In an episode of Brooklyn Nine-Nine (thank you, NBC, for reviving it from FOX's cold, dead hands), Sgt. Terry Jeffords gets into a bit of a snit when his habit of talking in the third person causes someone to dislike him. As we all soon come to find out, "Terry needs to be liked!". He has a pathological need to be liked by everyone, and he can't stand the thought of someone disliking him.
Terry needs to be liked, I thought, and I laughed. It's such an abnormal thing, the pathological need to be liked. There's no way it actually happened in real life -- people craving popularity like it was their life goal was something you saw in movies. Those people didn't exist.
Until I realized that they did. And I was one of them. I needed people to like me, otherwise, I would go into a full-blown panic mode.
Why do I need people to like me? There's no particular answer. I crave validation like some people crave sugar or coffee. You could trace it to somewhere in my childhood, I guess -- chalk it up to a perceived lack of affection as a child or the fact that I wasn't popular in school -- but that'd only tell you that the only thing I ended up with was a self-esteem as low as the Grand Canyon.
I wanted to be liked so badly, I would do unnecessarily nice things for people. In high school, I'd fawn people with compliments when conversing with them. I'd bake insane pastries, take them to school, and give them away without a second thought when people asked for one. I thought the only way to win people's favor was to do things for them -- if I ever stopped being on their radar, they'd probably forget about me.
(Honestly, that's probably what happened with 99% of the people I tried to impress in high school, anyways. I suppose the people that stuck around were the people I didn't need to impress.)
Somewhere along the way, doing things in exchange for being noticed evolved into becoming paranoid when I wasn't being noticed. Every word, every action had the potential to ruin my friendship with someone in the snap of a finger. I wouldn't talk about myself for fear that I'd come off as narcissistic. I couldn't say no. Everyone had to be celebrated while everyone had to be happy.
In general social context, it's mild self-monitoring, right? Make sure you're not focusing on yourself, focus enough on other people. Basic social skills. Throw a cynical mental voice into the mix, though, and you've got a psychologist's dream.
What if you're not focusing on the other person enough?
What if they think that you're talking about yourself too much?
What if you've said something wrong and they're looking for a way out of this conversation?
What if this action (seemingly meaningless at the time) actually had a bigger impact than you intended and you've started a whole chain of disaster that's going to end up with you being screwed over in a number of ways?
What if this one event changed this person's perception of you?
You aren't the important one here. They're the one that needs to walk away happy.
They don't have to like you. All it matters is that they get what they need.
It doesn't matter what you need. Why would it matter what you need?
What have you done with your life compared to theirs?
Why would your life matter?
You can imagine how well that turns out for someone trying to make friends their first year of college.
I felt I was walking on eggshells all the time, thinking I was making confident decisions but then later going over them with a fine-tooth comb and picking out all the things that could've gone wrong. Every night I would go to bed and relive the conversations I'd had that day, especially the ones that were important to different relationships in my life. Had I said the right things to my coworkers today? Accidentally done something that would get me fired? If no one had reassured me that day that I'd done fine, I'd worry all day.
I'm still that way, actually. My mindlessness is my biggest enemy: I'll do something and think nothing of it until later in the night, where my mind doesn't stop replaying the situation. I'll give in to that horrible voice smacking me down in my head. I'll even go to extremes to make sure people know me as someone who's good to them -- because for what other reason would they keep me around?
So yeah, Terry needs to be like. And Serena needs to be liked, too. Because Serena figures that not being liked kind of means she's worthless.
To everyone out there that might feel the same way? You are amazing, you are worth it, you matter. You are never, never, never talking too much about yourself. There'll be someone someday that'll want to listen to every word you say and that'll give the same 100% that you give them just because they love you that much. Hang on in there. Your ride's just beginning, I promise. I'll be right there with you.