4 Traits of a People Pleaser
(And What to Do if This Describes You)
By Cindi McMenamin
Nobody wants to be a people pleaser. But could you be one without even realizing it?
I was. Until I realized I was hurting others because of it and I needed to re-prioritize my life.
Often those we live with and love the most get the least of us when we are trying to please everyone. So, to avoid hurting those you love the most, go into this new year knowing the four traits of a people pleaser and what to do if they describe you:
- You hate to disappoint others. It is a fact that you can’t please all the people all the time. If that fact bothers you, you are a people pleaser. Because there are so many demands on you as a woman, wife, mom (and possibly four or five other roles you play), you must choose whom you will disappoint because there is only so much of you to go around. Start by asking yourself “What does my family need most from me today?” and then accomplish that first on your to-do list. By prioritizing your loved ones, you won’t make the mistake of being a people pleaser and a friends and family failure.
- You can’t say ‘no.’ If you feel more significant and more important to others when you have more responsibilities on your plate, then you’re not alone. You’ve joined the ranks of the people pleasers. Busyness is today’s badge of success. And if you can’t say “no” because you can’t bear letting someone down, then the problem is with your own sense of worth, not your problem with being irresponsible. It’s one thing to “flake” on someone and not come through after you promised something. It’s an entirely different (and better) thing to say “no” in the first place so you don’t over-commit yourself. You can say “no” when you know clearly whom your “yes” belongs to. Again, choose your “yes” carefully so you’re not saying “no” to those whom you love the most.
Jesus practiced this. He ended up disappointing a lot of people so that He wouldn’t disappoint the One who was most important to Him…His Father in Heaven.
Jesus modeled to us how to slip away from the rat race of demands on your time so you can hear God’s voice and know when to say “no.”
In Mark 6 we read that “because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat [Jesus] said to them, ‘Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.’ So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place” (verse 31-32). That was Jesus saying “no” to the possibility of over-commitment.
In Mark 1 we read, “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else—to the nearby villages—so I can preach there also. That is why I have come’” (verses 35-38).
When Jesus heard that people were looking for Him, He didn’t go back to meet their every need. He actually went somewhere else. That was Jesus saying “no” to the many requests of other people and sticking to His one request from God.
Jesus constantly communed with His Father and I believe that’s why He didn’t do all that was expected of Him by other people. Instead, He did only what God had led Him to do. Nothing more. Nothing less. That meant having to say “no.”
Because Jesus was clear on God’s instructions in His life, He was able to say to His Father before He went to the cross: “I have glorified You on the earth. I have finished the work which You have given Me to do” (John 17:4, NKJV, emphasis added).
That should be our goal as God pleasers, not people pleasers. But if we are overscheduled from not being able to say “no” we will instead have to say something like, “Sorry, God. I was so busy doing all the things everybody else asked me to do that I failed to see the few important things You really wanted me to do.” Learn to say “no” so you can say “yes” when it really matters.
- You don’t want to see people suffer. While this trait can appear virtuous, it can also be the sign of a full-fledged people pleaser. Simply because something happens in your sphere of influence, doesn’t mean you are the one who is supposed to step in and fix it. Just because you are made aware of a situation doesn’t mean God is assigning it to you. And just because someone asks for your help doesn’t mean God is asking for it. When you discover someone is in need, stop, seek God’s guidance, and then stay out of it if God doesn’t give you a clear indication to step into it.
When we fail to heed that instruction we can unknowingly interfere when God wants to do a special work in another person’s life.
Now, I’m not talking about refusing to help someone when it’s within your means to do so. I’m talking about the God-complex we tend to get when we believe we must rush in, ease the pain, and find a solution for someone when perhaps God led that person to a point of helplessness so he or she would find a saving knowledge of or deeper reliance on Him.
- You fear people more than you fear God. I think this one is the hardest to swallow. And I’ve found myself there many times. Are you afraid of disappointing another person more than you fear disappointing God? Do you crave another person’s positive reviews over God’s.
In his book When People are Big and God is Small, Edward T. Welch says:
The desire for the “praise of men” is one of the ways we exalt people above God…. Fear of man (and what he thinks of us) is such a part of our human fabric that we should check for a pulse if someone denies it.
As I was writing my book, Drama Free, it occurred to me that we, as women, create and experience drama because we fear people and not God. We care so deeply what others think of us rather than caring more about God’s opinion.
The Bible tells us “The fear of the Lord [not people] is the beginning of wisdom….” (Psalm 111:10, NASB). Fearing God – and His evaluation of our lives – gives us the wisdom to prioritize our time, squelch our need for approval, and stick to our God-given mission: to glorify God.
If you find you are a people pleaser, you can easily become a recovering pleaser like myself. The first step is to fear disappointing God over anyone else. Second, prioritize the people in your life and choose whom you will disappoint; and third, run your rescue attempts by God first, before you respond.
Being a God pleaser is so much more productive than being a people pleaser. And it’s a gift you can give your family in this new year.
Cindi McMenamin is a national speaker and author of more than a dozen books, including When Women Walk Alone (more than 120,000 copies sold), When a Woman Inspires Her Husband, and her most recent, Drama Free: Finding Peace When Emotions Overwhelm You. Cindi and her husband, Hugh, a pastor, have co-authored When Couples Walk Together: 31 Days to a Closer Connection, upon which this article is based. To pre-order Cindi’s newest book, 12 Ways to Experience More With Your Husband, or for free articles to strengthen your soul, marriage or parenting, see her website: StrengthForTheSoul.com.