3 Ways to Know if You Are Trapped in a Cycle of People Pleasing

Karen Ehman

Updated Nov 15, 2023
3 Ways to Know if You Are Trapped in a Cycle of People Pleasing

I know from experience that God can empower us to stop the cycle of people-pleasing. We can learn to roll our truths in a blanket of love — remembering it is God we seek to please, not others.

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Most Sunday mornings, I love going to church. I grab a cup of hazelnut coffee from the lobby and settle in near the front row.

I grow from the sermons. I enjoy the assortment of worship opportunities — from acoustic guitar hymns to modern songs that include a spoken word poet.

Most of all, I’m grateful for the people who make up the congregation, each uniquely made in God’s image.

1. You Tell White Lies to Make Others Happy

One Sunday morning, I found myself wanting to break free from that place and run as far as my legs would take me. What caused me to want to escape the spiritual family I adore so much?

It was when my pastor made an assertion smack-dab in the middle of a sermon I was rather enjoying, completely wrecking me. It was this: People pleasers often lie.

Suddenly, no longer was I a face in a crowd, sweetly sipping my creamy, hot beverage and taking notes in my whimsical journal.

I felt as if one of the spotlights that hung from the ceiling — normally fixated on the stage — had suddenly drop-swiveled directly toward me, placing my bright red face in portrait mode.

I imagined everyone giving me a side glance, surely knowing that Pastor Justin was referring to me.

That morning, I had to concede in my heart that my pastor was right. People pleasers often lie in order to make others happy. And I was one fantastic fibber.

Oh, I had good reasons for my less-than-straightforward speech. Sometimes, I slightly twisted the truth so I wouldn’t hurt someone’s feelings when asked for my opinion.

Other times, I failed to be honest because I was afraid my response might upset a friend or coworker.

2. You Avoid Confrontation

Still, in other situations, I outright lied just to avoid a confrontation with someone over a political or other hot-topic issue.

And I also admit there were times I only told half the truth, conveniently leaving parts out. However, as I often tell my children, “A half-truth is still a whole lie.”

At the root of all these varied forms of dishonesty is this commonality: I lied to please someone else and due to this, I’d become trapped in a cycle of people-pleasing.

However, all this twisting, shading, fibbing, and half-truth telling certainly does not please the only One who matters — the Lord.

In Colossians 3:9, the Apostle Paul urges believers, “And stop lying to each other. You have given up your old way of life with its habits” (CEV). Deceit is associated with our behavior before we become followers of Christ.

It is not something designed to be a character quality of those who’ve responded to the gospel and become believers.

The original Greek word for the English phrase “have given up” (v. 9) is the verb apekduomai. It means to strip something completely and emphatically off yourself, to throw something far away. This action is to be performed by the person who is being untruthful.

Elsewhere in Scripture, we are told to hold two seemingly opposite actions in tension as we interact with others — to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15).

I find often we perform only one of those actions while leaving the other behind, depending on our personality types.

3. You Don’t Know How to Respond

Either we bark out the truth in an unloving manner or we falsely assume that the only loving thing to do is not to tell the truth at all.

Thankfully, I know from experience that God can empower us to stop the cycle of people-pleasing. We can learn to roll our truths in a blanket of love — remembering it is God we seek to please, not others.

Biblical Love

Let’s learn to retrain our brains, not thinking “What do they want me to say?” but instead praying “Lord, help me to speak the truth in love.”

Related Resource

Stuck in a cycle of people-pleasing? Listen to our FREE podcast, Faith Over Fear, and hear how to break free from people pleasing once and for all.

For further reading:

How to Set Boundaries and Still Live Wild and Free

What Is Authentic Love?

5 Biblical Boundaries to Set with Others

What Temperature Does Our Love Need to Be?

How Are We to Be the ‘Sweet Aroma of Christ’?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ipopba

Karen EhmanKaren Ehman is a New York Times bestselling author, a Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker, a contributing writer for Encouragement for Today online devotions, and a teacher in the First 5 Bible study app which has over 2 million daily users. She has written 19 books and Bible studies including Keep It Shut: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Say Nothing at All and the 2020 ECPA devotional book of the year Settle My Soul: 100 Quiet Moments to Meet with Jesus. She is a Cum Laude graduate of Spring Arbor University with a major in Social Science. Karen has been featured on TODAY Parenting, Redbook.com, Foxnews.com, Crosswalk.com, and YouVersion.com, and is a monthly columnist for HomeLife Magazine. Her passion is to help women live their priorities as they reflect the gospel to a watching world. 

She is married to her college sweetheart, Todd, and is the mother of six children—three biological and three in-laws by marriage—although she forgets which ones are which. Karen enjoys collecting vintage Pyrex kitchenware, cheering for the Detroit Tigers, and spending her days feeding the many people who gather around her mid-century dining table to process life and enjoy her county fair blue-ribbon winning cooking. You can find more about her here.

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