People-pleasers are everywhere. They can parade as
successful pastors or as top-of-the-corporate-ladder executives. The
most easily identified are the passive, co-dependent types.
All pleasers are out to prove they are valuable
people—trying to quiet the voice within that says they aren’t.
People-pleasers play a tape that says, “People will love and accept me
if I please them.” Their myth says, “You are somebody when you please
Pleasers believe that a failure to please will result in
rejection and the false assumption that they are not valuable. As a
result, they go about trying to make everybody but themselves happy.
This frequently requires pleasers to keep their own
thoughts, desires and needs locked away in their inner selves. They
believe their mission on Earth is to drive themselves into an emotional
breakdown, if necessary, to make sure others approve of them. When they
fail to please someone, they feel guilty or believe (probably
unconsciously) that their world is going to end.
The paradoxical dynamic that takes place is that the very
individuals to whom people-pleasers try to prove their worth very often
use and abuse them. Instead of gaining respect as a pleaser, you often
lose it. So trying to please everyone to feel you are “somebody” is a
dead-end street. You will eventually find yourself exhausted,
disillusioned and feeling less like somebody than ever.
Instead, resolve with God’s help to redirect your life
and energy toward becoming a whole and healthy person who does not
require the acceptance and affirmation of others to say, “I am
Are You a People-Pleaser?
The first step toward freedom from “people pleasing” is
to determine if you are a people-pleaser. You can do this by honestly
answering the following questions:
* Do you accept responsibility for the happiness of others?
* Do you believe you can make others happy?
* Do you feel guilty when you think of yourself instead of others?
* Do you feel guilty when you tell someone no?
* Do you believe it is un-Christian to think of yourself and your own health and emotional well-being?
* Do you feel better about yourself when you give in to the desires of others rather than pleasing yourself?
* Are you able to set boundaries when it comes to your own health and emotional well-being?
* Do you understand what it means to set boundaries?
A people-pleaser would answer “yes” to the first six
questions and “no” to the last two. If you conclude that you are a
people-pleaser, then what are you to do?
If you are a people-pleaser, you need to redirect your
need to please. Your focus needs to change from horizontal to vertical.
In other words, you need to become more concerned with what pleases God
than with what pleases others. They are not the same thing, as many
Paul tells us in Romans 12:1
that we are to “present [our] bodies a living sacrifice, holy,
acceptable to God” (NKJV). But if we are going to offer our bodies as a
living sacrifice (and people-pleasers literally do this), then it must
be to God alone. We are to please Him first, and He is the only one we
are to worship.
The flip side of this truth is that when we give our all
to please others, we are in fact engaging in a type of worship toward
those we want to please. Many pleasers believe this kind of behavior is
“virtuous,” but it isn’t—because it is done with the unconscious motive
of getting approval and acceptance in return.
Are we to please God hoping to get something from Him?
No, we please Him by recognizing what we have already received from
Him. When God brings us into relationship with Himself, we become
somebody. The full realization of this comes with time as we cooperate
with the Holy Spirit’s efforts to “grow us” into the persons we were
meant to be.
Once our minds are renewed by the Holy Spirit, we begin
to see and understand that it is God’s will for us to seek to “be
somebody” in His sight rather than in the eyes of others. We can also
find an answer to the question I am asked so often: “What am I supposed
to do when I am asked to do this or that?”
For the Christian, the answer is simple: Focus on
pleasing God by seeking to know His will for each situation as it
arises. It is not necessarily God’s will for us to do everything we are
asked to do, even in the church! When our heart’s desire is to please
God, we will be able to put others’ needs and desires in a healthy
Weary people-pleaser, ask God to forgive you for trying
to please everyone else besides Him. Begin to believe you are now
somebody in the kingdom of God because God says so.
We change our beliefs about our personhood by believing
the truths of God’s Word rather than by continuing to believe our
myths. This is the first step toward positive change. Next come the
Changing Pleaser Behavior
People-pleasers need to budget their time and energy as
they would financial budgets. This means they must prioritize their
lives and determine how much time will be allotted for specific people
and activities, including themselves. I suggest the following order (in
order of importance): relationship with God; family (marriage,
children, parents); employment; personal time (time alone with God,
time alone with self); self-care; church; community; other.
God asks for the No. 1 position in our lives. We commit
to that when we make the decision to become a disciple of Jesus Christ
(see Luke 14:25-33).
