Purge people pleasing, and live for an audience of One

People-pleasing can mess up our lives. It can hinder our effectiveness in resolving conflict, result in burn out, and cause us to waste precious years trying to please people while ignoring what God wants us to do with our lives.

    Harriet Braiker defines people pleasing this way:
        The Disease to Please is a set of self-defeating thoughts and flawed beliefs
        about yourself and other people that fuel compulsive behavior that, in turn,
        is driven by the need to avoid forbidden, negative feelings. This triple
        combination of distorted thinking, compulsive behavior, and the need
        to avoid fearful feelings creates the syndrome of people-pleasing…

People-pleasers are enslaved to flawed beliefs, feelings and behaviors that make them easy targets for unhealthy adversaries and ineffective as peacemakers. People pleasers are approval addicts. They want everyone to be happy—peace at any price.  We admit we struggle with people-pleasing and have worked to slay it.
    Is it wrong to want to please people? No, the Bible instructs us to care about the needs of others, to be considerate and kind. When we treat people well, they usually treat us well too—the golden rule. Societies function well when people are civil, honest, even heroic as they interact with others. But pleasing people has a negative side too. Lou Priolo writes, “It is right to please people to the extent that doing so is not the leading principle or primary motive of your actions, but subordinate to the love of God and the love of neighbor.” However, we don’t always know our motivation—why we do what we do. It’s easy to believe that our primary interest is glorifying God when really a higher goal is our own self-interest, being liked and feeling good about ourselves.
    Priolo labels people-pleasing as idolatry, a two-sided coin: one side involves neglecting God and the other side involves replacing Him with cheap substitute, in this case people. Whew, that's harsh! But when we desire the accolades of people more than God or we fear the rejection of people more than the displeasure of God, then we are people-pleasers. If our parents and teachers taught us that the way to please God is to be compliant and nice, true for many Christian women, it’s easy to become muddled as to our motivation. Many Christian women unconsciously fall prey to people-pleasing, an insidious form of pride.
    Dr. Hans Selye, the father of modern concepts of stress and stress-induced illness, has another name for people pleasing. He calls it “altruistic egoism.”

    This mouthful of a phrase is intended to mean that by earning the goodness of
    others through the generosity of your character and actions, you are actually
    acting in your own self-interest. If you are kind and giving to others, Selye
    argued, other people will tend to be kind in return and, therefore, won’t
    be as likely to cause you stress. . . Dr. Selye understood that niceness would
    not protect you from everyone, all of the time. He was adamant that certain
    people could and would cause harm to you emotionally—regardless of whether
    you treated them kindly or not. This might occur because the other person
    is intrinsically hateful, prejudiced or bigoted; or because he or she holds an
    old grudge and is out to settle a score by punishing you; or simply because
    the other person is not emotionally healthy or mature enough to be loved and
    to love in return.

Are you a people-pleaser? If you are serious about living for God, eradicate this harmful habit from your life. If you have found victory over people-pleasing, we'd love to hear from you.

Dr. Edwards is Assistant Professor of Christian Education (Specialization: Women's Studies) at Dallas Theological Seminary and holds degrees from Trinity University, DTS, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. She is the author of New Doors in Ministry to Women, A Fresh Model for Transforming Your Church, Campus, or Mission Field and Women's Retreats, A Creative Planning Guide. She has 30 years experience in Bible teaching, directing women's ministry, retreat and conference speaking, training teams and teachers, and writing curriculum. Married to David for 34 years, she especially enjoys extended family gatherings and romping with her four grandchildren.