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The Misery Of People-Pleasing

There are numerous challenges that can – and do – hinder people from living an abundant life. One that is often ignored, because it looks good on the outside, is people-pleasing.

I’m not talking about having a servant’s heart, and sacrificing your time, talent and treasure in order to help other people. A people-pleaser is someone who feels guilty unless they are doing what other people expect of them.

Even if the expected behavior goes against their own values, beliefs, or temperament.

The truth is, people-pleasers are living in fear. They fear being judged and criticized by the people in their life if they don’t live up to those people’s expectations.

Here are some examples:

  • John is an introvert with a family. The last thing he wants to do is attend the lunch following the funeral service he attends out of state. He will be miserable among all the other guests, most of whom he will not know. And he knows his wife doesn’t like being left alone with their three children for long. But he attends the lunch anyway, because if he doesn’t he know his sister-in-law will chew him out for it later.
  • Mary believes that the use of animals by humans for any purpose is wrong. But she continues to eat meat whenever her boyfriend takes her out for dinner, because she has heard him make fun of vegans.
  • Letitia is a senior in high school with an entrepreneurial spirit whose dream is to build her own business around her talent for arts and crafts. She knows by participating in online forums and groups that she doesn’t need to go to college to become successful with this. However, she’s going to set that dream aside and go to college to get a degree in teaching, because her mother insists that she will have a more secure future with that career.
  • Ed is the manager of a large supermarket. He knows he needs a day off once in a while, but he is often short-staffed because his employees call in sick a lot. So, many days he does double-duty as a manager and whatever the absent employee’s job is. He knows he should fire some of these employees and hire more responsible ones, but many of them are relatives or friends of friends and he doesn’t want to cause conflict within the extended family or circle of friends by letting them go.

People-pleasers aren’t true to themselves

The phrase “Be true to yourself” can be construed as selfish. However, the actual meaning is that each of us is to live according to how God has wired us, and according to the desires He’s placed inside each of us.

Most people, even those who aren’t people-pleasers, don’t live authentic lives. They don’t live true to themselves. Instead, they follow societal conventions and values, because that’s the path of least resistance.

Allow me to digress for a moment: My friend, if that’s the path you’re on, you cannot live an abundant life.

Back to people-pleasers. People-pleasers live by fear, not by faith. Their decisions and choices are made based on the values and desires of other people, rather than on their own values and desires.

Any kind of fear is a hindrance toward living an abundant life. The fear of man is one of the biggest, because it’s so hard to overcome. Especially for people-pleasers who have bypassed the age of thirty. By then, the fear is so ingrained that it becomes as difficult to root out as a large, old tree.

Difficult, but not impossible.

How to stop being a people-pleaser

Learning how to stop pleasing people is a two-step process.

Step #1: Develop more faith.

Faith comes by connecting with your Creator and learning to hear His voice. This comes in part by prayer, in part by reading the Bible – especially stories where God helped regular people overcome seemingly impossible circumstances – and in part by reading and listening to people who are strong in their faith.

Step #2. Establish personal boundaries.

If you never have, read the book Boundaries by Henry Cloud. If you have read it and you are still a people-pleaser, you need to read it again. And again. And again until you are actually establishing the healthy boundaries you need in order to live an authentic life.

“I tried that once, but it was scary.”

Of course it was. Everything new you try is scary. I taught elementary school for thirteen years, and for the first eight or nine, every single year, I was terrified on the first day of school. The proverbial bundle of nerves.

How do you make new things less scary? Keep working at them until they’re no longer new. When you first tell someone “no” who is used to you saying “yes” to them all the time, it will make you want to throw up. Do it anyway.

Then, as soon as you can, seek another opportunity to establish a boundary. Why as soon as you can? Because if you wait for too long, the next opportunity will feel like it’s the first one all over again, and you won’t make any progress.

However, if you don’t wait too long, you may still feel like throwing up when you endeavor to establish a boundary. Or maybe you’ll just get some butterflies in your stomach and experience sweaty armpits. But it will probably be a little easier than the first boundary-establishment.

Repeat until you are no longer people-pleasing, until whenever you decide to do a certain thing it is for only one of three reasons:

  1. God is speaking to you to do it.
  2. You want to do it out of a servant’s heart.
  3. You are doing it because it reflects your true self. 

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If you are a people-pleaser, your life is much more stressful than it’s supposed to be. A stressful life is not an abundant life. The choice is before you today: to continue on in misery, or to work on eliminating your fear of man.

My free book, Take Back Your Life!, can help you with many fear-based issues and motivate you to get your life on the right track. Click here to download it.

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