Why we love to be liked

Lana Del Ray just wants you to like her.

Lana Del Ray just wants you to like her.

Right now perched atop the global music charts is one Lana Del Rey, a singer who I consider to be the most interesting person in pop music right now (sorry, Gaga.) If you’re not familiar with her, long story short, her very first single Video Games got her massive online buzz (and 28 million YouTube views), which whiplashed even more quickly into online hate when it was “discovered” that the seemingly indie songstress had been given a suspiciously pouty, retro-style makeover by her big bad corporate record company. Heck, her name wasn’t even Lana Del Rey, it was the much less seductive moniker Lizzy Grant.  Add in one distinctly lacklustre Saturday Night Live performance and before she’d even released her first album, Born To Die, Del Rey was one of the most-criticised women on the internet.

Now what I find fascinating is all the hate that’s been levelled at her. She’s barely released one album – so what is her crime to warrant all this attention and vitriol? I think it lies in people’s dislike of feeling they’ve been manipulated by a manufactured image. It’s interesting that a more outlandish pop star like Lady Gaga is actually considered more “authentic”, because she seem to be following her own private muse rather than calculatedly remaking herself for maximum commercial appeal (the main criticism levelled at Del Rey).

It’s deeply ironic that Lana Del Rey, whose lyrical persona is built on her overwhelming desire to be loved, is currently one of the most unliked figures in modern-day pop. It seems her main transgression appears to be the rather minor matter of doing anything to be liked by the general public... and letting it show.

But perhaps we should cut the lady some slack, after all she’s guilty of something many of us have fallen victim to – changing or downplaying our true selves in an attempt to be liked. Now wanting to be liked is normal when it’s in regards to our nearest and dearest, but can become a problem when it extends to feeling upset that a casual acquaintance doesn’t think we’re the cat’s pyjamas (they’re possibly irked by our archaic use of the term “cat’s pyjamas”...) Analytical Psychotherapist Peter Richard-Herbert (northshoretherapy.com.au) says that wanting to be liked is in fact a basic human instinct with an evolutionary purpose. “It’s safer if we keep people onside and don’t make too many enemies,” says Richard-Herbert.

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This instinct can start to curdle however when we try to remake ourselves into something we’re not or bend over backwards being extra nice just to gain the approval of others. It can lead to others perceiving us as “fake” or questioning our motives. “People start to think ‘Why is this person doing this? What are they getting out of it?’” says Richard-Herbert. He warns that manipulative types may even take advantage of this drive to be liked. “We sense other people within basically 30 seconds of meeting anyone.  And some people if they sense the other person is trying too hard will take advantage unfortunately.”

Being inauthentic to yourself can also be emotionally draining. “It can lead to hyper vigilance of how you’re coming across to people, which in turn can generate a kind of a free-floating anxiety. You’re always on guard – ‘Am I being liked? Am I doing the right thing?’” says Richard-Herbert. Eventually it can even damage the very relationships it was meant to foster as it causes you feelings of internalised resentment.

If you think you may have a case of Del Rey’s disease to please there are strategies you can employ to make sure you aren’t being exploited in return for your niceness. “People could learn refusal techniques to stop themselves being manipulated. Some people have trouble giving even everyday refusal to people who are strangers,” says Richard-Herbert. “I suppose it’s really getting a gauge on how far you want to go. Any kind of behaviour to a point is adaptive, in other words once it gets to a certain threshold it’s working for you, but once it goes past that threshold it starts to work against you and can become what’s known as maladaptive. So it’s about keeping an eye on how far you want to go before it starts working against you.”

And the next time you hear Del Rey being criticised as “fake” maybe consider sticking up for her? After all, as she croons in Video Games “It’s you, it’s you, it’s all for you, everything I do”...