It feels good to be liked. To know that the people around us enjoy having us around, to know that we’re wanted, and to know that we fit in.
Not everyone gives it the same importance. For some it’s an added bonus, for others its the last thing they care about, and for others it is all that matters.
I’ve always fallen into the last category. I am definitely a case study for when it can push you too far and negatively impact on your life. I have a very active, very deep seated fear of being not liked and I have a very low threshold for when I sense this from people. The sad thing is that this can make me really quick to pull away from people and situations.
I always put it down to being the outsider as as child as I moved around the country often. I figured that it taught me that nothing was permanent and it was ok to move onto other things. That might be true, but as I’ve spent more time digging into my own mental health and trying to improve both it and the way that I interact with the world, I’ve realised that for me its a bit more complicated than just wanting to please people.
For a long time various professionals that have tried to help me have told me that I was suffering from social anxiety. That always made sense. I’ve always been shy and terrified of doing things incase people thought I was stupid or incompetent and that’s never really gone away. But at the same time, it didn’t quite fit. I never really had any of the usual physical symptoms, and my fears weren’t so much about people thinking I was incompetent, it was more about being terrified of people finding out that I was.
I’ve been lucky enough to have had a couple of therapists who realised that my main anxiety was around negative judgement and helped me work on it. Recently however one of them helped me by identifying a new potential diagnosis. They wondered if instead of social anxiety I was instead battling Avoidant Personality Disorder.
In a lot of ways it doesn’t make much difference which it is as the treatment is the same and there’s a similar long term battle to be waged, but when i started to read about this new thing that I might have I was shocked by just how accurately it described the things that I have always battled with.
As an example the below is quoted from WebMD:
‘People with avoidant personality disorder experience long-standing feelings of inadequacy and are extremely sensitive to what others think about them. These feelings of inadequacy lead the person to be socially inhibited and feel socially inept. Because of these feelings of inadequacy and inhibition, the person with avoidant personality disorder will regularly seek to avoid work, school, and any activities that involve socializing or interacting with others.[…..].The low self-esteem and hypersensitivity to rejection often cause a person with this condition to restrict personal, social, and work contacts.
Symptoms of Avoidant Personality Disorder…
- Avoids occupational activities that involve significant interpersonal contact, because of fears of criticism, disapproval, or rejection
- Is unwilling to get involved with people unless certain of being liked
- Shows restraint within intimate relationships because of the fear of being shamed or ridiculed
- Is preoccupied with being criticized or rejected in social situations
- Is inhibited in new interpersonal situations because of feelings of inadequacy
- Regards themself as socially inept, personally unappealing, or inferior to others
- Is unusually reluctant to take personal risks or to engage in any new activities because they may prove embarrassing’
Even a couple of months into trying to wrap my head around it I can’t decide if I’m relieved to have identified that it is something that I can get help with, or angry that it potentially puts me into a box.
What I do know is that the more I read about it the more it resonates and the more I become angry with myself for letting this get in the way of so many things in my life. The feeling and behaviours that come with this have negatively impacted pretty much every area of my life.
I can’t go back and change what’s happened in the past and the mistakes I’ve made because I’m so worried about being liked and terrified of not being. I can’t undo decisions that its made me make. And I wouldn’t want it to. I wouldn’t be where I am without all of the twists and turns and different roads that its sent me on. But I do intend to learn how to live with it more effectively. I have made a commitment to be honest with myself about what I need and want in life and to challenge myself every time that I find these feelings impacting on the decisions I want to make so that I can fight the battle everyday to stop it from letting me achieve everything that I want to achieve. I have to make sure the life that I am living is about me and doing what is right for me, not what I think will make other people happy, not what other people want from me.
Its not going to be perfect on day 1.
Its not going to be perfect on day 1000.
It may never be perfect.
But I am going to keep working on it and acknowledging it and facing up to it.
One day at a time.
I’m really lucky to have some amazing people around me that I can talk to about what I’m struggling with even when I’m not winning the battle with my head. Its those people, the ones that you can be honest with and that don’t judge you in the process that are worth the world. God knows where I would be without you all.