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Pride and people-pleasing

First slide

I am a people-pleaser. Well, actually, no. I am a recovering people-pleaser, but this is a new development. All my life, I’ve wanted to avoid conflict and manage circumstances so that the people I care about will be happy. Truthfully, I didn’t just want them to be happy; I wanted them to be happy with me. 

Recently, I discovered that as much as it looks like a people-pleaser is someone working to the other’s best interest, she’s also manipulative. Admittedly, this truth bomb kind of exploded in my sense of self. People-pleasing is actually a sin. It’s not honest. And it does a disservice to the pleaser and the people she’s trying so hard to please. 

When we try to please people in order to avoid conflict or gain approval (or both), we misrepresent the truth. We change our words, our actions, our demeanor in order to manipulate the outcome. We withhold information or whitewash the negative in order to influence a response, thereby allowing someone to make a decision based on our omissions. 

Frequently, the omission in question is the fullness of our own emotions. We allow people to respond and relate based on a false presentation of ourselves, controlled entirely by ourselves. And then we wonder at the breakdown when the relationship fails. 

There’s something empty there that we think can be filled by the approval of man. The emptiness is often created by trauma and fed by hypervigilance. This habit of relating to people in ways that avoid conflict and enhance affirmation keeps us from being authentically who we were created to be and substitutes a dishonest mirage instead. The emptiness grows because it cannot be filled by affirmation dishonestly won.

It can only be filled by God. 

When I see it that way, people-pleasing — the quest for acceptance, approval and “peace” at any cost — is rooted in pride. Recognizing the role pride plays in the habit of people-pleasing is the first step toward correcting the pattern of behavior. When we see pride at the root, we can accurately call it a sin. If it’s a sin, then it isn’t virtuous peacemaking; it’s inauthentic manipulation. That perception makes us much more inclined to change the way we relate, doesn’t it? 

Instead of submitting myself to the judgement rendered by the opinion of other people, I remind myself that I am created in the image of God and called to reflect his glory with integrity. God doesn’t hide or change himself in order to be liked or to avoid conflicts. And God alone is my judge. As St. Paul said, “But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me” (1 Cor 4:3-4).

It is only God who judges me, and only God whose opinion matters, all day, every day. More important than the opinions of other people is growing into who God created me to be, in its fullness and without reservation. If I focus on honest authenticity — with kindness and respect — I take my effort away from trying to control how other people perceive and value me. The energy previously expended on manipulation is now available for loving others with authentic intimacy and integrity. There is freedom in being authentically who I was created to be, and that freedom leaves me more available to genuinely love without mirage or manipulation.

Seems like a win-win situation. 

Foss, whose website is takeupandread.org, writes from Connecticut. 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021

@elizabethfoss