Know Your Worth (No. 6): The Problem With People-Pleasing

This article is part of The Melanin Series’ “Know Your Worth” short-read miniseries. This series addresses the varying elements of knowing one’s value and self-worth.


Throughout the “Know Your Worth” series, we’ve been looking at habits, values, and traits that are vital to one’s personal growth. We’ve encouraged behaviours that are universally viewed as being healthy; however, we want to stir the pot and talk about something that could be viewed as controversial.

Source: Fr. Anthony Messeh

If you’ve read some of our other work from The Melanin Series, you will see that we’ve have spoken about perfectionism. Personally, my precarious desire for perfectionism has given way to people-pleasing tendencies, which I am breaking free from. Some people believe that people-pleasing is a good thing because you spread happiness and show that you have a caring nature; however, I have to disagree. People-pleasing creates an unhealthy relationship between the one doing the people-pleasing and for the one being pleased. In addition to the development of toxicity and codependency, people-pleasing is sinful. For today’s Know Your Worth, we want to help you to either break free from your people-pleasing habits and/or change your perception of people-pleasing.

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What exactly is a people-pleaser?

The Merriam Webster dictionary defines a people-pleaser as:

“a person who has an emotional need to please others often at the expense of his or her own needs or desires.”

Merriam-Webster

People-pleasers prioritize the well-being and happiness of others before their own. They often engage in patterns of behaviour that aim to fulfill others, rather than engage in behaviour that addresses their needs. Many people-pleasers will deny their people-pleasing behaviour. Rather, they view themselves as being purposeful, helpful, or simply caring.

How can you identify a people-pleaser?

Source: Productive Club

People are heterogeneous. Even if they have similar characteristics, the way that they are displayed is very different; however, spotting a people-pleasure can be relatively simple because they have a desire to spot individual’s needs and then change their behaviour to match their needs. The common characteristics of a people pleaser are:

  • Agreeableness: they often display a polite or affirming behaviour at all times, even if they disagree or are upset.
  • Extreme acts of service: they go out of their way to aid others, even if they reach or go past the point of being worn out.
  • Deaf to self: they neglect to serve themselves. This can result in a loss of self-identity. They fail to understand who they are, what they value, or what they want. Without serving others, these people may feel purposeless.
  • Conflict avoidance: they will do whatever it takes to maintain peace, including engaging in self-deprecating attitudes, blaming themselves even if they are faultless, and going along with dangerous or harmful behaviours.
  • Low self-esteem: We dive into exactly what self-esteem is and how it differs from self-worth, here.
  • Relentless effort: they are never settled. They are always looking for more people to please or projects to feel a sense of purpose and value.
  • Confused boundaries: they engage in behaviour without limits to continue to satisfy their need for pleasing others. This behaviour could include an over-investment into someone else’s life, taking the blame for things they did not do, or having a blurry sense of ethics and human decency.
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Why is people-pleasing a bad thing?

I am sure that we have all been told at some point in our lives that we should always be kind to others. Kindness is embedded in our societal standards. We are told not to be rude, to always help others, and always display respect even to those who do not give it to us. These things are not bad. Kindness, respect and love are important to have and we should encourage these qualities; however, we should not do it at the expense of our well-being. This is how we fall into a people-pleasing mode.

One of the easiest examples to explain why people-pleasing is dangerous is the example of taking on more work when you already have a full schedule. If you are booked from dusk to dawn, why would you take on additional projects or responsibilities? This only harms yourself because you are overloading your schedule, and probably your brain as well. You are limiting the time you need to decompress, which can impede the quality of your work. Besides, if your schedule is packed to the brim, and you are unable to get the additional tasks done, then you are viewed as being unreliable. You probably would not have disappointed as many people by saying “no,” then you would if you were unable to complete the project.

People-pleasing at the expense of yourself and your responsibilities is bad. It can impede our self-esteem, create unrealistic images of ourselves, create irritation for others who depend on us and affect several other aspects of our lives and relationships with others. Neglecting your priorities, including yourself, tells your mind and body that you are of no worth or value. As we have discussed throughout our Know Your Worth series, anything that depreciates your self-worth is not worth it. God has created you with purpose and intent; things that diminish your worth diminish His plan, and His plan is perfect. Why would you want to take away from His perfection?

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Yes, some forms of people-pleasing are sinful.

The drive that many of us have to please people is a form of pride that comes from the flesh. The drive to seek attention, become likeable, obtain a promotion, receive wealth or power and many other earthly pleasures come from the flesh. These come from the flesh because they aim to feed our desires. If it is from the flesh, then it is not of God. If it is not of God, then it is not worth wasting our time over.

Source: 4Given Ministry

When we make pleasing others a priority at the expense of ourselves and of God or His will, we make our peers more important than God. Anything that we make more important than God becomes an idol. The Bible explicitly says that we should not have idols before God.

But, doesn’t the Bible say that we should serve others without limits? That we should be generous without wanting?

Yes, the Bible does say to do these things. Even Jesus himself practiced servitude. God views others who willfully serve with high regard and righteousness; however, God also says that we have to exercise wisdom when we make decisions.

  • First of all, God does not want us to serve without limits. For example, He does not want us to give all the money we have to someone in need if we have to pay our bills or buy groceries to last until our next paycheque. God wants us to be generous; however, he wants us to be wise in our giving and servitude.
  • Secondly, we must question the reason behind our giving. Are we helping our neighbours because we want to show them God’s unfailing love through our actions, or are we hoping to get something out of it? If it is the former, then God encourages this behaviour. If it is the latter, God does not recognize this as selfless giving.
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How do we stop giving in to these people-pleasing desires?

We’ve constructed 3 tips to help you to amend your people-pleasing habits.

1. Be honest with yourself.

This tip comes from personal experience. For so long, I denied that I even had people-pleasing habits or that I was generally submissive to the needs of others before my own. Change only began to happen when I was honest with myself and I had the desire to make a change. When I became honest enough with myself, I realized that my people-pleasing habits were taking a toll on my health. At that point, I had to ask myself questions like “why do you feel the desire to please others?” and “why do you neglect yourself and your health?” When you become honest with yourself, you can identify and target the root of your habits.

2. Seek God before making decisions.

As previously mentioned, helping and serving others is a good thing. God wants us to do so as much as we possibly can. This only turns to a bad habit when we make serving others about ourselves and leave God out of the equation. We can avoid this by seeking God first. We should seek God every day through prayer and reading the Bible. Doing so gives us an understanding of how we are to act in given situations. With His understanding and spirit in our hearts, we can make decisions with wisdom, and enhance His presence in our lives. This is truly how we can live our best lives.

3. Prioritize your health and growth first.

Many people give so much of themselves away when they aim to please others first. They place the value of themselves in the hands of others, which does not leave much in your or God’s hands. Now is the time to prioritize your health and safety. When you begin to acknowledge your worth first, through being honest and seeking God, you begin to want to prioritize yourself. Saying “no” is a great way to start making your growth and health a priority in your life.

What are your thoughts?

Comment and share your thoughts below. We want to hear from you!

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