I had an “aha” moment when a mentor counselor said to me, “What psychology calls people-pleasing, God calls fear of man. Fearing man is basically the opposite of fearing God.” That statement shook my world because I wanted with all my heart to be a woman who feared God. I would readily admit, “Yes, I am a people pleaser,” and see little problem with it because it was “part of who I am,” but at that moment I suddenly felt conviction that couldn’t be reasoned away. As I began to see it not as acceptable but as sin, I began to realize how crippling my people-pleasing was to my life.
The first place I went was my Bible because I had to search out the truth of this “fear of man” issue. John 5:43-44: “For I have come to you in my Father’s name, and you have rejected me. Yet if others come in their own name, you gladly welcome them. No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.” And God punched me in the gut.
How often had I cared about the opinions of someone else before really considering what God’s opinion was? How often had I craved their approval and praise instead of His? And did that mean I was to some degree guilty of rejecting Him?
Fear of man. What does that really mean?
Fear of God carries a double meaning- it’s a reverence or awe of Him, respect for Him, or, it can be a fear of his judgment. Think about that in light of people. At our core, we are all looking to be loved and accepted. We don’t want to be embarrassed because others might remember that embarrassment and lose respect for us. Because we want love, we fear being rejected, disliked- losing love or approval. We fear being isolated, alienated, alone. From a parent or employer, we may fear discipline, because we associate that discipline with disapproval- we are afraid of their judgment.
These fears lead to all manner of actions. A child pushes themselves to be the best hoping to win the approval of their parents. A woman gets herself into a bad relationship because she’s blinded by the affection, gifts, and compliments Mr. Wrong gives her, or the status or security of simply being “in a relationship” rather than “single.” A man goes to a job interview and says all the right things to impress, rather than being honest about who he is, and ends up stressed because he can’t deliver on what he promised and has to pretend to be someone he’s not.
We measure our worth in Facebook likes, friends, or shares. We measure our value by how fast someone responds to our text. We spend money we don’t have to buy nicer clothes, vehicles, or homes, for the salon manicure or highlights, or an outing or vacation that may unrealistic for our budget because we are embarrassed for people to think we may not have as much money as they do. We inflate our job titles to make them sound more respectable.
If we want to get to the root of our fear of man, sometimes we truly do have to look back to our childhood. Often there was someone whose approval or respect we may not have gotten to the degree that we needed it. Many felt they never measured up to their parent’s expectations, didn’t feel secure in their love, or wanted more of their attention or affection, so today we are re-enacting those scenarios with others in our life to try to fill that same old void. Think back to who that person or people was for you… and forgive them. Grieve that loss if you haven’t yet and need to, but then forgive their weaknesses and the pain they caused you.
Next, ask yourself what ways you act out people-pleasing– Identifying it can help you begin to overcome it. I used to justify to myself that if someone didn’t like me it was going to ruin my witness. I even had a scripture I twisted in my head to justify it- “as far as it concerns you, live at peace with everyone.” I promise you Paul did not mean to PLEASE everyone- HE certainly didn’t.
Ed Welch, in “When People are Big and God is Small,” said:
“People pleasers can mistake ‘niceness’ for love. When they do, they will be prone to being manipulated by others and burnout is soon to follow… ‘Yes,’ ‘being nice,’ and ‘self-sacrifice’ are not necessarily the same as love. They can be ways that we establish our own personal meaning and identity more than creative expressions of loving others.”
In Galatians 1:10 he said “Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” That’s our motive filter- am I really trying to please God, or am I trying to please a person? If my motive is right and they do like me, praise me, or admire me, that’s a blessing, and I can, as Paul said, boast in the Lord. But if they don’t, there may not be anything I can do about that, and I have to be okay with that.
What’s the worst that can happen if that person doesn’t like you?
Maybe you have to let go of a relationship, but what if that relationship wasn’t God’s will for you, and he has a better one in mind? What’s the worst that can happen if you mess up? We all do. As hard as it is, we have to learn to admit it, laugh at our failures, learn from them, and move on. I used to be the girl who couldn’t leave the house without makeup or allow anyone in my front door unless the house was immaculate. Now I know the worst that can happen is they know I’m a real person, and it’s not made people think worse of me- it’s made my relationships richer.
Most importantly, find out WHO YOU ARE.
Read Scriptures that define who GOD says you are, not who people have said you are. What gifts has He given you? What calling? What people has he put in your life? What season has He placed you in? If we don’t know who we are, we’ll look to others to show us who we are. What a mess we make when we try to define ourselves in light of what others think of us. God has made us to reflect HIS image, not that of others, and that’s an identity that is totally and completely secure.