A while back, I spent a weekend overthinking why nobody was responding to my text messages. Later, in a meeting, I noticed people not smiling when I spoke, prompting me to search for answers to why I always feel like everyone is upset with me. This constant worry led me to seek insight from my therapist.

If you’ve caught yourself fretting over past conflicts, trying to decode why no one replied, feeling you made a blunder, or suspecting a collective disapproval from loved ones and respected individuals, know that you’re not alone. Many of us crave universal approval, seeking validation from friends, family, colleagues, and even acquaintances like cashiers and yoga instructors. This desire for acceptance is deeply human—we all want to belong and be accepted.

Though I’m aware that pleasing everyone is impractical, being a woman with strong convictions and personality makes it unrealistic to win over everyone.

Despite rationalizing with ourselves, the distressing thoughts and emotions persist. Seeking approval isn’t inherently negative; at times, seeking to please fosters thoughtfulness, empathy, and kindness. However, when the pursuit of being liked becomes consuming, leading to thoughts of universal displeasure, two main issues surface.

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Firstly, adapting to others’ values may erode your sense of self, leaving you devoid of your identity. While aiming to please and fearing upsetting others, the inhibitions on true self-expression often surface. Surprisingly, standing up for beliefs and opinions endears you to people even more.

One irrefutable truth is that people admire those they trust and respect. Demonstrating conviction, setting boundaries, and showing self-love and kindness fosters trust and respect.

Secondly, constant people-pleasing hinders introspection, stunting the growth of internal resilience, approval, and confidence development. Relying heavily on external validation drains energy, hindering the inherent joys that stem from self-discovery.

The thing is: people like you when they trust and respect you. And people trust and respect people who are willing to stand up for what they believe in, set loving boundaries, and show kindness, compassion, and love to themselves and the world around them.

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So… what do we do?

Given that the aspiration for approval is common, the goal isn’t to discard this trait but to discern the reasons behind it. The aim should be to earn appreciation for being authentic. Despite progress in this area, anxiety can still overwhelm, particularly during uncertain times. Ruminating thoughts can spiral out of control, fabricating scenarios of mass disapproval—even extending to the grocery store cashier.

It may sound self-absorbed, as in reality, people are preoccupied with their lives, thoughts, and feelings, rather than fixating on you.

Ultimately, it’s not about seeking external likability, value, or respect. It centers on self-liking, self-valuing, and self-respect.

Feeling universally disliked stems from anxiety and the quest for flawlessness. Perfectionism leads to feeling inadequate, believing no effort is adequate.

Fortunately, intervals free from anxiety and people-pleasing exist, typically amidst stability, self-care routines, stress management, and engaging in fulfilling activities. These periods allow for introspection and redirection.

For me, feeling like everyone is mad at me is a manifestation of anxiety and a reflection of my desire for perfection. In my mind, I often feel like nothing I ever do is good enough and that there’s always more that could be done.

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It can be daunting to confront emotions in real-time and pivot, but I’ve developed a personal process to manage intrusive anxious feelings.

1. Establish a Foundation

Cultivate mindfulness practices that attune you to your inner thoughts and feelings. This fosters intuition regarding your needs. Mindfulness can encompass journaling, meditation, breathwork, and mindful movements. Expanding your knowledge base on psychology and well-being also aids in adopting new practices.

2. Pause for Reflection

Allocate moments in your day to pause and assess your emotional state, especially during heightened moments. This pause helps you tune into your feelings, broaden perspectives, and induce relaxation.

3. Reality Check

During ruminations, challenge the stories you’ve constructed. Ask questions like, “Is it true that I erred? Was I disrespectful? What external factors might be influencing this situation?” These inquiries and gentle reminders anchor you when thoughts spiral out of control.

If overwhelmed, engage in deep breathing techniques. Box breathing—inhaling for four counts, holding for four counts, exhaling for four counts, and holding for four counts—brings relaxation and mental clarity.

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4. Embrace Empowerment

Recognize your true worth and strengths. When you feel empowered, the need for external validation diminishes, enabling you to exhibit authenticity confidently. Identify beliefs and attributes that fuel your confidence and self-worth.

Here are empowering beliefs and mantras that can affirm your self-esteem:

  • Your disagreement with others doesn’t lessen your respect for them and vice versa.
  • Perfectionism is uninteresting.
  • Your values guide your actions.
  • Your opinion holds weight.
  • If someone dislikes you for your beliefs, it’s okay; you know your worth.
  • Redirect your focus to productive pursuits instead of worrying about others’ opinions.
  • Offer yourself compassion by reassuring your inner self, “You’re safe and okay,” as you would to a younger, distressed version of yourself.

Though the fear of being disliked may resurface, practicing these techniques aids in mitigating the anxiety cycle, fostering self-love, building confidence, and enriching life with purpose.


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