The Problem With People Pleasing

with Lou Priolo | April 28, 2008

Are you driven by the need for people to always like you? Today on the broadcast, Lou Priolo, director of the Center for Biblical Counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, explains to Dennis Rainey why being a people pleaser can become a real problem when our desire to please others overrules our desire to please God.

Are you driven by the need for people to always like you? Today on the broadcast, Lou Priolo, director of the Center for Biblical Counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama, explains to Dennis Rainey why being a people pleaser can become a real problem when our desire to please others overrules our desire to please God.

The Problem With People Pleasing

With Lou Priolo
|
April 28, 2008
| Download Transcript PDF

Bob: Jesus said that all of the Old Testament can be summed up in this – we are to love God and to love our neighbor.  Is it possible that in trying to love our neighbor, we can stumble into becoming a people-pleaser?  Here is author and counselor, Lou Priolo.

Lou: I think pretty much all of us, in one context or another, will struggle to please people more than pleasing God, and this thing that drives your desire for approval is pride, and one of these days, perhaps regularly, it's going to come out, people are going to see it, and you're going to end up sabotaging yourself.  It's going to end up causing you actually to fall into disesteem with your friends as they are ultimately repulsed by the pride that they see.

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, April 28th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  How can you tell if you're simply being loving or kind or if you're actually fearing people and trying to be a people-pleaser.  We'll talk about that today -- stay tuned.

And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  You know, I have kind of a reputation around here as a …

Dennis: Yes, you do.  You have quite a reputation.  Would you like me to comment on that?

Bob: Well, yeah, I was going to say it's a reputation as a "yes" man, don't you think?  As somebody …

Dennis: Oh, sure.

Bob: You don't think of me as kind of a compliant yes man?

Dennis: Are you talking about Bob Lepine?

[Bob laughs]

Did you have a personality transplant?

Bob: I guess that's probably not …

Dennis: Compliance would be a word in the top 100 I would use to describe you.  Let's call your mother, let's call your mother on the phone.

Bob: No, let's not.  I'm in enough trouble with her as it is, okay?

Dennis: Your compliance has gotten you in trouble with her, is that it?

Bob: Yeah, I'm afraid so.

Dennis: Well, we're talking about those who are compliant today even though Bob's not one of them.  We're talking about people-pleasers, and we have the author with us of "Pleasing People."  Lou Priolo joins us again on FamilyLife Today, and a lot of our listeners remember Lou from a few years back when we did a series around anger and a biblical approach to how you get control of your temper, and so it's fun to have you back on the broadcast, Lou, welcome back.

Lou: Thank you, Dennis, it is a joy to be here.

Dennis: Would you describe Bob as compliant?

Lou: No.

Dennis: Thank you, Lou.

Bob: All right.

Dennis: Lou is a counselor, his judgment is flawless, he is also an author, a speaker, and a counselor, as I mentioned.  In fact, he is the director of the Center for Biblical Counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, Alabama.  Did I say Montgomery right?

Lou: Close enough.

Dennis: Close enough?

Lou: Mont-gomery.

Dennis: Mont-gomery?

Bob: You left off the "t," right, intentional?

Dennis: Well, I did, I thought that's the way you said it down there.

Bob: "Mungummery."

Dennis: "Mungummery"

Bob: "Mungummery," isn't that how it is?

Dennis: He's from New York.

Bob: Yeah, he's not going to get into this with us.

Dennis: He's not going to get into that.  Lou, first of all, give us a working definition of a people-pleaser, and then let's talk about how you would diagnosis a person as to whether they are a people-pleaser or not?

Lou: Well, basically, a people-pleaser is someone who loves the approval of man more than, rather than, the approval of God.  There is actually a term that's used twice in the New Testament.  It's translated, "men pleasers" in many of the English Bibles, but it has to do with someone who gives eye service; someone who is more concerned about impressing and pleasing people than God; someone who is more concerned about man's disapproval than about God's approval or God's displeasure with him.

Dennis: Of the population, Lou.  Now, I know all of us – yeah, you're rolling your eyes at me like this.

Lou: I have no idea.  If you're asking me for statistics, I don't know.  Go ahead.

Dennis: I want to have you estimate, of the general population, what percent would you say really struggle with this issue of being a people-pleaser?  Now, again, I think all of us have the seeds of this in different relationships and for different reasons.  But, generally speaking, if you had to just reflect back on your counseling practice, you've counseled literally thousands of people.  What percent would you say?

Lou: Well, I used myself for an example, I mean, I'm someone who I would have thought would have been one of the last people to have a problem with people-pleasing, but as I studied the material in this book and preparing for it, and as I just evaluated my own life, I had to agree that I had a lot more of a problem with being a people-pleaser than I realized.

I think pretty much all of us in one context or another will struggle to please people more than pleasing God, and so this is probably the first book I have ever written that every Christian probably needs to read, because it's something, in various degrees, that we all struggle with.

