Lesson 4 of 7  - optimize your relationships

Perspective on Being
"Liked" or "Disliked"

Review Your Expectations

by Peter K. Gerlach, MSW
Member NSRC Experts Council

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The Web address of this article is https://sfhelp.org/relate/keys/liking.htm

Updated  02-20-2015

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      This is one of a series of articles in Lesson 4 - optimize your relationships. These articles build on Lessons 1 - 3, and prepare you for Lesson 5 (evolve a nourishing family) and Lesson 6 (learn to practice effective parenting).

      This article explores a powerful relationship factor - people "liking" or "disliking" each other and themselves. This factor can be a major source of satisfaction or stress, depending on (a) how aware people are of themselves and each other, and (b) what they expect.

      This brief YouTube video provides perspective on what you'll find here. The video mentions eight self-improvement lessons in this self-improvement Web site - I've reduced that to seven.


  • Perspective on needing > liking > loving

  • "Who decides your likes and dislikes?

  • Options if you are disliked

  • Options if you dislike someone

      This article assumes you're familiar with...

  • the intro to this Web site and the premises underlying it  

  • self-improvement Lessons 1-3

  • perspective on human needs (like yours)

  • requisites for a mutually-satisfying relationship,

Perspective: Needing > Liking  > Loving

      Premises - "Comfort" is a measure of how well our current physical + psychological + spiritual needs are met now. A relationship exists when the existence, values, and/or behaviors of one person significantly affects the comfort of another person. "Significantly" is subjective. Do you agree?

      The quality of any relationship is a mix of neediness and enjoyment - e.g. "I need my doctor, but I don't like her." Acquaintances don't need each other, but enjoy some contact (or don't). Friends and lovers are people we usually need and enjoy each other. Kids need parents to survive, and may fear and/or dislike them. Non-possessive love is the highest form of "liking" someone.

      Reflect - who taught you your definition of a "good' or "nice" (likeable) person? Your relatives? Teachers? Your friends and hero/ines? The media? Scriptures? Personal experience? All of these? All of us acquire criteria that become semi-conscious in judging whom we respect, admire, and like - including ourselves.

      Think of someone you "really like." Now think of an adult or child who you feel is "obnoxious" (unlikable). What criteria are you using to make those judgments? Are they a mix of learned traits (e.g. "honest people are good, and liars are bad.") + direct experience? Have you ever experienced the paradox of dis/liking a person and feeling you "shouldn't"? 

       Premise - disliking someone usually means "I disapprove of this person's attitudes, behaviors, values, traits, and/or appearance." This implies that you can dislike one aspect of a person, and still approve of (like) them as an individual. When you dislike too many traits, you dislike the whole person.

      Dislike ("bad chemistry") usually describes a mix of unpleasant feelings (reactions) like distrust, disrespect, disapproval, and perhaps hurt, disgust, annoyance, resentment, anxiety, frustration, and/or anger. If you accept this idea, then seeking ways to cope with someone's dislike transforms into seeking ways to reduce each of these individual feelings.

      Notice the difference between "I don't like you" and "I disrespect and/or distrust you." 

       Picture all the adults and kids who significantly affect your life now assembled in a group. Look at each person, and decide whether you like them, dislike them, or are indifferent to them. Now reverse this - who likes you, dislikes you, or doesn't care about you?

  Who Do I Dislike?

      Your response might be something like "obnoxious adults and kids." Think of anyone you know who you feel is "obnoxious." What is it about them that merits that label? Sometimes it's a trait or behavior of theirs that violates your definition of...

  • "a good person" or...

  • "how I want to be treated by other people / men / women / children."

Sometimes dislike springs from an unconscious association with an obnoxious person - "Luis reminds me of my uncle, who was a real crude, bigoted, aggressive egotist."

      How about self-dislike? Do you have any traits or compulsive habits you feel are obnoxious? Sometimes those only appear in special situations or relationships ("I don't like who I turn into when I'm around my parents.") We can dislike another person because they confront us with some unpleasant qualities about ourselves which we don't want to admit.

  What Do I Dislike?

      List the attitudes, behaviors, and personal traits you specially dislike in yourself and/or other people. Then reflect - with each trait, how do you feel when another person exhibits it around you?

      Often, we don't dislike an obnoxious person so much as we dislike the feelings we have around them - like irritation, outrage, hurt, anger, frustration, scorn, disgust, confusion, anxiety, fear, impatience, and/or dread. When you identify which of these emotions is causing your dislike, the next question is...

