NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Overcoming the Fear That People Wouldn't Like You if They Knew the "Real You"

It's amazing how many people have the intense fear that if people really knew who they were, people wouldn't like them (see my article:  Learning to Feel Comfortable With Yourself).

Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real You"

In my psychotherapy private practice in NYC, over the years, many clients, both men and women, have come to therapy because they feel they're "defective" in one way or another.

Although their fears that others won't like them if their "real" self became evident is projection of how they feel about themselves, before they recognize this, this fear feels very real.  And, unfortunately, they live their lives as if it is true.

Many of these therapy clients feel that they're hiding this part of themselves from others and it makes them feel unhappy and inauthentic.

Although there are many reasons why people have this fear, it's often rooted in unconscious issues from their early childhood.

It's very painful to feel that you're hiding some aspect of yourself that's "defective" and that others would shun you if they knew about it.

For many people who feel this way, they think they have to put on a facade for others, which is not only emotionally, mentally and physically draining, it also makes them feel inauthentic, which exacerbates the problem.

Let's take a look at an example of this phenomenon, which, as always, is a composite of many cases with all identifying information changed to protect confidentiality:

When Nina, who was in her mid-30s, began therapy, she felt like she was almost to the point of exhaustion in her interactions with the people in her life.

Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You if They Knew the "Real You"

In order to always seem like she was positive and engaging, she tended to "people please" most of the time.  In order to do this, she tended to acquiesce to most of the demands that friends and coworkers placed on her so that they would think she was "nice."

Nina Felt She Had to "People Please" So People Wouldn't Know She Was "Defective"

Often, these demands would be at the expense of Nina's time, energy and finances that she needed for herself.  But, no matter.  She wanted to others to see her as being kind and generous all of the time.  So, it was very rare for Nina to say "no" to the people in her life, unless she was sick and, physically, she just couldn't do.

Even when people weren't making demands (and most of them weren't), Nina would go out of way to be extra helpful and extra kind.

As we talked about this dynamic, it became apparent that, although she was, in fact, a kind and generous person, she was also defensively fending off any possibility that these people would see her as anything but kind and generous by going above and beyond in her interactions with others.

The emotional risk for her if she didn't engage in this dynamic was that if they didn't see her as being always kind and generous, they would, instead, discover that she was really a 'fraud," which is how she felt about herself.  And, more than anything, she wanted to avoid this.

As we continued to explore her dynamic with the people in her life, Nina realized that she couldn't go on doing this because she would wear herself out.  And all this focus on others and not enough on herself was making her feel emotionally depleted and deprived.

Nina came to realize that there was a lot more going on for her emotionally under the surface than she ever realized before she came to therapy.  And, given her fear of being "defective," exploring this dynamic in therapy was a big challenge for Nina.

As with any client in therapy, we had to proceed at a pace that she could tolerate.  If not, Nina would be emotionally overwhelmed and might drop out of therapy rather than work through this issue.

Her ambivalence about exploring the underlying issues in therapy was strong.  For instance, sometimes,  especially in the beginning stage of therapy, she would "forget" to come to therapy and when I contacted her, she would be surprised that she missed our session.

It was less of a challenge of her to pay for the broken appointment, which she already knew was my policy, than to appear for the session and deal with the underlying issues.

But, over time, Nina and I worked together to develop the kind of therapeutic rapport that is necessary to work on these kinds of issues.

When she felt she could trust me and trust our work together, we began to make connections between her family history of growing up with highly critical and punitive parents and how this history affected her sense of self.

Of course, just knowing this isn't enough to change the kind of "people pleasing" dynamic that Nina was engaged in.

We had to work through the original childhood trauma, which took time.  And then, Nine had to stop trying to ingratiate herself with the people in her life in order to fend off what she saw as the possibility that they would see she was "defective."

In our work together, I helped Nina to separate her life as a child from her life as an adult.

See my articles: 
Working Through Emotional Trauma: Learning to Separate "Then" From "Now" 
Overcoming Trauma: When the Past is in the Present.

Only when she was able to develop an awareness of the dynamic she was engaging in by "people pleasing," work through her emotional trauma and learn to interact in a healthier way with others, was she able to have healthier relationships.

Of course, there were some people who were accustomed to Nina being willing to bend over backwards for them, and they didn't like this change in her, at first.  This was especially hard for Nina.  There were times when she reverted to her old behavior to fend off these people's disapproval.

Over time, she was able to catch herself before she reverted to her old "people pleasing" behavior.

But a surprising number of her friends and coworkers told her that they sensed a change in her. They felt she was more present and authentic with them, which they really liked.

Some of them even told her that they much preferred this way than when she was that she was overly solicitous and self sacrificing, as she was before, because it made them feel uncomfortable.  This made Nina feel happy, and it helped to reinforce her new dynamic with the people in her life.

Overcoming the Fear That People Won't Like You If They Knew the "Real" You

Over time, she also learned to choose people who wouldn't expect her to be so self sacrificing, and she eventually let go of the existing people who couldn't accept the positive change in her.

Getting Help in Therapy
The example that I gave in the scenario above is one of many possible dynamics that people engage in when they feel that people wouldn't like them if they knew the so-called "real" person who is "defective."

Getting Help in Therapy

Aside from "people pleasing," there are many other dynamics that people who have this fear engage in to compensate for their feelings of low self worth.

If you recognize yourself in the composite vignette above, rather than continuing to suffer on your own, you could benefit from getting help from a licensed mental health professional who helps clients to overcome this problem.

Once you're free from feelings of low self worth, you have an opportunity to live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR and Somatic Experiencing therapist who works with individual adults and couples.

I have helped many clients to overcome the feelings of low self worth that caused them to fear that people wouldn't like them if they knew them better.

To find out more about me, visit my website:  Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.