Monday, May 14, 2012

Why I’m Trying to be a People Pleaser

"It is the true duty of every man to promote the happiness of his fellow creatures to the utmost of his power." - William Wilberforce

People pleasing has a bad rap. I blame it on the extraverts, which isn’t surprising because I blame most things on the extraverts (I kid, I kid). 

I mean, they’re the ones running around agreeing to be on a million and one committees and padding their schedules with social events and favors and functions until they’re fit to burn out, right?

But in all seriousness, there has been a rich backlash against people pleasing that I find troubling.

I’ve read several wise blog posts and books and articles encouraging people of all nurturing and charismatic stripes to step back, to set boundaries, and to put themselves first for once.

I understand the sentiment. I realize this isn't an extravert specific problem. I agree that we should not base our worth or our value on other’s opinions. I get that we need boundaries.

I understand all of this, but goodness gracious I do not need that kind of advice.

I need the rejoinder: I need encouragement to actually care about what people think.

You see, on the Myers Briggs personality spectrum, I am an INTJ. By definition,
INTJs don’t give much thought to what other people think.

"INTJs spend a lot of time inside their own minds, and may have little interest in the other people's thoughts or feelings." Portrait of an INTJ

They are “strong individualists who seek new angles or novel ways of looking at things….They are very determined people who trust their vision of the possibilities, regardless of what others think. They may even be considered the most independent of all of the sixteen personality types.” —Sandra Krebs Hirsch

In a pool of autonomous, individualistic Americans, I am among the most independent, the most internally focused. I don't struggle with people pleasing the way my empathetic, nurturing friends do. I have no problem saying no to a task that doesn't fit inside my own mental framework.

I do have a problem noticing others. I have trouble encouraging others. I’d rather theorize in my head all day than ask a friend what's going on in theirs.

My problem isn’t co-dependence, but independence—a stubborn independence that often borders on isolation.

Now this isn’t a self-bashing session. I think being an INTJ is awesome. If anything, I probably think I’m too awesome. There are perks to being an INTJ. For example, we’re nicknamed the Mastermind, and we’re a rare find, accounting for only 1-4% of the population.

There are a lot of things I’m good at. For one, I’ve learned to "think my way to compassion", to come up with creative solutions to complicated problems. It could even be argued that I’m good at loving and caring for people in unique, thoughtful ways—and the world could use a greater dose of thoughtful compassion, in my opinion.

But when it comes to people pleasing, most of the time the only person I care about pleasing is myself.

And that, I believe, is completely at odds with the Christ I follow, the God I love.

He who washed feet and healed the sick and forgave the sinners, He was deeply concerned with people’s needs, deeply attuned to the thoughts and hearts of others.

In order to please people, you must have some working knowledge of what they want, of what would make them happy, of what they’re thinking and feeling.

This is the type of people pleasing I want to develop. I want to grow in empathy. I want to see beyond myself. I want to care for others. I want to love others well.

As William Wilberforce said, I want to “promote the happiness of [my] fellow creatures to the utmost of [my] power.”

That is why I am trying to be a people pleaser.

Let’s start with you—how can I better serve you on this blog? Is there anything I can pray for for you? Any other way I can support you?

Where do you fall on the people pleasing spectrum? Do you struggle with co-dependence or independence? Any advice?

And if you know me outside of the blogosphere, please hold me to this. I want to know you more. I want to know your thoughts and feelings.  Let me know if there’s any way I can serve you or love you better this week. 


  1. I probably fall into the people-pleaser category. I'm learning that it is not healthy or effective to live my life with the goal of making everyone around me happy though. The fact is that some people choose unhappiness, and I can't change that by trying to meet their demands. I recognize that I have a lot to learn about setting healthy boundaries too, though.

    I like that you look at it from a different angle. It's one thing to work on setting healthy boundaries. But for the most part, pleasing people is a good thing. When you love someone, it makes you happy to do nice little things for them. You go out of your way to make them feel special, to show them that they are important. Imagine what it would be like to truly love all the people in your life, even the ones that are not in your family or your circle of friends. It's hard to wrap my mind around that because it's so counter-cultural - especially in our generation of facebook, vanity, and whats-in-it-for-me attitudes.

    Once again you have thrown down a challenge for your readers, and I feel compelled to try my hand at it.

    1. Great thoughts, M! I definitely think healthy boundaries are very important. It seems like even recognizing your need for boundaries is a great step toward growth in that area.

      Let me know how your people pleasing challenge goes!