The trap of people-pleasing is an easy one to fall into. I’m sure personality has something to do with it. So do early childhood experiences, the “lessons” you unconsciously learned before you knew you were learning them. Healthy relationships require that you care about others. But if you want to live Fully Alive, or accomplish anything of value for God or others, you will have to become a recovering people-pleaser.

I’m a recovering people-pleaser. At times I still catch myself ruminating about what others will think, but I can stop those thoughts much more quickly now. Other things have become so much more important that although I care a great deal about others, their opinions do not hold me hostage.

In my early years I learned very well how to please others – parents, professors, bosses, and other superiors. I learned how to read the reaction of patients (and others) and respond in ways that they could understand. Most people reasonably liked me.

But in that state I was comparatively useless.

Even from a human perspective, adopting the opinions of others or routinely doing what they wanted meant I had very little to offer. If I’m only a copy, I’m not much good to anyone. It’s being an original, my unique understanding, experience, and perspective, that makes me most valuable. God doesn’t make copies!

And it’s your unique life experience and perspective that someone else – or the world – needs. That doesn’t mean you become abrasive; Jesus was utterly appealing. But if you care overly much what others think of you, your ideas, or your way of doing things, you won’t be much good to anyone.

Paul a Recovering People-Pleaser

Saul of Tarsus grew up with a zeal for God and the Jewish faith. While we don’t have any documents he wrote prior to his Damascus road experience, we know he conformed carefully to the strict traditions of his Jewish culture and religion, “a Hebrew of the Hebrews.” (Philippians 3:5) We get the sense he was a people-pleaser.

After Jesus got ahold of him he kept his zeal. He was still a Jew and remained a Jew throughout his life. And he cared, cared very deeply, about his legacy and the churches he worked tirelessly to establish. (2 Corinthians 11:28)

But whatever people-pleasing Paul had, he overcame. He could say, “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (Galatians 1:10)

And again, “but just as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, so we speak, not to please man, but to please God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

Paul could read people well. He seemed to have wonderful emotional intelligence:

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)

Paul noticed and cared, but was not swayed. He was listening to a “different drummer,” living His life before an audience of One. God’s opinion mattered first and most.

Better than People-Pleasing

Worrying what others think will lead you to spend money on things you don’t need to impress people you may not even like, feel ashamed from losing your integrity while trying to fit in, and discover life has passed you by and you’ve never done what you were meant to do.

Doing something significant and successful means other people won’t like you much of the time. Being a leader in any way means some people won’t understand. Changing anything negative in your family tree means you will feel a lot of resistance from those who feel threatened.

Now, how you offer your perspective and experience makes a great deal of difference. If you come across as arrogant, miserable, or selfish no one else is likely to understand or value what you have to offer. But if you come across as caring, confident, and wise those people who need what you have to offer will be more likely to accept it. Becoming like Jesus means you do this with love and grace, and that takes maturity.

It’s not that you want people to dislike you. It’s that there’s something you care about more.

You live your life before an audience of One.

You do what God asks you to do to the best of your ability, and leave the end result up to God.

When NOT to Care what Others Think

Here are some situations where you will likely have to NOT care much about what others think:

  1. When doing so would compromise your integrity. Moral values are not and cannot be dependent on feelings. Doing things with excellence may not be popular or easy. But a tarnished soul is not worth the price you would pay for compromise. Keeping your integrity will mean others may not understand.
  2. When your job demands it. Sometimes your work environment or your boss make thinking independently almost impossible. But your boss doesn’t need another one of himself: he/she needs you. Don’t be a yes-person.
  3. When making important decisions. In choosing a career, who to marry, where to live, and how to spend money you must be true to your own heart and to God, or jointly between you and your spouse. Advice from others is useful, but the decisions are up to you.
  4. When changing a negative pattern. Family of origin issues are tough to change, and relatives are not likely to celebrate when you try to develop a pattern that is different. Breaking free of an addiction may mean losing “friends” in a previous lifestyle.
  5. When fulfilling your primary life calling. To whatever degree you understand why you are here on this planet, fulfilling that challenge will mean doing things and making decisions that many will not understand. And that’s OK.

Jesus was utterly appealing. But He didn’t worry about what others thought. The Pharisees recognized this; “Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” (Matthew 22:16) That’s the kind of example we can follow.

Care deeply about people.

And every day commit to live your life before an audience of One.

That’s how to become a recovering people-pleasing.

Your Turn: Have you been a people-pleaser? Will you commit to living your life before an audience of One from now on? Leave a comment below.

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