I wasn't a big of a fan of high school, primarily because of the pressure to fit in. While part of me didn't want to care what other kids thought, secretly inside, I really did care. It's this tyranny of approval that can haunt people for years. Young children only care about pleasing themselves, and maybe their parents as well. As they grow older, kids become more socially conscious especially when they hit adolescence.
People-pleasing is unrealistic.
The desire to be liked can become an obsession. Eventually, many grow out of it—others don't. The fantasy of being liked and approved by everyone is not realistic. Disappointing others is unavoidable at times. You will always fail someone—even when it's unintentional. What drives the desire to be liked? People-pleasing can result from a lot of things. Many times it can be attributed to:
- Lack of self-esteem.
- Fear of failure.
- No sense of personal identity.
- Fear of rejection.
The Apostle Paul took an unpopular stand.
In the Book of Galatians, Paul dealt with social pressure when he was writing to the church at Galatia. There were leaders slipping into the congregation who were teaching others that they weren't true believers unless they held strictly to old laws and traditions. This angered Paul who clearly taught that salvation came by grace alone. He was stern in his response to the Galatian church and knew his reputation was at stake. He set aside his desire to be liked and took a stand for Christ. He didn't care if he came off brunt. He was concerned that people were being deceived. He writes:
"Am I now trying to win the approval of men, or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ." (Galatians 1:10)
Paul goes on to mention that he even had to confront Peter, the head leader of the early church, because he too was being swayed. Sometimes you have to displease others in order to please God. Jesus Himself was not always a popular figure. The very crowds that welcomed him with palm branches were the same throng that were calling for his crucifixion only days later.
Seek integrity over popularity.
It takes strength to remain true to yourself. This is what we call integrity. How can someone overcome people-pleasing? It takes time and maturity. Some things to keep in mind:
- It's impossible to say 'yes' to everyone. Remember that saying 'yes' means that you are saying 'no' to a thousand other things.
- Work on your self-image. Many people-pleasers struggle with having a sense of identity or sense of significance.
- Expect that you will eventually disappoint others. You can offer condolences, but it's up to the other person to own their feelings and reaction.
- Find friends who really respect you. A true friend will honor boundaries and love you for who you really are.
For more on improving self-image, see my other article: Is Self-Esteem Biblical?
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