The Perils of People Pleasing, or Influence Apart From Manipulation

“Focus on your intentions.”

That is some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten.

In addition to (or perhaps in conjunction with) being a recovering nice girl, I’m also trying to kick the horrid habit of being a people pleaser.

I used to cringe at the thought of letting someone down or not being who someone needs me to be.  I was adept at reading a social environment and chameleoning my way into the version of Allie I thought fit best.  And I would so much rather have deferred to someone else’s preferences rather than mine to avoid any conflict or hard feelings.

About a year ago, I talked to a very wise woman about my addiction to people pleasing.  She gave me this simple advice.  Focus on your intentions.  People pleasing is a form of manipulation– trying to act in ways to control others’ opinions of you.  And Lord knows, you cannot control another human.  Attempting to coerce the reaction towards you that you want (preferably: ooh, I like her and want to be her friend and make her feel loved and known!) is not a worthwhile endeavor.  It’s a slippery slope and it is exhausting and it breeds inauthenticity.  Let other people be who they are (in all their various dispositions, life experiences, personality types, and opinions) and where they are (whether it be hurt, busy, angry, disagreeable, or disillusioned).  Living a life as an elaborate chess game of trying to anticipate another’s counter move to your move and subsequently trying to finagle your actions in response to your predictions is a half lived one, full of worry and eggshell stepping.  And who wants that?

When I let go of being in charge of how other people respond to me (which I never had any control over in the first place) I am immeasurably freed up to discover what it means to be wholeheartedly me.  It simplifies the process of living life when you don’t have to factor in whether or not your choice will be acceptable in the eyes of the numerous pedestal dwellers.  Rather, simply focus on your intentions.

This is such a helpful thing in examining my motives before making a choice.  Am I doing this thing because I truly want to? Because it will bring Life? Is this best? In the moment, focusing on my intentions can help me speak the truth bravely and simply. It gives me something to focus on rather than fearing any collateral damage (real or perceived) that might sway me towards inauthenticity. To lean into inevitable friction, knowing that my identity is not up for grabs and that sometimes conflict is a healing and life giving thing, not something to be fearfully tiptoed around. And afterwards, in the face of that tempting but horrible habit of repeatedly hitting the replay button on an event, conversation, or an interaction, finding solace in my intentions helps me let go of the fearful wonderings of how someone else has reacted to my choice.  It helps me to let go and give others permission to be themselves as well.

Deeply rooted in the motivation of people pleasing is a lie of not being worthy, just as we are.  This is a lie that I think a lot of women believe.  (Somehow I can see the lie for the preposterous and parasitic thing it is when I hear other women voice it, but it is much harder to wrench that weed from my own heart.)  In fact, I think this is at the root of at least 97.5% of my battles.  When our hearts are gripped with the fear of not being enough, we can diverge into this ugly combination of gripping at control and hiding in shameful passivity.  We try to take control of any external factors we can, manipulating that which is around us to attempt to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps to a feeling of worthiness.  In failed attempts we are quick to distance ourselves, hiding in shame.  Oh how we take after our mother- Eve.  Wanting to grab onto something– not believing that who we were was enough to begin with.  Trying to take control, manipulating those around us, and at the horrifying discovery of our brokenness, we run and hide.  It’s a cycle that we sorely need to be saved from.

What good news to discover that, even in the depths of these shame cycles, we have One who, knowing the deepest parts of us, enters into our mess and declares that we have been made new.  That He is inviting us into the process of becoming who He intended us to be.  A woman resting in an identity that is secure and able to speak the truth bravely.  A daughter who was created, for such a time as this, to be an agent of reconciliation, a Truth Speaker, and Beauty Maker, a Glory Giver.


This post is a continuation from last week’s post-– thoughts inspired by Darling Magazine’s mission statement.

“Darling is a catalyst for positive change, leading women to discover beauty apart from vanity, influence apart from manipulation, style apart from materialism, sweetness apart from passivity, and womanhood without degradation.  Darling leads women to practice the arts of virtue, wit, modesty, and wisdom— all the while creating beauty and embodying love.  Darling says women are not only interesting, but original, not only good enough, but exceptional, not just here, but here for a purpose.”


2 thoughts on “The Perils of People Pleasing, or Influence Apart From Manipulation

  1. That post was such a breath of fresh air and truth. I’ll be pinning it and going back to it regularly. Thanks, dear friend.

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