When I was in my forties, I didn’t even consider “no” an option. Instead, I did everything everyone asked me to do without even thinking about it. This led to stress, resentment, and sometimes doing things God didn’t want me to do. Not bad things, but things that weren’t right for that time in my life. In this post and podcast, I want to talk about people pleasing: how to know when you’re doing it and how to stop people pleasing.
People Pleasing vs. Self-Pleasing vs. Pleasing God
Before we look at how to stop people pleasing, let’s look at the difference between people pleasing, self-pleasing, and pleasing God.
Most of us lean towards one of two camps: “I’ll do what I want to do!” or “I’ll do what you want me to do.”
The second camp seems more loving but it’s not. Listen to what Paul says in Galatians 1:10: “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.”
With people pleasing, we’re putting others above God and it’s hard to be loving when you do that. So no matter what camp we’re in, our goal should be to move out of that camp and land in the I-want-to-please-God camp–not the I’ll-please-myself camp.
It can take years to overcome people pleasing. I should know because I’ve been working at it ever since I started writing this blog eight years ago! God has made great strides in this area of my life but I’m not all the way over it.
Here’s the truth though: The more we focus on pleasing God, the happier we’ll be–especially when we remember that God gives grace. We’re not pleasing him to get Him to love us or accept us. He already loves us. This is also a good reason to please others–out of love for them rather than to get them to love us.
10 Signs You’re a People Pleaser
If you’re a people pleaser, chances are good that you already know it. But it can still be helpful to look at a list of signs to be able to check yourself. When I googled people pleasing, I found this post. Since I can’t improve on it, I’ll share the link so you can check it out yourself: 10 Signs You’re a People-Pleaser.
I also thought it would be helpful to include my own list of 8 signs you’re people pleasing in an unhealthy way. I came up with this list during a coaching session. I was having a hard time making decisions (because I want to make everyone happy), and my coach asked me to make a list of signs that I was making decisions in an unhealthy way. Following is the list I came up with.
8 Signs You’re People Pleasing in an Unhealthy Way
- You’re committed at a level higher than the situation warrants. For example, let’s say you’re in a bad dating relationship and you’re doing everything you can to fix it because the other person really wants to stay with you. You’re committed at a level higher than the situation warrants. Leave that guy! Do it in a kind way but remember that his feelings are his responsibility, not yours.
- You’re feeling a responsibility God hasn’t given. When my kids were little, I played piano at a church that had both an organist and a piano player. The organist was happy playing each Sunday, but the piano players (there were three of us) were busy and didn’t enjoy it as much so we rotated. I should have quit – they didn’t need me since they had an organ player, but I kept playing because I felt like I would make the other two piano players have to play for more weekends. In reality, they could have quit as well or chosen to keep their own schedule. There wasn’t a need for me to live up to the expectations of the church that we always have both piano and organ.
- You hate (or are overly stressed by) what you’re doing. Often, God has given us the freedom to quit something, but we keep doing it because of our warped sense of responsibility. This happened to me during Thanksgiving when the kids were little. I always felt like I had to make all the different dishes even though I was the only cook at the time. This stressed me out and made me enjoy the holiday less. It would have been better to simplify the menu. Sometimes, God hasn’t give us the freedom to quit, though. In those situations it’s best to work on learning to like it! For a lot of those years when the kids were little, I was stressed with life in general–but God hadn’t given me the freedom to quit being a mom. :)
- You’re missing out on other things God wants you to do (or other wonderful opportunities) because you’re trying to please people who want you to do things for them, with them, or in a certain way. One example would be if your friends are always wanting you to do something every night and you do it out of responsibility even though you’re an introvert and need a little alone time to recharge and God would also like to see you recharge. Or you may be ignoring family responsibilities to do all the things the church or your Christian group wants you to do or even work if you have the possibility to say no.
- You’re putting other people’s desires ahead of your own (and totally ignoring your own) in a situation where God is not calling you to lay down your life out of love for the brethren. Sometimes God does call us to lay down our desires–you have to do that a lot when you have young kids, for example–but other times we do that when God isn’t calling us to do it. I was such a people pleaser in the old days that I didn’t even know what I liked or wanted. My husband and I are doing this new thing where we each say what we want (which helps us both figure out what we want since we’re both people pleasers), and then we negotiate from there. We’ve found that we actually come up with better decisions that way.