Now, yes, to try to give you an answer to your question, I'd say probably 50 or 60 percent of us struggle with it to a greater degree than we realize.

Dennis: As I look at our children, we had six children, and it wasn't 50 percent.  I'd say about one-third of our children – I would say, actually, seem to have a bent toward being very consumed or very caught up in being a people-pleaser.  I wish Barbara was here …

Bob: You said a third, two out of six?

Dennis: Two out of six, maybe a third, so it could have been 50 percent but I'm reflecting back on all of the …

Bob: They had the genetic code and the modeling around your house.

Dennis: That's the key, Bob.

Bob: That's what kept it down.

Dennis: Superior genetic structure.  I mean, I don't know what that looks like because, frankly, you know, I'm with you.  I would have not thought I would have struggled with this, as a man, but I think we all do have a tendency – and you call it "idolatry."  It really is putting something above God.  It's putting people's opinion and what they think above what God thinks.  And the passage you quoted, I just want to read it because it really is a good reminder, but it's speaking of the Pharisees in John, chapter 12, verse 43.  It says, "For they" – the Pharisees – "love the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God."

Lou: Exactly, well put.

Dennis: That's – well, it's the Scripture, it should be well put, shouldn't it?  But, seriously, that really is the issue.  It is putting something above what God thinks, and when we live for other people, whether it be our mother, our father, our brother, our sister, our spouse, a relationship, a friendship, that's the essence of what idolatry is all about.

Lou: With me, as I look back over my life, the individuals that I struggle to want to please inordinately were people in positions of authority.  There are usually one or two people in my life at any given point in time, where that – I was too concerned about pleasing.  Now, again, in the Bible, one of the exceptions to the rule, one of the places in the Bible where it says that we ought to be concerned about pleasing people is our parents and our authorities, but even that can go too far.

So I think there are so many situations in life where if we are not careful, we can fall into the fear of man and the inordinate desire of wanting to please people, and being afraid of their rejection, being afraid of being hurt by them.

Dennis: What about those dangers, Lou?  Because you list a number of them in your book of the dangers of being a people-pleaser, and I think these are really good.  I'd, frankly, like you to go through all of them just real quickly and explain them to our listeners because I think we don't understand the gravity of being a people-pleaser and where it may end up taking us; that it really is a dangerous place?

Lou: Well, the first one I mention in the book, Dennis, is that inordinate people-pleasing brings you into bondage by enslaving you to everyone whom you desire to please.  When you become a people-pleaser, when you are a people-pleaser, I should say, then you really become the slave of those you are trying to please, and the Bible says we should be a slave to no man.

Dennis: And in the classical sense of understanding a slave, what it means to be one, you lose your rights.  You lose your identity, and God doesn't call us to lose our personhood, our identity as He made us through pleasing others, right?  Is that correct?

Lou: I think that's accurate, yes.  In an informal sort of way you make yourself the slave of everyone whom you are wrongly trying to please.  Think about it.  You have as many masters when you are a people-pleaser as you have observers.  Every person you try to please above and beyond what is allowed by the Scripture becomes your captain and your conqueror.

Dennis: Hmm, so if I've got a bunch of people I'm trying to please, I'm going to be emotionally stressed and pressed by all these expectations of other people.

Lou: Yes, you could end up even giving away some of your authority and lots of things it could cost you.

Bob: You also talk about the problem of people having an excessive love of praise and that can be a spiritual danger, right?

Lou: Well, it can sort of sabotage you.  The excessive love of praise takes from you the honor that you so eagerly seek.  I mean, the very thing that we long for, these themes of others, will be subverted by our inordinate desire for man's approval.

I mean, think of the proudest person you know.

Bob: Okay, all right, I've got a picture.

Dennis: I've got one.

Lou: Why are you guys looking at each other?

[laughter]

Dennis: I did not – I didn't look at Bob, but he looked at me.

Bob: I was just checking to see if you'd already picked yours out.

Dennis: If I was still here, oh, okay.

Lou: Well, before I continue, let me just point out that the sin of being a people-pleaser is really rooted in pride, I mean, that's really what it is.  When you think of someone who is …

Bob: Now, wait, wait, wait, that seems counter-intuitive – that people-pleasing would be rooted in pride because I'm trying to please people, I'm humble to do this.

Lou: We started off this broadcast by talking about reputation.  You talk about your reputation. Really, what a people-pleaser is, is someone who is overly concerned about his reputation.  It's the elevation of his reputation that really drives this whole thing.

Bob: So you're saying that I want to defer to you so you'll think better of me, I'm really still thinking about me.

Lou: Yes, and you're thinking about your reputation, very often, and how you can exalt yourself and be esteemed more highly than you ought to be.

Dennis: And ultimately that's pride.

