The Need to Please

How to stop living for others' approval

"I got lucky," I heard myself say as I averted my eyes. I knew I deserved my friend's congratulations for finishing my doctorate in psychology. I'd worked hard. And luck certainly wasn't what had kept me at my computer all night writing my dissertation. But afraid my friend would think I was a show-off, I provided myriad disclaimers I didn't even believe throughout our conversation.

I'd gotten caught in the people-pleasing trap.

When we aren't honest with others about who we really are, and instead present an image of who we think we should be in order to gain their acceptance, we're people pleasing.

But we don't have to be enslaved to other people's approval. Instead, we can serve others authentically and proclaim with the apostle Paul, "We are not trying to please people but God"

(1 Thessalonians 2:4, NCV). Here's how to break free from the bondage of people pleasing.

Get to know yourself

"We give glory to God simply by being ourselves," author Brennan Manning writes. However, you can't glorify God by being yourself if you don't even know that self!

In one of my first counseling sessions with Karen, a 37-year-old self-described people pleaser, she admitted she didn't know who the real Karen was. And she certainly never gave others the opportunity to know the real her. "People think I'm the perfect wife and mother," Karen told me. Her friends commented on her always-tidy house and home-cooked meals. She served on numerous church and neighborhood committees, and said "yes" to any request.

But secretly, Karen was exhausted and bitter. Unsure what unique gifts or talents she possessed, she felt like an empty shell simply shuffling from one activity to another.

To help someone get more acquainted with herself—her likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses—I recommend writing answers to these questions.

Who are you? Describe yourself in 20 adjectives, focusing on personal qualities rather than roles. For every negative attribute, add two positives.

I, for example, am not only impatient, but also compassionate and energetic.

How would your spouse or best friend describe you? Others notice different aspects of your personality from those you see. My husband often comments on my nurturing side as he watches me with our children.

What are your hobbies and interests? Knowing what gives you energy keeps you connected to how God made you. I come most alive when I'm drinking coffee with friends, eating good food with my husband, or making scrapbooks about my kids.

What talents has God given you? Acknowledging —and using—a God-given gift is practicing good stewardship. When I eat the meringues my friend Stephanie makes, I'm thankful she's developed that gift. 

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May 25

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