Overcoming the Need to be Liked

Need to be liked

Please like me, please like me…

I know a four-word sentence that has the power to get a negative response out of almost anyone who hears it.

Are you ready for it? Brace yourself, because it might sting a little:

“I don’t like you.”


See? It hurts, doesn’t it?

For years and years, I did anything humanly possible to avoid having those four words directed at me. Believe me, I’m still a work in progress, but I’ve come a long way from being the guy who desperately needed to be liked in order to be happy.

If you’re currently someone who has a desperate need to be liked by others, get comfortable because this blog post is for you.

Recognizing the Problem

As many of you already know, I’m a recovering people-pleaser who used to be incapable of saying “no” to other people.

What you might not know is that I also struggled mightily to overcome my need to be liked by other people.

The key word in that sentence is: Need.

It’s perfectly okay to want to be liked by other people. I will always want to be liked by other people, and I’m sure 99.9% of the people reading this will agree with that too. Given the choice, who in their right mind would rather be disliked than liked?

That’s a no-brainer for me.

But we’re not talking about wanting to be liked.

The problem comes when we need to be liked in order to be happy. Once it becomes a need, we’ll do all sorts of crazy things to fill that bottomless pit of craving acceptance in order to feel whole.

Trust me, I’m speaking from recent experience on this one. Case in point:

Last year, when I launched The Positivity Solution, I committed myself to writing about hard-hitting topics that you wouldn’t see on most positivity blogs (e.g., dealing with toxic people, staying in the moment, workplace bullying, developing resiliency, etc.) 

I promised myself that I would always write from a place of passion, and I proudly declared that I would never hold anything back.

Well, that commitment didn’t last very long.

After my first month, I wrote one of my favorite blog posts ever, called “What You Allow.”

It was an in-your-face, call-to-action type of blog post intended for people who were allowing themselves to be treated a like doormats by others in their lives.

It was well-received…for the most part.

After I posted it, I received angry emails from readers saying that my blog post made them feel guilty, pissed off, or worse. Some people actually unsubscribed from my blog after reading it.

I was crushed. Even worse, my “need to be liked” by everyone made me compound the problem by breaking my commitment to myself.

Specifically, I removed the blog post from my site, and started writing watered-down blog posts in hopes of not upsetting anyone ever again.

Pitiful, right? It actually gets worse.

After I removed that blog post, I noticed a disturbing pattern in other areas of my life.

There was a guy in my condo complex who would never acknowledge my “hello” or “good morning” attempts. Instead of just dismissing it and letting it go, I became obsessed with getting him to say hello to me. Each time that he ignored me day after day, I felt like a piece of my soul died.

If I gave a presentation to 100 people and 98 of those people absolutely loved it, it barely meant anything. The only people who I would obsess over were the two people who were completely disinterested. A 98% approval rating was the same as a 0% approval rating in my eyes.

If 100% of people didn’t like me, then what was the point?

That’s when it finally hit me.

I needed everyone to like me in order to be happy.

The good news is that I finally recognized the problem.

The bad news is that this was a very serious problem that needed to be dealt with quickly.

The Worst Sacrifice

The saddest part of “needing to be liked” are the countless sacrifices you’ll have to make in the attempt to reach the impossible goal of being universally liked.

Here are some things that I’ve sacrificed in my life:

  • In college, I sat in silence as I watched my friends tease and ridicule a girl with Down Syndrome.
  • I broke up with a girl who I really liked, solely because my friends didn’t think that she was attractive enough.
  • I wrote a long-email to a woman who unsubscribed from my blog, basically begging her to stay and that I would change my blog posts from that point forward.
  • I agreed to a free speaking engagement on a Saturday to talk about a topic that I didn’t even care about, and I ended up missing my daughter’s first-ever swim class.

Believe me, there are so many more examples of me sacrificing my dignity, values, and self-respect during my 39 years on this earth in hopes of being universally liked, but you get the idea.

It didn’t matter if that meant ignoring my values, lying to myself, or pretending to be someone I wasn’t, I would do it. As long as it resulted in me being well-liked by others, it sounded good to me.

But here’s the point that I missed:

What if I didn’t like myself because of it?

