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Confessions of a Recovering People-Pleaser

I am a recovering people-pleaser. I don't know about you, but I love when people approve of me. At times, I've found myself doing everything in my power to make sure not to make waves and be 'nice'. At first glance, this may sound like humility and preferring others, but really it is self-preservation at its finest and a confining way to live. Self-preservation is the root of people-pleasing. It is a way we function to preserve our well-being and there can be a whole myriad of reasons for it. I think sometimes we 'nice' ones believe we will receive the love and acceptance we long for through our 'niceness.' 

Being 'nice' has caused me to toss God-given tasks to the wayside and pick up ones that aren't mine to carry. It's caused sleepless nights and a preoccupation with self which leads to diminishing love of others. This way of doing life has caused me to back down when I should stand up, say 'yes' when I should say 'no,' say 'no' when I should say 'yes,' give up when I should keep going and keep going when I should stop. It's caused me to back out of relationships I should have fought for and keep ones I should have let go of. Self preservation clouds our view. We can't be pre-occupied with ourselves and love others well at the same time. It's impossible. We can't love well while self-preserving and we can't walk in true humility without love.

Sometimes, instead of being nice, I throw up walls, write people off, avoid relationship and keep others at arms length. At times, I believe I am putting up boundaries but really they are walls; it's important to learn the difference. You can still technically be nice while doing this, but before you know it you are walled in. Judgment lives in these places. Judgment is often a defense against pain and a way to self-preserve. It's a way to 'other' someone we want to keep at a distance. It's an easy way to hide, but a hard place to live. Judgment is too heavy for us to carry because we weren't made to carry it. Judgment is friends with pride and an enemy of humility. 

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This may not be you. You may be more of a push-through, stand up for yourself type, but self-preserving can take many forms. Some are anti-people pleasers, but this can still be self-preservation. Both leave you caged in and isolated. Whether you are looking for respect through compliance or through demands and rights, the goal is to manage people's perceptions of you and keep yourself safe. I am guessing most who are reading this have tried it in some form and have figured out it's an exhausting way to live. 

God has been taking me on a long journey exploring the deeper places in me that are driving this distorted way of meeting a real need. Needs are God-given, but things go awry when we try to meet them in the wrong way. We don't need to silence needs, but find the ways we are meeting them wrongly. Our needs are meant to point us to God and they will if we let them. We always know when we are trying to meet a need wrongly by the fruit it produces.

Sometimes, I have been using people to fill a need only God can fill and the result has been pride instead of humility, anxiety instead of peace, despondency instead of joy and shame instead of freedom. It's led me to at times lead more of a self-preserving life instead of the self-sacrificing life I so desire to live.

Sometimes, I have been self-preserving and called it self-sacrificing. The two are easily confused. Self-preserving 'nice' behavior can look a lot like self-sacrificing to an observer, but in reality, it is so often an act of fear; not one of willingly giving and selfless love. It doesn't come from care for another, but from something much less noble.

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Recently God spoke to my heart, "Self-preservation can look like standing up for things you should let go of and backing down from things you should stand up for." I have done both. Humility and self-preservation are not friends. True humility is absent of self-preservation and is looking out for the needs of others first.

Lately, I have been struck by the fact that Jesus chose the Cross. His life wasn't taken from Him but willingly laid down. This is TRUE humility. He wasn't a doormat; He didn't respond in fear; He didn't need man's approval and this enabled Him to always act in the best interests of others. The same Jesus who walked the road to the Cross, threw tables over in the temple. He wasn't 'nice' but He WAS loving and kind. He was focused on God's will and found all of His satisfaction in His belovedness to the Father. This is why He spent so much time in prayer. He lived constantly reminded of His approval by the Father so didn't need the approval of man.

The secret to living a bold life of humility is knowing that we are deeply loved by the Father.  It's finding our approval in Him so that we don't need it from man. It is in this secret place He reveals and heals our shame and enables us to live from what is true and to speak what is true in love. There is both boldness and grace in the ones who live this way. These are the safe ones.

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We can only live in humility if we are willing to live 'in the light.' Self-preservation or people pleasing is our fancy way of covering our places of nakedness and shame. Covering those places also keeps us from the love that will make us whole. Not only that, but these are the places that will wound others. Covering is what we do when there is something in us that needs 'preserving' and is not hidden in Jesus' love.

Our whole life will be a process of allowing Him to show us those places and handing them over to Him. We will never arrive at humility or be completely free of the concern of what people think, but we can continue to grow in it our entire life. We are 'becoming' like Jesus. The 'ing' is very important in this word. The 'ing' is the hard part and the nitty gritty of our every day walk with Him. As we grow in intimacy with Him, we bring more and more of our hidden places to Him for healing and restoration. The more we experience Him in our ugly places, the more we trust Him and the more we trust Him, the more we can bring our deep places to Him. As we become hidden in Him, we begin to lose our need to self-preserve and the need of approval from others begins to loosen its grip. It's how we begin to love others better.

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A few weeks ago, He reminded me again of the importance of living in the light. He encouraged me to come into the light and let Him search me. This should never be scary of us because He knows us best and loves us most. He always reveals so that He can heal and he is perfectly capable to reveal any darkness in us. Sometimes, we have believed the darkness He finds was light.

I found I was confused about humility and self-preservation. My self-preserving, people-pleasing was masked as humility and I had embraced it not realizing it was really darkness all along. I'm sure others could see it, but a lot of times we are the last to know about ourselves. Sometimes darkness can look like light to us. We easily get confused because we often cannot see clearly. Darkness is always confining whether we recognize it as darkness or not.

He showed me that humility allows us to hear Him in others when they are confronting us; self-preservation deafens our ears. Sometimes it causes us to confuse who are our friends and those we should keep at a bit of a  distance.  He showed me that even when others confront us badly, we will be able to hear the words behind the words if we are walking in humility. (teens anyone?) He showed me that true humility results in a willingness to be confronted but also an ability to be misunderstood and maligned, but still remain in love. One aspect of humility is not having to have others think well of me, but also caring how I affect them. Self-preservation causes us to pick one or the other; needing others to think well of us or not caring how we affect them. Humility is a chosen servant role. It's not being a doormat, but it's a chosen giving up of our rights for another. It's our rights being given, not taken. Humility is lived out in intention and love; false humility is done out of diminishment and fear. Humility allows us to own both our 'yes' and our 'no' for the good of others. Only true humility can be acted out in love; false humility can be done in hatred. Humility is a choice we can make when we are firmly rooted in the God who securely holds our identity. 

What areas in your life are you looking for the approval of others and how is this confining you?

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