Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Believing People Like You

Quite some time back, a friend and I were talking about how we grew up and such. I was bullied a lot. She was the social butterfly type. But it was fun to share some of our common and not-so-common experiences.

One thing she said has stuck with me since then. She said, "I generally assume people like me until proven otherwise."

This honestly stopped me in my tracks. I was kinda of flabbergasted at the thought. I have never, ever, even once walked into a social situation thinking that people would like me. In fact, it's almost exactly the opposite in my case. I most always assume people won't like me. That they won't talk to me. Or worse, they'll be openly mean to me.

This feeling even crops up sometimes when I'm about to meet up with my FRIENDS. Yes, it's true. Some days I'm terrified that maybe my friends don't like me (They know this about me, poor things, and try to take care of me as best they can.). I always worry they'll get tired of me and disappear. It's happened before, after all. Those many years of being left out come flooding back occasionally, and I think, "Maybe this will be the day it happens again. Maybe this person or that one will finally admit they don't like me."

So you can imagine my first reaction to this friend's statement was a considerable measure of envy. This friend of mine is beyond likable, the kind of infectious personality that can make just about anyone smile (I'm pretty sure the power lies in her dimples.). She has that ease of being in public that someone like me (hi, social anxiety) could never hope to have. But it still seemed a little audacious, if not cocky, to even think that people would just LIKE you upfront.

That envy quickly became admiration though. I wish I had that kind of confidence. Okay, HALF that confidence. Try as I might, I still can't even begin to think that way. Oh, how I want to. Sometimes I wonder if I would be more likable just by adopting that mentality, or if I would still stumble over my words and blush like a fool in public. I wonder if people like my friend because she believes they will, and if I hold myself back by not trusting the world to be kind to me.

I don't know the answer, all I know is I can't forget what she said. I can never go back to thinking that everyone is like me, that everyone just assumes people won't like them. I try to think differently. When I get scared of social things, I even think of my friend who can charm a whole room and try to tell myself I can do the same if I just believe people will like me. But honestly? It hasn't worked yet. I still can't sleep the night before a conference or a signing (And not even my OWN signing!) because I worry about talking to people. I worry about what they think of me—what they'll say about me when I'm not around. I am terrified to death of offending someone unintentionally. Gosh, I'm panicking just writing about this stuff.

As bad as I fail at this concept, I want so much to succeed at it. Even if it's in a small way. Gosh, if I could get to the point that I didn't question my own friends', uh, friendship, I'd be overjoyed.

28 comments:

  1. aww, *hugs*! i didn't know you were bullied. that makes me so sad. =( i liked you from the Get Go. you are so uniquely you and i think that's wonderful.

    as for me... hmm. i wasn't quite the social butterfly as a kid and teen, but i think i was well liked among my geek group of friends. and i wasn't bullied.

    now as an adult, i sort of assume people will like me? i don't know. more like, i'm not concerned, which is nice. or i'm just myself. and i wait for them to get used to my laugh. =)

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    1. When I'm at home all alone, I mostly don't care. But get me out in public and I have to work very hard to keep it together! It's strange. The internet is such a blessing to the socially anxious, lol.

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    2. My experience was a lot like Cindy's. Not the popular girl by any means, but well liked among my circle of friends, no real bullying, etc. I think that gave me *enough* confidence in myself now, although I do often dissect my social outings afterward to see if I said or did anything I wish I hadn't. It's more about self-improvement than anxiety, though.

      To some extent, it probably is a self-fulfilling prophecy, because perception is reality. If you see the world as warm and welcoming, it is. Of course not every individual will fit that vision, and that's when cracks form in the view... but I remind myself that everyone else is human, just like me. Very few people instantly love or hate others without reason; most of us just wait and see how things go.

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  2. Oh gosh, I'm exactly like you. Even at the dentist or doctor's office, I worry that they'll start talking smack about me with their coworkers the second I walk out of the room.

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  3. PS Remember that time I adore you and always will? Yeah, that time is this time.