Lou: Yes.

Dennis: Okay.

Lou: All right, so where are we?  Okay, the proudest person you know, and you know how you think about that person, sort of get this horrible feeling in the pit of your stomach. It's, like, oh, it just kind of angers me that that person is so proud.

Well, it's sort of like Paul says in Romans 2, "You who judge do the same things."  You know that it's something in your life, and you know that you don't have the handle on it that you wish you had, and you see another person, and it just sort of reminds you of how you struggle yourself.

And so that's really what happens.  Ultimately, Jesus said that "A man's mouth really describes what's in his heart.  A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth that which is good.  An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth that which is evil.  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks."

So the point is, sooner or later, your pride is going to come out.  I mean, try as you will to keep people from seeing it, sooner or later, it's going to come out, and this thing that drives your desire for approval is pride, and one of these days, perhaps regularly, it's going to come out, people are going to see it, and you're going to end up sabotaging yourself, it's going to end up causing you actually to fall into disesteem with your friends as they are ultimately repulsed by the pride that they see.

You also believe that the preoccupation with pleasing others leads to being susceptible to flattery and some of the other things that it brings with it?

Lou: Yes, the inordinate desire for approval makes us susceptible to flattery and really renders us more vulnerable to the deception and manipulation of other people.  It's so of like having this handle on your back, and this is like, sort of, done unconsciously on your part and even on their part sometimes where they can grab that handle, and they can push you this way and pull you that way and over here and over there, and the solution is going to be to learn how to become a God-pleaser that learn how to fear God more than you fear men and by breaking that handle, you can become free of the influence of other people but flattery is one of the ways that a people-pleaser is most vulnerable to being manipulated by others.

Bob: So when somebody comes along and says, "This is something you're really good at, and we'd like you to be the chairman of the decoration committee because you're really good at decoration, you're saying that a people-pleaser is going to be less likely to say, "No, I really can't, I've got other priorities right now," because that flattery has softened them up?

Lou: Well, again, it has to do, Bob, with the ability to recognize when the flatterer is speaking accurately or when he is exaggerating your virtues and minimizing your flaws.  See, it's the exaggeration of your virtues and the minimizing of your flaws that a political is not going to pick up on as well as someone who doesn't.  A person who fears God is going to pretty much know, "Well, that's not exactly true."  And that's going to sort of jolt him into realizing that perhaps he's being manipulated or flattered or pushed this way or pulled that way and, in the final analysis, it will make it easier for him to say, you know, "I really would like to do that, but in light of all of these other responsibilities that God has put on my plate, I'm just not going to be able to do it right now.

Bob: I was one of those people in high school that had a hard time saying no when folks would come along and say, "Could you do this," Could you do this," "Could you do that," because it was feeding my ego and my pride, do you think?

Lou: Well, I didn't know you back then, but I can tell you this – inability to say no is definitely characteristic of a people-pleaser because, again, invariably, when you say yes to someone and say no to God, you are missing it.  So if by saying yes to this person, it means that you are going to miss your quiet time that day or not have time to spend with your family fulfilling some other responsibilities, then you chose, at that moment, to please man rather than to please God.

And, see, and that gets back to what the Lord said in the passage in John.  They loved the glory of man more than – it's not wrong for us to long to want or appreciate being approved of, I mean, to not have inside of us a part of us that longs to hear, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant," is not human.  I mean, there's a part of us that longs for this, there's a part of us that, up to a point, rightly longs to have that commendation.

Bob: And it's right to affirm.

Lou: That's right, otherwise to commend your children would be to tempt them to sin, but it's the point at which that desire to hear those things is inordinate, it's the point at which our desire for man's approval exceeds our desire for God's approval, and we're willing to say yes to man and, at the same time, say no to God that we know we've crossed over the line.

Dennis: I think there is a time every Sunday after the pastor has finished his sermon, when the pastor is extremely vulnerable, and whether he's a people-pleaser or not, if he doesn't have a couple of people who come up and just give him an "attaboy," I think it can be demoralizing to a faithful warrior of the Scriptures who is attempting to break the bread and feed the sheep, and he's just poured his heart out, but he hasn't been affirmed, and I think there are those in the Christian community who attribute any kind of praise, any kind of appreciation, any kind of "attaboy" with being sin.

Lou: No, you look at the church in Revelation, chapter 2, the church of Ephesus, the Lord ends up basically confronting them for losing their first love.  But He starts out by commending them for nine different things.  So, again, commendation is valid in its place, and as far as the preacher – I'm not really a preacher, but I have preached lots, and I can relate to that.  I mean, I can think of times when I knew my sermon was on target, I knew that people were attentive, I knew that the truth was going out, but maybe one person was sort of nodding over there in the corner but fundamentally I knew that what I was saying was the truth, and that people were attentive to it.

