I have a secret. I don’t want to share it for fear of being judged. Why do I fear being judged? Because I have a behavioral dysfunction; I am a people pleaser. I want people to like me and at times am tempted to manipulate the truth to gain acceptance. Why am I sharing this with you? Because I am also a Christian and the real Truth will set me free.
While preparing to write this blog I did a little research. I typed in, people pleaser symptoms into my search engine and was surprised to find out I really suffer from a disorder: Avoidant personality. Wow! That sounds so much worse than just wanting people to like me. This is a self-diagnosis based on what I read from a website article.
The following article listed five possible manifestations of this Avoidance Disorder.
- Needs To Be Well Liked.
- Not Open To Intimate Relationships
- Uncomfortable In Social Settings
- Avoids Work Activities
- Avoids Conflict At All Cost
I have all these symptoms in varying degrees. I falsely believe that by practicing these behaviors I’ll protect myself from uncomfortable situations. I have discovered though that there are negative consequences for believing these lies.
Needs to be well-liked:
During my school years I was always teacher’s pet. Why? I wanted them to like me. I strove to never do anything which would land me in trouble. One day a boy cut in front of me in the lunch line. I loudly complained. Our teacher walked over demanding an explanation. The other boy said I was the one who had cut in line. Before I could reply, I was led by the ear back to the end of the line. I was mortified that I had gotten in trouble. I remember apologizing, hoping that would once again get me in good graces with my teacher.
Not open to intimate relationships:
As a child, I could only fit into what was then labeled “Husky” for the size classification of the blue jeans I wore. I was teased about my weight. I remember going home one day and asking my mom why everyone was so mean when I always tried to be nice. In my young mind, friendships meant having to endure ridicule, so I kept my classmates at arm’s length.
I did find one friend who didn’t laugh at me when I tore my pants bending over playing Four Square or who didn’t pinch my belly fat. We became inseparable. We were best friends all through elementary and junior high school. We hung out every day, even during summer vacation. I don’t remember having one argument with him…ever.
During my sophomore year of high school my friend started branching out and developing new friends. He didn’t dump me but I took offense and when I met my future wife, at a high school dance, my relationship with my inseparable friend slowly disappeared. I had found another best friend, and in my world, I only needed one.
Uncomfortable in social settings:
I caught the mumps when I was four or five. During the course of this illness, I awoke one morning with blood on my pillow from my infected ear. I was later diagnosed with permanent hearing loss in my right ear. I quickly adapted to hearing out of only one ear. In school I always sat in the front row (which also made it easier to catch the teachers adoring eye).
As I grew older though, I turned my disability into an excuse to avoid social gatherings. It’s true that having only one working ear makes it hard to talk in noisy environments but it became an easy justification why to leave school dances early, or years later, to avoid weddings and other social events.
Avoids work activities:
The article states that people with Avoidance Disorders seek a low profile at work to keep from interacting with others. While I still feel uncomfortable at meetings mingling with everybody, I prefer one-on-one interactions. Instead of having to please a large group, I only have to please the person sitting across from me.
Avoids conflict at all costs:
Recently, I talked to someone a few years older than me who rode the same school bus I had. He laughed and asked if I remembered my first day riding the bus. He recalled how excited I was after my first day of school on the bus ride home. I hopped from one seat to another introducing myself and asking everyone about their day. Suddenly the bus screeched to a halt. The bus driver marched back, picked me up and literally threw me into the empty, trouble-maker seat in the front of the bus. That was my seat for the rest of the school year.
I didn’t remember the happy-go-lucky, little boy self, from that story. I did vividly remember the embarrassment and shame I felt in front of all my peers that day. I remember being afraid to talk to anybody on the bus for the rest of the year and having that carry over into the classroom as well.
That avoidance of conflict has unfortunately carried over into adulthood and my marriage. I’m overweight and know it. I’ve been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and my loving wife, Karen tries her best to get me to eat right. Over the years, I have resorted to hiding candy and soda pop so I won’t have to deal with the guilt I would feel and conflict which would arise by having to admit my failure.
One time in particular, she asked me if I had bought a pop at the store. I said no. Later on, she asked me again. I became enraged. I did everything I could to heap guilt on her for suggesting I had lied to her. Then she held out a receipt. It showed Mt. Dew had been purchased earlier that same day. I accused her of spying on me. She said she went to the car for something, and when she closed the car door the receipt blew out and landed on her. I believe God wanted to reveal my sin that day to help me face my misbeliefs. After tempers calmed down, Karen and I had a good talk and I promised to never deceive her again…but I did…over and over again.
I know this sounds so trivial compared to lying about having an affair or a gambling problem. But this is what I am tempted to lie about to my wife and this breeds distrust which could undermine our marriage. Karen only wants to spend a long and healthy life together with me and I feel guilt over not taking care of my body and want to avoid confrontations (even mild ones) over my deceit in this area of my life.
I know I’m not the only one who is a people pleaser. All of us have some varying levels of dysfunction in our lives. Some of us have addictions, we’re co-dependent, we have anger problems, we live through the lives of our children, and so on.
It all boils down to this: Who is in control of your life? If you have a major level of dysfunction in your life that dysfunction rules over you. It is your king. If you are addicted to drugs or alcohol, they have power over you. If you have anger issues, you are in bondage to your emotions. If you live through the lives of your children, your happiness depends on their success. I have made pleasing other people king of my life. Even if you are a control freak, making yourself king is not the answer. You will never find peace trying to control the lives of the people around you.
Through counseling I have gained a better understanding of my dysfunction and have more weapons to help me in this battle. My therapist is great but he doesn’t have all the answers. The question still is this: Who is in control of my life? Who has enough intimate knowledge of me to share wisdom and truth which is both unbiased and unchanging. It’s not my wife, Karen. She knows me intimately but not wholly.
There is only one who knows you inside and out; there is only one who created you; there is only one who is King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Jesus is the only one who can heal our wounds because He knows us fully.
Psalm 139 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar…before a word is on my tongue you know it completely…For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb…my frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, your eyes saw my unformed body…Search me O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Isn’t this our greatest longing: To be understood; to be heard; to be thoroughly known without fear of condemnation. This is the relationship we all yearn for. And this is the relationship you can have with Jesus as your King.
Have I arrived in my relationships with others? Heavens no…but I have come a long way. Have I arrived with my relationship with my King…again, not by a long shot. By yielding control over my life to Jesus though, I have hope for this life and for the next.
Who has control over your life?