Hello. I’m Patty. I’m a recovering people pleaser. An overachiever addicted to the applause of approval. A woman deeply disappointed when I haven’t lived up to my own expectations and shoulds. My story is fraught with excessive “yesses” driven by staking my value in how I’m perceived and what I can contribute.
This is what I’ve learned along the path of recovery.
The Myths of People Pleasing
Myth #1: Pleasing God and pleasing people are diametrically opposed.
Actually, the Word encourages pleasing others for their benefit and for building them up. Joy and purpose can flow from blessing others, so it’s not the act of pleasing others that gets us in trouble; it’s the posture of our heart.
Pleasing people to gain favor, to impress, to win approval, to keep from disappointing – well, that’s where things go awry. Those are about my benefit and my sense of being built up. I am the one ultimately being served.
Myth #2: People pleasing is motivated by selflessness.
Um, not necessarily. Overcommitment and acquiescing (two hallmarks of the unhealthy version of people pleasing) are often born of twisted desires. You and I have God-given desires for significance, belonging, approval, recognition, acceptance – all designed to be met in our relationship with God. Attempting to get them met through people ends in drivenness and disappointment. It’s the broken cistern that can’t hold water. (Jeremiah 2)
My own noble sense of sacrifice was challenged and then decimated as God pulled back layers of people pleasing to reveal pride rooted in an overconcern of what others thought of me based on my competence and performance. Focus on how I’m perceived is the quintessential definition of self-centeredness, not the nice label of selflessness I preferred.
Myth #3: You should never say “yes” to things that don’t fit your gift mix. .
Let’s be honest, that’s a pretty small box. If I only do what I already do well, I am going to miss out on a lot of learning and serving. God is pleased with faith, the whole unknown aspect of our obedience. He does a lot of work in us when we step out in faith into the unknown and give Him room to be strength in our weakness.
Myth #4: Moving away from people pleasing makes one self-centered, heartless and without compassion.
We are freed up to express lovingkindness and mercy extravagantly when we aren’t concerned about how we will be perceived or whether or not we’ll get the credit. Without the bondage of being tied to others’ opinions, we are free to love and serve with abandon. For proof, examine the life and heart of Jesus.
The Dangers of People Pleasing
“I have spent many days stringing and unstringing my instrument while the song I came to sing remains unsung.”
Rabindranath Tagore’s quote sums up a primary danger of the unhealthy version of people pleasing. Filling your calendar spaces with tasks others have chosen for you can distract from singing the song you were created to sing. At times, being Spirit led means laying aside your own plans in order to help others. Other times it means closing your door and focusing wholeheartedly on what He’s uniquely given you to do.
Another danger is developing a martyr mentality. “I guess I’ll have to do it since no one else will.” Before long, your image of God becomes a foreman with a clipboard, assigning you all the dirty work no one else wants. But your God hasn’t called you to weariness. The boundary lines He has assigned for you are pleasant.
The cure for people pleasing is to become enamored with pleasing God.
Follow Jesus’ example. Wow, did He ever disappoint people! But He also overwhelmed them with meeting their heart desires. His confidence and clarity was born out of intimate time with His Father who was well pleased with Him. John repeatedly tells us Jesus only did what His Father told Him to do.
Resolve to be Spirit led moment by moment, attentive to His voice, listening for His leading, responding to His nudges. This life with Him is an adventure of unknowns and stepping out of our comfort zones. Want to know what pleases God? Faith. Trusting Him in all things.
Sink your identity deep in being a child of God. You have already won God’s approval. He is well pleased with you just because You are His.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the myths, dangers, and cure for people pleasing.
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