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The Instinct to be Liked

One of the side benefits of my endless commutes is the opportunity to be introduced to really interesting people through podcasts. And recently, I heard an interview with Tara Mohr about coaching women into leadership roles and was blown away by the many things she had to say. As soon as I got out of the car, I went online and purchased her book Playing Big.

There was a particular moment that hit home for me. During the interview, Mohr responded to a question about a woman experiencing actual physical pain when she realized that her “truth” might upset others. I heard this question and I instantly related – a tightened chest, a stomach cramp – when I thought someone might not like what I had to say. I wasn’t worried about getting in a fight, being fired, or any other horrific event. I was worried (am often worried) that others won’t like what I have to say.

Mohr’s response confirmed what so many of us know – that women are conditioned to feel this way. This isn’t just conditioned in us, but over time perhaps became an actual survival instinct.

For women historically – how did we survive for most of our history? We didn’t have financial power; we didn’t have political power; we weren’t protected by the law; we didn’t have the physical might to overcome, you know, whoever we might need to. So, our primary available strategy for survival and safety was relationship – influence in relationship, likability, adapting to do what was approved of or tolerated.

She went on to say that this feeling was common:

A lot of women actually get a fight-or-flight, life-or-death-situation feeling in their bodies when they are doing something that challenges the status quo.

Fighting Against Instincts

In my own life, I have experienced this feeling countless times in every setting. I have never wanted to rock the boat. And the ironic reality of my avoidance of upsetting others is that I hold onto these exasperated feelings and then they end up spilling out loudly and inappropriately when I can’t take any more.

This often happens in business meetings where the conversation is repeating something we’ve been discussing over multiple unproductive conversations (we all know those meetings!). I’ll find myself exasperated with myself as well as the conversation – from holding back my opinions because I’m sure one person wouldn’t like it, another person would think I wasn’t smart, and most of the others would simply be annoyed with the statement altogether. And then, frustrated with the hamster wheel experience of these meetings, I would blurt out the opinion in a frustrated, unhelpful, bitter, sometimes aggressive tone. I’d find myself strangely defensive, like I was being attacked. Can’t these people see there’s another way and I know a better solution?

Well, obviously they cannot see because I have not said anything until now. And the way it ends up coming out is not helpful to anyone involved. And then the physical response of a stomachache, a pain in the chest, a pounding heart are all present. There is a whole meeting of people who don’t like what I’m saying.

Listen to Some Instincts, Fight Against Others

I wish I had a big conclusive ending that resolved this issue, but I don’t. I’m not sure what to do about this problem. For me, listening to this interview was powerful because it confirmed a hunch that I already have. Part of my journey of embracing my own ambition will be about listening closely to certain instincts while also fighting against others.

I will have to be able to check in with my fight-or-flight self and figure out that there is no actual danger; there is nothing to fight against or flee from. There is only my own perception of others’ opinions. We all deserve to have our own opinions. And we all deserve to be heard. Event if it’s not liked.



Ordinary Days, Meaningful Life is a labor of love geared toward working moms ready to embrace the chaos and find meaning in it. If you found this post meaningful, please share it with someone you think would enjoy it too! I’d love to stay in touch with you! Leave a comment below, contact me, or sign up for the mailing list. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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