Over the years, I have taken several psychological and personality tests. They can be very helpful in gaining a better understanding of myself. One of the things that came out strongly in these tests is that I am a people pleaser. I want to be liked by everybody, so I tend to do what I think will please them. There are several major problems with that approach to life. First, I cannot please everyone. In my efforts to do what one person wants from me, I find myself disappointing someone else. Second, trying to be what everyone else wants me to be leads to a loss of my own, unique identity. I can become a human chameleon, and in the process forget who I really am. Third, always trying to please others leaves me with a duffle bag full of unrealistic guilt. Every time I disappoint someone, I add to the weight of the duffle bag.
There are at least three approaches to dealing with the fear of not being liked. Two of them are unhealthy and one is the healthy way to respond. We can just give in to the fear and allow other people to set the parameters of our life. This is unhealthy for the reasons I mentioned above. If we take this approach, we will become more and more drained, discouraged and guilty. We can choose to swing the pendulum all the way to the other side and just ignore what other people want from us. This approach results in a calloused and hard heart that is very self-centered and self-serving. The healthy approach is to truly discover who we are, and then humbly serve others within those boundaries. Instead of letting others define us, we need to listen to God, and strive to become the person He created us to be. When we are secure in Christ’s love and acceptance, then we are not so easily swayed by needing to be accepted by others.
If we are going to grow as a person in a healthy way, we need to first understand who we are as a unique individual. My tendency is to have a low view of myself. For others, their tendency is to have an inflated view of themselves. What we all need to strive for is a realistic view of our selves. What are my strengths? What are my weakness? What are my limits? What are my boundaries in life? Paul challenges us to take a good look in the mirror and see ourselves as we really are. For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you. Romans 12:3
If we are going to grow as a person in a healthy way, we need a clear understanding of who we are in Christ. What drives a people pleaser is insecurity; a need to constantly be affirmed by others. The antidote to that insecurity is fully embracing our relationship with Jesus. When we put our faith in Christ some pretty amazing things happen to us. We are redeemed, forgiven and justified. We are no longer on the wrong side of God. Instead, as the Bible tells us, we have passed from death to life. But that is not the end of the story. We are also included in God’s family and commissioned for God’s service. We are fully accepted, loved and appreciated. Because of God’s great love for us in Christ, we can love others unconditionally. As Paul says, nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. John summarized it well in 1 John 3:1a. How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!
If we are going to grow as a person in a healthy way, we need to live within the limits and boundaries that God has placed in our life. We cannot be all things to all people. We cannot do everything that we are asked to do. On the other hand, we can humbly serve others within the boundaries of our gifts, talents and abilities. When we serve others out of gratitude for Christ, we think more about pleasing Him than pleasing others. Living a healthy life involves saying no to far more things than we say yes to. We should be willing to say yes often, but always keep in mind that there are limits on our time, energy and abilities. When Paul told us to bear one another’s burdens, he did it in the context of having a healthy understanding of ourselves. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. If anyone thinks he is something when he is nothing, he deceives himself. Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load. Galatians 6:2-5
When Jesus walked the dusty paths of Palestine, He did not meet every need. He did not heal every sick person. He did not conform to the expectations of others. In fact, He refused to give in to the pressure to be what others wanted Him to be. Instead, He understood who He was in relationship to the Father. He knew clearly what His mission was and what it would take to accomplish it. At the end of His life He was able to say, Father I did everything that you commanded me to do.
When my wife and I go to the grocery store, we usually have a list of items that we need to purchase. As we walk up and down the aisles, other items catch my attention. Periodically I will slip an extra item or two, or three, into the cart. When we get to the checkout, my with will jokingly say, where did this come from.
In life, I have a role to play; a life list, so to speak. I am a husband, a father and a pastor. I have certain responsibilities that are on my life list; things I need to accomplish to fulfill my purpose and calling. Along the way, other people try to slip extra items into my cart. Sometimes these items are small and don’t make a big difference. But, if I allow enough items to be added to my cart, soon I am over-burdened with trying to please others, rather than being true to who I am.
I will probably always struggle with the fear of not being liked. But the more secure I become in my relationship with Jesus, the less I am swayed by the expectations of others. I serve one master, and his name is Jesus. His plan and purpose for my life is my top priority. Everything else is secondary.