“For all my life I have worried about what other people think about me. As a little child, I quickly learned that certain things would bring the smile and approval of my parents and other adults. Then when I started grade school, the approval of my friends became the most important thing in my life.
Now I’m in college. But I’ve never grown out of this fear of being rejected. I still live my life mainly based on the approval of others. I want so badly to be liked, to fit in, and to be accepted that I have done all kinds of dumb stuff that my friends pushed me to do. I really regret that. Most of the time I know the right thing to do. I’m just afraid to do it, worrying about what my friends will think.
Why am I so weak? Why can’t I handle their disapproval? I have opinions, but I’m always afraid to express them. I am tired of saying yes to people just because I’m afraid to say no. I’m tired of caring too much about what other people think of me. I’m tired of being manipulated and used. But in many ways it’s my fault. Sometimes I feel that I don’t even know who I am. I’m just a collection of the expectations of others.”
That’s an actual email I received about two years ago. My heart broke for that young lady. She had allowed her life to be controlled by the thoughts and opinions of other people – people that she didn’t even care about and who certainly didn’t care about her. She was stuck in a self-imposed prison and it seemed like there was no way out.
You may not think that your situation is as bad as that (and it probably isn’t), but I’ll bet that if you’re honest, you struggle with people-pleasing at times as well. We all do. It’s part of our human nature. We all want others to like us. We all want people to say nice things about us – both behind our backs and also to our faces. We all want to be thought of highly by the people who know us.
And to a degree, that desire is a good thing (aren’t you glad that the guy next to you on the plane desires others to approve of his smell, causing him to wear deodorant? If he didn’t, that would be a tough plane ride!).
The problem isn’t that we care about the opinions of others; the problem is that we allow those opinions to control our behavior.
“Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” John 12:42-43
Ask yourself: is there any area where I am making choices primarily due to the opinions of others?
It could be saying yes when you mean no. It could be agreeing with behaviors that you believe are wrong, just to win the approval of others. It could be the way you dress… the shows you watch… the things you buy. It could be what you say (or don’t say) about your faith when others are around.
People-pleasing means anything that you do for the primary purpose of being accepted or approved of by others. If any of that sounds familiar to you, there might be a little people-pleasing inside you as well. Welcome to the club!
Here are four thoughts to keep in mind as you attempt to break the people-pleasing cycle:
1 – YOU CANNOT PLEASE EVERYONE (even God can’t) “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for so did their fathers to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26). The only time that everyone will speak well of you is during your funeral. Stop trying to attain a goal that cannot be attained.
2 – YOU DON'T NEED THE APPROVAL OF OTHERS TO BE HAPPY This is the lie that so many of us have bought into. We chase after the approval of others as if that approval has the power to make us happy. FALSE! Happiness is something you choose; no one can give it to you.
3 – WHAT SEEMS IMPORTANT TODAY WON'T TOMORROW Just think back to high school – the things that were “so important” and “the end of the world” can barely even be remembered at this point. Growing in maturity means realizing what matters and what doesn’t… what will last and what is only temporary.
4 – I ONLY HAVE TO PLEASE ONE PERSON If you get this, it will really simplify your life. You don’t need to please everyone; you just need to please the right One. “For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ” (Galatians 1:10).
Ask yourself: what could your life look like if you were free from the desire to please others and if you only desired to please the One that matters?