The desire to please others isn’t all bad.
But when the desire to please becomes extreme, it keeps you from tending to a more vulnerable part of your own soul in need. When you focus always on the needs of others, you risk neglecting your deepest desires. You also may be avoiding your fears and insecurities, missing opportunities to heal and become more whole.
It’s good to want to do kind things for others. It’s good to be helpful. The trick is to learn when you’re doing those things out of a conviction about what’s right and a sense of calling versus when you’re doing those things as a way to avoid or mask some of your own challenging feelings.
Here are five signs that your desire to please may be protecting you in unhealthy ways from facing a more vulnerable part of your soul:
- You frequently over-commit and struggle to keep up with your schedule (distraction).
- You start feeling resentful of the very people you’re working overtime to please (martyrdom).
- You tell white lies to avoid someone’s frustration or anger (avoidance).
- You can’t ask others for help (self-sufficiency).
- You offer to help others do things that they should be doing for themselves (enabling).
Pleasing others may give you a momentary “high”. We often get affirmed for over-committing or being the hero in any given situation. But make no mistake – if your pleasing behaviors become extreme, you’re likely not tending to a part of your own soul in need. And, as a result, you’re not actually cultivating the true wholeness and intimacy you – and those you love – need.
If any of these signs stand out to you, start to notice your self-talk. What are the fears that surface if you consider setting some boundaries with your desire to please others? For example, you might notice thoughts like these:
If I stop doing all these important and helpful things, I won’t matter anymore.
I have to come up with some excuse for not going – otherwise, they might get angry with me.
You can’t ask him to help you out, he’ll think you’re weak.
I can’t say no to her. She’ll stop needing me and move on.
If you notice any of these thoughts, take a deep breathe and pause. Try any one of the following to help you set healthy boundaries with your instinct to please:
- Honor the part of you that doesn’t want to say no. It’s a strong and important part of you that has developed to help you survive. It’s likely protecting a more vulnerable part of you that was hurt in the past. Let that pleasing part of you know that you get it . . . and that God is bigger and far more capable than you in this situation. By settling gentle boundaries with your instinct to please, you might be creating space for God to do what you cannot.
- Tell the truth. Don’t lie or make disingenuous excuses. That’s feeding your pleasing instinct. Write a script for yourself that is honest; you don’t have to make up excuses when you say no. A simple, “I’m so sorry I can’t make it!” will do. And if you don’t trust yourself to say your “no” in person, give yourself permission to write it in an email. You’ll get better at it over time!
- Form your own “boundaries committee.” Identify a few key people whose boundaries you respect and share with them about your instinct to please. Ask if they’d be willing to help you discern the best step for you to take in a few of your more challenging situations.
- Give yourself a “time-in”. For example, count to 10 before saying, “Sure, I can take care of that!” or “Let me do that for you.” When it comes to bigger obligations, commit to yourself that you won’t offer to help or take on anything new without first praying about it and consulting with your boundaries committee.
As you work on setting gentle boundaries with your desire to please, notice what you feel inside. For example, you might notice an onslaught of guilt or fear. Don’t let those uncomfortable feelings sway you – their presence means you’re in a space of change. Be prepared to speak truth into your emotions with some of these reframes:
It’s not needy to ask for help, it’s wise. Even if they say “no,” it was brave of me to ask.
If someone becomes angry because I set a healthy boundary, the emotion is their responsibility. I can only do my part to communicate with humility and courage. I can’t control the reactions of others.
Learning to say no may change the nature of my relationship to others. But if I can stick it out, healthier intimacy will emerge.
If you struggle with an overly active pleasing protector, take a You-Turn with this part of your soul using the exercise in Chapter 15 of Boundaries for Your Soul. See if you can begin to understand the vulnerable feelings that emerge if you consider setting some boundaries with your pleasing behavior. Make a note of your questions and hang on to them for the live Webinar I’ll be hosting midway through this series.