Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

I have struggled for a long time with being a people pleaser. In recent years I have acknowledged this tendency and have tried to care less about what others might think of me.

As a Christ-follower I am loved and accepted unconditionally by God. I do not have to think, speak or perform a certain way to receive love and grace and favor. God loves me as much know as he ever has and ever will. He delights in me and continues to pursue my heart. He knows the depth and breadth of my potential and seeks to help me reach it. He is always for me, always with me, always on my side. What have I done to deserve such lavish love? Nothing. He offers it to me for free through Jesus simply because I am his creation. Who could want or need more than that?

But do I often live as this cherished beloved? No. Often I have striven to achieve the favor and acceptance of my fellow human. It’s not hard to see why. People are everywhere, more than ready to offer their thoughts and judgments, reigning favor on whomever pleases them at that moment. It reminds me of the children’s story, You Are Special, by Max Lucado. I have read it quite a few times to my daughter and have choked up on more than one occasion at the reminder that I am God’s and it doesn’t matter what other people think or say about me, what matters – and what is true – is what God says about me.

I just finished Sheila Walsh’s book The Longing in Me: How Everything You Crave Leads to the Heart of God. At the end of the first chapter she invited the reader to write the following phrase on a card and stick it somewhere where it can be seen daily in order to become imbedded into the heart:

The God who created me has chosen me as His beautifully loved daughter. Because of that I can take other rejections in stride.

I so desperately want to live that phrase. I want my heart and actions to be focused on living as I have been created, knowing that I will be criticized but that God is always for me and will be my defense and my redeemer.

I recently reviewed my past and remembered some specific instances when I acted in a certain way in order to seek the favor of people even though I didn’t necessarily agree or feel confident about it. No one specifically said that they would be disappointed or I would be rejected, but at the moment of decision I felt that choosing wrong would lead to rejection and, at the time, I cared more about acceptance than being true to myself. Perhaps reminding myself of these will help me to be true to myself in the future. Though, true to his nature, God has brought good from many of these experiences.

In the middle of seventh grade I moved to a new state and started in a new middle school (the worst). Someone asked me if I liked 501 jeans. I did not care much about clothing brands then (or now, really) so I assumed it was the cool brand. I said “yes” and then the person said, “That means you like (some boy in the class).” The person then teased me about liking someone I didn’t even know. In retrospect, there probably wasn’t a right answer to the question that would have spared me being teased. (I realized while writing this that I did start trying to dress more like who I thought were the cool kids over the next few years in hopes of fitting in more.)

In eighth grade homeroom one of the girls called me “Beast” one day when she realized that I had not yet started shaving my legs (I have blond hair so it’s not really noticeable). That afternoon I went home and asked my mom to show me how to shave my legs. It wasn’t really necessary but I didn’t want to experience that rejection and ridicule again if I could help it. I bet it was just a one-time comment that she never thought about again but obviously it affected me as I still remember it 20 years later. I hope these experiences as “the new girl” have helped me to be more compassionate toward other newcomers I meet.

In high school a girl asked me if I believed in God. I did (I had not yet made a profession of faith) but I wasn’t sure what she thought about faith and didn’t want to be rejected so I said that I wasn’t sure. Who knows what would have happened if I had been honest? Perhaps she would have asked me more about God. I doubt she would have shunned me but I still didn’t feel completely accepted in my new school. (Feeling bad about not standing up for my belief in God ended up being a catalyst in seeking to learn more about God to determine what I really did believe which led to baptism.)

When I was applying to college I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to study. My parents thought I should go into engineering since I was good at math and science and it was a field looking for more women. I moved forward in that major since I wanted to please my parents and didn’t have anything strong in mind. In this case, I think it was beneficial to me. It wasn’t going against any actual beliefs or thoughts. It may have helped my admissions acceptance having the label of “female engineering student”. I eventually discovered that I much preferred psychology and it only required an extra semester of school (and more math and science classes completed than required for my official major, perhaps a negative of not going in undeclared). I also met my future husband in one of my engineering classes my last semester in that major (definitely a major benefit!).

I’m sure there are many more instances when I sought to please others rather than be honest in who I was or what I thought. I’m sure many of you can think of your own experiences. If you are brave enough to share, I’d love to hear them and be reminded that I’m not alone.

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