Pathological need to be liked

Wanting to Be Liked vs. Needing to be Liked I Psych Central

Wanting to be liked could help you connect with the people in your life, but the need to be liked could lead to stress and anxiety.

The social side of human nature evolved from the need for cooperation to survive. Being liked meant being fed and protected.

Although it’s easier to manage independently in the modern world, people still benefit from social connections. A healthy social network could protect both your physical and mental health.

So it’s natural to want to be liked. If you enjoy people’s approval and feel a little bothered when people don’t like you, you’re not alone.

But a fixation on getting people’s approval at the expense of making your own choices could interfere with how you live your life.

Wanting to be liked is a human trait shared by most people. On the other hand, if you need to be liked, there are some telltale signs.

This could include:

  • continuous efforts to please people
  • willingness to do almost anything, including things you know are wrong or dangerous
  • heightened anxiety when facing disapproval
  • reluctance to stand out from the group or go against the grain
  • fixation on a person who doesn’t seem to like you

Most people prefer approval over criticism. They want others to like them, and they feel bad when the feedback they get isn’t good.

But they can usually shake off disapproval and move on, and focus on the people who recognize their strengths.

If you feel persistent anxiety when someone doesn’t seem to like you, there are several possible reasons.

External locus of control

Your locus of control is what you perceive as the main causes of events in your life. There are two types:

  • Internal locus of control. You believe that you control the direction of your life and have an influence over the events that happen.
  • External locus of control. You feel that external influences determine the course of your life.

If you have an internal locus of control, you might see your job prospects as being connected to the amount of time and effort you put into education and training. Someone with an external locus of control might view factors such as the job market and economy as having more influence over career outcomes.

If you have the need to be liked, you might have an external locus of control. You might connect your self-worth with the number of people who like you, rather than how you feel about yourself.

Sociotropy is a state of being dependent on other people and a preoccupation with people-pleasing. It’s the opposite of autonomy, which is a state of independence and individuality.

Older research found a connection between sociotropy and external locus of control.

In other words, if you have an external locus of control, you might be more likely to be a people-pleaser who needs to be liked.


Fawning as a trauma response could cause a person to be preoccupied with the needs and wants of others. Being likable means that you might be less likely to engage in conflict or receive criticism.

Needing to be liked could be a way of seeking safety.

Social anxiety disorder (SAD)

If you have social anxiety disorder, social situations could cause you a great deal of stress. Fear of being judged negatively is a common characteristic of this type of anxiety.

A need to be liked becomes a fear of being rejected that’s severe enough to interfere with work, school, or any other type of social setting.

Anaclitic depression

Anaclitic means dependence on another person for emotional support.

Babies can experience anaclitic depression when separated long term from their primary caregiver. In adults, anaclitic depression could involve a preoccupation with the approval of others, as noted in a 2010 study.

Working to meet the high standards of other people could also play a role, according to the study.

Having the social and emotional support that you need from family members and friends might make you less likely to be concerned with everyone liking you.

It could even be liberating not to have the stress of living up to everyone’s expectations.

Not being liked has an upside. When you’re concerned with maintaining likeability, you might make choices based on the approval of others.

But when you’re not concerned about what others think, your choices might be ones that are better for you and better aligned with your values and goals.

If your need for approval from every person in your life is causing you stress, consider learning how to live without it.

Try asking yourself these questions.

Should everyone think the same way?

The attributes that make you likable to some people are the same qualities that could trigger dislike from others.

Social media and its polarizing discussion content demonstrate this concept well.

If the world is full of people with opposing views and differing opinions, is it logical to expect everyone to like you?

Does someone’s disapproval stop me from living my life?

Whether it’s a haircut, a hobby, or the possibility of a new career, consider whether you sacrifice the things you want in favor of someone else’s choice for you.

Can I change someone’s previous experiences?

There could be external factors over which you have no control that could influence whether a person likes you. Maybe you remind them of someone they dislike or a bad experience they had.

Should I be the most important part of everyone else’s life?

While you worry about who likes you, the people you think about are probably concerned about who likes them.

It’s human nature for each person to see the world from their own perspective. So someone else’s opinion of you might not be their primary concern.

Should it be yours?

Can I succeed if people don’t like me?

Think about the people who inspire disapproval but still thrive. They don’t need everyone to like them, so why should you?