And when the sermon was over, I was so depressed for hours because I knew, on a scale of 1 to 10, my delivery was a 7.5 instead of a 9.5 or 10, and so clear indication at that moment I was more concerned about pleasing people than I was about pleasing God, because I should have been more willing to rejoice over the fact that the truth of God's went out clearly despite all of my human frailties, than I was disappointed over the fact that my delivery was less than perfect.

Bob: I'm just curious – do you think that certain professions and, frankly, I'm thinking of pastors right now – can they be more susceptible to being people-pleasers than other professions?

Lou: Yeah, I think there's this dynamic called "Blue Monday" where on Mondays pastors tend to be down and out – or down and depressed, I should say – and I wonder, really, if a lot of that doesn't have to do with pride over the fact that the buzz is over, and they may or may not be as pleased with their delivery. 

Now, again, if they are not pleased with the whole sermon because they were not diligent, and they didn't study the way they should, that's maybe a different story, but to know that they have punched a clock, to know that they have done the studying that they need to do, and if they've communicated God's Word – not perfectly, maybe, but successfully and then to be depressed because their delivery was less than perfect, I think that's clear evidence of pride.

Bob: Well, I'm thinking of those pastor's wives we've heard from who have said, "It seems like my husband has time for every spiritual need in the church except mine."

Lou: Well, again, that could be a clear indication also that an individual is more concerned about getting up there and having his sermon be an A+ and rather than being willing to settle for a B+ or an A- this week because God has given him six other responsibilities he's got to fulfill.  So, again, that's where it comes to knowing in what context saying yes to man is saying no to God.

Dennis: And I can imagine, there are a few moms who are going, "You know what?  I'm not a pastor, but I have Blue Mondays and Tuesdays and Wednesdays and Thursdays and Fridays because she's in the throes of raising the next generation, juggling the demands of a household and you know what?  You're not going to be able to please all the people all the time in your family.  In fact, raising kids today, raising children to ultimately follow Christ, I think, is going to demand, many times, that you don't please them because you're trying to please God, and that really is the ultimate challenge that I want to throw out here.

Who are you trying to please?  And whose ultimate approval are you looking for as you live your life? 

Lou: I think you're right about the moms.  The thing that I try to encourage the moms that I counsel with is the fact that some days you have the whole day planned out, according to biblical priority.  I know God wants me to spend time in the Word first, then this responsibility and this responsibility and this responsibility, and then the day comes and, providentially, God says, "You know what?  Your day is not going to go that way.  I'm going to interrupt you here, here all of your children are going to disobey, it's going to involve a lot more time disciplining the kids than you had planned, and the bottom line is you're going to have to take your agenda, even though it's biblical, put it on the back burner, and allow me to sort of massage it and change it" and, at that point, you've got to be willing to say, "Not my will, Lord, but yours," and if you become too discouraged over the fact that your schedule is not going the way you had planned it, it may be a good time for you to stop and ask "Who am I trying to please?  Am I really trying to please God or am I trying to please and meet someone else's expectations?"

Bob: You know, I think you're right.  I think you've written a book here that all of us need to read because, at some level, all of us area concerned about how we are being perceived by others.  We wouldn't be human if we weren't, and the question is not are we aware of that, in fact, it's a good thing that we're aware of how others are perceiving us, but the question is – is that what we're living for – the approval of others?  That's where the line is that we've got to be careful not to cross over, and that's what you're addressing in the book, "Pleasing People – How Not to be An Approval Junkie."  I love the subtitle of that.

We've got copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, and I want to encourage our listeners to get a copy of this book not just for themselves.  This would be a good book to read through with a teenager, maybe you're involved with some other men or women in a mentoring kind of relationship.  Here would be a book for you to go through together. 

It's called "Please People" by Lou Priolo.  You'll find information about it on our website at FamilyLife.com.  When you get to the home page of our website, on the right side of the screen you'll see a box that says "Today's Broadcast," and if you click where it says "Learn More," in that box, it will take you to the area of the site where you can get information about Lou's book, you can order a copy of it online, if you'd like.

In fact, I was thinking about an interview we did not long ago, Dennis, with Paul Coughlin who wrote the book, "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and it really is a similar theme to what Lou has been addressing, and there is information on our website about Paul's book as well, if our listeners are interested in listening to those broadcasts, you can find links to those on our website.

Go to FamilyLife.com and click on the right side of the screen where it says "Today's Broadcast," or if it's just easier to pick up the phone and call 1-800-FLTODAY and have it all taken care of, you can do that.  1-800-358-6329, someone on our team will answer the phone and can make arrangements to have the resources that you need sent out to you.

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Tomorrow we want to talk about how becoming a people-pleaser can make you someone else's slave.  We'll do that with our guest, Lou Priolo.  We hope you can be back with us.

I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team.  On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine.  We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas – help for today; hope for tomorrow.  

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