  Who Causes My Dislike?

      Is your answer "Obnoxious kids and adults"? I propose that our dynamic range of feelings and thoughts are caused by one or more active personality subselves. Here, they may include the Inner Critic, the Judge/Bigot, Perfectionist, Idealist, Moralizer/Preacher, and one or more sensitive Inner Kids. If this is true, it has important implications for understanding and managing your dislikes.

  What's the Opposite of Dislike?

      The obvious answer is "liking" myself or another person. What that really means is "I feel good things when I'm around me / her / him." So the answer to this question becomes "Feeling safe, respected, understood, accepted, appreciated, stimulated, cared for, (i.e. "loved"). 

  Is there a 'Best Way' to Respond to Dislike?

      This question really asks "How can I preserve my integrity, serenity, and self-respect if I dislike another person and/or they dislike me?" Some options are...

  • "I can try to avoid this person and/or limit contact with them, and avoid confronting them." This strategy usually compounds relationship problems, and can promote divisive loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles in your family system. It may indicate you're dominated by false selves.

  • "When I can't avoid this person, I can try to react to them with respect, tact, and honesty." This is a true-Self response; Or...

  • "I can get clear on my rights, feelings, and primary needs; and assert my needs firmly and respectfully." Another true-Self choice; and...

  • "I can research whether my dislike is really about things I (some of my subselves) dislike about me; and if so, I can use parts work to improve this;" and...

  • "I can use the dislike as motivation to assess both of us for psychological wounds, and take appropriate action." (Lesson 1); and...

  • "I can notice the communication process between me and the other person, and choose to improve my half of it for both our sakes;"

  • "If someone dislikes me, I can (a) act indifferent or defensively, or (b) ask them for honest feedback and see if I'm willing to change something about myself without ambivalence and/or resentment." and...

  • "If other people dislike each other, I can...

    • detach, be passive, and do nothing; or...

    • support one over the other in/directly; or I can...

    • notice how their dislike affects me, and use respectful ''I-messages'' to inform them of that, and what I need from them; or...

    • I can show them this article and encourage them to discuss it as teammates."

      Can you think of other ways to react to significant dislike among other people? How did you see adults in your childhood family handle interpersonal or self dislikes? Do you think their strategies strengthened or burdened your family relationships and harmony? How are the young people in your life learning to handle social and self dislikes?

      Let's look at some of these strategies in more depth...

Change Self-dislike into Compassion

      Most people have habits (behaviors) and personality traits that annoy  them and other people. The extreme case is "self hatred." Common examples:

chronically lateness






forgetting important dates

not staying focused




misplacing important things








excessive pessimism

bouncing checks



over idealizing


      See any favorites? If you've ever tried to "break habits" like these and failed, it's probably because you didn't learn which of your subselves was causing them, and negotiate respectfully for change. You also probably have been unaware of the important difference between behavioral changes and core attitude changes. 

      This brief YouTube video on breaking bad habits previews what you're about to read:

      Here's the outline of a ''parts work'' (Lesson-1) strategy to permanently shift an irritating habit or attitude into at least acceptance, Let's use "chronic lateness" as an illustration. 

  • Make a roster of your active subselves and scan it for likely candidates for "lateness." Commonly, this "bad habit" can be caused by a Saboteur, a Rebel, a Magician an Achieve-Driver, an Impatient One, and one or more Inner Kids.

  • Let all your subselves know you'd like to learn who is causing your chronic lateness. This is not about blame, it's about discovery and improvement.

  • Identify the specific benefits of improving your promptness with other people, and vividly imaging what they would feel like.

  • Interview each likely subself alone in a safe, undistracted inner place. Introduce your Self (the interviewer), and summarize what you seek. If you haven't "talked" with this subself before, take time to build some initial trust and respect.

      Ask questions like these, and notice any thoughts, feelings, and/or images with an open mind 

  • "What's your job? What do you do each day and night?"

  • "Do you know who I (your Self) am and what I do?" If not, explain those;

  • "Can you tell me what year it is?" (Some Inner Children and Guardian subselves are unaware they live in the past)

  • Ask how s/he feels about (a) committing to being on time, and (b) being late so often. Avoid arguing or lecturing - just listen. That doesn't mean you agree;

  • Ask what might happen if you were able to be more punctual. Don't try to reason, explain, or reassure - just listen.