If I always agree with everyone around me, am I being myself?

Having an opinion that differs from that of a friend or family member doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re wrong. It simply means that you’re an individual with your own thoughts.

If the fear of being disliked causes you to hide your opinions, you might not be living authentically.

Am I spending too much time on social media?

Your time spent giving and receiving likes, shares, and comments could be setting you up for self-esteem that’s dependent on approval from others.

A 2016 study links social media use to a reliance on external validation, which could lead to self-doubt and the need to feel liked by others.

What would happen if I didn’t try to please everyone?

You could start small — for example, try to give your honest feedback about a movie you saw with a friend. Or say that you’re busy if the idea of a weekend gathering isn’t appealing.

You might find that the people in your life still value you.

Should I get counseling?

If you’re experiencing anxiety or distress from continuously trying to live up to the expectations of others, counseling could provide you with helpful coping strategies.

As humans, we’re hardwired to want acceptance. While most people can accept that not everyone will like them, others can’t and have a need to be liked by everyone.

If you have that need, there might be an underlying reason driving it such as past trauma or anxiety.

You could create stress in your life when you continuously try to please everyone.

If your need to please everyone comes at a detriment to your day-to-day life, consider speaking with a mental health professional.

If you don’t know where to start, try our find help page. You could also ask a healthcare professional for a referral.

Overcoming the Need to Please

"Care about what other people think and you will always be their prisoner." —Lao Tzu

People-pleasing, approval-seeking, need-to-be-liked syndrome—call it what you will, but seeking self-worth through the approval of others is a fruitless endeavor and an exhausting way to go through life.

Source: Dmytro Zinkevych/Shutterstock

So why do we do it? Why do we allow what others think of us to have so much power over how we feel about ourselves? If it’s true that you can’t please all people all of the time, wouldn’t it make sense to stop trying?

Unfortunately, sense often isn't driving our behavior. For social beings who crave love and belonging, wanting to be liked, and caring about the effect we have on others, is healthy and allows us to make connections. However, where we get into trouble is when our self-worth is contingent upon whether we win someone’s approval or not.

“The need to feel ‘okay,’ liked, or approved-of is rooted in the messages a person received about their inherent worthiness and belonging while growing up,” says clinical psychologist Erika Martinez. “Somewhere along the way, people with contingent self-worth learned that their worth came from others' approval, not from within themselves.”

Rachel S. Heslin, author of Navigating Life: 8 Different Strategies to Guide Your Way, traces this need to be liked back to when we were children and were completely dependent on others to take care of us: “Small children are not just learning how to walk and communicate, they are also trying to learn how the world works... we learn about who we are and what is expected of us based on interactions with others.” Heslin goes on to say, “To a four-year-old, if Mommy or Daddy doesn't like you, there is the danger that they will abandon you, and you will die. We need to understand that when we desperately want someone to approve of us, it's being driven by that little kid part of us that is still terrified of abandonment and death.”

The reality is that what others think of us is none of our business.

“As you become more capable of providing yourself with the approval you seek,” says Heslin, “your need for external validation will start to dissipate, leaving you stronger, more confident, and yes, happier in your life.” Though far easier said than done, there are steps that can be taken to build self-worth from within and reduce the need to please.

1. Cultivate awareness.

"In order to change unhealthy approval-seeking behaviors, we have to become aware of them," says psychotherapist Santiago Delboy. “Sometimes they can be apparent, such as when we actively seek validation or avoid confrontation. Sometimes they can be subtler, for instance [when we] are very compliant, agreeable, or do not want to ‘rock the boat. ’”

So, how do we recognize when we are engaging in these less apparent types of people-pleasing behaviors? Jenn Kennedy, LMFT, suggests asking yourself the following questions: "Did you say yes when you really wanted to say no? Did you quiet your voice because it didn’t please or echo someone else who you deem important? Does it seem like you are overextending?" "If so," she says, "try pushing back on these habits and see what comes of it.”

“Awareness also includes an evolving understanding of the experiences that led to the behavior in the first place," says Delboy. "Those experiences left emotional wounds that we can't heal if we don't take a look at them.” He says those with an anxious attachment style may be more prone to unhealthy approval-seeking behaviors.

Working with a therapist to process these experiences can be enormously helpful in beginning the healing process.

