How much do you like to be liked?

I like to be liked a whole lot, and that can cause trouble.

I think this natural human desire — to be accepted, included, thought well of — is adaptive in moderation, but detrimental in excess. Like when the need drives one to twist or flat-out deny core convictions, abandoning the true self in the hopes of obtaining another’s approval.

In high school I was a hopeless case. So deceived by the promises made by popularity, I lost touch with my unique identity and continually strove to morph one of “them” — the always just-out-of-reach group that gathered in the hallway, sharing inside jokes and glittering like gold. I wish I could say “I finally made it in,” but the truth is that no real “I” was involved. While my body may have stood proudly in the inner circle, my soul felt altogether absent.

As I continued to seek a place among peers, forever feeling like the square peg ramming against the round hole, my desperation deepened and my identity became increasingly fragmented. To put an image to the experience: my authentic self seemed to have been beaten down, bruised, and buried below an ever-mounting heap of colorful costumes and masks. So bright on the outside, but horribly black-and-blue beneath.

On the surface it sure looked like I was thriving with a ton of friends — a whole clan for every costume, in fact — but something was wrong within. Whose friends were they? With no me, they surely couldn’t be mine.

To make matters worse, I blamed myself. For not fitting, for not knowing who I was, for feeling so lost, for being so depressed. In a harsh tone my inner critic railed, Get it together, why don’t you?

My wounded self limped along, somehow still getting a strange “fix” from the temporary high of others’ approval and acceptance. I liked being liked enough to make consistent shape-shifting seem worth the cost.

With lots of practice, I perfected my unspoken script. Let’s make a deal: if you promise to take me and keep me as a member of your group, I’ll become whatever you want. Often the easiest method was simply to mirror others’ thoughts, beliefs and actions, since no one is prone to reject a duplicate version of themselves. I tried to secure a pledge from everyone I encountered, certain that there’s no such thing as too many fans in the fan club.  

In looking back, I see that it was really others’ like – not so much their love – that I craved. Undoubtedly, the commitment of unconditional love feels good – a commitment that endures whether the lovey-dovey emotions are present or not. There’s security in that. I’ve experienced this within my family — loyalty and love even during the times when like isn’t there. It’s important. But being enjoyed, having another want time together, being sought out, being truly missed — to me, that feels so different.

Shifting to the spiritual plane, I think a significant part of me still sits in an insecure spot where I know Father, Son and Spirit love me (I can see their baffling faithfulness throughout the winding path of my past), but I really am not convinced that they like me. I suspect that they stick around out of duty and obligation; I assume they endure rather than enjoy my presence.

And I can find myself projecting that same negative perception upon other people, concluding that I’m never really wanted, then working extra hard to reverse their rejection (regardless of whether my assumption is true or not). If I alter my personality just a bit, surely I can make them like me. Louder, softer, wilder, churchier, funnier, artsy-er, preppier, sportier, girlier, lazier — whatever it takes.

But of course, trying to control others’ views always wears a person out and whittles away at his or her core. Moreover, it can often backfire as people begin to sense – sometimes immediately – the underlying insecurity and lack of authenticity.

I used to do this desperate dance daily, and praise God that is no longer the case. But it still affects my thoughts and actions more than I would like. I long to rest securely in my true identity — to feel safely “at home in my own house” — letting go of the insatiable hunger to be liked by others, and becoming convinced that my Creator enjoys me immensely. I want to know deep in my knower that my time, attention and presence are great gifts that make God grin. I desire to be myself, to encourage others to be themselves, and to give everyone the freedom to choose whether they like me or not. Trying to force a person to feel affection just ain’t fair.

So there’s that. There’s where I am. I accept this present place, and ask God to walk me a step forward. May I be open to receive more of both his love and his like, and then may I give both back to him in gratitude.

How much do you like to be liked?