The desire to be liked

“I have a question about the triangle of conflict. Are feelings always necessary for the formation of a presenting problem? Suppose you meet a stranger the first time, feel anxious, and, to make a good impression, you act superficially nice or smile too much. I understand that anxiety might rise because you fear rejection, but once you talk to the stranger, you would probably feel neutral. So the conflict appears to be between your desire to be liked, anxiety, and the defense to lower anxiety. Is this subtle desire the feeling base of the triangle? Thanks to Nikan for this stimulating question!
This question is so cool because it touches on a subtle theoretical distinction made by the affect researcher Silvan Tomkins. Tomkins noted that affects are the “amplifiers” of the drives. Thus, we might say attachment is an innate drive and affects are what give that drive energy.
Here, the patient has a drive to connect to another human being. Given the history of that drive, the patient has a variety of feelings, which arise, based upon his attachment history, and these feelings are paired through conditioning with that drive. Thus, whenever he wants to be liked, mixed feelings arise.
Some patients have very good attachment histories and the mixed feelings that arise will not be too intense or conflictual, thus little or no unconscious anxiety will arise. In this case, something else happens.
Drive: he wants to connect. Feelings: mixed feelings rise as he connects. Anxiety: as his feelings arise, he becomes anxious. Defense: to ward off that anxiety he has the thought that the therapist will reject him (projection) and then acts superficially nice and smiles in response to the supposed rejector (secondary defense in response to the projection).
If the patient’s projection is primarily in the form of intellectualization and his anxiety is in the striated muscles, merely talking to the therapist will bring anxiety down, and the thoughts about the therapist will diminish quickly. If the patient’s projection is primarily in the resistance system of projection and anxiety is in cognitive/perceptual disruption, neither the patient’s anxiety nor his projection will drop just from talking to the therapist. Anxiety regulation and restructuring the projection will be necessary.
So, short answer: yes, feelings are necessary for conflict. But we must differentiate feelings from the drives they amplify. Remember Leigh McCullough’s lovely statement on this. She asked us to remember how powerful the sexual drive supposedly is. Yet, once the emotion of anxiety enters the picture, notice how suddenly sex turns into a paper tiger!

One thought on “The desire to be liked

  1. George Williams

    A DESIRE TO BE LIKED
    “I have a question about the triangle of conflict. Are feelings always necessary for the formation of a presenting problem? Suppose you meet a stranger the first time, feel anxious, and, to make a good impression, you act superficially nice or smile too much. I understand that anxiety might rise because you fear rejection, but once you talk to the stranger, you would probably feel neutral. So the conflict appears to be between your desire to be liked, anxiety,

    At first meeting with a stranger, from an unconscious point of view, you learn unconsciously about that stranger within a few minutes. Your unconscious knows their unconscious and their unconscious knows your unconscious. This has been mentioned by Dr. Davanloo a few times and seems extraordinary, but I can see examples of it. This is a side point and seems a bit contradictory to further explanations.

    There are two essential reasons why there is unconscious anxiety when first meeting a stranger.

    First, every human, (except for extremely damaged humans who have no attachment) has some degree of a conflict about emotional closeness.
    Secondly, we do not know the stranger so we can easily project onto them anything our unconscious wishes to because we do not have much evidence, other than their appearance, to confirm reality versus a projection.

    So as soon as we meet a person we have anxiety about them getting emotionally close to us and also quickly project a past figure on them. This projection may depend on the context of the meeting and the level of our unhealthiness. The more unhealthy we are, then, the more likely we are to have perceptual distortions of reality.

    So projection and resistance to emotional closeness (our conflict about attachment and the loss of attachment) immediately create unconscious anxiety.
    This applies to every human being because at the core of us is our attachment to some figure from the past, usually a parent. During our early life, we suffered an emotional trauma with the perception of the loss of that attachment resulting in our conflict.

    Our desire or need to be liked may easily be linked to this conflict about closeness or some projection.
    There is a connection between wanting to be liked and one’s fear of rejection or loss of attachment.
    The need to be liked when extreme is usually a defense in itself. The person obsesses about their concern for the reaction or feelings of others about them. People who have insecurity or rumination or low self-esteem or generally feel negative about themselves may feel a need to be liked and a fear of not being liked. A person who projects their own or their parent’s anger on a stranger may also react to their projection by trying to present their best impression forth to avoid the internal conflict and becoming angry with their own projection if they perceive the other person has negative feelings about them (not liked).

    Everything I have mentioned is based on the unconscious responses within the triangle of conflict; feelings give rise to anxiety and anxiety gives rise to the defense.

    There are always some surface issues such as etiquette and social norms for behavior “you act superficially nice or smile too much,” but these too still link to our feelings and anxiety about following these accepted standards of social behavior and our perception of how others will perceive us if we don’t.

    If you do relax after talking with the stranger that still is your unconscious assessing the stranger regarding the projection and letting them get to know you. If you relax after talking, that means one or both of two things.
    Either:
    1) your assessment of the reality of the situation is correcting your projection or reassuring you that you are not going to be rejected, so you may have warm feelings which relax you further or
    2) your assessment of the individual tells you that you are not in any real danger from the outside world. (the person is not a wanted criminal with ill intent towards you)

    However, none of this really answers your original question.
    “I have a question about the triangle of conflict. Are feelings always necessary for the formation of a presenting problem?”

    No, not always. There are unconscious conflicts associated with feelings that give rise to problems. On the other hand, we face conscious problems every day that are not necessarily linked to feelings. When you cannot find any clean socks to wear in the morning, this may be frustrating but does not always connect to unconscious feelings. But more to the point, we solve problems all day long that may have no feeling attached to them. Often we do not consider them a problem. “Oh, it might rain today. I better close the window before going to work.”
    Problem; noun
    1. 1. A matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome.

    So this is an essential question for a therapist to quickly discern whether the client is presenting an external conscious problem (financial) and the client may need to be redirected to their inner, internal problems. This may require clarification or be a defense in itself. I remember “the bb-gun man” a vignette of Dr. Davanloo’s library of videotapes, presents with car problems or fixing a radio but really he was offering his pattern of ruminating all the time but could not identify it as this

    George Williams.

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