The problem is that some people-pleasers wrongly believe that being “a
good Christian” means pleasing others. They believe they are putting
God first when they say “yes” to a good cause, especially if it is a
church-related activity. They have not confronted this myth with
When God reigns at the top of our list of priorities, we
can trust Him to show us where to place other people, ourselves and all
other involvements. When our vertical relationship with God is right,
then our horizontal relationships will naturally fall into their
rightful places. The same is true of the commitments we make.
So how do we divide or budget our time commitments
according to our priorities? First, we must recognize that God wants us
to make our families our No. 1 priority under Him. When over-commitment
begins to rob us of time that should be given to our families, it is
time to say “no.”
You may notice that after employment I listed “personal
time.” It makes sense to me that if you don’t take some time for
yourself, then the time you give to others won’t amount to much! If
there ever was a person with a vision, a purpose and a consuming
passion, it was Jesus the Son of Man. Yet He was not a people-pleaser.
Have you noticed that when He needed time for Himself, He took it?
The Gospel of Luke records, “At daybreak Jesus went out to a solitary place” (Luke 4:42,
NIV). Since the Lord had been up all night healing the sick and casting
out demons, He was exhausted. Instead of expecting His heavenly Father
to give Him supernatural strength to continue, the Lord recognized His
need for rest and rejuvenation.
We need to designate time in our busy schedules for us to
nurture our relationships with our heavenly Father. We must be fed from
the Word of God and energized by the Holy Spirit to be fruit-bearing
We also need time to minister to ourselves. This means
taking time for reflection, time that is used to get in touch with
ourselves to find out where we are, where we want to go and (sometimes)
where we have been.
These times of reflection should always be under the
direction of the Holy Spirit. We must become still and quiet to hear
the voice of the Holy Spirit that is so vital to our spiritual health.
The Scriptures tell us He knows all about us, and He knows the mind of
God (see Rom. 8:27). We need this information to confront our myths with reality.
Quiet times provide the vital opportunities
people-pleasers need to get things into perspective. A clear
perspective can help pleasers make wise decisions about all the
requests and demands put on their time by others. This helps bring
order and control to their agitated lives as they sort out their
priorities and allocate their time. By spending time with God and with
themselves, people-pleasers will be able to put the obligations of
home, church, community and other areas in their rightful places in
their time budgets.
People-pleasers often experience guilt when it comes to
saying “yes” to themselves. But it can prove to be one of the best
investments of time you will ever make.
Another vital step needed to break free from
people-pleasing is to learn how to set boundaries. Boundaries
differentiate us from other people.
People-pleasers have difficulty erecting fences between
themselves and others. They lack the ability to set limits that declare
what they will or will not do, or what they will or will not tolerate.
People-pleasers can be unaware that certain things belong
to them personally, such as the right to say “no” when they want to say
no, and “yes” when they want to say yes. They can also be too afraid to
build personal fences for fear of hurting others or of somehow
The truth of the matter is that when we allow others to
take advantage of us, we are encouraging and assisting them in their
disobedience. God is not pleased with anyone who uses and abuses
People-pleasers can gain the respect and sense of
personhood they are searching for by setting firm boundaries regarding
their involvement in the lives of others. When it is necessary to tell
others “no” to choose what is best for ourselves (according to our
God-ordained priorities), or even to submit to our own valid needs or
desires, we should do it graciously but steadfastly.
People-pleasers can effectively change their
self-defeating behavior once they begin to view themselves as separate
from others, sharing equal standing in the kingdom of God with everyone
else. Each individual person bears the image of the Creator Himself.
Everyone enters the kingdom “by grace…through faith” (Eph. 2:8). Grace is “the unmerited favor of God,” and we don’t receive it by our “works” or good deeds (see v. 9).
We all enter God’s kingdom through the same gate: Jesus
Christ. None of us is good enough to enter on our own merits. Our real
value depends solely on our potential in Christ.
You and I have every reason to accept ourselves once we
are convinced that we are children of God and that we are loved,
forgiven and accepted by Him. When we are self-accepting, we don’t have
to seek the approval and acceptance of others to confirm our personhood.
As pleasers accept the truth of their value in Christ and
learn to budget their time according to their priorities and limits,
they will soon feel positive new feelings about themselves. Their old
behavior of looking to others for affirmation will fall away, and they
will find themselves seeking out God rather than people for the
satisfaction that only He can provide.
Freda V. Crews, D.Min., Ph.D., is a certified clinical mental health counselor. Adapted from Get Off Your Own Back
by Freda V. Crews, copyright © 1997. Published by Treasure House, an
imprint of Destiny Image Publishers, Inc. Used by permission.