Q: Dr. Hurd, I have few real friends and feel that people usually respond to me in a negative way, no matter how nice or reasonable I try to be. Any thoughts or advice?
A: You say people seem to respond negatively to you. Yet if you can think of no good objective reason why this would be the case — such as your saying or doing something clearly offensive to them — then the most likely explanation is that you come across as very uptight and unhappy because you feel so low about yourself. People generally pick up on this, and they tend to “give back” the response you give out to them. (It’s not a conscious process on their part, unless they’re unusually psychologically aware of themselves and others). To them, in fact, it might look like you’re hostile or mean towards them, or look down on them; they have no way of knowing that the real problem is you are being this way to yourself, inside, not to them. A highly astute and secure person — which most are not — will see that you act in a “mean” or “hostile” way because at root you’re insecure, and it’s not about them. A much more typical person will simply see the superficial level of your behaviors and not care to analyze any further than the fact that you seem like kind of a jerk. Not that it’s their duty to do so; this is just generally how it works. My advice is to undergo some cognitive therapy with a trusted professional who can help you challenge and change your false beliefs about yourself. If you want others to believe you’re a likable, worthwhile person, you must first believe this yourself.