  • Ask if the subself knows who (which subselves) make you late all the time.

  • Ask anything else you feel is relevant.

  • Once you've identified which subselves are causing your tardiness, interview them again.

    • Ask if they trust you and your other Manager subselves' judgment to keep you safe. Expect "No." Make establishing that trust your first priority.

    • If a subself is living in the past, invite it to come live with the rest of your inner family in the present. Often this will allow the subself to adopt a new attitude about tardiness and other things.

    • Pay special attention to your well-intentioned Saboteur. S/He may fear (irrationally) that if you were on time too often, something awful would happen. Ask if s/he would be willing to let you be on time several times to see what the outcome would be. If that activates your Pessimist/Skeptic and Worrier subselves, ask them to try trusting your Self's competence and see what happens.

    • Your Rebel (often a teen) may be contributing because s/he doesn't like other people telling him/her what to do ("I'll get there when I'm ready to"). Explain the difference between cooperating and submitting to someone, and that being late activates your Guilty and Shamed Inner Kids.

    • Your Magician (reality-distorter) may be convincing other subselves that being late is no big deal, and that other people are too uptight about promptness. Usually this earnest subself is devoted to guarding one or more Inner Kids from shame, guilt, and anxiety.

    • Your Achiever / Driver subself may contribute because s/he's constantly pushing to "get things done," and the Perfectionist insists they be done perfectly. They oppose interrupting the daily activity list to go somewhere or do something else before you're "done" with the task at hand. - and there are always more urgent tasks!

      Avoid blaming or criticizing any subself. Appeal to each of them to be a team player, and to trust your Self and other Managers to keep you all safe enough. Also avoid relying on logic to "convince" subselves that being on time is really beneficial. They have to experience the benefits to want to change their attitude and priorities, so focus patiently on getting them to try punctuality to see what it feels like.

      Be alert for subselves resisting change because they fear doing so will "put me out of a job" or "make me worthless." Where appropriate, explain the option of choosing a new inner-family role, and discuss the pros and cons with all subselves. Experiment!

      A version of this inner-family strategy can also help...

If You Dislike Another Person...

      Remind yourself of the important difference between disliking a behavior or trait, and disliking the whole person. They merit two different strategies. For example...

  If You Dislike Behaviors or Traits

  • Use awareness and dig-down skills (Lesson 2) to get clear on what the irritant is, specifically (i.e. identify what you need);

  • If it's a behavior, (e.g. talking loudly and interrupting often), get clear on what changes you want the other person to (want to) make, and why;

  • Review these universal human rights and acknowledge that they apply to you and the other person  equally - specially if s/he is a child. If you don't agree, suspect that a false self is controlling you. If so, you have a bigger problem than "dislike."

  • Check your attitude: if you feel your and the other person's needs and values are equally important, go ahead. If not, use parts work to identify which subselves oppose this "=/=" attitude, why, and what to do about that.

      A common causes of "dislike" is one or both people feeling disrespected by the other. If that applies to your situation, see this for perspective and options after you're done here.

  • If the other person is a child, use this and this to clarify what s/he needs, and adjust your vocabulary and expectations to her or his age level. For perspective and options, see this article on effective child discipline.

  • Option - review your expectations of this person (a) in general and (b) in their family role. Unrealistic expectations may be contributing to your dislike. Option - validate your role-expectations with a neutral person you trust.

  • Option - use the subself-interview technique above to learn (a) which subselves dislike the other person's trait or behavior, and (b) why.

  • Option - compose and assert a respectful 'I-message' - ideally, when the your and the other person's true Selves are guiding you each. That might sound like...

"(Name), when you keep interrupting me (or whatever), I feel irritated, frustrated, and disrespected (or whatever) - and I need you to let me finish my point (or whatever)."

Expect "resistance" (explaining, whining, resentment, defensiveness, etc), and use empathic listening to validate (vs. agree with) it. Then re-assert firmly and clearly as often as you need until you feel genuinely heard.

Option - define and respectfully assert a specific consequence if the other person doesn't change their behavior "enough," or promises to and doesn't.

  • If the irritant is a personality or physical trait, (like an inability to focus, or an unpleasant voice tone or laugh), accept that the other person can't control that. Offer respectful feedback as appropriate, and use these wise guidelines..

