The Disease of People-Pleasing: How Do You Stop?

Let’s play a game!

Name 3 people whose opinion and wisdom you respect the most.

Think of a time when you’ve asked one of them for advice.

Think of a decision you’ve made, where you felt free to make the decision without the influence of one of these people.

What does this reveal about you? Proverbs 24:6 tells us that “by wise guidance you can wage your war, and in abundance of counselors there is victory.” We have confirmation that it is good for us to have wise, trustworthy advisors, and it is normal to want to please your spouse, parents and loved ones. But people pleasing is a subtle disease that plagues so many and looks like being unable to make decisions without others’ approval, feeling anxious about what others will think of you if you do something a certain way, concern about your image and what others will think/say about you, and asking for too much input or advice before settling on an opinion. The problem with people-pleasing is that a person becomes to get lost under the weight of other’s opinions or expectations. This can breed significant anxiety, problems with self-worth, compromised integrity, feeling overwhelmed by being the “yes man,” cognitive dissonance (what we do does not match our beliefs), codependence in relationships, and toxic communication. So how do you stop the disease of people-pleasing that seems to happen to all of us to some degree?

  1. First understand whose opinion truly matters:

    Many scriptures are clear in telling us that the only one that is necessary to please is God. We are loved by our compassionate Father whether we do what is pleasing to Him or not, but an obedient life in line with the will of God gives us abundance. When we work to please others, we make idols out of those people. So people-pleasing is a form of idolatry.

    1. Galatians 1:10 – 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.
    2. Colossians 3:23 – Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men.
    3. Ephesians 6:6 – Don’t work only by being watched, as people-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, do God’s will from your heart.
    4. Luke 6:26 (The Message) –There’s trouble ahead when you live only for the approval of others, saying what flatters them, doing what indulges them.
  2. Let the Holy Spirit and your intuition be your first confidant:

    Before you consult another person (even wise and trustworthy!) practice taking your thoughts, feelings, and questions to God in prayer. Use journaling or meditation to practice becoming self-aware and to listen to what your “gut” or intuition are telling you. This allows you to trust yourself and begin to hear the guidance of the Holy Spirit, or Helper. People-pleasers tend to suppress their emotions and needs for the sake of others, taking the time to uncover your emotions gives less space for others to have influence over you.

  3. Realize its negative impact on your relationship:

    Is your identity getting lost in the relationship? Does your spouse or friend have the opportunity to really know you, or are you losing intimacy by giving in to what you think your spouse wants? Is your change in behavior really a heart change, or an appeasement of a person? People-pleasing is essentially a lack of boundaries. When boundaries don’t exist, anxiety increases, and so do relationship problems. Find a counselor to help you evaluate your people pleasing and boundary-setting skills.

  4. Understand your responsibility to others:

    We are never called to please others – only to lift one another up in truth and encouraging, be at peace with one another through love and forgiveness, and to honor and respect others and those with authority over our lives. We are never called to compromise our integrity or lose ourselves and our unique calling for the sake of others’ opinions.

There is good news for the people-pleaser: the “disease” does not have to take over your life and change is possible!  We are all given the gift of walking in freedom in the uniqueness of who God made us to be. If you are struggling in this area today, any of our counselors can help.  If you are a woman interested in exploring your self-image, contact me and I can get you connected with upcoming Women’s Self-Image Groups and Workshops.

~Mary Shea