We all want to be liked. When it seems like the world is against you, it’s easy to feel lonely, worthless, rejected. These feelings are real, and they run deep. We live in an interconnected world—people depend on each other to get their needs met. Your brain knows the importance of belonging. The strong emotions that come with not feeling liked or accepted are there to motivate you to connect more with others.
But those same emotions can easily get out of control. When you feel lonely and rejected all the time, those emotions start to shape your beliefs about yourself. “Nobody likes me” is one of those beliefs.
Where does this belief come from?
There are lots of reasons why you might believe that nobody likes you:
- Maybe you have a hard time connecting with other people or making friends. You can’t see what that could be, other than them not liking you.
- Maybe you’ve been rejected, and it hurt. You don’t want to feel like that again! If you assume everyone hates you, you’ll never get your hopes up—and you’ll never get hurt. Sometimes we develop negative beliefs about ourselves to keep ourselves safe.
- Maybe someone straight-up told you that nobody likes you—maybe one of your parents. Or a bully. Or someone you thought was your friend. It may have been so long ago that you don’t even remember!
- Sometimes beliefs like this seemingly come out of nowhere. When you are in a negative state of mind, you can start to believe negative things about yourself, even if you have no evidence that those things are true. Negative thoughts like this are a common symptom of depression and social anxiety.
If you can identify where this thought is coming from, you can see it for what it is. It’s not a fact–it’s a negative belief. And beliefs can be changed!
Finding the middle ground
“Nobody likes me” is an example of black and white thinking. Your brain sees only two options: either everyone likes me, or no one does. So if I can find evidence that at least one person doesn’t like me, well… you get the picture.
Black and white thinking is rarely true. Most people are liked by some people and disliked by others. “You can’t please everyone,” the saying goes—and it’s true. Some people probably don’t like you. That’s okay—you probably don’t like most of them either!
Of course, accepting that not everyone will like you all the time is easier said than done. “But I want everyone to like me!” Hey, me too—but at the end of the day, I can still live a happy and fulfilling life, even if not everyone wants to be my best friend.
Now we have two thoughts to replace “nobody likes me”:
- Some people like me, and some people don’t.
- I can live a happy and fulfilling life, even if some people don’t like me.
Try saying one or both of these things to yourself the next time you find yourself thinking that nobody likes you.
You can’t read people’s minds
“Nobody likes me” might be something you tell yourself after a social interaction goes badly.
Let’s look at an example: Say you’re talking to someone, and they have this squinty look on their face like they think what you’re saying is stupid. By the end of the conversation, you’re convinced: they must hate you.
Sure, that’s one possibility. Let’s look at some others:
- Maybe they normally wear glasses or contacts, but they forgot them today. They have a hard time seeing, so they’re squinting at everyone.
- Maybe they were so interested in what you were saying that they were concentrating really hard, trying to take it all in.
- Maybe that’s just what their face looks like. Some people just naturally have a facial expression that looks mean or angry.
- Or, maybe you’re overly sensitive to that kind of look. People who have experienced abuse or who got yelled at a lot as a child often perceive anger in other people’s faces when it isn’t there. The same goes for people who are experiencing depression or social anxiety.
Your first reaction—“they must hate me”—might seem obvious to you in the moment. But you might be surprised to find out how many social interactions you’re misreading because of your negative beliefs. Everything gets filtered through that lens. With practice, you can learn to mistrust your negative thoughts and consider other possibilities.
The process of challenging your thoughts can be difficult, especially in the beginning. If you have a lot of negative beliefs and emotions, consider seeing a therapist—they’re professionally trained to help you with this stuff!
Feeling more connected
Hopefully by now you can see that “nobody likes me” is a belief about yourself, and that you have the power to change it. That’s great, but what about those feelings of loneliness and isolation?
Changing your beliefs the way we’ve been talking about can actually help you feel more connected to others. When you’re less focused on negative beliefs about yourself, you naturally become more outgoing and willing to connect with others. You may also start to see less evidence that people hate you—and more evidence that at least some of them like you quite a bit. It’s an upward spiral: you feel better about yourself, so you’re more outgoing, so you have better social experiences, so you feel better about yourself… and so on!
You can also try working on your social skills. Nobody’s social skills are perfect, so there’s always room for improvement. Ask someone you trust if there’s anything you do that makes it harder to be your friend. You don’t have to change who you are—you can find ways to help other people see the best parts of you. Succeed Socially is a good online resource for developing your social skills.
You can read more about dealing with loneliness here, including more ways to feel more connected with others. We also have a worksheet called Stopping Stupid Thoughts, which can help you challenge negative thoughts like this one.