People pleasing is one of those things I’ve struggled with for most of my life, but recently I’ve been more aware of its effects. I’m also learning that this tendency could have developed from past experiences in my life.
For example, I never felt good enough for my dad. He is gifted at math and physics while I am not, which made me feel like I couldn’t live up to his expectations for me, especially when it came to academics. I felt criticized. And even when I did something well, I didn’t receive that masculine, fatherly affirmation that I desperately needed as an infant and as an adolescent. However, I don’t want to place all the blame on my father for my people pleasing tendencies. I must also take ownership of my own actions and behaviours even if my upbringing did play a part in this struggle.
As a high school student, my life revolved around gaining acceptance and respect from my peers. And now, even as a Christian, I still feel the temptation to please people. This is just one manifestation of my pride, which I need to renounce on a daily basis. Some don’t realize it but, people pleasing is deeply rooted in pride. It’s all about desiring people’s approval over God’s, making you the centre of your life. People pleasing can be manifested in several ways, for example:
- Saying “Yes” when you should have said “No”
- Staying silent when you know you should have said something
- Covering your flaws so people may perceive you in a better light
- Focusing on what people will think of you in a given situation
- Taking rejection personally and having a willingness to sin to avoid it
- Fishing for compliments after a performance or after delivering a lesson
Questions you should ask yourself
I recently read the book “Pleasing People” by Lou Priolo, which dissects the mind and heart of the people pleaser and provides biblical direction for overcoming this struggle. I would recommend it to anyone wanting to grow more in pleasing God rather than people. Here are 5 questions Lou provides for the people pleaser to ask themselves as they take steps toward pleasing God.
1.What happened that enticed me to respond in pride? In other words, what circumstance led to my prideful response?
For this question, think about the situation that you were in when you people pleased. What about the situation caused you to respond the way you did? Who was there or what was said that triggered you to respond the way you did?
2. What did I do that might have been generated by an inordinate love of man’s approval?
Think about the way you reacted in response to your circumstance. Focus on the outward manifestation of your action. Did you lie? did you flatter someone?
3. What did I say to myself (in my heart) just before I responded this way? What did I want, desire, or long for when I responded as I did?
This question is broken up in two parts: one is focused on the thoughts in your heart during the situation and the other is focused on your motives or desire for responding the way you did. For example you might think in your heart, “I am going to look really stupid if I admit my mistake.” Your motives could have been something along the lines of, “If I lie about this, they will think of me better.”
4. What does the Bible say about thoughts that led to my response? What does the Bible say about the desire that led to this response?
The word of God always has an answer to what we are going through. For this particular question think about what God’s word says about the thoughts in your heart, but also about the motives in your heart.
5. What should I have said to myself when I was first enticed? What should I have wanted more than my own selfish Idolatrous desire?
These last two questions are the most important when it comes to growing in your ability to please God. The first 3 questions address the manifestations of people pleasing (awareness) while the last two questions provide the remedy, which is found in the Bible.
Question 5 helps us to think about what we are seeking for and what we should have said to ourselves when we are tempted to people please. For example, instead of focusing on what the person will think about your mistake, you could say to yourself: “By sharing my mistake I can bring glory to God and allow his grace to cover me.”