How to Release the Need to Please

Posted on
 by Leslie Newman

Looking Back

If there's a way to name something in my own life that's held me back, I'd have to call out my people-pleasing. I see it very clearly along the way as I reflect back. I recognize it in myself still today - even as far as I've come.

When I look back, I wonder why I didn't understand that many of my "yesses" were driven by a need to please. I was completely unaware that I was seeking approval. All I knew is that there was too much to do, not enough time to do it in, and that I felt driven to do it all. 

My inability to say "no" often started with an internal statement that formed itself as, "I can't." And it was an "I can't" that I tended to believe with all my heart. 

It goes something like this: 

  • I can't say no. (I might disappoint them.) 
  • I can't speak up. (Because I don't want to make anyone mad at me.)
  • I can't pay attention to myself. (There are too many others to care for.)
  • I can't take time off. (That would be selfish of me.)
  • I have to say yes. (Another form of I can't say no.) 
  • I can't, because what will they think? (Always, what will they think????)

And on and on it goes.

Sometimes it's the Simple Things 

You know, sometimes it's the simple things that help us – like coffee cups. 

This Christmas I received a coffee cup from my daughter who knows me well. It was a quiet little mug, but the words on it deeply spoke to me. They kept expanding in my mind and I couldn't get away from them – those three little words. 

They simply said, "Actually, I can.

I thought about that phrase and made it my own for 2021. There's much behind those words to me – emotions, memories, dreams, and desires – more than I can even express. 

I Wonder

AS I think about that phrase I wonder, could it be that 2021 is the year that I really begin to believe this and live that out freely in my life? Could it be that all of the difficult ups and downs across the years of my life have actually become a big part of what equips me to say, "I can!" so I can do the things God calls me to do? 

I wonder, too, if your 2020, with all its troubles and hardships, could somehow be paving the way for you? Could it be, perhaps, that God is getting you ready for what He has yet in store? 

I think this is true – and I believe that for you. God does big things while we go through the hard times – even as we repeat once again, "I can't."

I catch myself saying, "I can't" in so many different ways, and I wonder if you have, too. 

But the words I received on Christmas Day help me remember, 

Actually, I can. 

  • I can set limits and stick to them. 
  • I can say yes to the things God has called me to do and no to the things He has not. 
  • I can take time to refresh and rest so I can be refilled and refueled to better do the things He has called me to do. 
  • I can know His purposes for me, and I can take my next steps with complete confidence that I'm walking in His will for my life. 
  • And – I can do all these things despite the harder things of life, even if I can't change a thing. 

I Can Release the Need to Please

I also know that my "I cans" can sometimes feel impossible because of my struggle with people-pleasing. But I've learned over time that actually, I can – because Jesus lives in me.

I can release my need to please people and break free from approval-seeking. And 2021 is the year to do that more fully than I've ever been able to do it before. 

As I look back I remember all that has passed before me in 2020. I think about what I've walked through and how I've been stretched and challenged. And I know that you see the same in your own life and that God has challenged you, too.

As I think about these things, I realize that without passing through all the hardships that 2020 brought our way, we could not possibly become who God wants us to be in 2021.

What I come to understand is this:

In 2021, "Actually, we can!"

What does the Bible Say?

Ephesians 6:7 Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people. (NIV)

A Question for You

When you think of the Bible verse above, what comes to mind? What invitation is God might God be extending to you in this verse? Please share in the comments below!

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12 comments on “How to Release the Need to Please”

  1. This past year I've fallen more into the people-pleasing thing (even as I've been around less people! ha). So this post really hits home with me. I love that your daughter gave you that mug. I'll take the words to heart too: Actually, I can. Thanks for linking up at Grace & Truth!

    1. The post hit home with me, too. What I write comes out of what i need to work on in my own life. I really appreciate you dropping by!

  2. Leslie, I think I must have a doctorate in "people-pleasey-ology." I've spent much of my life trying to please others. Over the last number of years, God has helped me discover the root issues and He's helping me bring those tendencies to Him. I love that phrase, "Actually, I can." I'm going to be thinking on that one.

  3. I think so many of us can identify with this need to please. Thank you for the reminder to lives our lives for an audience of one!

  4. I grew up as a huge people-pleaser and even when I think I've succeeded in letting God root it out, it has a way of popping up in unexpected ways. This is such an important subject. Thanks for sharing. Blessings, Leslie.

    1. Donna, me too. Oh my, it’s such a hard thing to root out. I agree it’s such an important topic. Thanks for being here today!

  5. what a great reminder that we are not called to please one another, but God alone! Also i love that you have a workshop offered at the end, what a great lead in. Thank you for sharing this along with offering yourself in it. Beautiful example of Christ likeness.

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