Struggling to say no? This advice to people-pleasers helps you overcome approval-seeking and serve God joyfully by aligning with His will.
Is it hard for you to say No, even when you really want to? Do you put what other people want and need ahead of your own desires and even your own well-being?
Maybe you want to love God and love the people He brings into your life by being kind and helping them out, but you have trouble setting boundaries, and you find yourself overextended and struggling to find less time for yourself as you put everything into doing for others.
If you find this to be true, you are probably a people-pleaser.
What is a people-pleaser, exactly?
A people-pleaser is someone who prioritizes other people’s needs and wants, putting the happiness of the other person ahead of their own happiness. It can also take the form of wanting to avoid conflict at all costs, so you agree to things you might not really want to be involved in so that you can avoid someone being upset or angry with you.
Such behavior is often done with good intentions and out of motives to serve and be kind, but it can eventually become a problem for the person who continually puts others first to their own detriment.
Cristel Owoo writes about this in an article about the root causes of people-pleasing, saying, “Constantly putting others first can lead to feelings of resentment, burnout, and a loss of self-identity.”
She also shares that “there’s a difference between being considerate to others and people pleasing. Being a kind and caring person is a positive trait, but people pleasing takes things to an unhealthy extreme.”
If you struggle with people-pleasing, do not despair! There is hope for you as you learn to understand why you feel compelled to say yes and begin to set boundaries as you overcome the guilt that comes when you say no.
You can love people well and serve God while also taking care of your own needs.
This article covers people-pleasing behavior, where it comes from, and how it can affect you and your relationships with others. It also looks at people-pleasing tendencies and how to overcome them to establish healthy boundaries and strong relationships with God’s help.
If you are struggling to say no, then this advice to people-pleasers will help you overcome approval-seeking and serve God joyfully by aligning with His will.
Understanding People Pleasing Behavior
People-pleasing involves doing whatever is needed to make someone else happy. That’s not such a bad thing, is it?
Serving others is important and kind, and God wants us to love our neighbor well by being of service to them.
Your people-pleasing behavior may have its roots in a genuine desire to maintain harmony with others. But while such acts of kindness are often done with good intentions, your service to the needs of others can also be done for other reasons, such as wanting their approval or wanting to avoid conflict so you say yes when you really want to say no.
Remember, there is a difference between being kind and being nice.
Sharon Hodde Miller, author of Nice: Why We Love to Be Liked and How God Calls Us to More, points out that “niceness is often motivated by our self-interest. We help someone because we want their approval or validation. Kindness, on the other hand, is primarily about God and showing his love to others.”
Once you realize you have some people-pleasing habits, you may think you can just stop doing them. But it is not so easy to just stop!
People-pleasing is a complex behavior that can show up due to a number of underlying issues, and not everyone who is a people-pleaser does it for the same reasons.
The heart of the matter is that when you are a people-pleaser, you have a strong desire for acceptance and validation from others, and you want so much for everyone to be happy that you are willing to give up your own desires and freedoms to make certain others are happy and not angry with you.
It comes at a cost, however. Taken to an extreme, you might find yourself overextended as you take on other people’s work. You are vulnerable to exploitation by people who realize you will always say yes to them whenever they have a need.
It can also damage relationships, as you might find yourself doing all the giving while others are receiving the benefit of your service, and this leads to resentment.
Signs of Being a People-Pleaser
It might not always be obvious that you have people-pleasing tendencies. There are ways to recognize if you are trying to please people more than you should.
- You have trouble saying no to people. Whether it is to avoid conflict or to feel guilt about disappointing the other person, you agree to things even if you know you should not be doing so. Even when you try to set boundaries, you feel guilty.
- You don’t have time left in the day to do things for yourself because you are so occupied with serving others.
- You worry about what other people think of you; therefore, you do whatever you can to make sure they are happy with you.
- You are not confident or have low self-esteem, and so you hesitate to share your opinion and tend to agree with others in order to look good or avoid conflict.
- You feel responsible for other people’s feelings, so you try to make sure they remain happy, even though this is really out of your control.
- You hide your true feelings because you are afraid that expressing dissatisfaction, concerns, or unhappiness might upset the other person.
Unfortunately, the impact of people-pleasing is not just hard on yourself; it can also have a bad effect on your relationships with others.
Causes of People-Pleasing
What causes you to have people-pleasing behavior?
Sometimes the root causes are unhealthy behaviors experienced in childhood that have an effect as you grow into adulthood. Other causes come into play as we develop relationships with other adults and want to be known and loved as good people who are worthy of their trust and friendship.
Some of the root causes of people-pleasing include:
- Low self-esteem: you may struggle to be assertive, or you might feel that your needs and wants are not important. By putting others first, you may be trying to earn the validation you need but are unable to give to yourself.
