I received a really interesting email from a GQ reader this week asking 'When loneliness, a lack of self-confidence and insecurity all conspire against you, what do you do? I wanted to share the answer I had for him here as I think this is an important read for anyone who struggles with rejection.
Dear GQ Therapist
I don’t know why, but I feel like no one likes me. I have always found it hard to make friends and it is a feeling that I still get now I am at work. What am I doing wrong?
Human beings are a social species, and yet many people feel like they "just don’t fit in" with everyone else. A recent UK study found that one in ten people didn’t feel they had a close friend, while one in five never or rarely felt loved. So, while we may feel alone in thinking “nobody likes me”, we actually have that emotion in common with a great many people. Moreover, those who feel this sense of isolation also fail to realise that the reason it is so easy to perceive themselves as an outcast or to feel rejected, disliked or simply not good enough, has much less to do with your external circumstances and everything to do with an internal critic – something we all possess.
A psychologist, Dr Robert Firestone, once conducted research using a scale that measured individuals' self-destructive thoughts and he found the most common critical thought people had toward themselves was that they "are not like other people". It’s so interesting to me that this is a critical thought when it should in fact be a positive thing. Just think, if we were all the same, what a boring world it would be.
Before I give you a few tips on silencing that inner critic, I want you to know that there is no one in the world that "everyone likes". It simply isn't realistic. No one likes everyone, so those expectations you have placed on yourself are just not cool. Second, you don’t "feel" no one likes you... you think it. There is a big difference between what you think and what you feel. Getting your thoughts straight really matters when it comes to mind management. When you understand that you are in control of your thoughts, you can then become in control of your feelings.
A thought that says "no one likes me" is a thought that is not only negative, but also clearly not true. It simply cannot be that there are four billion people on the planet and no one likes you. Get my drift? So, it would be a great idea if you could look at your thoughts more factually. Asking yourself questions that start to promote a more truthful and realistic thought process.
Again, I am going to say that you "think" it is hard to make friends – not because it is true, but because you think it is. If you think it is hard to make friends, it will be. If you think that you could try to just make one friend by the end of the month, it gets easier…
Now, I want to help you understand, and then politely tell this inner critic where to go. First, it is important to get conscious. Start to notice when your thought process shifts and your inner critic starts to talk. Maybe you’re on a date and it starts with, “She doesn’t even like you.” Or you may be in a meeting and when you finally speak up, you have a thought like, “You’re not making any sense. Everyone is looking at you. You are an idiot.” As an exercise, write down those critical thoughts in a notepad, so you can start to get properly conscious of what you are saying to you.
Second, take a look at those nasty thoughts and ask yourself, 'Would you speak to your best friend like that?' The answer is almost certainly no. Would you speak to your other half like that or your kids? Doubtful. You see, when you are conscious of what you are saying to yourself, it's likely you will become more ready to change it. A recent quote by Amy Poehler: “Sticking up for ourselves in the same way we would one of our friends is a hard but satisfying thing to do. Sometimes it works. Even demons gotta sleep.”
Third, once you’ve identified the critical thoughts, it’s essential to challenge them. So if your inner critic tells you to stay isolated or not go out, you have to start thinking about why it would be great if you did go out. If it tells you to keep your mouth shut at a party, uncomfortable as it may seem at first, you have to find a way to think about doing the opposite and not indulge in the negative thinking. Challenging yourself is key. Remember, the way to make the changes you want is to change the formula.
It is likely that as you take this process, you will find yourself having thoughts like, "This just isn't working for me. I know I'm not good enough." I would remind you that challenging these negative thoughts is what will lead you to get what you want in life. Thoughts are powerful and the beautiful thing about that is that thoughts are a choice. You can choose the negative thought or you can choose positive ones. It is important to know that you can choose different thoughts and find ways to access your confidence, strength and calmness, all via your mind.
Slowly but surely, your inner critic will be around less and less and your real self will become stronger, more confident and you’ll see that all along people wanted to hang out with you. You just hadn’t had your own back first…
You can read the full article in GQ Magazine here