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  4. I feel like I wrote this post! I didn't realize everyone wasn't like me until a couple years ago, and have since been trying to teach myself to rationalize, like, 'well, if random person did what I just did/said what I just said, what would I think? I wouldn't hate them, would I? So people probably don't hate me. …Right?' O_o It doesn't always work, but it's a start. =) And yes, the internet is a huge blessing to the socially anxious. ^_^

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  5. Natalie, I like you online and I'm sure I'd like you if we ever met!

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  6. Social anxiety is so hard! My husband is like your friend, and I'm similar to you. We have this conversation often where i don't think someone likes me, and he says, "uh, what in the world would give you that idea?"

    And i say, "uh... I don't know. Maybe I'm... crazy or something." But it's a very real feeling when, like you describe, I enter social situations.

    I'm pretty sure I would like you tons if we met. You just seem like one of those honest, kind, generous, and fun people I would enjoy hanging with.

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  7. Oh man do I ever know how you feel... and sometimes I wish I were just more confident in my friends... and then sometimes I wish that I were just more confident in myself and didn't care WHAT people thought... sigh...

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  8. We're all so different in so many ways, but at the end of the day most of us want the same thing. We want to be liked and appreciated for who we are, even though many go out of their way to be who they aren't to please others.

    I do my best not to think about it. If people are going to like me, I figure it's not in my control. They have their reasons, and I've done things that have made people adore me and others ridicule me all at once.

    But if I DO think about it, I'm probably more like you and not so much like your friend, though I think that's a nice default setting, to think, not that I'm the showstopper or anything, but people will at least enjoy my company unless proven otherwise.

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  9. Thank you so much for writing this. It is so very good to know that I'm not the only one.

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  10. This happened for me in reverse. In my late teens and early twenties, I walked into a room and said, "Hi! I'm here! Who wants to talk to me?" That attitude changed as I got older and the cute factor wore off. Now sometimes I walk into a room and hope that no one notices I'm there, so I don't have to carry on an awkward conversation.

    I want my old self-confidence back. But it's a struggle to find it some days.

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    1. Wow. I just re-read that comment and it came across a lot more 'tortured artist' than I intended.

      I'm a happy person! I promise! I'm just not the first person to introduce myself in social situations.

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  11. @Becky Wallace - I just took the liberty of checking out your blog. YOU ARE ADORABLE. The cute factor has not worn off. Just FYI.

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    1. But now I'm blushing! The old me would have said something witty and returned the compliment.

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  12. Natalie - because I am super smart I read your blog title "believing people like you" and thought, "Why wouldn't I believe them if they're like me? Wouldn't we have similar ideas?"

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  13. hah hah . . . I'm with you. That's a very shocking statement for someone who grew up feeling distinctly NOT liked but I too wish I had that confidence. Interesting, the differences between people, isn't it? Well if you're half as likeable as you are via your blog in real life then you really should be assuming everyone likes you until told otherwise! :)

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  14. That quote from your friend is so profound! I've been growing--still am growing--in this, learning that people really don't dislike me on site. When I first learned that, I was stunned. Really. My dad was like, "Melody, people like you." And I was like, "Reaallllly?" But I've discovered it's actually true, within reason of course. It takes a lot of work to live my day-to-day life that way, though, not going to lie. And I'm still surprised when people like me. But it's nice to know. :) And, for what it's worth, I like you, Natalie.

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  15. All through school, I was the kid no one talked to unless they needed homework help. When I got to college, most of my classmates were quite a bit nicer. I didn't believe they liked me though; I just believed they were polite enough to say mean things about me behind my back, instead of to my face.

    As an adult, I made friends at work but I still thought people in general didn't like me. I commented on that a few years ago to a coworker, and she was absolutely flabbergasted. "I've never heard anyone say anything bad about you."

    I'm still struggling to assimilate that into my self-image, Natalie, so I completely understand where you're coming from. I think I've gotten a bit better, but I doubt I'll ever be like your friend.

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  16. The default assumption of not being liked is, I think, a common legacy of having been bullied or excluded in childhood. I've actually just gotten to the point where I can write about this.

