I’ve been thinking a lot about respect and liking at the moment (an inevitable consequence of having to say no to what people want on such a regular basis as part of my job!)
Needing to be liked is often given a bad name – and I can see that when taken to extremes it is deeply off-putting. But on another level – perhaps it would be better to say “wanting” to be liked – I think it is a legitimate part of being human. For me one of the interesting aspects of my desire for respect and liking is that it’s reciprocal – it’s not that I want everyone to like and respect me, but I do want the people I like to like me, and the people I respect to respect me. For me, the opposite of insecurity isn’t an insensitive not-giving-a-damn-what-other-people-think, but a confident ability to be open to what other people think. It’s not about rejecting others’ critical opinions automatically, but being able to consider their merits and decide whether their opinions are fair and unfair. Why should it bother me if someone whose judgements are poorly founded makes negative judgements about me?
My break-up with my ex gave me a very dramatic illustration of this principle in action. While we were going out, my trust and respect for him made me very open to his opinions, and very hurt when he said negative things. With hindsight I should have realised more quickly that much of what he was saying was wrong, but because I took him seriously, I took what he said seriously. And I wanted to believe that he was still the person that I had fallen in love with, so I wanted to believe what he said. But – far too slowly – doubts started to creep in.
He criticised me a lot for needing approval – indeed he seemed to view our last conversation as a desperate attempt on my part to get his approval and get him back. But for me it was much more about trying to understand what was really going on, and what had gone wrong. The more I examined what had happened between us, the less I saw anything about what I was, or what I had done, which might have justified his rejection and hurtful comments. I wanted to know why someone I liked and respected didn’t return those feelings. Something had to give.
As it happened, that conversation was a vital part of my recovery, not because he gave his approval, but because his reactions showed me how little he deserved the respect and trust that I had placed in him. It was very clear that the judgements he was making were based on extremely dodgy ground (“energy reading” shaped by fear and projection) and had almost nothing to do with me. Even gentle questioning of his judgments about my behaviour was met with defensiveness and ill-founded accusations.
This was not something I could respect, and certainly someone who was so confused was not someone I could trust. And as my respect for him faded, the pain of being rejected faded too. I still felt – still feel – love and affection for him, because I know the difficult past and present cultish manipulation that made him behave as he did. But without trust and respect, affection and compassion are not sufficient as a basis for a friendship, still less a romantic relationship.
Of course it’s important not to have a “sour grapes” approach, and decide that we don’t respect people purely because they don’t respect us. But at the same time, if someone has negative opinions about us, how seriously we take that surely has to depend on whether those opinions are justified.
It strikes me that, when it comes to others’ opinions, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing. Suspecting that other people have negative views about me will never be comfortable, and the natural response is to shy away. But I am coming to the conclusion that trying to really understand their opinion of me will be easier to deal with, even if that opinion is negative. Because if I understand why they think the way they do, I can either accept it as real and work on it, or reject it as wrong. I’ve always been open to other people’s thinking, and this has been a source of positive personal growth for me. But I’ve sometimes been too open, and been hurt by unjustified opinions.
Having confidence in myself, and a clear knowledge of who I am, is vital both for daring to enter into that process and surviving it. The sense I have developed, over the last year, that who I am is fundamentally acceptable, including my flaws, is a vital part of that confidence and knowledge.
Because I have learnt to accept who I am, I can be open to experiences and opinions that will show me where the gaps may be.
Because I have a sense of what I am like, I can filter what I hear, and reject opinions that don’t deserve consideration before they can damage me.
I’m getting quite a bit of practice at the moment in dealing with a situation where I have to do things that people don’t like, and accept the likelihood that they won’t like me as a result. And it’s not easy to deal with – I keep feeling that there must be some way to do what has to be done and still be liked. But I am in a difficult situation, and being fundamentally likable and worthy of respect does not mean that everyone will always see that.
I am holding to several different things at this point. Perhaps most importantly this sense of being a fundamentally acceptable and likable person. But also a recognition of my own limitations – that there are some aspects of the situation that no ingenuity or good will can change. A recognition that people’s perception of me will be coloured by many of these things that are beyond my control. And an attempt to be consistent and principled in those aspects that I can control – above all, keeping my word, even if that means being discouraging until I’m sure that encouragement is justified.
It’s not always easy to protect myself from being affected by this difficult situation, and I’m devoting quite a lot of time to internal maintenance and care. But mostly it’s working – and a large part of that my success is being able to build on the lessons I’ve learnt from the break-up. Yet another example of how much stronger I have become as a result of something that seemed so destructive at the time…