by Kristina Wilder, M.A.
There is a totally adorable dog where I work. It’s nice to come to work, in off of the noisy and busy street, and see a cute little puppy running around. However, a vast majority of the time when I come into work the dog will see me and instantly start barking. This has happened numerous times and I find myself determined to “make the dog like me.” I try to approach the puppy gently, pet her, and talk nicely. Sometimes she tolerates this, but then the next day she will again bark immediately upon seeing me. It might be that she doesn’t like the noise of people coming into the building. It might be that she doesn’t like how I smell after the long and sometimes sweaty commute to work. Or, it might be that she doesn’t like me.
And it bothers me that the puppy doesn’t like me. In my mind, I demand that this dog like me, and I have a hard time tolerating not being liked by her. Because my demand is related to the behavior of a dog, I can see that my thought “this dog must like me” is ridiculous. Of course I would like the dog to like me, but my desire to be liked by the dog in no way dictates the dog’s behavior and preferences. My demand to be liked by the dog doesn’t mean that I must be liked. I would prefer it, but that does not mean it must be so.
Knowing that this demand to be liked is ridiculous, I can see how my thoughts don’t apply to just the dog, but can also apply to my thoughts about being liked by people. I have just about as much control over the feelings and preferences of other peoples as I do the preferences and feelings of a dog. So my demand to be liked in those situations is equally ridiculous. Again, I might prefer to be liked, but that does not mean I must be. Additionally, because I have tolerated not being liked in the past, I know I can tolerate being disliked both now and in the future.
When I (or others) think this way, there can be many negative consequences. For me personally, I experience worry which then distracts me and prevents me from doing what I would rather be doing. Behaviorally, I go out of my way to then try and remedy the situation by “being likable,” such as my efforts to appease the dog. However, this can sometimes just aggravate the situation. If the puppy didn’t like me five feet away, she might not like me petting her all that much.
While I’ve been aware of this tendency within myself in the past, it is important to remain vigilant and continue to rehearse rational statements. When I find myself thinking “I must be liked,” be it liked by a dog or liked by other people, I’d be benefited to reframe it that “It is preferable to be liked, but that does not mean I MUST be. People don’t always like me, and I’ve managed to survive not being liked before.” To increase how readily rational statements come to mind, it is important to rehearse them more than we rehearse the irrational ones. If you find that you also demand that you be liked, try placing cards in places you often look that can prompt you. For example, if you are on Facebook, and are irritated that not a sufficient number of your friends liked a particularly funny story you told, maybe you should put a card near your computer and look at it before and after you look at Facebook. Rational thinking is about rehearsal and practice. With practice, we can all hopefully tolerate being disliked by adorable dogs.