An old saying comes to mind. “You have enemies? Good. That means you stood up to something.”
Recently, a book titled The Courage To Be Disliked, written by Japanese authors Ichiro Kishimi and Fumitake Koga trended on social media. The authors theorised, that the key to happiness, lay in embracing the courage to being disliked.
You need to accept displeasure. Everyone won’t like you. Deal with it.
According to the authors, life will lead you to different places. The truth is, not everyone will be on board with it. Abu Dhabi-based Sohini Choudhary echoes this sentiment as she relates her story: She had a stable career in corporate communications for over seven years, till she decided to pursue a course on film studies in New York. “I left behind a stable job and income, only because I loved films,” she says.
It was a decision that was met with much derision from her parents. Her relatives wrote her off, thinking that she ‘was going to drift through life’. Yet, Choudhary determinedly pursued the course, returned to UAE, and lives a free-wheeling freelancing life, writing on films, art and culture. “Most of my relatives aren’t still pleased with my decision. But I am so happy with what I am doing now, as compared to what I was doing earlier,” she answers. They still mutter dubiously at family gatherings, but Choudhary has no regrets about her choice. She’s happy; she loves what she does.
It’s as the authors of the book, The Courage to be disliked explain, being disliked by someone is proof that you are exercising your freedom and living in freedom. You are living in accordance with your own principles. The problem starts arising when you shift your desires to avoid being disliked. You get caught in your own fears and moulding your personality for others.
And so the truth is, you’ll always have naysayers; it depends on whom you choose to listen to.
It’s the key to happiness, as the book explains.
There’s a key to happiness?
However, psychologists and experts have something else to say.
As Dubai-based psychologist Claire Hallett explains, there’s “no specific key” to happiness. “You hear this term ‘key’ to happiness so often, and I often find it very trite. It’s as if you’re making happiness sound like one giant unified room of joy, behind one specific door. There are different rooms and keys. Everyone has a different path to happiness,” she says. You can be happy when you form stable, giving friendships and support systems. The ‘key’ to happiness could be your support systems, your ability to build boundaries, resilience, and healthy lifestyle routines. Accepting dislike and disagreement is just a ‘part’ of all those keys. And who knows, you will be disliked and still be unhappy in other respects.
However, she does agree that there is an empowering freedom in being disliked in certain subjective contexts. “It also depends on the situation and environment. There is a freedom in knowing that you stood up for something. You do feel an increase in your own self-respect. You do feel liberated. If you followed a career path that no one agreed with and still achieved glowing success, you do feel a sense of pride,” she says.
This freedom is wrapped up in an individual’s self-esteem and self-worth. “To be tolerant of being disliked by some would indicate a strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem,” says Ross Addison, a Dubai-based British psychologist. “I do not think it's the key to happiness that comes from a variety of different methods, but it is a factor in determining our self-esteem, which is hugely important in shaping our happiness and satisfaction in life,” he says.
To be tolerant of being disliked by some would indicate a strong sense of self-worth and self-esteem. I do not think it's the key to happiness that comes from a variety of different methods, but it is a factor in determining our self-esteem, which is hugely important in shaping our happiness and satisfaction in life...
And unfortunately, owing to low self-esteem and poor estimation of self-worth, one can’t quite accept being disliked.
Living in social anxiety
Trapped in a web of small, seemingly insignificant lies. Lies, all the same.
Dubai-based Tawadud Hussain doesn’t quite know what to do. She’s often caught in a tug-of-war with mostly herself as she says. She doesn’t like directly cancelling on acquaintances who keep asking to meet, so she makes up excuses, as she says. She can’t meet her friends on some days, because she is too tired after work. So, she pretends that she stays back late, hoping that it is a good enough excuse. She doesn’t like arguing with a close friend about what they’ve done wrong. She stays quiet.
Sometimes, she forgets the white lies she tells people too. And so, it becomes a messy cycle of stress, fear, anxiety and sleeplessness. “I hate arguing with people. I hate confronting people when they do something to hurt me. So, I let it be, and it just builds up inside me. It would be a lot easier if I did have the courage to just not worry about what everyone else thinks,” adds Hussain.
And that leads to embracing the courage to being disliked.
Addison explains this fear in terms of social anxiety. “It’s a predominant anxiety that people are experiencing, these days. There could be many reasons for this, but people are essentially too concerned about what others think of them. They desire to be liked by people,” he says. This desperate sense of belonging is fueled by the advent of social media, he explains. “We care about what others think of us on social media, even if we’ve never met them,” he adds, explaining that there is a “sense of fragility” these days that enables the attitude towards people pleasing.
The ills of people-pleasing
Nobody wants to be an outcast, explains Hallett. Everyone wants to belong somewhere. “So, if they don’t want to argue, even if they’re in the right, they’ll ask for a truce. People fear being ostracised so much, that they let that fear seep so deeply into them, till it finally becomes a part of a reflex action and response,” she says. In other words, you instantly try to make peace to avoid any unpleasantness or confrontation in a situation.
There’s such a strong fear of being disliked, that people would rather alter their behaviour, opinions or preferences in order to just gain approval from others, she adds. This stems from the fear of rejection, criticism or what they perceive as a harsh judgment.
People-pleasing is not inherently bad, as long as it does not come at a cost to the pleaser, as Addison explains. “There is a theme that emerges when we care so much about what others think; fear of loneliness. Wanting to be liked by everyone reduces the threat of loneliness, which I believe to be one of the main reasons why we have become such people pleasers,” he says.
Can we build this courage to be disliked?
To quote Bob Marley, the truth is everyone’s going to hurt you. You just got to find the ones worth suffering for.
So, a little reflection might do you good.
“It's important to know and reflect that we do not have to be liked by everyone, nor should we expect to be. It's about finding a happy medium between caring about the views of people that you value, and not spending much time thinking about those you don't,” he says.
As Lauren Colletti, a Dubai-based American life coach explains, if you fear being “disliked” by someone, ask yourself a couple of questions: Who is this person to you? How much does it matter? How badly does it actually affect your life? Why is it affecting you? If the person is someone close, and their opinion matters a lot, pause and reflect. If you are absolutely sure of what you’re doing, have conviction in your actions. Only then, can you convince others, she says.
In order to “build” such a courage, you need to first build your own self-esteem, explains Colletti. “You need to examine why you get affected by what everyone else thinks. Why does everyone’s opinions matter to you. And then start slow. Notice your patterns. Do you keep agreeing, saying yes, changing your statements to suit others? “Catch yourself when you do it, and work at changing it in each confrontation and argument,” she says. You can even use the reward system for yourself, to feel motivated, she says.
“You can break free of the patterns, only if you work hard enough at it. It involves some strong mental work, and the addressing of some very thorny issues. You do need to start somewhere, so start small,” she says.