When we think of addictions, we often think of struggles with substance abuse, gambling, or maybe eating disorders. However, I think one very common addiction we often don’t see is the secret addiction to the approval of people.
For women, I think approval addiction is especially hard to see because being a helper and caregiver is often part of our personality. So deciphering what is just us being loving and what is having an unhealthy obsession with pleasing people can be difficult.
Here are a few signs that you have the disease to please:
- You live to impress others and you adjust your appearance, your personality and even your values based on the people you are around.
- You are extremely sensitive to criticism. You spend hours going over a negative remark in your mind. If you do something that someone doesn’t approve of, you become angry and defensive or very guilty and ashamed.
- You describe yourself as a “people pleaser.”
- You are constantly comparing yourself to others and competing with them. As a result, you either feel superior or inferior as a person, as a parent, or as an employee, depending on who you are around.
- You get preoccupied with how many “likes” you get and how many friends or followers you have on social media.
- You have trouble saying no to people – only to feel resentful of them later.
- You get a “high” from a compliment, a promotion, even a look of admiration, and rely on it to feel good about yourself. When you don’t get it you feel empty and do whatever it takes to get it.
Of course, wanting to be liked by others is a normal desire. Humans are social, and we need to have some social awareness in order to have friends. However, when other people’s approval becomes our source of joy and security, it will affect our lives, our relationships, and our relationship with God.
Cursed is the one who trusts in human strength and the abilities of mere mortals. His very heart strays from the Eternal.
Jeremiah 17:5-6 (VOICE)
God says it is a curse when we rely on other people for strength. As a result of relying on people, our hearts stray from God.
There have been times I have been frustrated in my relationship with God and I don’t have the desire to be close to him, and it has been because I have replaced him with humans. When I depend on the approval, attention and admiration of other people, I have no room for God in my heart. However, leaning on fickle human opinions and emotions is unpredictable and it never lasts. So I am left constantly wondering where I stand with people, insecure and afraid. That is the curse of living for approval.
The Bible has a lot to say about the danger of living to please people:
1. It traps us
25 People are trapped by their fear of others; those who trust the Lord are secure.
Proverbs 29:25 (CEB)
25 The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that.
Proverbs 29:25 (MSG)
The Bible teaches us that when we live to please people, we become trapped and disabled. We are unable to be ourselves and become stuck in our faith and our lives.
2. It affects our faith
43 I have pursued you, coming here in My Father’s name, and you have turned Me away. If someone else were to approach you with a different set of credentials, you would welcome him. 44 That’s why it is hard to see how true faith is even possible for you: you are consumed by the approval of other men, longing to look good in their eyes; and yet you disregard the approval of the one true God.
John 5:43-44The Voice (VOICE)
True faith is not possible when we live for human approval instead of God’s.
When I am consumed with what people think of me, my heart becomes distracted and uninterested in God. Even when I sit down to spend time with God and although he pursues me as the Scripture says, my mind gets preoccupied with other things instead of connecting with him. I think of conversations I had or need to have with people, how I feel about them or what they think about me or check my phone just in case I miss anything from people. No wonder I leave those times feeling just as empty and anxious as I came in!
God is always pursuing us, loving us and approving us unconditionally and yet our desire for human approval makes us disregard him.
3. It keeps us from being used by God
Jesus: No one can serve two masters. If you try, you will wind up loving the first master and hating the second, or vice versa. People try to serve both God and money—but you can’t. You must choose one or the other.
Matthew 6:24 (VOICE)
The Bible teaches us that we cannot serve two masters. Our hearts are designed to be devoted to only one. When we worship the approval of others, it becomes impossible for us to have room for God.
Which master are you serving? Is it God or a person?
Do you think I care about the approval of men or about the approval of God? Do you think I am on a mission to please people? If I am still spinning my wheels trying to please men, then there is no way I can be a servant of the Anointed One, the Liberating King.
Galatians 1:10 ( VOICE)
When our mission is to please people, we can’t speak God’s truth to them. Our fear of their disapproval makes us not speak the truth or tell them what we really see.
There have been many times when I saw things in people’s lives and decided not say anything because I was afraid of their reaction. The truth is, I was thinking more about myself than God or the people around me.
Paul says there is no way we can be a servant of God and be consumed by approval at the same time.
How has the desire to please people prevented you from following and serving God?
