Beyond “people-pleasing” motives
By Elaina Simpson
From the May 18, 2020 issue of the Christian Science Sentinel Audio: https://sentinel.christianscience.com/issues/2020/5/122-20/beyond-people-pleasing-motives
Over the years, I’ve had to work to overcome the fear of being assertive when I’ve had a different perspective from another person. I’d withhold my two cents, or opposing ideas, to make sure everyone liked me. This desire to always be well liked also led me to take on more work than needed in certain situations, and I often apologized when it wasn’t necessary, feeling pressure to gain consistent approval. This attitude wasn’t the same as just being hospitable or kind, which are certainly natural ways for both men and women to act. It was partly correlated with a false sense of womanhood. I felt a pressure to act superficially polite, especially in uncomfortable situations when I should have spoken up. Some men do face unfair, “people-pleasing” pressures as well, such as being encouraged to sweep their feelings under the rug. Since my thoughts and actions were primarily based on self-concern, I knew I had to purify my motives and prayerfully address the issue. At one point I realized that there wasn’t glory in what I was doing. My motive was to impress others (to please them) rather than to express God’s, Spirit’s, qualities and so glorify God. There is a big distinction between glorifying God and subtly seeking our own glory through a focus on “people pleasing.” And breaking away from personal glory and allowing ourselves to be fully immersed in God’s goodness brings a tangible freedom. In the Bible’s book of John, Christ Jesus declares, “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him” (7:18). Breaking away from personal glory brings a tangible freedom. Whenever I was working to secure the approval of others, I felt limited, incapable, and stretched too thin. But through my study of Christian Science, I knew that we truly are spiritual because we reflect divine Spirit. We aren’t helpless mortals doomed to spinning our wheels as we seek happiness through relying on others. And as God’s children, we are not sentenced to work tirelessly to make other mortals happy, which would be a pretty challenging, never-ending, and limiting task! An understanding of our spiritual nature helps us see that instead, we are already deserving and worthy of good—of fulfillment, happiness, peace, and true approval, which come from God. And this shift in our thinking enables us to treat others more unselfishly—we become more inclined to give to others as opposed to wanting something from them, such as approval. Through prayer, it became evident to me very quickly that it’s important to be clear that God always approves of us as His children. A knowledge of God’s approval brings deep, imperishable, unmatched fulfillment. Some might suggest that one way to break out of “people pleasing” is to simply look out for yourself more—to be more self-seeking, self-serving. “Don’t be a doormat” is a popular saying. But as long as our thoughts are preoccupied with self, we’re stuck. And we postpone spiritual growth. It’s in expressing our true identity as God’s child, His spiritual idea or reflection, that we find true freedom; we become a transparency for divine, impartial Love. In proportion as we know God’s love for us, our activities, choices, and speech become natural outcomes of this spiritual fact. This frees us from erroneous, mortal thought patterns that hold us back, and it helps us nurture other people at the same time. We can be freed from erroneous, mortal thought patterns that hold us back. When thought is centered in God, a false sense of being controlled by concern about what others think of us starts to diminish. The doors of this mental prison open up, and we are so fulfilled that we don’t need anyone else to validate our spiritual nature. But I’ve found that when thought is fixated on a person or what a person thinks about us, it is exhausting and a distraction. Glorifying and pleasing God doesn’t mean we ever stop caring about people. As we find authentic approval by pleasing God, we will know how to handle the practical things—how to give and how to love others affectionately, appropriately, unselfishly, and righteously. In her Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, Mary Baker Eddy says, “We should measure our love for God by our love for man; and our sense of Science will be measured by our obedience to God,—fulfilling the law of Love, doing good to all; imparting, so far as we reflect them, Truth, Life, and Love to all within the radius of our atmosphere of thought” (p. 12). It’s so natural to love our neighbor when we are loving and glorifying God! And not only that, but our love for our true selfhood as God’s child also becomes extremely clear. It is a disservice to ourselves and to others to believe that happiness comes from others’ approval rather than from God. The need to “people-please” falls away when we stick with pleasing God.