2. Practice self-compassion.

As mental health professionals, one of the first principles we learn is to meet our clients where they are. This same principle should be applied to ourselves. Self-compassion, or self-love, involves accepting where you are in your life and who you are—flaws and all. “Instead of being harsh with ourselves, it is very important to give ourselves the love, constancy, and security that we didn't receive growing up,” says Delboy. “Through self-compassion, we can understand that even if people don't like us, that is not a reflection of our value as a human being.”

An inextricable part of developing self-compassion is caring for one’s self. Kennedy describes self-care as the antidote to an excessive need for approval: “It is speaking up when wronged, acknowledging accomplishments to self, as well as tolerating the discomfort of being dismissed or criticized. It’s accepting that you aren’t for everyone, and that is okay."

Part of self-care is putting ourselves before another—not in a selfish way, but in the way a mother must put the oxygen mask on herself first to be able to help her child. Without our own oxygen, we are no good to anyone else.

Through self-care, we cultivate self-esteem. Glenn R. Schiraldi, Ph.D., Lt. Colonel (USAR, Ret.), author of The Self-Esteem Workbook and The Resilience Workbook, defines self-esteem as a realistic, appreciative opinion of oneself, and having inner security that is not shaken by adversity, including the fluctuating opinions of others. “The journey toward developing healthy self-esteem,” he says, “starts with the recognition that people are born with unconditional human worth that is independent of the way people treat us.”

3. Build a positive support network.

Who we choose to surround ourselves with can greatly impact our well-being and influence our sense of selves. This is especially true for those who struggle with low self-worth. “Since the need to be liked oftentimes stems from failures in our early relationships, it is important to develop healthy and reparative relationships,” says Delboy. “These take time and require us to take the risk of opening up and being vulnerable. We might be afraid that by opening up we might be giving people more reasons not to like us.” Even if that risk is fair, he says, the reward is a nurturing relationship that can change us from within.

Martinez agrees and points out the importance of being with people who are supportive of us for who we are, not what we can do, have done, or who we know. This, she says, helps us start detangling our self-worth from external outcomes, such as winning the approval of others.

4. Take a break from social media.

"An intense need to be liked typically links to someone feeling that the locus of control lies outside of them—that they need others' approval to be acceptable,” says Kennedy. ”This is reinforced daily as Facebook members give thumbs up, hearts, and smiling faces.”

As studies are showing us, each time we receive a "like" or other pseudo response of approval on social media, we experience a spike in dopamine. This causes us to keep chasing the next "high," much like an addiction.

Just as we manufacture the illusion of perfection on our social media pages, we may find ourselves doing the same in the real world. Once we start conforming and contorting ourselves in the quest for approval, according to Kennedy we begin to question whether others will like us if they knew who we really were.

5. Remember that most of the time it’s more about them than it is about you.

Barring some egregious behavior on our part, a great majority of the time, another’s dislike of us is more of a reflection on them. If we see something in another person that we don't like about ourselves, we often project. Projection is a defense that we all use to avoid facing the not-so-pretty parts of ourselves. It often explains what happens when someone meets us for the first time and immediately takes a dislike to us or makes a snap judgment without getting to know us. Those who have higher self-esteem and feel more secure with themselves tend to do this less.

As carefully as we may try to tiptoe through life in an effort not to offend, inevitably we will fail. While we do have control over what comes out of our mouths and what we throw others’ way, how it lands on them is not in our control. Each person interprets the world through their own unique lenses and life experiences. What may turn off one person may attract another. It is our intention that matters. How they choose to receive it is on them.

Creating a Life Worth Living

Imagine how much time we lose each moment we squash our authentic selves in an effort to be liked. If we base our inherent worth on the fleeting opinions of others, we cheat ourselves of the power with which we were born—the power to shape our experiences and embrace life and our brief time here with compassion—not only for others but also for ourselves. Because ultimately, there is no difference. Embrace the cliché and love yourself. It’s highly doubtful that you will regret it.

LinkedIn image: Pra Chid/Shutterstock

An unhealthy desire to be liked by everyone: what it says

Even if we pretend that the opinions of those around us do not really care, deep down, almost all of us want to be loved, accepted, recognized for merit and approved of actions. Unfortunately, the world works a little differently: there will always be those who don’t like us too much, and we will have to come to terms with this.

