I grew up in an environment where everybody kept their feelings to themselves. I was a sensitive kid with very strong emotions that I didn't know how to express constructively. The people around me didn't seem to have emotions, because they never talked about them. Over time I developed a deep sense of shame about my feelings, and learned to suppress, suppress, suppress.
At the same time, strong feelings of emotional abandonment as a child led me to become terrified of rejection. I didn't know at the time that feelings are what build empathy and connection between people, and that the emotion-less communication strategies I had learned from the adult role models around me made the very thing I was most afraid of, rejection, more likely to happen to me.
As a young adult, I had panic attacks when strangers I met declined to talk with me. I developed a tremendous anxiety about what other people thought about me, and tried very hard to be perfect so that other people would like me. I thought that if I tried real hard to get people to like me, they'd be more likely to want to hang out with me.
All that did was make me even more self-conscious.
It turns out that none of these strategies work in the real world. Over time, with enough painful interactions with other people under my belt, I developed a paranoid default belief deep down in my unconscious mind:
Other people don't like me.
Given that relationships have the most significant impact on our life satisfaction, this painful limiting belief is a real joy-killer. And it got buried not just consciously, but subconsciously, unconsciously, neurologically, limbically, and in every nerve cell of my body where it lurked waiting to rear its ugly head by getting triggered any time I encountered a potential rejection.
How do you overturn a painful belief that goes so deep?
I recently read the book Mind Lines: Lines For Changing Minds by L. Michael Hall and Bobby G. Bodenhamer, which offers 26 ways of neutralising painful limiting beliefs like this one via a neuro-semantic process known as “reframing”. Many of the patterns work by defusing the formula by which we create our distorted inner reality from our painful external experiences:
External Behaviour →/= Internal State
Whatever the fuck that means. I wish they'd explain themselves more clearly when they create some new pseudo-mathematical notation. I think it's supposed to mean that external events don't necessarily have to adversely affect our feelings. Somebody else behaving in a way that I used to interpret to mean that they didn't like me, doesn't necessarily have to make me feel bad.
So let's see if this stuff works by applying the patterns from the book to the belief: “other people don't like me”. This gives me 26 Ways To Chill The Fuck Out About Whether Other People Like Me:
#1: Specificity: Chunking Down
How specifically do people show that they don't like me? Which people specifically don't like me? At what specific times or places don't they like me? How specifically do they show that they don't like me? Could there ever be a case where it's better for someone not to like me, such as if they are a psychopathic stalker who wants to unite us forever in the afterlife? So many questions!
#2: Detailing the Strategy's Sequence
When somebody didn't talk to me, I used to think “They don't like me” and “They won't want to spend time with me”. Because I value connection so highly, I then felt strong feelings of abandonment pain. My head gets tense and my heart started racing.
But there are several links in the sequence, and they don't all have to follow automatically. How do I know that they don't want to talk to me? How do I know for sure that there isn't something else going on for them that just makes it impossible right now? Even if they didn't like me, how can I be sure that they wouldn't want to spend time with me? What about the times when I want some time to myself? Even if the physical signs happen unconsciously, I'm still creating them. Can't I learn to reprogram my unconscious and change the sequence? If they don't like me, would I want them to spend time with me anyway?
#3: Content Reframing: Reframe the External Behaviour by Redefining It
What other meaning could I give to someone not talking to me? Perhaps there are other reasons why someone might not talk to me or spend time with me than that they don't like me. Maybe their schedule is already filled up with less important commitments that they are nonetheless bound to. Perhaps they really want to talk to me, but have messed up priorities. Or they are so intimidated by my attractiveness that they feel uncomfortable in my presence. Yes, I think that might be it.
#4: Content Reframing: Reframe the Internal State by Redefining It
What if the painful feelings, tension headache and racing heart was my intuition telling me that I wouldn't enjoy spending time with them? I could dodge a bullet by listening to what my body is telling me and moving on quickly to someone who appreciates what I have to offer.
#5: Reflexive Reframing: Reflexively Apply External Behaviour to Self or Listener
Given that there have been circumstances where I didn't talk to people who I liked for fear of rejection, perhaps many other people in the past haven't talked to me because they were afraid I might not like them, even though they really liked me. What if other people hold the same limiting view of “rejection” that I used to have?
#6: Reflexive Reframing: Reflexively Apply Internal State to Self or Listener
Perhaps some people haven't talked to me in the past because they were experiencing abandonment pain themselves, or they had a tension headache and a racing heart. That would make it hard for them to talk with me, even though they really liked me.
Alternatively, if we had spoken, maybe I would have found that I didn't like them. In that case, not speaking to me has saved me time and the hassle of breaking off the interaction.
#7: Counter Example Framing
What about annoying people who I don't enjoy talking to? If they don't like me, I've just saved myself the unpleasant experience, inconvenience and potential guilt of dealing with them.
#8: Positive Prior Intention Framing
What if people who didn't want to talk to me were simply trying to help me build greater resilience? Perhaps they wanted to challenge me to lift my game, or to be more authentic before they would lower their own defences. Maybe they knew I wouldn't enjoy connecting with them because they were in a bad mood, and wanted to preserve my time and effort for someone else.
