The Trap of Pleasing People

I had to take a few minutes in the bathroom at work to compose myself. I didn’t want anyone to see that I was crying. I had just been in a conversation with someone who was not happy about a decision I had made. It was just a misunderstanding. I tried to smooth things over, I apologized, I tried hard to make her like me again. Nothing was working. Why does this keep happening to me? No matter how hard I try, I can’t get people to be happy with me all the time.

 Hello, my name is Katie and I am a people pleaser.

 Can anyone else relate? Does it bother you when someone is unhappy with you, or does not like you? Do you spend your day trying so desperately to please others and to win their approval? You are not alone. Many women struggle with this problem. At one point in my life it caused me so much stress and anxiety I avoided interacting with people on a personal level as much as possible.

From my own personal experience of being a chronic people pleaser and from counseling other Christian women who struggle similarly; I have learned how to make some significant changes in this area. First, we need to recognize where this is coming from in our hearts. What are we treasuring when we need everyone’s approval all the time? Once we understand the problem on a heart level, then we can learn a new more God honoring way to interact with the people around us. Are you ready to ditch the exhaustion of your people pleasing ways for a life of freedom seeking to please Christ above all else? Of course, you are! Let’s do this!

Fear of man is the Biblical term for people pleasing. Proverbs 29:22 says that “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is safe.” Fear of man is a trap. We are not free in Christ when we are trapped in the snare of people pleasing. Here are three ways people pleasing might be a trap for us.

The trap of self-focus

Where is our focus when we are afraid of what someone might think of us? Most often our focus is on ourselves. What will they think of me? Will I say something stupid? Did I wear the right thing? Will I be accepted and liked by this person? This is a tempting trap because we think we are better off if we can somehow get everyone to love us all the time. We are free from this trap when we realize that we find real peace when our focus is not on ourselves but on God. It helps to remember what our purpose in life is (check out this post for more on purpose of life). It is to do everything to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). In this situation how would our response be different if our focus was to please God instead of man? We would take our eyes off ourselves and put it on the needs of others in the group. We would strive to give acceptance and love instead of focusing on our desire to receive that from others. How freeing that would be! This would mean that it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks about us, our response and focus is the same if they love us or hate us. That response is to seek to honor God with our actions and unconditionally show others the love of Christ.

The trap of pride

 Do you ever lie awake in bed at night replaying conversations you had throughout that day? Worrying that you said something wrong? This is another way that fear of man plays out. We make a mistake or say something we think was stupid and we worry about what everyone thinks about us. We desire to be seen a certain way by our peers. A good reputation for the glory of God is not a bad thing to desire; however, very often when it comes to people pleasing, our goal is not to lift God high but to elevate ourselves. We hate making mistakes and allowing others to see our weakness. Charles Spurgeon said “if any man thinks ill of you, do not be angry with him, for you are worse than he thinks you to be.” We are all on a journey of sanctification. It’s a trap to think we need to hide our flaws from others and be the perfect Christian woman. It is freeing to live a life that seeks to elevate Christ and not ourselves. We should be growing, but we need to remember that only God is perfect.

The trap of finding our worth in others

It is such a great feeling to be accepted and loved by someone. It is a blessing when that is the reality of the situation but as you know that is not always the case. Jon Bloom helps us understand this deep desire, he said, “each of us instinctively knows, as creatures, that who we are and what we’re worth are not things we define for ourselves. We didn’t create ourselves.” In our culture we are encouraged to find our worth within ourselves and to only need our own approval. This does not work because we are designed by a Creator and we will always desire outside approval (Jon Bloom). Unfortunately, we often look to the creation (other people) for what only the Creator can give us. If someone does not like us or is unhappy with us and we can’t accept that, we are essentially saying that we are not content without their approval. This is a trap because we do not need anyone else’s acceptance and approval except for God’s. The amazing news of the Gospel is that Jesus took care of that for us! If you are a child of God, you already have the love and acceptance that you desire deep down. It frees us up to know that we don’t need to find our worth in others. We already have it in Christ.

Galatians 1:10 should be our compass when it comes to dealing with fear of man.  It says “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Paul said that he could not be a servant of Christ and a people pleaser at the same time. If he had tried to please everyone, his God given mission would have been severely compromised. His focus would not have been solely on Christ. I think this would have given us a very different story of Paul. The same goes for us. Will we allow our fear to dictate the choices that we make and the responses that we have towards other people? Or will we choose to live for an audience of one, no matter the cost? This spirit of people pleasing does not come from God. After all “God has not given us the Spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind (2 Timothy 1:7).” I have found rest from my struggle with fear of man by remember to focus on God instead of myself, check my pride and realize I’m not perfect, and find my worth solely in Christ. My prayer for you is that you will find that same rest from the exhaustion of people pleasing in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The only one truly worthy to give our time and energy to please.

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