How to Cope With False Perceptions and When Someone Doesn't Like You

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Any fans of The Office out there? Well, then you might remember that one season 5 episode when Pam accompanies Michael on a speaking tour to all the branches of Dunder Mifflin, including the one managed by Karen (AKA Jim’s ex-girlfriend). Pam knew she was the real reason Jim eventually broke up with Karen, so naturally she’s nervous AF. There’s a cutaway interview (don’t you just miss those?!) with Pam where she says, “I hate the idea that someone out there hates me.”

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That quote has always stuck with me (blame it on my Libra rising) in a big way because it sums up how I’ve felt about so many relationships in my life. It used to feel like it only applied to acquaintances – colleagues, friends-of-friends, people like that. With acquaintances, you can say that they just don’t have the right impression of you and chalk it up to the fact that they’ll like you if they take the time to get to know you and vice versa. Usually these people aren’t family members or close friends, those people  (hopefully) know you well enough to either dismiss or talk through any problematic misconceptions.

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In the last year or two, I’ve started seeing this come to life in a few closer relationships. As we grow, people change and well, sometimes the people who’ve known you for years don’t really love who you’re becoming for one reason or another. I’ve been trying to come to peace with this and instead of trying to figure it out (hello anxiety attack), I try to cling to the belief that the people who want to be in your life will make an effort to be there. With grace. With love. With unconditional support.

Whether you hear through a mutual acquaintance, social media, or some other innocent source, that someone views us in a negative light…it’s really hard to shake it off. At least for me.

So, how do we let go of the need to be liked by everyone?

How to let the comments I hear from others’ go has been a huge lesson I have been learning lately. Sometimes we are unable to get proper closure for some personal and professional relationships, which can leave them open for someone to interpret us in a negative way that may not be accurate.

Maybe that acquaintance’s view of you stems from a time they interacted with you when you were having a bad day, when you didn’t come across well to them. Maybe all they know of you is through the experience of another. Since this isn’t someone you know well or see often, there’s no way for them to clarify their perception of you. And, sometimes if it’s someone who knows you super well, you just may not get the opportunity to talk it out. For whatever reason, some people rather avoid confrontation - leaving you with zero closure.

How do you deal with others’ negative perceptions of you when the relationship either isn’t close enough to just talk it out and sort through the problems they (might mistakenly) have with you or a conversation isn’t an option.

This is not a who’s right and who’s wrong situation.

The first thing you have to accept is that you can’t fix another person’s perception of you. You need to develop a level of confidence in yourself and who you are. Every single person on planet earth isn’t going to just like every person they meet. Just because someone doesn’t particularly like you on a personal level doesn’t mean that you’re a bad person. It just means that that person has a personal preference that they believe you haven’t met. You can’t control or change someone’s inclination.

One of my favorite quotes is, “Be who you are and say what you want because those who matter don’t mind and those who mind don’t matter”. It really is true. Someone who matters in your life is going to forgive you when you trip up.

The second thing to remember is that there’s a good chance this other person doesn’t actually know you well enough to know whether or not they truly ”like” you. This is someone who you’ve only had minimal interaction with. They don’t know your whole story; they’ve only seen a corner of a page.

Just because another person has a negative view of you doesn’t mean that their negative view is wrong – from their perspective, anyway. That’s why you can’t treat it as a “who’s right and who’s wrong” situation. It’ll just lead to two people who are sure they’re each right yelling at each other, and that doesn’t help anyone. Don’t return negativity with negativity. Give the other person the benefit of the doubt, choose to believe they aren’t out to get you and that they just saw you in an odd situation, and be confident in the person you know you are.

If you have an opportunity to seek resolution with someone who misinterpreted something that you said, then you should take the time to clear things up. Do so from a place of peace — wanting to see restoration — not from a place of feeling defensive. This is absolutely key. You need to put your pride aside. Nobody responds well to defensive dialogue and if you’re being defensive, you really gotta dig deep and see where you need to let go of entitlement. It’s important to recognize the moment where you are able to reconcile and understand each other, take advantage of those moments when you can because often you aren’t able to have time to seek clarity with an acquaintance.

Learn to allow only certain opinions to matter.

If you’re concerned with understanding people around you and becoming a better, more confident, more caring person, be careful to not absorb feedback from just anyone. You can’t just take all of the feedback you get and apply it. Hurt people hurt people. Something’s need to be taken with a grain of salt. It can be difficult to have a full perspective of yourself from your own point of view, so this is when character feedback becomes important. Think about whose opinions you value: your spouse, your best friend, your parents, your family; your boss, employee, or co-worker; mentors, coaches. Whoever it is, determine who are the people who can best speak into your life and help give you direction. These are the people who really know you and can help you recognize the difference between a momentary failing and a negative pattern. These are the outlooks that matter.

When you hear critical comments about yourself from people who aren’t on that list, know that they ultimately only have as much power as you’re willing to give them. Sometimes new people can help us identify things we need to work on that those who are familiar with our habits can miss, but it’s important to have a healthy amount of self-confidence in order to know when such a person has the right idea about you or not. If someone who doesn’t know you well (or who doesn’t know you well anymore) tells you something you know isn’t true about yourself, don’t give it worth.

We can give words so much power when we sit and meditate on them. Instead, when someone says something about you that you don’t agree with, let their words roll off your back. Believe that you have a good view of yourself so that when others say something that doesn’t align with who you know yourself to be, you can choose to let the false words in your life fall away.