Fears Of Socializing With People Who May Not Like You

Many people with social anxiety or insecurities understandably feel uncomfortable interacting with individuals or groups who probably don't like them. I'm not talking about someone who's clearly a mean-spirited bully. I mean when things are more ambiguous. There's that one co-worker who's standoffish. There's that clique in class who seems more friendly to everyone else. It's always possible their self-doubts are making them see things inaccurately, but they're reasonably sure a certain person or group isn't into them.

Sometimes that knowledge causes them to feel straight up nervous around those people. At other times it creates a sense of hesitation and self-doubt. They may not know why the person or group doesn't like them. They just suspect they've done something awkward or unlikable to put them off. Or they may be 99% confident they know why they're not liked. Either way, they're uneasy in their company.

Below I'll discuss what is and isn't realistic to accomplish with people who may not like you, then I'll go over some ways to feel more comfortable around them.

What's reasonable to accomplish with people who don't like you?

Everyone has their own goals when they believe someone or a group doesn't like them. They might want to win them over and become good friends. They may want their respect or approval. Or they might not care about their acceptance, or even like them much themselves, but they still don't want to feel so on edge around them. Here's what I think are realistic things to shoot for:

What things are possible with someone who doesn't like you, but won't happen every time?

On occasion someone may initially be unsure about you, but you'll do something to change their opinion, such as:

Of course, we can never get everyone to like us. If you think about it, we don't even want everyone to like us. It can be a sign you're doing something right if a truly toxic, hateful person is put off by you. If you do something like one of the points above you might achieve the following:

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Ways to become more comfortable around people who probably dislike you

Okay, so you know what's realistic to aim for, but how can you practically feel better around them? Here are a few guidelines, aside from more general suggestions on managing social discomfort, like doing soothing breathing exercises.

I know talking to people who might not like you is difficult, so none of these are things you should expect to master in a week. Cut yourself some slack and let yourself slowly work up to becoming at least somewhat more calm when they're around.

Just knowing what is and isn't possible may bring some sense of relief

You may have assumed that if someone doesn't like you you have to completely win them over. Reading you only have to be able to make some polite small talk may take the pressure off, and help you feel more relaxed around them.

Examine your belief that they don't like you

People with social anxiety and insecurities sometimes see the social world as more hostile and unaccepting than it is. It's possible you've concluded a group or person doesn't like you based on a shaky amount of evidence. For example, did you automatically assume they hate you because they dress vaguely like someone who would've been mean to you in high school?

...But it's also possible they actually don't like you, and they're sending obvious signs, which anyone with a pair of eyes and some common sense would pick up on (e.g., every time you try to talk to them they act blatantly bored and irritated.) The idea behind questioning your assumptions isn't to be blindly positive and try to force yourself to accept a false version of reality. It's to not automatically take your beliefs at face value, and subject them to a bit of scrutiny, especially if you know you have a tendency to see certain situations in a skewed way. When examining your assumptions, maybe you'll easily confirm your initial views were correct. Maybe you'll realize you jumped to some false conclusions about what they think of you. Either is okay. The Belief Questioning process isn't meant to railroad you into a particular answer.

Ask yourself questions like:

Another outcome of this exercise may be, "Okay, I can't be sure if they really hate me or not, but I still feel nervous around them." That's alright too. Maybe some of the following suggestions will help.

If you're sure they don't like you, examine your beliefs about the consequences of that

Just because they don't like you, it doesn't mean they hate you intensely, and your life is ruined because of it. Here are a few more things to ask yourself:

Decide what you want to be able to do around them, then gradually build up to it

While being realistic about the fact that you may never fully sway their opinion of you, what do you want to be able to do around them? Make small talk? Just be at ease in their presence? Once you've decided, work your way up to it at a manageable pace. If making small talk with them makes you too nervous, try just saying hello at first. Then work up to asking a quick question or two. Then try to have a somewhat longer conversation.

If they don't like you they may not be enthusiastic about chatting, and the interactions may not be that warm or flowing, but the goal is to feel more comfortable around them, not to win them over.