4 Pitfalls of People Pleasing (And How to Live Free)

Pastor Marty Blog


Do you care if people like you? If I am being honest, I do. I think it would be nice to be completely free from the opinions, judgements and assessments of others, but I am not. Are you? For all of us, rejection can be one of our greatest fears, and many times harbors our most painful experiences. Because of this, acceptance is something we all long for. Let’s face it, very few people live totally free from caring if others like them or not.

If you struggle with people pleasing, don’t feel alone: Israel’s first King, Saul, struggled with the same. Think about it: the man God picked to be in power and in charge of all His people fell to His need to please others.

God through Samuel gave Saul specific instructions which he only partly carried out. It might be good to note here that to God, partial disobedience is complete disobedience. When God dispatched Samuel to confront him, Saul reveals the heart of the issue: “I have disobeyed your instructions and the Lord’s command, for I was afraid of the people and did what they demanded.” (see 1 Samuel 15:24) There you have it, Saul failed because he sought to please everyone.

People pleasing is real and many have fallen into its pitfalls and faced the consequences. Before I give you four keys to leaving people pleasing behind, let me give you four pitfalls I have seen and experienced from seeking to please people.

1. People pleasing will cost your peace.

Endeavoring to please everyone requires a constant assessment of how you are doing. So, whether you are constantly seeking out other’s opinions of your performance, or constantly assessing your performance against the backdrop of how others seemingly respond to you, you are never at peace. In fact, it is just the opposite, you will live in anxiety, fearful of the next disapproving glance, negative comment or rejecting action. Now, that doesn’t sound peaceful at all does it?

2. People pleasing masks your identity.

When you constantly seek the approval of others, you become a version of yourself that they will accept. Truthfully, you no longer try to be or become who God created you to be, because that may not be acceptable so everyone else. So, we actually study others and work to become who they will accept instead of who we are. We aren’t trying to be our best selves, we are working to be the most accepted version of who we are and those two identities are never the same.

3. People pleasers inevitably please the wrong people.

If you are determined to please everyone, it is only reasonable to assume that you will eventually please the wrong someone. You will end up pleasing someone who might take from you, manipulate you, use you or abandon you. People pleasing is dangerous, because not everyone you attempt to please is safe. There are people who will manipulate your weakness for their gain. Sadly, when this happens, we blame them, when really our lack of character and boundaries is the culprit. Ouch! I know it stings, but it is true.

4. People pleasers surrender their destiny.

Like King Saul who abdicated his position by seeking to please the people he was leading, people pleasing surrenders your calling and destiny for two reasons. First, our destiny is usually tied to our identity. If we don’t become who we are created to be, we won’t be able to do what we were called to do. Second, if we are living for the purpose of pleasing everyone, we can’t live for the purpose that we were created for. You can’t live for the praise of others and God at the same time.

Right now, you may be identifying with the points above, but the real question is: how do I break the cycle? My grandfather always told me, “Don’t preach them lost, if you can’t preach them found!” In accordance with his wise advice, let me offer you four keys to overcoming being a people pleaser.

1. Accept that not everyone is going to like you.

This sounds elementary, but it’s not easy. However, if you can acknowledge it, you will find it produces some freedom in your soul. So, say it with me, “Not everyone is going to like me and that is okay.” Now accept it. The harsh reality is that even if you seek to please everyone, some people are still not going to like or accept you. Truthfully, people pleasing is about trying to control others and their opinions of you, so surrender control. Be you and be okay if someone doesn’t like you.

2. Tighten your circle.

We are responsible to people, just not for them. Meaning, I have a responsibility to love people well, treat people kindly and be merciful, but I am not in control of their acceptance of me. There are some people that I really shouldn’t aim to please anyway and then there are others whose opinions should matter. Such as a spouse, my kids and a close friend—safe people. These are often people who want you to be you and won’t try to manipulate or control you. We need others, we need accountability, and some opinions are not only necessary, but helpful. There should be a few in that safe circle, but not everyone. So, shrink it down.

3. Seek to please God first.

I remember a talk I had with my oldest son when he was about eleven. He really wanted everyone to be happy with him—me, his mom, his friends, his grandparents, his teachers, etc. I could see him wrestling with the anxiety of trying to make and keep everyone happy. So, I sat him down and explained that pleasing everyone all the time wasn’t possible, but pleasing God was. I also explained, that as a Dad, my greatest hope was for him to follow God fully and seek to please him first and if God was happy, I would be too. I think sometimes we miss the simplicity of this concept. If I please God first, everyone that matters should be ok with it and if they aren’t, is that really a problem? I would hope not. God is first and pleasing someone at the expense of displeasing God, is the very definition of pleasing the wrong person.

4. Live from acceptance and not for it.

Paul tells the Ephesians, “you are accepted in Christ’s love” (See Ephesians 1:6). That acceptance is based in grace—God’s goodness—not in works—human effort.  Meaning that we are completely accepted because of what Jesus did, not because of what we do. Our level of acceptance does not change with our level of performance. We are accepted and that is final.  When we integrate that truth in our lives, we can live from a basis of acceptance and stop striving for it. When the paradigm of our relationship with God shifts from trying to gain his acceptance to living from his acceptance it will ultimately work its way into all our relationships. When you are convinced you are accepted by God, you won’t fear rejection by man, and you won’t feel compelled to please everyone. Now that is a beautiful place to live from.

So, do we want everyone to like us? Absolutely, but that is no way to live. My hope is that as you take in these truths, you will find freedom in your soul and hope in your heart. You should be you, you can be you and everyone else should be okay with that!