It's very human to want to be liked. Isolation is dangerous for our mental health. But if you betray yourself to get people to like you, that causes problems that are at least as bad if not worse. I'll explain why in a moment, but first let's look at some signs that you worry too much what others think about you.
1. You do things you don't want to do and you resent it.
2. You no longer (or never did) really know what you want.
3. You're afraid to say what you really believe.
4. You spend time with people you don't like or you avoid people out of fear.
5. You struggle to make your own decisions.
6. You imagine that people are upset with you when they really aren't.
Here's why it's a problem:
Deep inside of us, along with our need to be liked, we also have a need to be authentic, to think and live in our own unique way. Nature made us this way so that we could think critically and develop creative solutions rather than rushing headlong over a cliff with the rest of the herd. If we all thought alike the human race would have died out long ago.
As Bertrand Russell wrote, "Do not fear to be eccentric in opinion, for every opinion now accepted was once eccentric."
We thrive when we get along with others, and think and act independently at the same time. If you aren't doing both, you're out of balance, and your psyche will complain about it with either depression ("No one likes me.") or anxiety ("I have to get them to like me"). These are often warning signs, and if not heeded, things can get really bad. That's why it's dangerous to worry too much what others think about you.
Here's what to do about it:
1. Find your people: Don't imagine that you can stop caring what everyone thinks. Seek out the people who see your strengths and goodness and whom you trust. Stick with them and take what they say seriously. When you fear that they're thinking badly of you, check it out: Ask them what's going on. A small group of friends or community can go a long way in increasing security. It's important to know that you're loved.
Bernard Baruch put it well when he said, "Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don't matter, and those who matter don't mind."
2. Face it down: What if other people do think badly of you? Thank goodness! If everyone likes you, you're probably not being true to your self. Ask yourself "What's the worst that could happen?" and come to terms with it.
3. Spend time alone or in therapy: In order to remember or learn what you want, need and believe you'll need to have periods of time when you can hear yourself without worrying about the voices of others. Journal. Talk to yourself. Ask yourself what you need. Find ways to make yourself happy that don't depend on other people. Psychotherapy can also help with this because it focuses on hearing what's inside of you.
4. Experiment judiciously with speaking your mind. This could mean taking some chances. You may not be able to do this at work, since we usually need to maintain an appropriate persona at work. And, sadly, if you belong to a racial or sexual minority, you are probably wise to be gaurded in certain situations. But exercising your opinion elsewhere can build confidence. This can be scarey, but it can also be liberating. Avoidance breeds anxiety, while mastery brings self esteem. Here again, therapy is a safe place to start.
5. Decide what's truly important to you: Is what people think of you high on that list? Make a short list, post it on your fridge, send yourself reminders on your phone, and don't let critical folks who are suffering from insecurity come between you and fulfillment.
6. Find your inspiration: Name three characters--real or from literature or film (for example Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Malala Yousafzai, Misty Copeland, Katniss Everdeen or Harry Potter) that have faced these same fears and overcome them. Carry their image in your mind. Authenticity is an archetypal theme: For millennia we've used stories of heroes and heroines that have not followed the crowd to help us overcome our own fears. Images of their courageous acts reach older parts of your brain--fear centers that may not respond to simple logic--and can free you to follow your intentions.
This being true to your whole self--this individuation--isn't easy. It takes courage and perseverance, but in the long run it feels better. And for many people, bringing their unique offerings to the world is what gives their life meaning.
Here's how Carl Jung put it: "May each one seek out his own way. The way leads to a mutual love in community...Therefore give people dignity and let each of them stand apart, so that each may find his own fellowhsip and love it.. Give human dignity, and trust that life will find the better way."