If You Dislike Someone

      Feeling "total dislike," disgust, or "hatred" for someone is usually a sign that a false self controls you, and those subselves dislike many traits and behaviors - some of which may remind you of your least favorite (repressed?) qualities. The other person is probably ruled by a false self too. Your dominant subselves may also be very uncomfortable with a group of people who behave in an offensive way.

Options -

  • Verify your acceptance of the idea of normal personality subselves, true Self, and false selves. If you're ambivalent or skeptical about this concept, read this letter to you, and then try this safe, interesting experience. If you're still skeptical, suspect that a well-meaning false self controls you, and lower your expectations about getting anything useful from this Web site for now.

  • Assess yourself and each disliked family member for significant psychological wounds via lesson 1. If you find symptoms, focus on reducing your wounds first with a version of parts work.

  • When your true Self is clearly leading your other subselves, try to identify the specific things you dislike about the person or coalition. Then patiently use the subself-technique above to negotiate a more compassionate attitude for each separate dislike. If appropriate, use these options for improving trust and respect.

  • If the other person is a child, assess how effective disciplinary rules and consequences have been implemented in their home. An obnoxious child often has had ineffective or toxic childcare.- i.e. seriously wounded, unaware parents. That's not the child's fault! Don't let compassion dilute your right to set clear behavioral limits and consequences in your home. Also - be alert for these three common relationship stressors contributing to your dislike.

Options If Someone Dislikes You

      Your basic options are to...

  • deny, rationalize, or minimize their dislike (distort reality),

  • passively accept it ("Ah, no big deal."),

  • return it (lose-lose), or...

  • do something constructive about it within local limits. Constructive means "try to shift the person's dislike toward compassion and mutual respect, without losing your integrity or self-respect."  How can you encourage this shift?

      Start by assessing both of you for psychological wounds. If you find symptoms, focus on reducing your wounds first. If the "disliking" adult or child is significantly wounded, see this for options after you finish this.

      If the other person's dislike is implied rather than overt, consider asking her or him directly if you're doing something offensive or frustrating. If false selves rule them, be prepared for a double message (words = "No," and behavior = "Yes"). 

  • Get interested in the communication process between you two. Pay special interest to the R(espect) messages you each usually receive from the other. If the other person interprets your behaviors as "I'm 1-up (superior)," s/he will predictably dislike that, vs. you. Putting your true Self in charge of your personality will usually shift 1-up attitudes toward genuine respect.

  • Decide whether there's any benefit in distinguishing disrespect and/or distrust from this person's dislike. If so, follow the links for perspective and options.

  • Avoid getting into lose-lose blame <> counterblame exchanges, or defensive justifications of your "obnoxious" behavior and attitudes. Dislikes rarely shrink because of "logic" or "facts."

  • Reflect on whether any of these three common stressors is contributing to the other person's dislike. If so, select among the options in that and related articles and proactively seek improvement together.

  • If the other person can't clearly tell you what they dislike, dig down to learn what specific needs they have of you that aren't being met. Then use win-win problem-solving to satisfy them within local limits. If you discover s/he dislikes traits about you that you can't (vs. won't) change, use these wise guidelines.

  • Reflect on the effect this person's dislike (and your response) has on your other relationships. If some family members, co-workers, or friends significantly dislike each other, how does that affect all of you? The overarching focus is how to help everyone maintain self-respect and high-nurturance relationships.

      Back away from these options, breathe, and notice your thoughts and feelings. Did you realize how many options you have? See these options as guidelines, not rigid absolutes!


      This article offers perspective on the universal human dynamic of interpersonal and self dislike. It suggests that "disliking someone" is really about disliking the unpleasant feelings that arise from the other person's actions or traits. Often "I dislike ____" really means "One or more of my personality subselves dislikes _____." Respectful intervention with such subselves can often reduce dislike, or convert it to acceptance and compassion.

      The article proposes ways to...

  • shift self-dislike toward compassion and self-respect, using "parts work;"

  • react to disliking someone's specific behaviors or traits,

  • react if you dislike the whole adult or child ("bad chemistry", and...

  • options for responding if another person dislikes you.

      Keep your perspective: your overall goals are to (a) maintain your integrity and serenity, (b) improve what you can, and accept what you can't without blame; and (c) enhance your relationships' nurturance-level over time.

      Pause, breathe, and reflect - why did you read this article? Did you get what you needed? If not, what do you need? Who's answering these questions - your true Self, or ''someone else''?

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 For more perspective, see this article on friendships


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