Live Your Truth, Always

Do you know what Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and even Jesus all had in common?

They had people who didn’t like them. A lot of people, in some cases.

Let’s be real–if those people couldn’t achieve the impossible goal of being universally liked, what hope is left for you and me to do it?

The key is that being universally liked was never their goal.

What tied these exceptional men and women together was that they lived their truth regardless of whether or not everyone liked them.

That’s powerful stuff, and it’s something that all of us can do.

In case you’re wondering, living your truth isn’t about walking around saying, “I don’t give a damn if people like me or not–I’m keeping it real!”, and then use that as an excuse to be an insufferable ass to everyone you meet.

To me, living your truth (or more specifically, your positive truth) is about being real and being kind.

This means rejecting the urge to change who you are based on the company you’re surrounded by on a moment-to-moment basis. Not only is being a “social chameleon” an exhausting way to live, but you won’t succeed in your goal of being well-liked either (actually, it will have the opposite effect.)

So, how did I overcome my need to be liked by everyone? Simple.

By committing to consistently live my truth.

If nothing else, remember this: No matter who you are, you will always (yes, always) have people who don’t like you for whatever reason.

People will dislike you because of how you look, dress, and talk.

People will unsubscribe from your blog, trash your business on Yelp, or fall asleep during your presentations.

People will be repelled by you for reasons you may never know.

That’s okay.

I have plenty of people who don’t like me for whatever reason (so do you), and I can’t control that (neither can you.)

Here’s what we can control: Being a better person than we were yesterday, knowing clearly what we value, and living our positive truth.

Every. Single. Day.

That’s why my “What You Allow” blog post went back up on my site two weeks after I took it down, that’s why I’ll never beg anyone to stay subscribed to my site or to be my friend, and that’s why I will always fight to create a more positive world, whether or not everyone understands it, or if anyone cares about my dream but me.

Living your truth will always be so much soul-nourishing than chasing your tail in hopes of getting everyone to like you.

Most of all, this quote says it best:

It’s not your job to like me–it’s mine.” -Byron Katie

Since it’s our job, it’s time to get to work.

Your Turn

Do you suffer from a need to be liked? How has that affected your life? Have you been able to kick the habit? If so, how? Jump into the comment section below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

Latest posts by Shola (see all)


  1. Growing up I NEEDED to be liked and accepted. I wasn’t a sports nut. Didn’t participate in a lot of activities, I wasn’t very good at baseball or football. Pretty chubby all my life. Wore glasses. Never found myself with the “in crowd”. I did have a pretty good sense of humor which pulled me through and got me friends albeit superficial ones. I learned to play drums and got in a band, which helped, but again all my relationships were superficial. If I could make people laugh, I’d feel that they liked me. Didn’t care much if they were laughing at me, or with me. I was liked. I would accept the need to be liked on any level. It did give me a sense of belonging at least in my mind. As I grew up, not much changed although peer pressures, and childhood ribbing subsided a bit. Then I didn’t care so much if people liked me, but I was curious what they were saying behind my back. So I guess I still did. I can’t tell you just how much total stress and energy I used up on the silly fact that not everyone liked me. Today, I look at it this way. I’ll take Popeyes famous line…”I am what I am, and that’s all that I am.” So world, I like ME. I am ME and I’m damn good at it. My kids Love me. Anything past that is just not that important. I don’t have an explanation, as to how I changed, but I think just having to make presentations and speaking to people got me past my concerns and I was able to relax and be me and let someone else worry about their perception of me. I hope all this makes sense. Thanks for being out there.

    • Hey Ken, that all completely made sense to me! Also, props to you for the first-ever Popeye reference on The Positivity Solution ;). You’re so right–it is draining to use up our valuable energy and stress on trying to get everyone to like us. People are always going to have perceptions of us that may not be very positive, but as long as I’m doing everything that I can to be the best dude that I can be, then I can live with the fact that they don’t like me. Keep being you, Ken!

  2. Thanks for caring about people. We need more like you.

  3. This is awesome, Shola.
    I was in the same boat as you for many years. When I started blogging in 2010 and sharing my emotions about my job, most of it was our of anger and frustration. So you can imagine that most of my writing came across as pissed off and I also used a bit of off color language.

