Confessions of a People-Pleaser

Jonathon M. Seidl

May 11, 2023 | 3 minute read

I have a confession to make: I’m a people-pleaser. 

I’m aware of it, so I guess you could say I’m a “recovering people-pleaser” but that recovery is ongoing. I’ve learned that breaking free from what others think of you is tough.

I think a lot of you can probably relate. You identify with the constant pursuit of approval, acceptance and validation from others. We people-pleasers are constantly molding ourselves to fit the expectations of the people around us, only to feel empty and unfulfilled at the end of the day. It’s a draining and demoralizing cycle.

And I think there are more of “us” out there than we realize. How do I know? Well, I recently watched the new I Am Second film featuring female Rapper Wande. Her words at the very beginning hit me right between the eyes. She explained how, as a teenager, she was constantly chasing validation from others.

“I was definitely a very insecure teenager, very timid, very non-confident. I found myself feeling very empty, always trying to people-please,” she says. “‘Oh is this what y’all think is cool?’ Okay, cool. I’m gonna dress like this. And just chasing and chasing and chasing.”

Sound familiar? The pressure to conform, to dress or act a certain way, to say what we need to fit in. I can’t tell you how often I’ve found myself in a group of people saying something that, even at the moment, I’m left asking, “What are you doing? Who are you?”

So here’s the question: Why doesn’t people-pleasing actually fulfill us? Here’s what I’ve realized: It’s because the momentary validation we look for from others is fleeting and conditional. Humans are, well, human. Even the most “perfect” person can’t give us the true, unwavering love and acceptance we crave. 

That’s because the deep, rich acceptance we’re looking for can only be found in one person: God. He is the perfect example of love and the only one who can give it to us completely. He is the perfect picture of fulfillment. He is the author of our identity. And that’s what Wande realized. 

“You feel like you’re always just trying to chase more and do more to attain the feeling like you belong,” she says. “This love that I was chasing in people and in friends and in validation from other people, God had it all along.”

Friends, people-pleasing is tiring. I know that from experience. You do, too, right? It takes a lot out of us. That’s because we’re chasing what we were never meant to chase from people who were never meant to give it to us. It’s like running a race that has no finish line. 

What’s the remedy? It’s found in what Wande talks about. It’s found in recognizing and resting in who created us. See, God is the one source of unconditional love and acceptance that will never disappoint us. That type of validation can’t be found in family, friends or even (dare I say) “fur babies.” 

Because of that, we need to spend time cultivating our relationship with Jesus. We need to bring him our insecurities, our needs, our wants, our desires. We need to meditate on who he says we are. And we need to set healthy boundaries with others. 

Yes, set boundaries. I’ve noticed that in my own life, when I don’t set healthy boundaries with others, I’m left chasing after what they think. Of course, that doesn’t mean I’m necessarily telling them that. It’s really more of an internal boundary setting than anything. It’s me telling myself, “Hey, this relationship can never fully satisfy you. So don’t treat it that way!” 

Practically, that looks like not doing whatever someone asks of me just because I’m worried about what they think or that I might let them down – especially when those requests aren’t the most healthy. For you, that may mean not going out when you know you’re tired and need rest. It might mean not saying “yes” to that ask you know isn’t really life-giving. And yes, it might mean walking away from unhealthy relationships. 

Establishing those boundaries can be difficult, especially for those of us who have spent years striving to please others. But when we do, we take an essential step toward living a more authentic, fulfilling life. 

Side note: As you start (or continue on) this journey of abandoning people-pleasing, remember to be patient with yourself. Please? This is a process, and it’s going to take time. But you don’t do yourself any favors by beating yourself up for a “relapse.” 

Finally, as you go about it, remember that it’s not enough just to run away from (or stop) people-pleasing. The key is to run toward Jesus. Toward his love and acceptance. Toward what all love and acceptance is based on and points to. 

That’s where you’ll find what you are actually looking for. And it won’t let you down. He won’t let you down. 

Jonathon M. Seidl

Jonathon M. Seidl

Jonathon M. (Jon) Seidl is a writer, speaker, and digital media strategist. He’s the author of the #1 bestseller, Finding Rest: A Survivor’s Guide to Navigating the Valleys of Anxiety, Faith, and Life.

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