- You’re fulfilling responsibilities others could fill even though you don’t enjoy them, you aren’t uniquely gifted for them, or they stress you out. This often comes up in parenting when we refuse to delegate chores to our kids because we know they won’t be happy. It’s good for kids to work so this would be a good area to change.
- You’re living other peoples’ lives (the ones who want you to keep doing it). Let them do it if they care so much about it! Sometimes people want us to do things because it will make their lives better if we do it. We just have to be sure that either we want to do it or God wants us to do it.
- You’re creating a stressful life for yourself because you’re trying to keep everyone (or a particular someone) happy when God hasn’t called you to do what they want you to do in this particular situation. Isn’t that all of us at times? So often I’m stressed out and when I dig down deep I find that I’m worried about making someone unhappy. Perfectionism?
The question is, how do we change? How do we stop people pleasing when the behavior is so ingrained in us? The first step is to renew our minds with truth.
Four Truths That Will Help Us Stop People Pleasing
Here are four truths we need to remember on a big picture level. These truths correspond to the reasons we people please up in the first section of this blog post:
- It’s not terrible if people don’t like us or respect us–it’s normal. We’re not everyone’s cup of tea. Some people will love us and think we’re the cat’s meow, and some people will think we’re just so-so, and some people will think we’re terrible. That’s life and it’s okay. Not to mention the fact that not everything about us is likable or worthy of respect!
- Just because people are annoyed with us, that doesn’t mean they don’t like us. Here’s the truth: Sometimes we’re annoying. When we do annoying things, people are going to be annoyed with us–unless they’re so spiritually mature that they rarely get annoyed. Most people aren’t that mature so they’ll get mad at us from time to time. Thankfully, they are usually mature enough to love us even though we’re sometimes annoying! Our best bet is to work on our annoying behavior (if it’s something God would also like to see changed), but believe that people are mature enough to forgive us and love the real us–faults and all.
- It’s not worth getting people to like or respect us if it’s conditional love and respect. So if we have to keep working hard to measure up, it’s not worth it. What we really want is unconditional love and respect. I’m not saying we should end all of our relationships where we feel like we have to measure up to be accepted (although I would seriously consider ending a dating relationship like that), I’m just saying it’s not worth trying to live up to expectations to get people to like us.
- Most people will like you even if you don’t live up to their expectations or do what they want you to do. Just like most people are mature enough to love us in spite of our faults, they’re also mature enough to love us if we don’t do what they want. Sometimes they just want us to do something because it makes their life easier. So of course they might seem unhappy if we aren’t doing what they want.
How to Stop People Pleasing
After filling our minds with these overall truths, it help to process situations one at a time when we find ourselves people pleasing. Here are some steps for how stop people pleasing based on my book, Rally: A Personal Growth Bible Study, which is a Bible study about going to God for help with trials..
- Recognize when you’re people pleasing. The lists above should help, but you could also ask these questions: Why am I stressed? Am I trying to make someone happy? Am I trying to live up to expectations, either perceived or real?
- Renew your mind. You can do this with the people pleasing or living up to expectations questions from I Deserve a Donut or the Renewing of the Mind Project, but you can also do this on a big picture level with the four truths I mentioned above. Renewing your mind will help you discover if you’re people pleasing or laying down your life to love others well. Often we think we’re doing the latter when we’re really doing the former.
- Accept the fact that 1) not everyone will like or respect you and 2) the people who do like and respect you will be annoyed with you and/or judge you at times. If you feel like someone is judging you, ask, “Do I ever judge this person?” Chances are good the answer will be yes. And if you judge them from time to time, is it any surprise that they judge you from time to time?
- Let go of the unrealistic expectation that everyone will like you and never be mad at you. This will just make you frustrated and unhappy because you can’t control everyone! If you want to stop people pleasing, it’s critical to let go of the idea that everyone has to like you and never be mad at you.
- Let go of your have-to-haves. We don’t have to have everyone like and respect us for us to be happy! God is enough.
- Yay God. Thank God for the people who do love you and respect you, even when you mess up. That includes God!
Resources We Talked About on the Podcast
- Truth Journaling
- Rally Bible Study
- Renewing of the Mind Project
- I Deserve a Donut
- 5 Tips for People Pleasing
I hope these ideas will help you overcome people pleasing. If you want to start a people pleasing project, just renew your mind every time you catch yourself doing it.
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