The Abuse of People Pleasing

[Today’s guest post is presented anonymously. If you’d like to leave a comment for the writer, let’s call her Maria.]

I was abused as a child and teased in school, so that opened the door up for me to be, and become, and struggle with people pleasing.

I was sensitive, insecure and often felt unloved and unaccepted.

I carried a lot of shame, depression and anxiety from the abuse.

Over twenty years ago, the Lord brought me to Himself, and He enabled me to start facing those issues. But I had no idea that I still had such a desperate need to feel loved and accepted by others, that I would start to develop a dysfunctional attitude and lifestyle.

The Twisted Knot of Seeking Leadership Love

I hit the ground running in my desire to prove that I was serious my choice to follow the Lord, even though I was very young and had a lot to learn. I wanted to prove to myself and to anyone around me that I “belonged” with my fellow believers. I worked hard, tried to be as helpful and useful as possible, opened my heart and my time, and tried to be a “team player.” I tried not to cause any trouble or make waves or cause any problems.

I also wanted a “family” environment due to my lack of closeness with my biological family. I especially wanted to please leadership figures who seemed to demonstrate spiritual maturity, because their approval meant I was on the right track. I sought the Lord’s love but I also sought to capture the love of those around me.

But it didn’t take long before I realized what a knot I had twisted myself into. I was afraid to say “no” when asked to do something, without having to explain or defend myself. I was afraid to stand up for myself; too worried that I would become the subject of gossip or slandering. I was afraid of getting a “reputation” for being a troublemaker if I spoke my mind, especially if it disagreed with the status quo.

I was tired, stressed out, edgy and anxious about everything.

My life revolved around making sure others felt loved, comfortable and accepted—and I was often willing to change myself or change my environment to accommodate the needs of others. I was helping others, but I often felt neglected and worn out—and very much alone. I wasn’t taking care of myself inside or out, and I was becoming resentful of my many burdens. I felt exploited, easy to take advantage of and often taken for granted. I didn’t know how to make sense of it all, or how to break out of this prison or even try to understand the harmful effects of my choices, because I truly thought I was being His servant.

Finding Freedom in Herod’s Story

One day I read the story of Herod’s stepdaughter shamelessly dancing for him and his company, leading to the murder of John the Baptist in Matthew 14:6, and the Lord shed new light into me.  Herod foolishly promised to give her anything she desired, in front of everyone, giving her no limits. He obviously wanted to impress his guests, his stepdaughter, but also his own ego as he demonstrated the absolute power he had.

The stepdaughter wanted to please her mom badly enough to follow her advice and ask for the murder of an innocent man, putting aside anything she might have desired to request for herself. The wife wanted to please her own lust for revenge (John had criticized her and Herod publicly) and had no problem manipulating her daughter to get her way. She even brought her mom John’s head on a platter, doing exactly what was asked of her.

And in the end – the one of whom Jesus said “among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11) and His own cousin to boot – was horribly murdered.

It was like looking into a mirror. I saw much of myself woven through their story. I had thought I was being Christ-like and showing unconditional love. But It was really a sick version of fear-based, slave-mentality love.

This is not what He saved us for. This is what He saved us from.

Most of us will hopefully not cause the murder of an innocent person, due to our desire to please others. But it is fair to ask how far we will go to please our families, authority figures, or ourselves—and put Christ as a distant or even close second. Jesus made it clear He alone occupies the top spot in our lives, because He bought us with His own blood, a precious price that is put aside much too readily. It is not a spot that He is willing to share with anyone else.

None of the persons I tried so hard to please died for me to give me new life, but I looked to them as if they could. It was no wonder why I felt so unfulfilled and imprisoned for so long. I got on my knees and pleaded for His forgiveness, because I was living like a slave, not like His child. My pride was hiding but living large behind all my fear and insecurities, because I insisted on doing things my way, not His.

Paul made it clear in Galatians 1:10 that being a servant of God and pleasing people were not the same thing. He also said that we can’t do both; it is either or the other. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare” (Proverbs 29:25), but “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” (Galatians 5:1.) Which one will we choose?

I’ll end with one of the most comforting verses I lean and rely on: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18.)

***

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9 Responses to The Abuse of People Pleasing

  1. Samuel Divin says:

    Wooooow…and that is what my life has been all about so far, i have had the same struggle that Maria had. I usually feel neglected and taken for granted, and feel the need to please people all the time, i absolutely relate to this story entirely…Thank you for sharing. It opened my eyes to may things

  2. Laura Droege says:

    Maria, thank you for sharing your story. It’s easy for me to fall into this trap, too, being overly-concerned about other people’s opinions of my actions and telling myself that I’m being “sensitive” to their feelings & not wanting to cause strife. There’s a place for being sensitive, but not at the price of putting their feelings (and my fear!) above Christ. Thank you for this reminder.

  3. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is a really powerful testimony, Maria – thanks. This sentence really struck me: “None of the persons I tried so hard to please died for me to give me new life, but I looked to them as if they could.” Really insightful — how often do we do that? I’m glad you’ve been able to experience true freedom from fear, thanks to God’s grace.

  4. JYJames says:

    Thanks, God bless.

  5. Pastor Bob says:

    We have all fallen into the trap of doing much to please and serve.
    Your story helps in expressing ti differently.

    Blessings!!

  6. Awaken says:

    This story is simply amazing, thanks a lot.
    Blessings!

  7. Maria could be me. I just started my blog in earnest. I mean, just started. I am at crosses4christ.wordpress.com

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