Opening my No Other Gods workbook, the title of Session 4 caught my eye: “The Problem with Idols: People Gods.” As I read through Kelly MInter’s lesson and learned about the ways we make people into idols, the faces of different individuals I’ve idolized over the years popped into my mind. But as I dug deeper into the study, I realized that for me, the problem wasn’t so much about specific people, but about my constant need to please people in general.
For years I’ve jokingly referred to myself as a “recovering people-pleaser.” You may recognize the term “recovering” from Twelve Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous. That’s because just like someone who struggles with addiction, I have to take one day at a time fighting the urge to be a pleaser. I go through phases where I’m strong and confident and it’s less of an issue and other seasons when I’m racked with guilt anytime I think I’ve failed someone. Ironically, this post is an edited version of one I wrote a while back. It’s humbling to realize this is an ongoing issue I need to relinquish to God time and time again. People pleasers have been around for generations but just so we’re clear, here’s my definition (based on personal experience):
A people pleaser is constantly aware of the wants and needs of those around her. She feels overly responsible for others. She bases her sense of well being on the happiness of others in her presence. She rarely asserts her own desires for fear she will displease others. She often has no opinion because she wants to do whatever makes those in her presence most happy or comfortable. She has trouble receiving kind gestures from others because she constantly feels bad and assumes she is being an inconvenience or an annoyance.
The root of people pleasing is a fear of what others think and a desire for approval based on outward actions. Ultimately, it boils down to insecurity and idolatry, not courtesy, kindness or love.
Does the definition make you squirm? Rather than feeling hurt or offended, how about taking some time to evaluate your people-pleasing tendencies? Consider the following:
-How often do you say, “I feel bad” or “I feel guilty” when you don’t meet an expectation you think someone else has for you?
Before going any further, think about why you feel bad or guilty. Is it because you are worried about what someone will think of you? Is it because you see a need you are unable to meet? Is it because you are choosing to do nothing when you should be doing something? Try to determine the root cause and then either do something about it or stop feeling guilty (which isn’t biblical anyway). When we serve and help others, it needs to be out of love, not guilt.
-How often do you say “I should” or “I had to”?
This can be a sign that your motivation is external rather than internal. Sometimes there are things you genuinely “should” do, such as helping someone in an emergency or meeting a need that is appropriate for you to fill. Sometimes we do things because the Bible says we should. They are the right things to do. Other times, however, people pleasers feel they must do certain things in order to meet someone else’s expectations. You don’t “have” to do something just because you’ve always done it or because someone thinks you would be good at it (especially if it’s a volunteer commitment.)
No Joy in Serving
One thing is sure, when you say, “yes” because you feel guilty about letting someone down, there will be little joy in your act of kindness. The thrill of saying, “yes” to please another person fades quickly if that is your only motivation. If there is no joy behind your choice to serve, bitterness results. Plus, the person being served doesn’t feel especially loved if your actions are motivated purely by guilt or duty.
Pleasers Confuse Others
People pleasers are confusing or frustrating to be around because you never know what they really want. It becomes a guessing game to figure out if their words and actions are genuine or simply said and done to please you. It is also unclear if they are being honest, which can lead to trust issues and elevated anxiety for others. Ultimately, it is difficult to have an authentic, loving relationship with a people-pleaser.
Pleasing Can Lead to Sin
Sometimes when our attention is focused on pleasing others, we make compromises that go against what we know is right. When we are willing to sacrifice our values and standards because we don’t want to offend or displease others, we are making them into idols.
No- Win Situation
It’s no secret that people are fickle. Trying to please them is a losing battle because they change their minds regularly. It is impossible to please multiple people simultaneously when they have differing opinions. Trying to do it is like attempting to submerge a bunch of Ping-Pong balls in a bucket. There is no way to hold all of them under water at the same time, no matter how hard you try! (I attempted it just to make sure).
Please God, Bless People
The apostle Paul sums this up simply– our goal needs to be pleasing Christ, not others: “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.” (Galatians 1:10, NIV) Make it your goal to please God. Doing this will honor Him and ultimately bless others.
Music and Books to Encourage You
Sometimes people pleasers struggle with feelings of inadequacy. We try hard to measure up through earning favor with others and we live in fear of disapproval. Yet when we remember how deeply loved we are by God, it frees us to love others without expecting them to meet our endless needs. If you want to learn more, scroll down for some suggested books that can help you get some healthy perspective on people-pleasing. Be sure to click on the link and be encouraged by Hawk Nelson’s song “Live Like You’re Loved.” Then go out and live like you believe it’s true.
The Best Yes: Making Wise Decisions in the Midst of Endless Demands by Lysa TerKeurst (Nelson Books, 2014)
Blog inspired by No Other Gods: Confronting Our Modern Day Idols, Kelly Minter, Lifeway Press, 2012.