No matter how agreeable we are, people-pleasing only leads to pitfalls and roadblocks in relationships. Here’s how to avoid the hazards of people-pleasing and find the true love you’re looking for.
If you long for relationships where you’re known and deeply loved for your authentic self, people-pleasing is not the path to take. I know because I wandered lost on that road for a long time.
Like many with the need to please, I believed that never causing conflict or hurt feelings – not even expressing a dissenting opinion about what to eat for dinner or the best way to fold towels – would keep others happy and make me more loveable.
I’m not talking about the healthy relationship habits of compromising or caring for the needs of others before taking care of your own. True love often requires sacrifice.
People-pleasing is not the same as sacrificial love.
The people-pleasing behavior I speak of goes well beyond the healthy sacrifices we make for the people we love. So far beyond, it’s called by some the “disease to please.”
It’s a whole other level of keeping the people in our lives happy so we get the outcome we want: to feel secure and loved forever. And ever.
But here’s the ironic twist in the story of every people-pleaser: it doesn’t lead to what we started people-pleasing for.
Instead of delivering us into the arms of true and lasting love, we manage to smile and nod our way into a never-ending roundabout that inevitably leads us in the wrong direction.
We end up feeling tired, lonely, lost, maybe even invisible – all while making others believe that as long as they are happy, life is grand.
There’s a better way.
We can exit this road to nowhere and find our way to the authentic loving relationships we want. But first, we need to recognize the 5 greatest hazards the need to please creates. Because knowing what to look for is the only way to avoid the pitfalls of people-pleasing.
How people-pleasing derails your quest for true love.
1. It locks you into performing.
Whatever standard you’ve set for pleasing others, whether it’s the way you look, how accommodating you are, what a wonderful (fill in the blank) your partner wants you to be, when you believe love will shrink or diminish if you fall short, then people-pleasing has hi-jacked you into believing a lie. Real love isn’t measured by how well you perform. It grows and deepens as we change and mature.
2. It lulls you into settling.
While people-pleasing might make you feel like you’re doing everything in your power to create the greatest love of all time, your willingness to continually tuck your own needs out of sight means you’re settling for something less. Real love springs from meeting in the middle where give and take, compromise, and conflict resolution happen. When you don’t go there, you rob yourself and your loved one of the chance to build resilience – one thing all relationships need to last a lifetime.
3. It leads to fear and insecurity.
Living with the uncertainty of what might happen if we decide to let down our guard, speak with our own voice, or express a dissenting opinion takes a toll over time. Fear and insecurity creep in as we wonder if we’re loveable just as we are and worry about how to keep up with the needs of others while ignoring our own.
4. It erodes trust and respect.
Learning to express our differing thoughts, opinions and ideas is a necessary part of building trust and respect in relationships. Constantly deferring to the opinions of others erodes that respect. And if we never reveal our truest thoughts, how will others trust us with theirs? Trust and respect grow best when they are both given and received. People-pleasing often shuts down this essential two-way dynamic.
5. It strikes a blow at intimacy.
Healthy relationships are built on honesty and open dialogue. So when a people pleaser defers without sharing what she thinks, without stating her preference, without opening up about what she might enjoy, or what you did that has her so annoyed, she’s not being honest. Not with you. Not with herself. And dishonesty kills intimacy.
One more hard truth about people-pleasing.
People-pleasers aren’t the only ones harmed on this bumpy ride. Those who love them suffer, too.
Because every time a loved one defers to your opinion. Every time they claim they “don’t care, you decide” a tiny stone is placed in the wall between you.
She hides behind not wanting to be any trouble. Not wanting to hurt your feelings. Not wanting to appear needy or opinionated. She avoids conflict at every turn, convinced this particular form of dishonesty hitches a ride in every relationship.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
How to chart a better course.
If you’re a people pleaser, ask God to help you understand what motivates you to smile and nod when you would rather say NO or I DON’T AGREE or HERE’S WHAT I THINK.
Is it a fear of rejection or loss of control? Is your identity tangled up in what others think of you? Are you carrying around some wounds that need healing?
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”2 Timothy 1:7
Take some time to dig deep into your need to please. Talk to someone you trust – a therapist, counselor or coach. Do the research and see what you uncover.
As you begin to understand what drives you to overly please others at the expense of being your authentic self, pray for the wisdom and the courage you need to speak up and say what’s true for you.
Then start watching for opportunities to use your voice with newfound confidence as you trust God to give you the right words for the moment.
What to do when things get uncomfortable.
Choosing not to people please will likely feel strange at first. Maybe even a bit combative.
So ask for help from the ones you love. Tell them you’re trying to live more freely and truthfully and that you need practice. Ask them to hold you accountable the next time they hear you say, “You decide. I just want you to be happy.”
Remember, others can’t truly love you until you reveal your true self to them.
How to help when the people-pleaser isn’t you.
If you love a people-pleaser, ask God to help you notice when she hides her true self from you.
Encourage and invite her to come out of the shadows and tell you what she really thinks or feels. Don’t settle for an “I don’t mind, you decide” answer when you sense she’s holding back.
You might experience some discomfort, too. Especially if you’ve grown accustomed to having your own way most of the time.
But you’ll enjoy the reward of discovering some new and loveable things about this person you think you know so well.
You can get there from here.
People-pleasing can’t get us to the place we want to be in our relationships. But the secure love we long for? A love based on the truth about who we are? That is attainable.
Recognizing the roadblocks people-pleasing puts up between you and true love makes choosing a better way possible.
And with God as your guide, you can most certainly get there from here.