For Part Three, Click here.
~Les Carter, author of People Pleasing
Yesterday, I laid out an extreme People Pleasing Saga, taken straight from the Psycho Sandy Cooper Files. Fortunately, most people who suffer from this addiction—the need for approval—exhibit it in much lesser degrees. Unlike me, few of us will be on the verge of divorce over it. Most of us who suffer from this condition exhibit it in more subtle ways. Most people pleasers, for example, are known to be very “nice” and very “accessible.” They are the people friends always go to when they need something: a ride, a dozen cookies for the bake sale, a hand with a home repair, a shoulder to cry on. Over-extending themselves is a way of life. It’s how they roll. They are forever saying “yes” to request after request, with little regard to how it will affect them (or others) in the long run. Mostly, they feel they have no choice in the matter. They feel trapped. They’ve learned to just suck it up and deal with it. They become slaves to what other people expect of them…or what they THINK other people expect of them.
Well, yes and no. We are often called to put others before ourselves, absolutely. But that service to our brothers and sisters must originate from God’s love inside of us. Love should be the root and the motivation for every single thing we do.
Author and former people pleaser, Nancy Kennedy says, “It’s one thing to humble yourself as a servant; it is quite another to reduce yourself to doing anything just to be thought of as nice. The truth is [people pleasing] isn’t nice. It isn’t genuine. It’s narcissistic and dishonest. It’s other-centered actions with self-centered motives. “I’m nice so you’ll like me.” That’s not nice; that’s sick.”
The root of people pleasing is not love; it is fear and pride. Fear that people won’t like us. Fear of rejection. Fear of failure. And pride in the sense that, although we are breaking our backs “doing” for other people, we are feasting solely on the payback of their approval. We need people to focus on us, and we will go to exhausting lengths to have that need met. It is entirely self-serving…the opposite of what the Bible instructs. “People pleasing” and “Biblical serving” cannot be same thing. Where Biblical serving reaps immediate and eternal rewards, people pleasing is detrimental to both our emotional and spiritual health. Here’s how:
1.It damages relationships by enabling others and their unhealthy behavior. It is not OK for other people to manipulate our decisions by using emotional blackmail. It is not OK for people to take advantage of our inability to say “no.” It’s up to us to set the appropriate boundaries for our lives, based on God’s direction and leading. (We’ll talk about how next time!)
2.It damages high-priority relationships by starving them of the time and attention they require in order to fulfill extra commitments. At the height of my people pleasing days, I was working sixty hours a week (to please my boss and the hundreds of customers I serviced), sang in three vocal groups at church (to please the music director) and I went to church four times a week (to please all the church people who expected me to be there.) Now, tell me…where does a new bride with all of this on her plate find the time to nurture her new marriage? Answer: she doesn’t.
3.It causes us to seek the will of other people over the will of God for our lives. At the very least, it hinders us from making good decisions. In its worst form, it is idol worship and a denial of God’s authority in our lives, thus damaging our relationship with God. Betcha never thought it was idol worship, did you. I didn’t either, until I was free.
4.It causes unnecessary guilt, frustration, anger and resentment…in a word: It’s exhausting! (technically, that’s two words).
5.It hinders greatly our ability to hear God’s voice. We become so concerned what others think about us, we usually stop asking God what He thinks altogether.
Are you still unsure whether or not you struggle with this problem? Here are some questions for you to answer that will help you out…because that’s just the kind of girl Psycho Sandy Cooper is:
1.Do you often feel responsible for the moods of others? Do you feel as if it is up to you to make sure everyone around you is happy? And do you feel guilty when they aren’t? For example, when you leave your spouse with the children, do you feel guilty when the children misbehave? Do you feel guilty because your spouse is stressed about the misbehavior? Do you feel responsible for all of it somehow—the behavior of the children and feelings of your spouse?
2.Do you sometimes find yourself being overly-giving, to the extent that you encourage others to continue in irresponsible or disrespectful behavior? For example, do you cover for lazy co-workers or play the martyr in your marriage, insisting that you can handle it? All the while, seething as the person is taking advantage of you?
3.Do you have a difficult time telling people “no” even to the detriment of your health or the health of your high-priority relationships? For example, do you take on more work than you can handle or continually work long hours because you fear what your employer will think if you don’t? Or do you agree to take on volunteering responsibilities that continually keeps you away from your spouse and children, because if you say “no” you think people will think badly of you?
5.Do you find yourself bending over backwards to get people to like you? Especially people who seem to not like you? Even if you don’t really like them?
6.Do you find yourself continually committed to activities or responsibilities that you really don’t want to do? Do you secretly feel resentment toward the people who asked you to commit?
If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you may be an Approval Addict. (FYI, I used to do all these things, so no condemnation from me!) Next time, I will outline some specific steps you can take toward freedom.