We all want to be liked; to have friends.
Our desire for social acceptance is so strong that it drives many of our actions. It pulls us to wear certain clothes, go to particular places and purchase various things — even if we ourselves don’t actually want to.
Though we might not like to admit it, our craving for approval is such a deeply ingrained part of our nature that it pervades many aspects of our society. Examples include:
Have you ever posted a picture of yourself sitting at home, watching TV and wearing comfortable clothes? Or do exciting and attractive images of you looking your best populate your social media feeds?
I’d suspect the answer is the latter. You’re not alone — and that’s because we all want to be accepted.
Yet, in an attempt to earn the acceptance of the people we meet, our beliefs about what it takes to be liked have become somewhat misconstrued. We think others will only accept us if they approve of our personality or character; if they like the way we look or the clothes we wear; if we have enough followers on Instagram or a strong portfolio.
Yet making meaningful connections with others isn’t about some intrinsic property within us. It’s not about how we dress or our net worth.
None of those factors matter at all, really. It all comes down to how we make people feel.
On Making Friends and Building Bridges
Under the pressure of awkward conversations with strangers and the forced environment of the workplace, we panic. We forget the plasticity of belief.
We assume that the other person’s opinion of us is fixed, as though we will only be liked if we pass some imaginary assessment based upon our looks and character.
But beliefs simply aren’t fixed in this way. We may love our partner dearly on Friday evening but prepared to tear their hair our on Monday morning depending upon how they affect our mood.
Social approval isn’t some binary state, an on-or-off switch, but rather an ever-changing flow of judgements and thoughts influenced by action.
In treating social approval as a fixed state, we wait for the moment that our friends and acquaintances show signs that they like us, only prepared to fully express ourselves once we’re sure that we’ve been accepted; and if the opposite is true, we may distance ourselves in order to avoid embarrassment and humiliation.
Our fear of rejection forces us to behave differently. We close ourselves off somewhat, concealing the parts of our character that may cause other peoples’ opinion of us to change negatively.
As The School of Life puts it,
Both sides proceed under the tacit assumption that there is some external verdict about their value that the other person will be developing in their mind which has no connection to how they themselves behave and is impervious to anything they say or do.
Often, however, this assumption only hinders our ability to make friends.
When you approach a conversation with the fear of being rejected, you hide away parts of your character that you deem unlikeable — even if these are some of your most loveable quirks and qualities.
Both sides privately wait for the other person to show that they are, indeed, liked. Only once this non-existent test has been passed are they prepared to open themselves to judgement fully.
Rethinking Our Approach to Social Acceptance
The tragic irony of this behaviour is such that our closing of doors only hinders our ability to build deeper connections with people.
It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We hide away our true selves for fear of rejection, and only increase our chances of being rejected in doing so.
The fact of the matter is that being liked just depends upon how we behavearound our acquaintances — not on our status or whether or not we meet some fictitious social criteria.
If we just took a risk and kept our deep suspicions of rejection at bay, it would quickly become clear that we have every opportunity to have open conversations with people, forming true friendships with ease by not being afraid to be ourselves.
We can dare to persuade them to see us in a positive light, simply by showing that we see them in a positive light. We can display an interest in others, laugh at their jokes and sympathise with their sorrows.
“You can make more friends in two months by becoming interested in other people than you can in two years by trying to get other people interested in you.” — Dale Carnegie
Few people will dislike us if we simply open our hearts and give them our undivided attention. Making friends is often as simple as opening up, being ourselves and expressing a genuine interest in others.
After all, we’re only human, and we all crave acceptance in the same way. Offering it freely is the easiest way to receive it in return.
So long as we continue to show warmth, sincerity and encouragement, the barriers will eventually come down on both sides of every engagement we make.
The key to building deep and meaningful connections isn’t to focus on changing yourself, moulding your character and refining your looks — but rather to express genuine interest in the people you speak with.
All too often, two people fail to connect not because they dislike one another, but because both people defensively assume that the other person does not like them.
The solution is to simply forget about whether or not people like you. Instead, concentrate on showing that you like them.
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Originally published on Medium.com.