By Karen Ehman
Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. — Galatians 1:10
At an early age I learned: make someone happy and then they’ll like you. And since my single-digit-year-old self didn’t relish the feeling of not being liked, I resolved to never let that happen, if it were within my power. Gifting a fellow classmate with a frozen dairy confection wasn’t my only tool for maintaining friendships. My behavior in other areas ensured that I would feel wanted and loved. I dished out compliments I really didn’t mean, nodded in agreement just so as not to bring any tension or create any conflict, and, of course, I joined forces with mean girls who didn’t like someone else in our class. I had to. What if I didn’t and the mean girls all turned on me?
I soon became an approval junkie — longing for belonging, addicted to acceptance, craving the calm of no tension in a conversation, and the security that being liked seemed to bring my young soul. But here is the thing about living like this…
To keep it up, you have to become a skillful liar.
Yes, you heard me. People pleasers are also deceivers. We do not always speak the truth. We shade it. Skirt it. Dress it up just a tad before taking it for a spin. Or — worst of all — we leave truth completely out of the picture.
When asked what we think of lying, we “yes girls” will assert that lying is wrong. After all, isn’t the Bible bursting with warnings about the sin of shading the truth? But take a good look at our lives and a different reality materializes. Often, on occasions of people pleasing, we do not tell the truth. It was a colossal wake-up call for me the day I admitted this reality. That aha moment helped to put me on the path to becoming a recovering people pleaser. Notice I said recovering, as in present tense. I have not arrived, nor will I ever. Learning to deal with this relational issue is a tension to manage. It’s not a problem that can suddenly be solved with a snap of the fingers. (But oh sister, do I ever wish it were!)
Guess what else people pleasing does to us? Although it may gain us a reputation for being helpful and competent, it also creates a ton more work for us. Is that not totally true?
In what ways has appeasing others made more work for you?
Did you stay up late to bake a ton of brownies for your child’s soccer team, even though you were low on sleep and had an extremely busy week, when there were tons of other soccer moms who hadn’t made a solitary sweet yet this season? Did you agree to go mow the yard for your aging grandparents nearly every week in the summer, even though you have a half-dozen cousins who could easily have taken a turn? (But you didn’t want to speak up and suggest that they give you a break.)
Adapted from When Making Others Happy Is Making You Miserable by Karen Ehman.