In the small Oregon town where I grew up, directions sounded something like this: “Take the road that goes out of town. When you reach the country store, just past city hall, take a left. You should be on a gravel road. If you’re not, you’ve gone too far, and you’ll have to double back.”
If you ask for directions in my hometown today, you might still hear someone say, “You’ll have to head back out to the main road and watch for the next turn off. You can’t get there from here.”
It’s the same for people pleasers looking for true love. You need to find another way. Because you can’t get there from here.
I know because I wandered lost on that road for a long time.
Like many other people pleasers, I bought the lie that if I were pleasing enough, pleasant enough, and easy-going enough, I would be loved.
But here’s the ironic thing about people pleasing. The surprising twist in the story of every people pleaser. It doesn’t lead to what we started people pleasing for.
It doesn’t lead to true love at all. Instead, it leads to a cycle of believing that love is something we earn by how well we perform.
It causes us to settle for a kind of pseudo love. Accepted for who we appear to be. But never sure the love will last if we decide to let down our guard, speak with our own voice, or express a dissenting opinion.
People pleasing leads to loneliness and isolation. It can even lead us to lose touch with our authentic selves altogether.
Hiding from true love. Not being seen. Living in fear. We grow to believe that making others happy is the only way to express our love for them.
And people pleasers aren’t the only ones wounded by this lie. Our loved ones get cheated too.
People pleasing cheats all of us out of true love by striking a blow at intimacy.
Every time your friend or 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 the two of you. Healthy relationships are built on honesty and dialogue. So when a people pleaser defers without sharing what she thinks, without stating her preference, without opening up to you 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.
She hides behind not wanting to be any trouble. Not wanting to hurt your feelings. Not wanting to appear needy or opinionated. She hides herself from you, and that is a dangerous form of dishonesty.
True love can’t grow in an incubator of dishonesty.
So how can we conquer this threat to our relationships?
If you are 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 IS WHAT I THINK. Is it a fear of rejection or loss of control? Do you have your identity tangled up in what others think of you? Are you carrying around some wounds that need healing?
God can give you the courage to speak up. It’s going to feel strange. Maybe even a little bit combative at first. So ask for help from the ones you love. Tell them that you are trying to live more freely and truthfully and that you will need some practice. Ask them to hold you accountable the next time they hear you say, “You decide. I just want you to be happy.” Remember that others can’t truly love you until you reveal yourself to them.
And if you love a people pleaser, ask God to give you wisdom and discernment so you can begin to notice the moments when she hides her truest self from you. Encourage and invite her to come out of the shadows and tell you what she thinks or feels. It might feel uncomfortable for you, especially if you’ve grown accustomed to having your own way most of the time. But you just might be surprised to discover some new and very loveable things about this person you thought you knew so well.
People pleasing can’t get us to the place we want to be in our relationships. A place of secure loved based on the truth about who we are.
But with God as our guide, we can most certainly get there from here.
Have you been hiding behind people pleasing or do you love someone who has? How might you encourage one another to find another way?