    I started getting emails from readers/loyal commenters who didn’t like my language and I took it very personally. It was like an attack on me and I couldn’t handle the idea that they might not like/approve of me.

    I wrote a post about it shortly thereafter and changed my style of writing. I’ll never forget that I got a comment from Ash Ambirge from The Middle Finger Project telling my that my stuff was boring and that vanilla equaled death online.

    She said that my true audience will be the ones who resonate with my message regardless of tone or language. I took that to heart and realized that she was right. I didn’t really need every single person to like me (although I wished they would).

    So I went back to writing from my heart without worry of being judged. It’s made all the difference..

    Thanks for sharing your story with this..

    • Steve, I can wholeheartedly relate! Whenever I wrote something on my blog that people didn’t like, I took it very personally when they angrily emailed me or unsubscribed. Looking back on it now, I took it way too personally. Ash (I’m a huge fan of hers, by the way) was 100% right when she told you that vanilla equaled death online. That’s why I’m trying to create a different kind of positivity blog here, and the true Solutionists who “get me” will stick around and be a part of the cause to make the world a better place. Like Ash said–your real audience will accept you without you having to change one bit. No matter what, keep writing from the heart!

  4. Awesome post as always, Shola!

    I confess I’m struggling with this even right now. I have a very tough conversation I need to have with a friend and I spent all weekend with the “what if’s” rolling around in my mind. What if I lose her friendship over this? I want her to LIKE me! I want to save the friendship!
    Well, ultimately, it’s not in my control whether she likes me or not. I have to do and say what I feel is right (i.e. “speak my truth”) and the rest is in God’s hands.
    Thanks for telling it like it is – it’s just what I needed today. 🙂
    Have an awesome day!

    • Thanks Priscilla! It can be so tough having those difficult conversations with friends, because there is always a chance that they won’t take it very well. The good news is that if she’s a true friend, then there is no way that you will lose your relationship by being lovingly real with her. Like you said perfectly, it’s not in your control whether she likes you or not–all that you can do is speak your truth. Good luck, my friend!

    • Terrill Mervis says:

      Priscilla,I am in the exact same position with a friend right now–and I too spent the weekend worry about what she will say or do –my husband told me that I must stay true to myself –he then asked me–“even in the best of times with her–how did you feel? ” and I realized that most of the time I would walk away feeling negative and upset because of all the complaining and judgemental things she said about so many people. I need to stand tall and” speak my truth” too! Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  5. Shola I’m loving your transparency. I have a couple of coworkers that don’t speak… I will admit it gets under my skin a little when a person doesn’t speak but I try to remind myself that I can only control PhillyL and no one else so if I want to speak I will and when I get tired of speaking first I will stop and keep it moving. It is hard to ignore the rudeness though lol

    • So true, PhillyL! It has always bugged me when people don’t speak when I try to be friendly, but lately I’ve been asking myself “why am I getting so upset over someone saying hi to me…especially if I really don’t even like the person?” The answer was that I was desperate for everyone to like me. Like you said, the hard part is getting over the rudeness, but these days I just have to keep it moving and stay positive 🙂

  6. My single favorite bit of writing in the world, Desiderata by Max Ehrmann contains these two lines:

    “Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant, they too have their story.”

    “Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.”

    I am the sort of person who has to remind myself to give time to listen even to people I find dull. Small talk and social pleasantries are draining to introverts like me. I really admire people who never make a person feel like they’re too busy or too impatient to give time to a conversation and to be fully present in that conversation. I try to make it a habit to greet everyone in passing because it’s a completely reasonable response to have hurt feelings when you’re ignored, especially by people you see every day whether you’re acquaintances or not.

    • Beautiful quotes, Lora–thanks for sharing! Yes, being fully present in a conversation is such an important skill to master–and it’s a skill that I’m working on every single day. I agree, sometimes my feelings to get a little stung when I’m ignored or treated rudely, but I do my best to bounce back quickly by reminding myself not to take their response (or lack of one) personally. Thanks so much for your comment!

