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Six Symptoms of the “Disease to Please”


I recently heard someone say that people-pleasing is not actually about pleasing people; it’s about pleasing yourself by doing or saying things that will get you the kind of response you need from people to make you feel okay.

I quite agree. So how do you know if you’re a “pleaser”? Here are what I believe to be six symptoms of the “disease to please:”

1. Undue apologies. Pleasers are always apologizing unnecessarily. For example:

“I am sorry I missed church (or the book club meeting or mothers’ group).”

“I am sorry I didn’t answer your message right away (the minute or hour or day you sent it).”

“I am sorry I couldn’t answer the phone when you called.”

“I am sorry I couldn’t bake for the bake sale this Saturday.”

"I am sorry for _______________ (insert the last thing you said "I'm sorry" for and then ask yourself why that was necessary, and if you actually did anything wrong.)

In each of those cases, it is both unnecessary and inappropriate to apologize for living life and having priorities or unforeseen circumstances. Replace “I’m sorry” with non self-blaming phrases like, “I’d love to chat but I need to cook dinner.”

2. Undue explanations. Pleasers feel the need to explain everything, even when no one is asking for an explanation. Unnecessary explanations creep into everything from Ebay descriptions (“I’m selling this dress because I gained weight”) to daily living (“I can’t come to your jewelry party because I just need a night at home.”) The next time you're tempted to explain yourself, stop and put a "period" there instead: "I won't be able to make it tonight." Period. (Doesn't that feel better?)

3. Fear of offending. Pleasers are afraid of offending people any time they express their opinions, no matter how gently and politely they express them (and pleasers tend to be gentle and polite. Caveat: just because someone is not afraid of offending does make him a pleaser. Rather, it could mean he is a generally offensive person).

4. Fear of disappointing. If number 3 has to do with words, this one has to do with deeds. (I believe pleasers can be broken into two main categories: those who please by “saying,” and those who please by “doing.”) Pleasers are afraid of letting others down by not doing, doing, doing to exhausting levels. This is turn leads to symptoms 1 and 2.

5. Inability to say “No.” See number 4. A pleaser cannot say “I’m sorry, I can’t” because she may disappoint. And because people-pleasing is so utterly self-centered, not others-centered, the pleaser cannot live with the fact that someone is disappointed and is therefore disapproving of the pleaser. Bending over backward for someone is a guise for selfish grabbing of approval.

6. Paranoia. Because pleasers are so self-centered, they are often paranoid of being talked about. For instance, do you suspect this post might be about you? (It is not. It is about me, a recovering pleaser. See number 3.) If so, you might be a pleaser.

(I would love to know your honest thoughts! How does it land in your mind to read about pleasing being associated with self-centeredness? Is that hard to swallow?

Keep in mind this post deals with the symptoms of pleasing, not the root cause. I believe the root cause of all our mental/emotional ills is a broken relationship with God (that those who call themselves Christians are in the process of repairing and strengthening). Hence, "self-centeredness" would be a symptom of that broken relationship. So would any shame heaped upon ourselves at the revelation that we could have this problem (weird how shame and self-centeredness can be used in the same paragraph this way! Remember those fig leaves? Were they ashamed? Were they suddenly centered on covering themselves?)

Note "self-centeredness," to me, is not the same as narcissism or egotism. Rather, it's something common to the "nicest" among us; we take ourselves too seriously, and God's love for us not seriously enough. As a result, we deceive ourselves into believing we are more "others-centered" than we actually are. We do nice things for people while constantly over-thinking, second guessing, self-flogging... you get the idea.

Ah yes, God's love. It's the lack thereof that drives the pleasing. And it's the only thing that can heal the wounds we seek to cover by such means.)

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