No matter how brilliant and beautiful you are or become, you will never silence all of your critics.
We want everyone to like us; it’s natural to desire to feel accepted. But many of us struggle to perfect ourselves in silence. Individuals with Social Anxiety Disorder and/or Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder believe that they need to be perfect to be likable, fearing public embarrassment and shame. Living in the public eye only amplifies the dread. Imagine waking up to dozens, or even hundreds, of social media posts about you each morning. Yet, the proportion of people pining for, and even seeking out, celebrity status continues to increase. More and more people believe that they can somehow reach the point of being liked, even admired, universally.
Celebrity is a fantasy for most of us, through which we’re able to romanticize our lives by romanticizing those of others. One of my clients frequently tells me that he wants to be like The Rock, who, according to him, is loved by everyone. But, in reality, he isn’t. The Rock, John Cena, and all of the other gregarious and seemingly well-adjusted public figures have a plethora of haters, people who hate them without knowing them. However, in this fantasy, using a small sample size, one can convince himself that these magical beings somehow cracked the eternal, cosmic code of popularity. Essentially, discovered how to become the happy ones. The flaw in my clients’ thinking is evinced not in his belief that they’re happy (they genuinely appear to be), but in why that’s so.
I assume The Rock and John Cena, at some point, realized that they couldn’t win over all of their critics. No matter how kind, successful, or entertaining they were, some would always hate them. My client contends with an ample amount of self-doubt, frequently depending on others to validate his value and, just as often, falls into despair when criticized. To him, being admired by everyone eliminates the threat of his own psyche, which tends to excessively reflect back to him all of his negative self-oriented beliefs through external feedback. And, unfortunately, if you dislike him and know how much he needs your approval, you can wield your words like a sword, slicing his heart into a million pieces.
So, we ask: Why do people hate? And why can’t we win all of them over? A good portion of our thinking stems from our personal psychologies, rather than from objective truths. We have certain needs met by our beliefs, called motivated reasoning. Take jealousy. If I desperately want what you have, I can either work to attain it or, if I don’t believe I can, convince myself that I don’t want it since it sucks. There’s a famous experiment in cognitive psychology wherein folks were asked to decide between a taco and burrito. The ones who struggled to choose eventually soothed their anxieties of regret by convincing themselves that the one they didn’t choose was, by far, the worst option. Thus, it wasn’t just an inferior option; it was so inferior that they shouldn’t even waste their time considering the possibility of having chosen the alternative. As the threat of regret loomed, they squelched it with the might of specious reasoning. Because, the taco is that much better than the burrito, really?
But what happens when people need to feel superior to protect themselves from the danger and possibility of feeling the opposite way? Those individuals, no matter what you achieve, will find ways to discount your success; they’ll discount the positive. Discounting the positive is a mental shortcut wherein we take something positive and reduce it to its most unattractive element. Let’s say you have a football team that won a Super Bowl. Obviously, luck played an important role. Luck helped keep the players healthy and provided them with unfair advantages in the form of referees’ calls. (Rewatching some of the games of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2020 Super Bowl run, I can see how officials, at times, blew calls that could’ve changed the final scores.) Luck also could’ve helped them by way of random injuries to top players on rival teams. Yet, luck is and always has been a significant part of sports. To say that a team won a Super Bowl solely because of luck is an argument put forth in bad faith. Every winning team is lucky. But the haters won’t admit that, because, unfortunately for them, their teams suck. And admitting luck to be an integral part of the game now prevents them from using it as an excuse for their team losing.
Bullying offers another great example. When I was a kid in elementary school, there were two short guys in my grade, one was bullied and the other was popular. How could that have been if the bullied kid was tormented for being short? Because it never mattered much to the aggressor that the child was short, only that he was weak and couldn’t defend himself. Had he not been short, the bully would have found some other flaw to bludgeon him with in order to further weaken him. The flaw is just a means to an end; it could be virtually anything that separates the victim apart from others. As with our achievements, the hater homes in on the aspect that his victim fears he’ll expose.
But, returning to our achievements, success is always imperfect, and luck is a good example of how so. Because there’s always somebody smarter, better looking, or stronger, it’s easy to focus on its imperfections. If you go to Yale, you didn’t go to Harvard. If you’re on a television show, then you aren’t in a film. And this can go on in perpetuity. In order to silence their inner critics, your critics will convince themselves through you why your achievement is, actually, meaningless. Now, imagine, living your life depending on changing these people’s minds, which fail to act in accordance with the accepted rules of logic. How much is enough? And how can they finally acknowledge you? Dealing with haters is like dealing with the racist club bouncer who tells you that you need three pieces of ID to enter only to regret to inform you later that they’re invalid when you show them.