  7. OMG Shola this has always been such a hard one for me. I’m mostly fine with people who don’t like me for a specific reason, like I have a job they wanted, or my husband fired them from his restaurant. That is a lot of growth there, for me to get to where it doesn’t eat me up. I still suffer though, with those people who decide to hate me for no reason. I have learned to be myself and carry on, and I’m working on trusting that these issues are about something dysfunctional in the hater, and I need to let it go. If it helps anyone at all to consider this, I have noticed that if someone is upset over a real reason, they will be willing to discuss it. If a person seems to be hating on me, and then insists there’s nothing wrong when confronted, and then continues the rudeness, then that truly is about them, and I cannot fix them. Shola thank you for being honest with us and sharing even the most personal and difficult dilemmas.

    • Donna, once again, you summed it up perfectly! Like you said, people who don’t like you for a real reason will be willing to discuss it. But the ones who hate you for no reason (I’ve found a few of these people now that I’ve started blogging), have no interest in talking it out because their mind is made up. You’re right, people like that probably will never change, so I just keep being as authentic as possible and giving them more of the real me to hate 😉 So far, so good!

  8. A timely post, Shola! Just before I read it, I was looking on a search engine to see what people thought of my blog. Thanks for the reminder that what I think of it, how well it aligns with my values, and generally staying authentic are far more important!

  9. Hi Shola, I used to have a desire for people to like me as well, but as I have gotten older. It really doesn’t effect me as much a it did when I was younger. With that being said I really enjoyed this post this week. It just reminds me to stay true to myself and to love me for being me. Thank you for the reminder.

  10. Whitney Hoover says:

    WOW! Shola – I think this is my favorite of your posts to date. (not that you needed it to be :)). THANK YOU. You described this epidemic perfectly as being a “Social Chameleon”. I have spent so much of my life doing just that, and you’re right – it’s exhausting and while I sometimes have been able to please others in doing so, I’ve sacrifice bits and pieces of myself that can add up to a lot of gaping holes in my own happiness and sense of self-worth. I’ve improved on this over the years but really benefited from this entry (I even bookmarked it)!

    Thank you, thank you!

    • That’s high praise, Whit–thanks so much! Yes, I also know about being a social chameleon way too well, and it is such a miserable way to live. It is exhausting to tell lies (even worse when you’re living a lie) because you have to remember those lies. But when we tell the truth and keep it real, then there is nothing to remember except to live our truth–which is SO much easier. I’m so glad that you liked this post so much!

      P.S. I owe you an email 😉

  11. I overcame my need to be liked by working on my self-esteem and continuously working on self improvement.

    Great article! Everybody should read it especially in this Facebook-Instagram age.

  12. Terrill Mervis says:

    I have had a need most of my life to want everyone to like me. I think it got even worse after my mother walked out of my life. I am now so scared of letting go of people in my life -even people I know are an unhealthy relationship for me-I suffer from a fear of loss for sure! I too worry about the 1 person out of 100 not liking me instead of the 99 who do–I will let that one person cause great anxiety in me. I am working on getting over this need –any extra advice is always helpful! Thank you for your wise and inspiring post–they put my thoughts in a better place each day!

  13. I’m sitting here reading your post and I needed to hear this. I only work 7 hours for a care giving service so when they call me, I have a guilt and fear that they won’t call me to work again and they will think badly of me. I also take care of my friend’s family and one elderly lady. I run all the time. I have a toddler that I depend on my Mom to help me watch and she’s the caregiver for her parents. My care giving service asked me to take on 15 more hours. I said yes knowing it would be hard for me and a burden for my Mom. Why can’t I say no? I already have an overwhelming guilt for not being with my son who is almost preschool age. I don’t want to give up caring for my friend’s parents because I’ve known them for over 20 years. I’ve been looking at this paperwork wondering HOW I am going to explain that I don’t have childcare for these hours after I already said yes. I have to stop letting my first answer be yes because of guilt.

