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How to Move Past the Pain of People Pleasing

6 Mins read

We live in a society that teaches us that the more we say, “yes,” the farther we will make it in life. However, people pleasing rarely works out the way that we want it to, and often leaves us scrambling and stressed in an effort to find enough time and energy to perform everything that we’ve committed to. People pleasing, no matter how pure the intentions are behind it, is rarely the best route to take.

Do you struggle with saying “no” to certain things? Perhaps your friends always ask you to help plan the next social event. Maybe your family always assumes that you’re going to handle the special holiday events. Perhaps your boss simply assumes that you’re always going to say that you’ll work a few hours of overtime and knock out that last-minute report that isn’t even part of your job description. While there is nothing wrong with doing what you can to help out your family, friends, coworkers, and employer, there does come a time where being so focused on pleasing people is detrimental to your own physical, spiritual, mental, and emotional health.

While Christians obviously want to ascribe to the teachings of Christ that taught us to love our neighbors, it’s important that you strike the balance between loving people and running yourself ragged in the name of people pleasing. Moving past people pleasing isn’t about hurting people’s feelings or becoming so focused on yourself that you forget others. Instead, it simply means that you are taking the time to care for yourself while further discovering your own God-given purpose.

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If you’ve spent a large portion of your life as a people pleaser, it can be a hard thing to move past. However, there is hope for even the staunchest of people pleasers. As always, the answers that we need can be found in Scripture.

The Source of People Pleasing

Proverbs 29:25 (TPT)
Fear and intimidation is a trap that holds you back. But when you place your confidence in the Lord, you will be seated in the high place.

In many cases, our desire to please people is based in fear and intimidation. Before we dive further into that, let’s clear up a potential misconception. This doesn’t mean that everyone who asks you to do something does so in an attempt to intimidate you. It doesn’t mean that the people who want you to take on extra tasks are doing so in an effort to manipulate you. Instead, identifying the reason behind your people pleasing is found in the way that you approach those requests.

To revisit an example that we briefly discussed earlier, it’s not uncommon for friends to ask us to help plan a birthday party or another social event. Even if you’re not in charge of planning, they may ask you to help with some of the logistics of the event. Obviously, they’re not asking for your assistance because they want to intimidate you; they’re your friends! However, your natural instinct to sign up for something that you may not have the time, energy, or even desire to do can come from a place of fear.

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“If I say no, my friends will stop asking me to do things with them.” “If I say I don’t have time to cook a dish for a party, my friends won’t invite me to the next dinner party.” “If I say I can’t help plan the party but would love to attend, I’ll come across as a mooch.” Those thoughts are not only often irrational, but they’re also dangerous.

Agreeing to do things because you’re afraid of the repercussions of saying, “no” leaves you in a position of perpetual people pleasing. Ultimately, your friends don’t know about your stress, your work commitments, and everything else going on in your life. While their requests on your time may come from a place of genuineness, your fear-based response is not healthy for you or your relationship with them. It’s OK to say no. Your friends who love and care for you will understand.

Healing From People Pleasing

Exodus 15:26 (ESV)
Saying, “If you will diligently listen to the voice of the Lord your God, and do that which is right in his eyes, and give ear to his commandments and keep all his statutes, I will put none of the diseases on you that I put on the Egyptians, for I am the Lord, your healer.”

For many of us, our issue with people pleasing is a deep rooted one that can be traced all the way back to childhood. Again, this doesn’t mean that your parents were mentally or emotionally abusive. If they were, understand that their behavior is not acceptable and is no way indicative of the relationships that you have in your life today. However, our need for people pleasing can often be traced back to a need for approval in childhood.

It’s important to understand where our people pleasing started. For instance, trying to get good grades in school because your parents wanted you to is not a bad thing. Not only is it good for your parents to want the best for you, but it’s also a good thing to pursue a good education. That is not in itself an example of people pleasing.

However, if you experienced anxiety in the name of keeping people around you happy, that may be where your current people pleasing behavior started. Did you keep playing a sport that you weren’t good at and didn’t enjoy because you wanted to have something in common with one of your parents? If so, that’s an example of people pleasing. To make matters worse, those instances often come from a place that your parents never intended you to live in.

God is able to heal the scars associated with people pleasing. When we find our joy, contentment, and purpose in His divine purpose for our lives, we understand that we are living our lives while seeking the applause of One. If your people pleasing goes back to your childhood, consider having a conversation with your family about it. Don’t come from a place of anger and bitterness, but taking the steps to remedy the sickness of people pleasing, no matter how far back it goes, can help put you on solid ground moving forward.

Your Declaration for Today: I’m Moving On

Isaiah 43:18-19 (ESV)
“Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.”

Regardless of how far back your people pleasing goes, the damage that it has caused in your life, or the issues that you still deal with, you can decide that today is a new day in your life. What if you forgot about your history of people pleasing? Yes, that may be easier said than done, and will certainly require some effort, but what if you decided that yesterday was the last day that you were going to worry about pleasing people in everything you do?

God is able to do a new thing in your life. Through His guidance and empowerment, you can overcome the issues that stem from people pleasing. You can find the healing that you need from the scars and pain that people pleasing has caused in your life. This isn’t something that you have to do on your own. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit in your life can help you change your thought patterns.

Pleasing God is the top priority for His people. Our primary purpose in life is found in our Heavenly Father’s approval. This doesn’t mean that you disrespectfully tell your boss that you’re not going to do any extra work. This doesn’t mean that you blow off your friends and family members when they ask for your help with something.

Instead, moving past people pleasing is about prioritizing your own relationship with Christ and your own mental, emotional, and physical wellbeing. It’s been said that you can’t pour from an empty vessel. People pleasing, regardless of the motives behind it often leaves us empty and unable to carry out God’s divine plan for our lives.

A Closing Prayer:

God, give me the strength necessary to evaluate myself, my motives, and gain a better understanding of why I’m such a people pleaser. Even more importantly, help me to move past it. I know that You can do a new thing in my life beginning today. I want to please You in everything I do. In Christ’s name, Amen.

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