Friday, October 31, 2014

Worry Over Whether People Like Us

It may appear as though worrying about what other people think, and concluding that, for the most part, they think ill of us, is a form of humble self-deprecation. However, I believe that a constant concerning ourselves with what people think of us is actually a form of self-absorption and self-centeredness.

We may also try to tell ourselves that we are only being “other-centered” in being concerned for what others think. But when we live in a daily concern (which is actually fear) that others don’t or won’t like us, it is very easy to fall into victimhood, with the other person becoming the bad guy. It is very easy to form the habit of deciding people we’re meeting for the first time won’t like us and thus walk away after the meeting believing that they actually don’t. It is very easy to maintain this stance in all future interactions.

This can be patently unfair to people who actually do enjoy our company and don’t harbor any ill will towards us whatsoever. It can sabotage and shortchange relationships. It leads us down the path of martyrdom where we stop interacting with people altogether, or make sure that we hurt people before they hurt us.

I know what it is like to go through life thinking people don’t “like” or respect me. Having grown up in a family where people appeared nice in person, but where gossip and talking about people behind their backs was the norm, I find it difficult to trust people.

So even if someone is friendly to me, I have to fight the tendency to wonder what they are saying behind my back, or thinking in their head. This is, in part, my problem. I need to stop thinking that everyone is a back-stabber or a gossip.

The only solution to this deeply ingrained pattern of thinking has been to weigh my conscience before God, understanding that all of us sin when we backstab and gossip. We all sin when we automatically think the worst of folks (including ourselves), or choose to focus on faults rather than positive attributes.

Which is why Philippians 4:8 is an over-arching verse, whether we are on the side of perceiving someone or being perceived (and it’s both every time we interact with one or more persons). The verse says, 

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.”

If we focus on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy, then we will not maintain a critical spirit toward someone (or ourselves). And isn’t it a critical spirit that has decided others don’t “like” us, even with all indications to the contrary? It’s a critical spirit towards them as well as towards ourselves.

However, If we are being as Christ-like as our current level of spiritual maturity allows us to be in our interactions with others, and we test our thoughts, words and actions with God and His Word, finding that we have a clear conscience, then if others do react negatively to us (either to our face or behind our back) we can have peace that it is the other person’s critical spirit that is the problem.

If, on the other hand, we have tested ourselves with God’s standards and found we did fall short, we can repent and make a commitment with God to not make the same relational mistake next time. It is a process that takes trial and error. The more time we spend with God and His Word, the more we’ll understand how to relate to others in a Christ-like manner. That is the only route to a clear conscience: through the work of Christ in us, perfecting us.

The other thing to remember when it comes to relationships is that not all people will relate on the same level or attain the same level of intimacy and closeness. This used to bother me. I would be jealous of other women’s friendships with each other, even though I had very dear and close friendships of my own. I actually felt threatened if everyone didn’t choose me as their best friend! Yet, at the same time, I could get quickly overwhelmed with too much social interaction and relational connections!

However, since becoming a Christian this has completely disappeared, although it took several years. The affirmation I craved from people comes from God now, and I relish the close friendships I have with other social introverts and the level of intimacy and interaction we feel comfortable with. 

So even though we won’t “get along” with or form fast friendships with everyone, we can think the best of each other.

Whether we are, ultimately, “liked” or not is not something we can control. Again, the Holy Spirit will guide us in our interactions and all we can do is our best at heeding it. If we are not “liked” by someone, it may be caused by a problem we have in how we have engaged with them, which God can reveal to us. But it may also be that the other person does not “like” us due to their own personal issues which they need to deal with. We best discern the answers when we sit quietly before the Lord, sincerely open to His estimation of us.

In the end, what I’ve found is that it is much fairer to others and freeing to myself if I aim to be Christ-like with everyone (including myself), and remember that we all live in a fallen world. That is why focusing on whatever is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent or praiseworthy will cut the umbilical cord to a critical spirit within ourselves and others. We are then free to walk the path of pleasing one person only, the Triune God of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and being completely content and at peace in His affirming love and security. 

God will not always approve of what we think, say or do, and thankfully, His Holy Spirit will let us know! But God does always love us. Which, in my book and His, is far better than being liked, as great as that is, in this world.

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

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