I know this girl who thinks she has to accept the responsibility for the happiness of others. She sometimes feels guilty when she fails to please others, and that failure results in rejection and a false assumption that she is not valuable. Making decisions is a difficult task for her, and she often struggles with setting boundaries. She listens to the myth that says, “You are somebody if you please others.” She just wants to be liked. This girl is a people-pleaser, and this girl is me.
People-pleasers are everywhere. Let me just say, being a people-pleaser is not a fun or healthy way to life your life. After almost 28 years, I have decided to really deal with this struggle. Being a middle child, who is a middle child as described in the textbooks to almost a T, means that I am also a natural born peacemaker. I like to make peace, and I like to see people happy. It wasn’t until recently that I told myself (out loud, might I add) that what others think of me dictates my life and my decisions. Living a life to please others is miserable.
Now people-pleasing isn’t always a bad thing. I think it’s in our DNA to have a natural tendency to want to please our family, bosses, neighbors, staff, coworkers, and friends. We have healthy desires to help those we love experience joy, and it’s often rewarding. Sometimes we have past experiences and baggage that have morphed us into people-pleasers, and there is absolutely grace for that. But if we aren’t careful, this can give way to something unhealthy. There are many dangers that arise that leave us feeling trapped. Here are 3 dangers of falling into the people-pleasing trap, all of which have affected me.
People-Pleasing Is Idolatry
“You shall have no other gods before Me…don’t make any idols” Exodus 20:3-4
Ouch. I know I have a hard time swallowing that reality. I mean come on, this comes right from the Ten Commandments after all. Anything that you put before God is an idol or a god. This could be an object, relationship, money, career, sport, success, etc. Not one person goes through life without having idols at one point or another. Pastor Rick Warren says, “When you are a people-pleaser, you have allowed something other than God to take first place. All of a sudden it becomes god in your life, because you are allowing the opinion of others to matter more than God’s opinion. What they think of you matters more than what God thinks of you.”
In this life, however, we only have to please one person: God. He is our creator, the one who has a purpose for our life. He sees our every need to please and how we strain for approval. He wants to carry that load of concern for us and correct our vision of Him and others. He is the only one we are to worship. I think of the popular phrase “audience of one” and realize that I often fail to live my life accordingly. I fail to make it a priority too. In John 5:30, Jesus says, “I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
People-Pleasing Affects Your Relationship with God
“I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant” Galatians 1:10
When we are so consumed with trying to gain the approval of others while trying to fix a slew of other problems in our power, we are in a lot of ways doing God’s job. We push Him aside and think “I’ve got this” when really it’s His job to care for everyone else. A lot of what occurs around us in life is out of our control. When I try to please and fix everything and everyone, I am communicating to God that I don’t trust Him and His sovereignty. When we look for love and affirmation from others, we put a wall between the One who is the definition of love (1 John 4:8).
One of the reasons we struggle in this area is because we have a mind and heart issue. When we allow our minds to be renewed by the Holy Spirit, we want to seek God’s will for our lives, to be that special and unique “somebody” in His sight, but often we get sidetracked and become a “somebody” to those around us. This in turn affects our hearts too. But when our heart’s real desire is to please God, we will be able to put others’ needs and desires in a healthy perspective.
People-Pleasing Will Wear You Out
Isn’t that the truth. The need to constantly be thinking about others’ opinions and needs is exhausting. Honestly, I don’t believe God wants to see us living our lives like that. People-pleasers get so worked up and worried about far too much, and if you’re like me, you end up beating yourself up emotionally too. Your confidence will dwindle and making decisions will be more difficult. Sadly, I have also seen people take advantage of the pleaser, and in turn the pleaser usually loses respect rather than gain respect. Trying to be that “somebody” is a dead-end street. You will feel even less than a somebody.
Please-pleasing will wear you thin and empty, and yet ironically Jesus is always right here wanting to fill us up. He is always pursuing us to be our audience, ready to fill us with His peace, compassion, grace, mercy, love, and truth. He has all the resources we need to feel adequate and fulfilled.
We’ve seen the perils that can come from being a people-pleaser, but the good news is that there’s hope! Here are two things I have found that have helped me focus on God and not on pleasing others.
Make peace with the reality that you are going to disappoint people.
In this life we need to remind ourselves that we will not please everyone, and some people will just not like us. If we observe the way Jesus lived his life, he was nice to thousands of people, but he also made thousands of other people angry. The reality is that we need to acknowledge the fact that we will disappoint people. Plain and simple. I don’t know how many times people whom I trust and respect have looked my in the eyes and said, “You WILL disappoint people now stop trying so hard.” It was hard to hear that the first few times, but how I needed it and still do! You may disappoint people, but that doesn’t determine your worth or how God sees you.
Freedom will come from our security in Christ.
Real freedom comes when we understand how valuable we are to God and who we are in Him. All throughout Scripture, God demonstrates his love for his people. So much so, that He was willing to send His Son to die for all mankind. For you and for me. You are nothing but valuable and precious to Him! When we experience and feel that security in our relationship with Him, we will long to love and obey Him. Jesus taught His disciples that loving God is shown through obedience to Him (John 14:21). Obedience brings our Father pleasure and glory.
Weary people-pleaser, you are not alone. Ask God to forgive you for putting others before Him, and ask Him to give you a healthy new desire to please Him before others. God wants our lives to reflect a relationship with him, and it is our relationship with Him that is the most important possession we possess. Treasure it! When we let that settle on our hearts, we will begin to see that it is only Him and His opinion of us that matters. We will desire nothing more than to please God.