4. It makes us deceitful
33 If I have covered my sin as people do
or attempted to hide my wrongdoing in the recesses of my heart
34 (Because of my fear of the opinions of the crowd
or my fright at the disdain of my family)
And kept silent hiding indoors away from all possible discovery of flaws;
Job 31:33-34 (VOICE)
The most dangerous trap of people pleasing is the fact that it makes us extremely deceitful. It keeps us from being real and honest about what we think, what we feel and what we want. We cover up our sins because we are afraid people will criticize us or look down on us. We are unable to really let anyone see us for who we really are.
Although we might think people pleasing draws us to others, it actually is the most destructive and isolating thing we can bring to our relationships. Other people won’t feel close to us, and we will feel alone because no one knows who we really are.
How to overcome approval addiction
Much like any recovering addict, we must first recognize that we have a problem and that we have to make a decision to work at it every day.
Change your values
Jesus (to the Pharisees): 15 You’ve made your choice. Your ambition is to look good in front of other people, not God. But God sees through to your hearts. He values things differently from you. The goals you and your peers are reaching for God detests.
Luke 16:15 (VOICE)
The Bible says God detests what the world values (looking good in front of other people)!
In our religiosity, we can rank sins and think people pleasing is a mild sin in comparison to other “major” sins. But God says he detests it!
We must choose to see this sin how God sees it and choose to value what God values instead of what we value.
Eternal One (to Samuel): Take no notice of his looks or his height. He is not the one, for the Eternal One does not pay attention to what humans value. Humans only care about the external appearance, but the Eternal considers the inner character.
1 Samuel 16:7 (VOICE)
God values inner character.
When we start working on overcoming our approval addiction, one of the sobering discoveries we’ll make is how little character we have built on the inside because we have been consumed with polishing the outside appearance for so long.
Facing these truths and choosing to value what God values is the beginning of overcoming our approval addiction.
Change your goal
Let love be your highest goal!
1 Corinthians 14:1 (NLT)
What is your goal in your relationships? Is it loving? Is it understanding others and connecting to them?
We might be deceived in thinking people pleasing is about trying to give to others. The truth is those of us who are people pleasers are 100% focused on ourselves, how we are perceived, how we are treated, what feedback we are getting from others etc.
For us to be different, we must change our goal to be loving others the way the Bible teaches.
Change your source
According to Johann Hari,
“The opposite of addiction is not sobriety; the opposite of addiction is connection.”
We all have the need to feel loved, connected and valued. The key is to choose our source wisely.
When we rely on human approval for our security, it is short lived.
We must go back to them over and over again to feel good about ourselves. And every time, we would need more and more just to keep going.
Jesus: 13 Drink this water, and your thirst is quenched only for a moment. You must return to this well again and again. 14 I offer water that will become a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity. You will never be thirsty again.
John 4:13-14 (VOICE)
Jesus tells the Samaritan woman that she doesn’t have to live on the hamster wheel of getting her needs met by humans.
He promises that the gift he gives us is an eternal one. Once we get that gift, we don’t need to be chasing an external source for our security, it becomes “a wellspring within you that gives life throughout eternity.”
Choose God daily
Woman: 15 Please, Sir, give me some of this water, so I’ll never be thirsty and never again have to make the trip to this well.
John 4:15 (VOICE)
Like the Samaritan woman, we must choose to beg God daily for this water so we don’t have to be trapped by people pleasing.
14 Satisfy us each morning with your unfailing love, so we may sing for joy to the end of our lives
We must work hard daily to get filled up by our friendship with God so we are satisfied and not tempted to seek out satisfaction from people.
When we live a life that is filled up by God, we become secure, free and able to genuinely connect with others.
7 [Most] blessed is the man who believes in, trusts in, and relies on the Lord, and whose hope and confidence the Lord is.8 For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters that spreads out its roots by the river; and it shall not see and fear when heat comes; but its leaf shall be green. It shall not be anxious and full of care in the year of drought, nor shall it cease yielding fruit.
Jeremiah 17:7-8 Amplified Bible, Classic Edition (AMPC)
When we make the decision to please God instead of people the rewards we get are incredible.
Imagine the freedom of living a life free from fear of people and their opinions. Imagine the freedom of being yourself with everyone unafraid to be known. Imagine the freedom of giving your heart freely without the fear of rejection. Imagine the freedom of living out your dreams and living the life you know God has designed for you without fear of failure.
When God becomes our source of security and confidence instead of humans we will live a life of incredible and unimaginable freedom.