When we are children, we are completely relationally dependent. What I mean by this is that we are dependent on other people to get what we need and what we want. We are born into a social system where we learn that our best chance of getting other people to meet our needs and fulfill our wants is to create incentive for them to do so. We learn that we must please them. If the people in our lives are displeased with us, if they don’t like us and don’t love us, they don’t act as allies to our wellbeing. They either ignore us or act as adversaries to our wellbeing. Because of this, we adopt the subconscious belief very early on in our lives that being approved of, liked and loved by others is the pre-requisite for getting what we need and want.
The process of socialization trains us that the most important thing is to be perceived as good. If we are perceived as good, we will be approved of. People will like us and as a result, we will get what we want for it. For example, being a good girl or good boy = getting that cookie you want. I like you = I will invest in your success by giving you the support you need to succeed at that goal you have.
By the time most of us reach adulthood, the concept of being liked and the concept of getting what we want is so linked in our heads that we spend a lot of our energy in our adult life trying to be liked by other people, specifically so that we can get what we want. But a key step we must take in order to succeed, is to separate these concepts from one another.
So that you can understand what I mean, I will give you an example.
Jake is an aerospace engineer. He is so interested in aviation that his entire existence revolves around it. Many years ago, Jake was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. He struggles to understand emotional situations and tends to say the wrong thing whenever someone is upset. People don’t find him empathetic. He is also very hypersensitive and controlling about his environment and this uptight behavior means they can’t relax around him. Jake is not what many people would consider to be a generally likable person.
Since Jake was 12 years old, he has always had his heart set at getting a job as a propulsion engineer at NASA. At his current company, he works as team lead on a large team with other aerospace and mechanical engineers. Recently a team conflict has arisen around a new design concept. Jake acts no different than usual during this conflict. He starts acting robotic and spaces off instead of listens. He becomes argumentative and inflexible and starts throwing facts in people’s faces. In response, his entire team organizes to escalate the conflict and complain about Jake to Jake’s boss. They have a team meeting with his boss behind Jake’s back. When Jake is called in to talk with his boss about the way that the team feels about him, Jake experiences a complete existential doom. He feels like his future is suddenly bleak and he has a meltdown. He storms out of the building and rushes home and ends up curled up under the table in his kitchen wanting to die.
What is happening with Jake is that the conflict made him feel like he will never be liked by people. And if he will never be liked by people, he will not be recommended to NASA and the people at NASA will never see enough value in him to say yes to having him on their team. He has adopted this belief from his life experience. Jake doesn’t realize that likability is not the pre-requisite for him being such a good aerospace engineer that he will be recommended and valued enough to achieve the position he has his sights set on. His desire to be liked must be separated from his desire to be a propulsion engineer at NASA. Separating them will make it so he can see all the ways for him to get what he wants, rather than sinking into the powerlessness of thinking that what he wants is at the mercy of other people linking him; which is something he does not excel at. If Jake realized that he could get what he wanted even if people didn’t like him, he would feel immediate, deep relief.
Think about what you want in your life, especially think about that thing you want desperately. And I want you to ask yourself: Am I making being approved of, liked or loved the pre-requisite for getting that thing? What if being approved of, liked or loved is NOT the prerequisite for getting that thing?
Being approved of, liked or loved and getting what you want are two separate things. There is the potential of course that what you want is to be approved of or to be liked or to be loved. And if this is the case, you can go directly for it, as a separate desire from the other things you want in your life. You can pursue it as if that is the end goal in and of itself. But so often, when you ask the question: Why do I want to be approved of or liked or loved, it is because you think that being approved of, liked or loved will get you something else that you want. You will find that you are making it the pre-requisite for that thing you want. So often, wanting to be approved of, liked and loved is a “so that”. To understand more about the problem with “so that” thinking, watch my video titled: If You Want To Be Happy, Don’t Do This!
You don’t need to worry that dropping the need to be approved of, liked or loved, as your venue for getting what you want, will make you a total asshole that no longer cares about being nice to others. That only happens if don’t care about other people and are only being nice to others so that you can get what you want, which is a totally separate topic. You also don’t need to worry that separating the concept of love from the concept of getting what you want will make you an unloving person. The practice of love is the practice of taking another person as a part of yourself. It has nothing to do with getting what you want. Love is also a whole separate topic.
There is an incredible freedom and empowerment to be found in questioning whether being approved of, liked or loved is the pre-requisite for getting what you want or not. Considering that it isn’t. If you knew that it wasn’t, how might you go about getting what you want instead? As a result of doing this, your options for getting what you want open up and multiply significantly. Trying to make other people approve of, like and love you ceases to be your only venue for the actualization of what you want and at the same time, it ceases to become the barrier preventing you from what you want. It starts looking like simply a bonus.