- Fear of rejection: you may fear that saying no to people will cause them to reject you or abandon you. You go to great lengths to avoid conflict and try hard not to upset others, even if it means you are sacrificing things that make you happy.
- Desire for control: you may feel that, in order to be in control of a situation or a relationship, you need to make sure others are happy. By putting others first, you are avoiding conflict, and therefore you feel you have a better chance of knowing that things will turn out well for you.
- Need for approval: if you feel that you can only get approval or validation from outside yourself, then you will work hard to make sure other people are providing this approval. This leads to doing whatever you can to make them happy, so they, in turn, will make you happy.
- Lack of boundaries: when you take part in people-pleasing activities, you usually struggle with setting boundaries. You will find yourself saying yes to things you don’t want to do, and you might even end up being mistreated in some way, all for the sake of keeping the peace or maintaining a relationship.
- Expectations due to culture or family: If you have grown up in a family or a culture where pleasing others is valued, it becomes a habit for you to people-please.
- Learned behavior: similar to the expectations put on you by a culture that favors honoring others, you can learn people-pleasing behavior if, as a child, you were conditioned to put others’ needs first over your own to maintain harmony or gain love and acceptance.
Strategies to Overcome People-Pleasing
1. Acknowledging the Need for Change
Understand that it is possible to shift from people-pleasing behaviors. Consider how making decisions on your own terms can be more fulfilling than being influenced by others’ opinions.
2. Implementing Healthy Boundaries
Embrace the importance of setting boundaries for your emotional well-being. Boundaries aren’t about excluding others but about defining what you’re comfortable with and helping others recognize and respect your limits.
3. Learning to Say ‘No’
Learn that saying “No” is not rejection but a necessary form of protection. As Lysa Terkeurst says in her article about how to graciously say no, “… no is not a rejection. It’s a necessary protection of your best Yes answers”. Find ways to comfortably decline requests without overburdening yourself.
4. Prioritizing Spiritual and Moral Guidance
Reflect on the idea that spiritual wisdom is more significant than the approval of others. Take it to heart that the approval of others is less important than what God wants for you. “Discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you” (Proverbs 2:11).
5. Building Self-Esteem and Assertiveness
Develop confidence and assertiveness to avoid detrimental behaviors. By enhancing your ability to express your needs and opinions, you can safeguard your well-being.
6. Recognizing Your Intrinsic Value
Understand that your value is not contingent on others’ approval. Embracing the fact that you are loved and valued spiritually can strengthen your confidence in relationships.
7. Seeking Support When Needed
Acknowledge that making these changes can be challenging, and it’s okay to seek professional help. If you find it difficult to implement these strategies on your own, consider reaching out for support and professional guidance.
Implementing Change in Daily Life
There are a couple of practical tips for everyday situations that you can practice to help you be more assertive and put aside people-pleasing.
First of all, think carefully before saying yes to something. Taking the time to pray and consider the consequences of saying yes allows you the space you need to make a good decision and also opens you up to allowing God to help you say no if it is really something that could be detrimental in some way.
Secondly, it is important to prioritize self-care. If you are taking good care of yourself and making sure you have time to do the things that bring you joy, you will have the energy you need to be there when others need you to help them.
Most of all, don’t be afraid to share your true feelings with others. Many times, you may end up agreeing to something because you don’t want to rock the boat or be seen as disagreeable. But by sharing your true feelings on a matter, people come to understand you better and realize what your boundaries are.
As long as you are doing your best to balance your own needs with what other people expect of you, you will do well and avoid falling into the trap of people-pleasing.
Maintaining Healthy Relationships
In order to maintain healthy relationships with others, you need to make sure you are navigating those relationships on your own terms.
If you are giving in easily when people ask you to do something or not communicating your true feelings on a matter effectively, then the relationship is going to end up one-sided, with the other person in control and you reacting out of guilt or a feeling of being pressured and eventually feeling resentment.
Embrace Self-Discovery and Spiritual Growth
When seeking to change people-pleasing behavior, it is necessary to understand what people-pleasing is and to recognize the signs.
You should also understand that there are often reasons behind your people-pleasing behavior that might not be readily apparent. Unfortunately, people-pleasing can have negative effects on relationships, so it is important to put in place some strategies for overcoming your urge to please others.
Do remember that people-pleasing behavior is not necessarily a bad thing, as it often comes from good motives and can be a helpful and positive trait in certain situations. It is when it becomes a pattern of not taking care of yourself in order to put other people ahead of your own needs that it becomes detrimental.
If you can learn to rely on God to help you prioritize your own needs and desires by setting healthy boundaries and learning to be more assertive, you will be able to break the cycle and overcome approval-seeking so that you can serve God joyfully by aligning with His will for you.
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Margaret is a Faithful Finish Lines 2.0 member and Finisher who loves to read and write when she is not teaching. She lived overseas for a number of years and now resides in the Midwest where she serves the community by teaching English as a Second Language.