  14. Another excellent look at reality shola. I remember as a kid I tried so hard to be liked but back then I never really liked myself much and not many people liked me either. As I got away from my evil step father I proclaimed my freedom.to do whatever I wanted. But then I got a boss that quickly let me know that if I wanted money I better do what he wanted. Then I began to like myself again and not care what other people thought let them hate me who cares But then I got a new job with many workplace bullies. After a while you start to believe what they say start to dislike yourself all over again.lose the trust of your loving wife of 24 years fall back into the darkness and the pain is almost more than I can bear

  15. What a POWERFUL entry this week, Shola! I can totally relate. I grew up being the one person picked on throughout my informative years. Kids picked at me from Elementary school all the way up through graduation from High School (same students). I had one of the ring leaders actually tell me one day, when we were alone in a class room our junior year, that she actually liked me but did not want anyone to know so she could stay ‘popular’.. which I think it really boils down to others just ‘going with the flow’ in order to ‘fit in’.. so sometimes we are not ‘liked’ by others because we do not ‘fit in’ because we are keeping it real! Boy, have I learned that this past year making such significant changes in my own life! I am the one hated here at my office. They look at me with pure disgust eating their doughnuts.. while I nibble on my carrot sticks and go run a mile or two on my breaks.. as they sit and gossip about how horrible of a person I am.. so be it! (By the way, interviewed for a supervisor position for a forensic unit for the state yesterday) Totally wondering if learning this lesson was needed, as I will have to be ‘tough as nails’ if I am offered this position and I know I can do this!!

  16. This is totally me Shola! I have spent my entire life trying to make everyone happy. It’s exhausting. I will say I have gotten better in the past few years. Aging and therapy has helped a lot. There are some differences between my story and yours. One is that it’s only the people I know that I try to please. I don’t worry so much about people I don’t know. But, a terrible thing that I do is start to fret about people I know not liking me anymore. I’m always wondering if I’m good enough for them. I’m always thinking that I’m probably not. I have to make an effort to push those thoughts out of my mind and not worry about it. That’s every day. I wonder if my opinions will offend, if I may have not been a good enough listener, or just if I wasn’t perfect enough in general. It’s a hard habit to break, but I’ve been working on it for a long time and I’m glad I’ve found people like you who always know the right things to say/write. Have a wonderful week Shola!

  17. Hi Shola,

    What worked very well for me was realizing the following: if I don’t like every single person, myself, how can I expect every single person to like me?

    I once heard about research, that roughly 1/3 of the people like you, 1/3 of the people are indifferent about you and 1/3 of the people dislike you — and if you try to please people who dislike you, you will ‘lose’ people who like you; the rates will remain 1/3, 1/3, 1/3, no matter what you do.

    And although I’m not sure how accurate these numbers are, the message is quite clear.

    Kind regards,

    Anneke (The Netherlands)

  18. Hi Shola,
    Another honest blog post – thank you. I too allowed my need to be liked consume my thoughts and action in the past.

    I really connect with your advice –
    “To me, living your truth (or more specifically, your positive truth) is about being real and being kind.”

    Thanks Shola !

  19. matt barnes says:

    Hi Shola,
    Ah man what a relief!I thought I was the only one.Recently I realised that I’ve spent my whole adult life trying to be liked.It’s only caused me nothing but frustration and sadness.But you know what?It’s my fault.It really is up to us to be the best people and give to others and not expect others to make us happy.Thanks for your positive blog and all the comments from everyone else that give plenty to think about.

    • This article sucked! And I don’t like you! Just kidding.. This article was truly great.. I got picked on a lot as a kid for having a horrible stutter and being altogether socially awkward on top of that.. I’m 46 years old now and I’m realizing lately that so much of what I’ve done or haven’t done in my life so far, or whom I have or haven’t befriended (one of them a woman – I totally relate to your story..) was based on a fear of not being liked by everyone. Especially, the 1-5% of people I wasn’t sure liked me at all. Of course pleasing those few was most important, right? Screw the other 95% who actually seem to like me! This has seriously effected my growth as a human being, and I’m sure has been instrumental in my being not liked by certain people.. But again, in some cases it might not be any of that. It just might be that person projecting they’re own baggage on to me.. Anyway, thanks for a great article!