    For me, part of the work I've done in adulthood is first the questioning, and then the challenging, of that assumption. Not just accepting it when the inner voice starts with the negative talk.

    For many of us that doesn't come naturally--we have to learn it. We may never get to the default assumption that the world loves us, but we don't have to believe the inner critic all the time either. And one thing that has helped me is realizing how many other people are nervous in social situations, too.

    I don't know you personally, but I can tell you that online you come across as very warm and likable. If we are ever at the same event I would definitely want to talk to you!

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  17. I think a LOT of that is based on childhood experiences---both within our families and at school. Even though I wasn't teased or bullied anymore by the time I got to high school, I was definitely something of an outcast in elementary and middle school. Middle school was the WORST---I was gawky, awkward, and "weird." I watched my pretty, popular classmates flirt and date and assumed I'd NEVER be that girl that was included in things, let alone liked by boys. Later, once I found a peer group I sort of fit with and boys started showing interest in me, I couldn't quite believe it. I'm sometimes amazed at how much those three years of middle school imprinted themselves on my self-image. They're STILL there, coloring the way I assume people see me.

    I wish we could travel back to our school-age selves and give them a protective hide to keep more of it from getting in so deep.

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  18. Your honesty is compelling, and I hope (and am sure) you've received nothing but positive responses to this baring of your soul.

    Others have probably said something similar, but I try to look the "social problem" like a game of tennis. You worry about your side of the net and nothing else. What the other player does is his/her business and has nothing to do with you. I know it doesn't often feel like this is the case, but we're all created to be unique and full of awesome-ness.

    Personally, I'm not all that comfortable with public speaking or social situations either, but I figure, go all out. I've made an idiot of myself by accident more times than I can count. Even if I feel like an idiot talking to people who may or may not care what I have to say, at least I'm being an idiot on purpose. XD

    I'll be praying for you as you continue to the amazing person you are. Best of luck!

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  19. I have spent most of my life second-guessing every thing I said. I would re-visit the conversation, examine the answers, etc. Now, I have to just assume that people either like me or don't.

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  20. I like you and I don't even know you!

    I recently had a friend tell me this about herself: that she always KNOWS that people are thinking bad things about her when they are around her. It made me feel so... sad!

    I, myself, am completely full of crap and assume everyone likes me until they make it SUPER clear that they don't. But even I have feelings of "omg, I think ____ hates me" every once and a while and it feels sucky. I can't imagine what it must feel like on a regular basis.

    I am, therefore, sending you some of my spare confidence! Multiply & replenish it! You're an inspiration!!!

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  21. I have always had the same experiences as you when it comes to feeling like I wont be liked. I worry the night before anything - even seeing my family brings on the panic (even though I know that they love me unconditionally it's hard to believe sometimes).

    And now, thinking about it, I don't remember ever reading a book where the main character believed everyone would like them (is this where the stereotype of only nerds and lonely teens reading comes from or is it because some people have no characters to connect to as they are so likable?) Definitely something to ponder on.

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  22. Thanks for writing this, Natalie. At the moment, I'm going through a bit of a similar experience, working through it, putting myself back together. This feels like it's a much needed boost.

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  23. To me this speaks to the reality of in-born temperaments. I, too, am more the opposite of your friend. But I fully believe it is something innate in my personality that I must struggle with, the way some people have to struggle with physical limitations.

    I once directed a production of THE SECRET GARDEN where I discovered that temperament really can be something you're born with. There is a scene in the play where the two child leads both throw massive tantrums. When it came time to rehearse that scene, the boy playing the role of Colin asked me, quite innocently, "What's a tantrum?" I looked at him oddly. "You know," said I. "You turn red in the face and scream until you're hoarse because you didn't get your way." He looked absolutely horrified. Turns out, he'd never had a tantrum in his life. It was the toughest scene of the show for them both. Me? I threw tantrums all the time as a kid. My poor parents! I was regularly sent to my room, where I eventually learned how important solitude was for someone like me.

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