When I was in middle school, the worst phrase you could utter in my direction was “be yourself.” It always worked like clockwork. I’d beg people to like me, to give me a chance, often to the point that it’d be a cry for help.
People made fun of me. They’d reject me. I’d lash out in rage, beat the crap out of someone, and I’d ask the principal after I’d get my detention slip, “How do I make people like me?!”
A shrug and, “Be yourself,” was all I’d ever hear.
Oh, how I hate this phrase! By and large, this was the worst advice I ever got from anyone. The truth is, I’d never tell anyone this phrase unless it is followed up by a lot of caveats. Here’s why…
Sometimes, being yourself won’t get you anywhere with the people around you.
I’ll be honest. A large percentage of people are too wild, too weird, or too volatile to mix with other people. I’m a weird, loud, and occasionally crazy person when you first meet me. Then, I calm down and basically stop talking.
Most people see me looking offbeat and don’t want anything to do with me. If I am trying to make friends with mainstream people, I can’t just be myself right off the bat.
They want people who look like they walked off a conveyor belt of normalcy. I am not that person, nor do I have that plastic “Instagram” look many people want in a friend. Being me won’t work with most people, period.
So, no, “BE YOURSELF” is horrible advice if you’re very eccentric and trying to mix with regular people.
If I want to have friends, I’m going to go to circles that look like me, talk like me, and live similar lifestyles like me. I’ll hang out with people who hang out with fringe groups.
Better Advice: Find your tribe and go to people who welcome you.
Other times, the reason why you have no friends could also be you.
20 years ago, I was a very insecure, heavily addicted person who needed love and a community like no one else’s business. I also had a tendency to purposefully push people away or hurt them because I felt so angry towards everyone who failed me.
The thing is, I had every right to be mad. However, if I continued to be a piece of shit, I would have stayed alone. People want to be around people who are positive, decent, mentally healthy, and well-rounded.
If you are holing yourself up, making a point of pushing people away, tearing others down, and being an all-around bad person, you shouldn’t be surprised if you always end up alone. To have friends, you have to be a friend.
In this day and age, it’s so easy to run to an echo chamber to hear that nothing is your fault. It’s way harder to hold a mirror to your face and decide, “Hey, I’m going to be better today.”
If you are a shitty person, “BE YOURSELF” will only continue the cycle of suck.
Better advice: Work on yourself. Work out. Diet. Bathe. Read something interesting. Be the best version of you that you can be and it’ll attract better people.
Your approach to people might also be a bit off.
I remember, at one point, I tried to make friends by getting a bunch of designer clothes and bragging about making $30,000 a year. (Yes, stupid, I know, but when you just got out of homelessness, it’s a thing you do because you’re celebrating that success.)
No one bought my digs. In fact, I reeked of desperation and drove people further away. No one wants to hang out with desperate people, nor do they want to do business with people like that, nor do they want to be near them.
The problem is, when you hear “BE YOURSELF,” it often comes with a connotation that people will just come to you after you are just doing you. This isn’t true. And it’s also not true that gentle nudges will work.
More often than not, you need to figure out how to walk that fine line between confident and desperate. Be friendly, but realize when your interest in them is freaking them out.
With socializing, practice makes perfect — especially if you are willing to observe people. Don’t copy people, per se, but learn what you might be doing wrong from what they avoid doing.
Better advice: Learn how to interact with people better, even if that means that you talk to a counselor or therapist to enhance those skills. Practice talking every day.
The biggest issue is that you might not know who you are and that people might be disparaging you from being you.
I remember my mom telling me that I was hideous in my goth makeup. I also remember kids in my high school making fun of my love of hula hooping, and how people in college told me, “No one will like you if you dress like that. Can’t you just be normal?”
For a society that constantly tells us to be ourselves, we sure as fuck hate seeing people trying to find out who they are. Oh, and we also seem to hate seeing people who are doing something that is outside the box. No wonder people are confused.
When you don’t know who you are and can’t figure out what you like or want to do, saying “BE YOURSELF” is empty AF. You can’t be instructed on how to be yourself. If you could, you wouldn’t be you.
Too many people can’t understand how disparaging others’ tastes harms them. The people who do this rarely ever live happy, healthy lives — even if it seems that way at first.
Better advice: Take time to know yourself, experiment with hobbies and styles that you enjoy, and cut off people who hate on you for being you. It takes time to learn who you are.
People who dislike others who step out of line with what they want them to do are generally toxic. You’re not a cookie, so don’t feel like you need to fit into a mold.
Finally, we need to stop encouraging people to convince others to like them.
Does anyone else ever notice how our society subtly tells people to convince others to like them? Like, it’s part of so many different plot lines in movies (the “persistent guy” gets the girl) and it’s generally seen as a way of life.
If you’ve been in abusive relationships, you already know that most abusers use this social norm as a method to control others. It’s also a common belief that bullies cash in on, too.
Here’s the thing…You can’t convince or force someone to like you. At worst, you’ll end up getting used and abused by the people who play this game. At best, you will drive away people who might have come around later on in life.
Dita Von Teese said it best: “You can be the ripest, juiciest peach in the world, and there’s still going to be somebody who hates peaches.”
Better advice: If someone isn’t interested in you, don’t try to convince them to like you. It only works in movies. Your clique (or partner) is elsewhere, even if you can’t see them.
Previously Published on medium
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