However, there is a big difference between wanting and needing to be loved. The desire to be loved is quite normal, but the obsessive need for approval can be incapacitating.

Desire or need?

It is important for everyone to feel that we are accepted, that we are part of something bigger, that we belong to our “tribe”. And when someone doesn’t like us, we perceive it as a rejection - it’s not pleasant, but you can live with it: either just accept the rejection and move on, or try to figure out the reason why they don’t like us.

However, there are people who cannot stand it when someone does not admire them. From the mere thought of this, their world collapses, and they strive with all their might to win the favor of a person indifferent to them, to attract his attention and earn approval. Unfortunately, this almost always backfires and backfires.

People who are desperate for the sympathy of others often behave in the following ways:

  • constantly trying to please everyone;
  • are willing to do things that are inconsistent with their character or values, wrong or even dangerous, if they feel that this will help them win the sympathy of others;
  • afraid of being alone or going against the crowd, may even allow something wrong to happen just to get approval;
  • agree to do what they don't want to make or keep friends;
  • feel anxious or very stressed if they find out that someone does not like them;
  • obsess over people they think they don't like or approve of.

Where does the need to be loved come from

Most of those for whom universal love and acceptance are vital, in fact, are struggling with problems that should be traced back to childhood. Such people may not even realize what drives them.

Most likely, a person who strives to be loved without fail suffered from emotional neglect in childhood. He may have been the victim of emotional, verbal, or physical abuse as a child. Trauma like this can leave us feeling for a long time that just being ourselves is not enough, that we are of no value in and of ourselves, and this forces us to constantly seek the support and approval of others.

An unhealthy desire to be loved by everyone indicates an internal struggle with low self-esteem and lack of self-confidence, which can be triggered by anything. For example, the prevalence of social networks only reinforces these feelings. The competition for “likes” fuels the inner anxiety of those who are tormented by an unhealthy need to like. The inability to get the approval you want can lead to worsening psychological problems - for example, driving deeper into a state of depression.

What to do if a normal desire to please has grown into an obsessive need? Alas, there is no quick fix. On the way to stop feeling unwanted, unloved, and even insignificant whenever others do not like us, we may need the support of loved ones and, possibly, professional help. And, of course, task number one is to learn to love yourself.

About the Expert: Kurt Smith is a psychologist and family counselor.

How to get rid of the need to please everyone

November 8, 2021 Relationship

The anxiety of not making a good impression on strangers can make life very difficult.

Imagine yourself as an inkblot

Recall the famous psychological Rorschach test, during which you need to look at the image of an inkblot and describe what you see. And then try to imagine yourself as such a stain on paper. What the other person sees says more about himself than about the inkblot - that is, about you. Qualities that will cause sympathy in one person, on the contrary, will anger another.

How others perceive you depends largely on how many qualities they see in themselves in common with you. According to researchers, we like people who are similar in character to ourselves more. During the experiment, this was especially noticeable among people with undesirable qualities. The more nervous or short-tempered a participant was, the more likely they were to rate people with the same characteristics positively.

Do not forget: you can only control your own behavior, but not the character or preferences of the interlocutor.

Think about factors you don't know

In addition to your personality, there are many other factors that affect the perception of others. Everyone has their own affairs, their problems, their mood. Someone may have a rough day at work, or a fight with loved ones, or just a huge to-do list. All of these unknown factors will affect how the other person responds to you, but they have nothing to do with you personally. Sometimes it's good to remind yourself of your insignificance.

Identify your thinking mistakes

We often fall prey to cognitive distortions. We attribute negative thoughts about ourselves to others, we take all their words and reactions at our own expense, we present the worst possible scenario. It happens unconsciously.

Try to understand what distortions you are subject to. What assumptions do you usually make about yourself and about others? What do you often take for granted? How fair are you? Notice what thoughts you have before, during, and after the conversation. Be honest with yourself, trying to figure out what may have distorted your perception.

Distinguish negative from neutral

Uncertainty makes us uncomfortable. When a person sends neither overtly friendly nor overtly hostile signals, it is difficult for us to determine his attitude. Therefore, we interpret a lot of completely neutral conversations as negative. In such situations, we have to rely on our view of the world.

If your picture of the world includes the idea that people always reject you, you will notice this all the time.

When you see someone just minding their own business, you think they are avoiding you. This manifests itself as an increased sensitivity to neglect.

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