  20. Kathy Palms says:

    I agree
    Like yourself, we can’t truly like another without liking ourselves first.
    We would be needy wanting others permission to accept ourselves,
    How exhausting that was,
    But even all those experiences well they do help us to grow until we get it and then we certainly keep it.
    I agree
    Wonderful to read

  21. This is very helpful! I have printed out the end to remind myself. I have difficulty not being liked, but I don’t have a very outgoing personality which sometimes makes people think that I’m aloof or stuck up. I have struggled to try to change myself to fit other people’s expectations but it just feels wrong. I’m not unfriendly and I can’t control their perception(s) of me. It’s so very difficult to remember that though!

  22. Thank you for writing this. I needed to read it, and I needed a reminder to finish reading Codependent No More.

  23. Today has been a miserable, long, and exhausting day. I’ve been holding back what’s on my mind so I don’t get judged, I’ve pretended nothing was wrong although I just heard two coworkers gossip about me on the monitor. I’ve been obsessing about all of my actions in the month I’ve worked there trying to pinpoint the one that made them dislike me. I need them to like me because I’m one of six employees there, I can’t very well avoid them. I don’t know where to find my truth. I don’t even know where to begin to find my truth. This is so hard for me. Please help. And thank you for this article…

  24. necessarilymadeup says:

    I’m a 70 year old man. My mother “loved” and no doubt loved, me far too much, so I didn’t really believe in love at all – I think too much is the same as none. I was bullied at school. Gradually, I learned tricks to make people like me – humour, various talents, blah blah. I am/have been quite a successful artist, teacher, writer, musician, known in my field. I have had and still have, plenty of relationships with women who thought I was really pretty good. But I never believed them really. I understand why and how this happened, I think. And realise that I have first to like and love myself. So far so clear. But HOW? I have the distinct feeling that everyone is fooling themselves, telling themselves they are better than they are. I feel it’s only me who sees that I am not just imperfect in parts, like everyone, but imperfect everywhere. I have done really good things in my life, but feel that it was all a pretence, to make people like me – AND suspect that is what everyone is up to. So it’s a bit of a vicious circle. I don’t think I’m too old to change – I look and feel 15 years younger. But how? How do you know that loving or even liking yourself is real? Thanks, in case you saw this and have an idea.

  25. I think I will put sticky notes up with some of the points you made so I can try to quit being SO hard on myself and trying to figure out what I could have done to make a friend seem to turn against me, and make me feel “less than”. I am sad because of losing a lonnnnng friendship but when I think of how many years I was actually happy being around that person, it should not have been that loooonnng of a “friendship” I need to start some positive self talk. 🙂

  26. Thank you for this post. I have been trolling the internet specifically to find ways to decrease the social anxiety I have related to “people pleasing.” I am an instructor at a university and we receive student reviews at the end of every semester. No matter how many good reviews, I can only reflect on the bad. My heart begins to race, I begin over analyzing everything I’ve done or said, and spend multiple days recovering from a “dislike” situation. I fear I don’t have the answer; however, my New Year’s Resolution is think before I speak and become a better listener. A compensatory strategy I use for my social anxiety is constant initiation of interactions (make someone smile or laugh or find a reason to like me). Many times I find myself reflecting back on these interactions with dismay: “did I say too much:” “perhaps I should not have told her that,” etc. My hope is that by asking myself “do I REALLY have something to say or I am I just trying to get this person to interact and like me,” I can become more confident in my interactions. In addition, if I can become a good listener, one who really reflects on what others are saying and responds with “my truth,” than if someone doesn’t like me I will know that I was being my best me and that is all that can be asked. Wish me luck!

  27. Very well said. In my case I think it has a lot to do with being bullied for being over weight and losing my job and being worried about my finances. I saw that people who did not do a good job, were kept on because they apple polished for the boss. I also have to admit that I am an introvert and seem to pick up on things like this more intensely. So I get a horrible feeling that comes over me when I am rejected (yes even by people I have no desire to be in relationship with or don’t like). I guess that this problem is common to everyone. But I do find that it cripples me on the inside. I am trying to learn or practice the art of humility which includes “To accept being slighted, forgotten and disliked.” Because that will happen from time to time. I will ask the Lord to cure me or at least give me a solution to deal with it.

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