#9: Positive Prior Cause Framing
Perhaps something happened to the other person just before we met, that made it better for me if they didn't talk to me. Maybe they had the flu and I wouldn't have wanted to risk catching it anyway, or they were a terrorist suicide bomber recruiter with incredible powers of influence that they knew I would be unable to resist.
#10: First Outcome Framing
What result do I get when I think the thought “other people don't like me”? Does it lead me to have the kind of relationships with other people that I desire? Do I really want to keep thinking that way?
#11: Outcome Of Outcome Framing
What will happen in the long term if I continue to hold onto the belief that other people don't like me? Won't it just continue to impair my ability to connect and have the relationships I desire?
#12: Eternity Framing
If I hold on forever to my victim-based belief that other people don't like me, I'll end up all alone. At the end of the day, is it really worth being so self-righteous about this?
Alternatively, what would be the ultimate outcome if I was to let go altogether of the belief that other people don't like me?
#13: Model of the World Framing
I didn't come up with the idea that other people didn't like me all by myself. I had help from other people who have a similar paranoid model of the world. I grew up in a Christian church, and the early Christians were persecuted for their beliefs. They thought the world was against them and that people were evil and needed saving; and that attitude doesn't tend to be a great rapport builder. No wonder other people didn't like them! But I don't need to hold onto this model of the world now that my beliefs about life are very different to when I was a child. It's just not relevant or useful any more.
#14: Criteria and Values Framing
I value connection with other people tremendously. Yet I make it more difficult for them to connect with me when I start with the idea that they don't, can't, or won't like me. This old approach isn't aligned to my current values. It's more important to me that I be able to connect with other people, than it is to be right about my old belief that other people don't like me.
#15: Allness or Universality Framing
Is it really true that all other people don't like me? There are obviously some people who like me. I meet more every day. Is it realistic or even desirable for all people to like me all the time under all circumstances? If everyone liked me and wanted to spend time with me all the time, how would I ever get time-out, the opportunity to create comedy, or to hang with the friends I like? It would be a disaster.
#16: Necessity Framing
What if someone could like me without necessarily talking to me? What if I could be happy regardless of whether people wanted to spend time with me or not? If I was truly comfortable in my own skin, would it even still be necessary for other people to like me?
#17: Identity Framing
How other people respond to me can't possibly change who I am. Just because some people don't like me, don't talk to me, or don't want to spend time with me doesn't make me unlikeable or unlovable. How can someone else's behaviour possibly make any difference to who I am?
#18: Framing All Other Abstractions
When I look at the bigger picture of what causes people to behave the way they do, there are so many other influences on them that could override whether they like me or not. The more I look at the big picture, the less sense it makes to conclude that other people don't like me or that it really makes any difference to me whether they like me or not.
#19: Ecology Framing
Does it enhance my relationships to think the thought “other people don't like me”? Does it make life a party? Well no, obviously.
#20: Metaphoring Framing Or Storying Framing
I met this really pretty girl at a party on Saturday night who clearly enjoyed talking with me. When I was walking back from the buffet looking for somewhere to sit, she gave me the nod to point out that there was a seat next to her. We spent much of the night together, laughing and having fun. She clearly liked me.
The Chinese girl I met at the beach last week keeps messaging me on Instagram. She was really cool and great fun to play guitar with. She obviously liked me.
I met a girl on Tinder recently who I found difficult to connect with. She spent much of our time together complaining about how hard it was to connect with guys, and how she was ready to give up. When she got up and walked off I thought “Well, I just dodged a bullet there”. I was relieved that she didn't like me enough to want to see me again.
#21: Both/And Framing
Is it really true that people either like me or they don’t? I find that my feelings towards other people are rich and colourful, and they change over time and circumstance. It seems ridiculous to think that other people either do or don't like me, as if they were the only two options available in the rich palette of human emotions.
#22: Pseudo-Word Framing
Is “not liking me” even really a thing? Surely it's more accurate to say that other people have feelings towards me, and that those feelings are naturally going to vary at different points in time. Some people may feel more pleasant feelings towards me than others, and that may alter the way they behave towards me. The concept of someone “not liking me” is really just a pseudo-word label for something transient that isn't even real.
#23: Negation Framing
The more I think about it, the less the concept of “not liking me” means anything at all. It's a completely made up concept. I could just as easily negate or flip it to be wonderful. Now I love the idea of “other people not liking me”!
#24: Possibility and “As If” Framing
I'm starting to think that it's possible to actually feel good about the idea of other people not liking me. It means I can play mischievous pranks and tell stories and jokes that are fun for everyone concerned, especially when some of the people involved don't like me. It makes the joke better if the person doesn't like me, because the emotional stakes are higher and that makes the comedy funnier for everyone else; including me.
#25: Systemic and Probability Framing
I've been assuming that “other people” somehow form a cohesive, co-operative set. But that's clearly not true. It just doesn't make sense for me to label the beliefs of other people collectively, because we aren't all part of the same system. There are people who like me, and people who don't; but they don't form cohesive groups. It's extremely unlikely that everyone in the world would ever decide to not like me.
#26: Decision Framing
I can see that deciding that “other people don't like me” just creates pain, and becomes self-fulfilling. Is this really the best decision I can make? Fuck no!