I have long lived my life trying to get people to like me. It’s like a game, this fragile balance of trying to say the right thing to someone or do the right thing for them so that in return they would think well of me. I didn’t always know that’s what I was doing and I wouldn’t have worded it like that. I also don’t know all the reasons why I was (and am) doing it; I just knew that if I was nice enough or smart enough or faithful enough then people around me would likely be pleased and they would like me and that would be good. I would find a measure of comfort and satisfaction with life if that happened.
I don’t think I’m the only one who has done this. This is, in varying degrees, what we call people-pleasing. We’re trying to find a sense of value and worth in the opinions and thoughts of others. We want to please people so that they will think well of us. Those of us with these tendencies really like when people praise us because that means our efforts worked, they like us! (Although you’ve got to be humble about receiving praise.) But then we also feel really hurt when we’re criticized. (Although you can’t lash out because that’s not good to do either.) We don’t often verbalize it so clearly, but we think we’re pretty special people when we’re praised and we feel pretty lousy, even depressed when we think people are looking down on us.
I’ve come to understand the term ‘people-pleasing’ does not mean a person seeks to please people for the other people’s benefit, rather it is a selfish and protective mechanism to ultimately please oneself. People-pleasing really is about me. It’s about finding security in the thoughts and opinions of others. It’s about seeking worth and value in their eyes. If other people are pleased, that means they like me and that means I am good or that I have worth. So, consequently when that positive feedback doesn’t come it hurts because I believe the lie that my worth and value are dependent on the opinions of others.
Even worse, what people-pleasing is not about is understanding and believing who I am in God’s eyes and valuing that above anyone else. This is difficult, and I believe is only increasingly difficult as our lives get busier and louder and more technologically driven. We don’t hear God’s voice anymore. I, and perhaps you as well, have neglected the long-standing practice of silence, prayerfully meditating on God, allowing Him to speak to us, allowing His voice to rise above the noise. Because it’s only when we listen to His voice that we understand that He is the source of life, He is the source of our lives. He created us and knows us and knows what we need.
He longs to speak to us as a loving parent pouring out love on a child. He longs to walk with us through life’s challenges, guiding and redirecting as He knows we need. He longs for us to know that we are worth far more than what anyone can give us or offer us. True peace and life in Him is where we begin to find our worth. We are valuable not for what we can do for others, but simply because we are created by and loved by the Father.