The People-Pleaser Within: Why It’s Important to Know the Difference Between Being Liked and Respected

Parents often ask themselves: How much do I want my child to love me?

Black and white thinking can, sometimes, prevent them from being effective caretakers. On the one hand, I’m loved; on the other, I’m hated. If my kid is angry, mad, or upset with me, I think it’s never going to end. So, I ask my clients struggling with these extremes: Is there a difference between being liked and respected? And, most of the time, they don’t know.

Essentially, you’re liked when someone benefits from your presence or work, and respected when they care about you benefiting from theirs. Ideally you’d have both. I want the people I love to want to be around me, but I also want them to care about whether or not I want to be around them. The reciprocity and the awareness and consideration of it are hallmarks of healthy relationships. But, how common is the desire to want another to benefit as much as you do?

Contrary to some of my clients’ beliefs, it’s actually quite easy to be liked; all you have to do is what the other person expects of you. Some people are easy to like because they’re people-pleasers. They’re there for you whenever you need them, and don’t ask for anything in return; our culture both glorifies and drains these martyrs. With respect to accountability, they take on so many responsibilities that they solely blame themselves when their relationships falter. And in the workplace, they may forgo accepting better job offers because they can’t imagine leaving their environments without first fixing them. So, if you were to ask me if they’re liked, the answer, obviously, is yes. But, are they respected?

To like someone is to have a modest opinion of them. So, if you were to lose that person, it would be disappointing but not devastating. To respect someone is hold them in high regard, thus knowing that you have to make sure they know how much you care about them. And the somewhat awful thing about being human (or one of many) is that we tend to really value only that which requires effort. My people-pleasing clients create affection easily but later learn that it isn’t the kind worth having.

And for parents whose childhood homes were lacking in affection, receiving love in a mild form is akin to a beggar eating at McDonald’s. However, if taught to cultivate respect, they learn that it sustains their bond even if their child hates them in some moment. Essentially, if parents have to choose, respect is the better option. If a child knows that there are expectations and consequences for failing to meet them, he’ll consider them even when he’s angry, knowing the importance of following the rules. Initially, respect is about avoiding punishment but then evolves into empathy for the parent. And empathy, undoubtedly, stems from parental love.

Fundamentally, you’d love to create and possess both. But, life is such that we frequently have to choose. In business, if I’m only liked, that means that my customer has mostly benefited, but if I’m also respected, I’ve benefited, too. I have to remind myself that it’s easy to like someone who’s always accommodating, but in my line of work, if my clients know they can walk all over me, they won’t accept the validity of my conclusions. The catch about being a people-pleaser is that others are always questioning your authenticity, asking: If he’s so afraid to lose me, is he really being honest? My favorite piece of feedback: I know your compliments are genuine because you’re such a hard-ass. And since I struggle with people-pleasing, too, I have to constantly remind myself of it.

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