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It May Be Time to Rethink Being Likeable


Don’t we all want to be likeable? Maybe not. What if likeability has a serious downside?

What does it mean to be likable – and who has to abide by those rules? describes likeability as “having qualities that make you a pleasant and largely agreeable person,” according to therapist and author Nedra Glover Tawwab, adding that “there are some personality traits that might overlap with likability, like being agreeable and able to go with the flow.” Psychology professor and author Mitchell Prinstein says that “likability and ‘popularity dynamics affect our careers, our success in meeting our goals, our personal and professional relationships, and ultimately our happiness.’” 

Though it’s scientifically difficult to measure and quantify likeability, “humor, self-awareness, warmth, conscientiousness when interacting with others, approachability, popularity, extroversion and trustworthiness” are all associated with it. So, what could possibly be the problem with such esteemed and valued qualities?

The problem is that, unsurprisingly, because “our judgments [about people] are wrapped up in racialized and gendered norms,” demands for likeability are unequal. According to studies, society expects far more likeability from women and minorities than from white men, leaving the rest of us carrying a heavy load. It’s exhausting and debilitating trying to be likeable all the time and constantly viewing yourself through the lens of “Will they like me?”. 

It takes energy and effort to exude likeability and often forces us to develop a false self, which pretends to think and feel one way when we really feel another. If we never saw our parents fight and they always tried to be nice to everyone, we only learned half the story of emotional health. When this happens, we never get to see others feeling and thinking the negative things we’re feeling and thinking: he’s a jerk, she’s so pushy, they’re mean, I hate church and practicing the piano, I can’t stand Uncle Joe’s bullying, and it pisses me off that I go to bed hungry or that my neighborhood is unsafe.

See what I mean about how focusing on likeability limits natural human emotion and distorts your inner reality? I raise this issue because so many dysregulated eaters try so damned hard to be nice when they don’t need to be. I know full well that I think and feel many things that would make people consider me highly unlikeable and I need to sometimes put aside niceness to take care of myself or even to get justice for someone else. Would it really kill you to try to be less likeable. Try it and see.