it should come to no surprise that oftentimes in our individual quests for love, friendship, and acceptance our habits tend to involve compromise. That is, we often alter our behavior and project ideas, beliefs, and even emotions to others that are inconsistent with our own, innermost personalities and convictions. We try so hard to be whatever we think others want us to be instead of being who we are.
This winter, I went to great lengths to change my personal appearance to meet another person’s standards, to transform myself into what he wanted, even though what he wanted ran very much contrary to my own personal preferences. I cut off my hair and cut it to a side part (which granted, apart from the length, I do like). I dyed my hair black for the first time since my mid-20s when I dyed my hair to look more Asian — a response to a flood of past life memories I was working through at the time. I also pierced the upper part of my earlobe, suffering months of pain while it healed. More dramatically, I bought two pairs of jeans for the first time in my entire life; when I wore jeans as a child and early teen, they were always imposed on me by my parents — in complete opposition with my persistent and pervasive preference for dresses and skirts. Even after all of this, the man (towards whom I had my first romantic inclinations in years) was still not satisfied. He insisted I also pierce my eyebrow and get a tattoo. Fortunately for me, the winter of 2014 was especially brutal and the businesses offering those services located far from public transportation — preventing me from doing something I really did NOT want to do — just to “earn” a date from someone who was not genuinely interested in me at all.
In writing about my makeover, (see http://voices.yahoo.com/going-goth-why-changed-look-2014-12471451.html?cat=43), I attracted the attention of a troll who posted numerous harassing comments to not only this article, but several others since that time.
And I look back and wonder, “WHY???”
Because you see, all of this was people pleasing. It was my attempt to become what another wanted in hopes that he would want me. I caved into pressure, lured by a carrot dangled in front of me, yet wholly without reward. In the end, I never attained what I thought changing myself would achieve. All of it — both physical and financial pain — was truly empty, a waste.
I am not the first person to try to people please. If anything, that compulsion to people please saturates the creative professions. Actors, musicians, comedians, writers — we all want that love and adoration. Sometimes great art comes from it — at a price.
When we try to please others, we please no one — least of all ourselves. Upset at the emptiness, it becomes easy to try to use artificial means to try to either fill in the gaps or make us forget about it. Far too many people have died trying to escape the emptiness of people pleasing.
So what is the answer? What is the cave we fear to enter where our treasure lies? Where will we find joy, creativity, and happiness?
There is but one place: we must jump over that third rung of our social needs and get to self-esteem. That is to say, we must put our own mental health first. We must let ourselves be ourselves. We must say “it is okay that I like ___ — even if no one around me does.” And we must allow ourselves to say that most powerful of words: “NO!”
No I shall not wear clothes I hate and find physically uncomfortable. No, I shall not put my personal safety at risk just because someone else wants me to. No, I shall not spend my life doing what others want unless I independently want that too. No, I shall not tolerate mistreatment in order to gain something else in return.
No one can love you until you love yourself. No one can want to be around you until you want to be around yourself — living and choosing consistent with your own core values.
Is this easy? Hell no. I find I struggle with it, especially when I come to like someone or something especially strongly. The more I want something, the more afraid I become sometimes. Because for me, it is especially hard to trust people. So instead of waiting for people to get to know me, I rush into the fray full tilt — with the consequence being that I often repel the very people I want to like me. Then I try changing myself to suit whoever it is I want to like me, as if I can somehow force someone to like me.
Yes, it is very irrational. But it is also human.
Because waiting on the will of heaven is not easy. It is not easy, no matter how much you may know intellectually that pursuing validation from other people is foolhardy, to actually believe in yourself so much that you can confidently proclaim “I am okay whether you agree with me or my choices or not.”
Conformity is an impulse even the most notorious non-conformists like myself still feel. It comes from inner insecurities about ourselves and our self worth.
But here is the best message of all: WE ARE WORTHY — OF LOVE, OF FRIENDSHIP, OF PROFESSIONAL SUCCESS. Anyone worth working with, knowing, or be close to needs to like us and want to be around us for who we ACTUALLY are. And if anyone cannot accept the real people we are — well it is unlikely that person is a healthy influence at all — and needs to be removed from our lives.
None of this comes easy at first. But when you realize that you are worth it, it all becomes worthwhile.