View Cart

Counseling People Pleasers

Truth In Love 422

How to be freed from the harsh taskmaster of people-pleasing to the easy yoke of pleasing Christ.

Jul 10, 2023

Dale Johnson: This week on the podcast, I welcome back my brother, Lou Priolo. He’s a graduate of Calvary Bible College and Liberty University. He holds a Doctorate of Divinity from Calvary University. He’s been a full-time biblical counselor since 1985, and he’s the author of several books, including The Heart of Anger, Pleasing People, and most recently Loneliness, along with several other titles. Lou’s a member of the IBC International Association of Biblical Counselors and a Fellow in the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors. He’s the director of Biblical Counseling at Christ Covenant Buckhead in Atlanta. He travels frequently throughout the United States and abroad training pastors, laymen, and fellow counselors as well as conducting a wide variety of seminars through Competent to Counsel International, the nonprofit organization, which he founded in 2013. Lou and his wife, Kim have been married since 1987 and are the parents of two grown daughters, Sophia and Gabriella. Lou, it’s so good to have you on the podcast talking about this subject that, unfortunately, I think so many people deal with this issue of people pleasing.

Lou Priolo: It’s very, very common.

Dale Johnson: Very common. Well, thank you, brother, for joining us. I really appreciate that. Listen, I want to start here as we talk about some of the characteristics, and maybe we’re diagnosing our own heart, or maybe we’re in a counseling room, and we’re trying to sense what’s going on in an individual who’s wrestling and struggling. Talk about some of the characteristics that we would see in people pleasers.

Lou Priolo: Let me begin now by saying, you know, we can hear people’s words and we can see their actions, but we really can’t see their heart. Man looks at the outward appearance, God looks at the heart, and so, as counselors we basically have to ask them questions, right? Proverbs 20:5 says counsel in the heart of man is as deep waters, a wise man draws it out, and so, like I say to my counselees often, look, I can’t see your heart, and you’re going to have to look in there and tell me what’s in there. And then together, once we discover what’s in there then, we’ll go to God’s Word and find the biblical diagnosis and biblical solutions to that. So, some of these characteristics are things that we as counselors cannot see, but the people who are trying to help in answer to our questions may be willing to disclose them.

So, the first thing is he fears the displeasure of man or people more than the displeasure of God. Like it says in the Book of John yet many people even some of the authorities believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees, they did not admit to it for fear that they’d be thrown out of the synagogue for they loved the praise of people more than, you can actually translate that Greek word rather than the praise of God. 

Dale Johnson: Now, I appreciate so much that you’re describing some of the characteristics, but I hope our listeners don’t skip to fast forward into the characteristics, what you said at the beginning of that in distinguishing for us as counselors how we view things, we can’t open up a person’s heart, we can’t see into a person’s heart, we have to take what we can see and then overlay that into the Scripture so that we can discern well and that’s so helpful methodologically, Lou. I think that’s important for us to consider as we think about these characteristics which you’ve articulated from the Scripture. So I want to talk about, now it’s easy for us to see people pleasing in a negative way, and that’s typically how the Scripture presents it, and I think we ought to emphasize these types of subjects the way the Scripture emphasizes these types of subjects, but I want us to consider, is it ever right for Christians to try and please people? 

Lou Priolo: Yes. Dale, it absolutely is. And in the whole second chapter of the book, I hit that right at the beginning of the book and again, six circumstances in which it is right for us to try to please people. So, number one, it is lawful to please men or people to the extent that such people-pleasing is not the leading principle of conduct or primary motive of your actions, but rather is subordinate to the love of God and love of neighbor. Second, it’s lawful to please people to the extent that the establishment of a good name for the cause of Christ is your motive. I mean, the Bible says, a good name is rather to be chosen than silver or gold, right? If you want to be a church officer deacon or an elder supposed to be above reproach, so there are times in which, depending on our motives, it’s a good thing for us to want to have a good reputation.

It’s lawful to please man to the extent that the Bible commands you to please honor and obey your parents, your rulers, and your superiors. It’s lawful to please people to the extent that the Bible allows you to please your spouse, right? He who is married cares about the things of the world, how he may please his wife. She who’s married cares about how she may please her husband. It is lawful to please people to the extent that you are to become all things to all men whom you are attempting to save for Christ. And then, finally, it’s lawful to please people by denying yourself the use of your Christian liberty so as not to put a stumbling block before a weaker brother.

Dale Johnson: If listeners could understand what you’re trying to describe here, and you know a lot of times biblical counselors sort of get this label as if we’re one-sided on several issues, and what you’re doing here Lou is so helpful in helping us to see the dynamic of the Scripture, that’s the language that I use quite often to show how the Bible helps us to see how to do something in a proper way motivationally, and then, how to retract from it or how to refrain from sin by pursuing the same thing in a selfish manner. And that’s exactly what you’re trying to describe for us here.

Now, we’ve talked about some of the right ways, or as you can consider it lawful ways to please people Scripturally. Talk about some of the dangers. We’re certainly more familiar with that part in biblical counseling but talk about some of the dangers of being a people pleaser.

Lou Priolo: Well, inordinate people-pleasing brings you into bondage by enslaving you to every man you desire to please. I mean, as Christians, we perform on the stage of One, right? God is our audience, and if we try to please people more than God, then we become a slave to all the people that we’re trying to please when it’s a lot easier to please one person than to please a thousand or a hundred, however many people, you know, are around us. 

Dale Johnson: Yeah, I love that, and sometimes our people-pleasing leads us into such futile and vain pursuits. I want you to talk about that for a second. Why do you see this pursuit of people pleasing as an exercise in futility when we try to please people too much?

Lou Priolo: Why is it impossible to please people? First of all, it’s fruitless to try to please people because each person is different and therefore, by pleasing some you will inevitably displease others. It’s unrealistic to please people because their selfishness distorts their thinking and raises their expectations above that, which you can reasonably fulfill. It’s futile to please people because most people are unregenerate and believe you to be foolish and strange. It’s unreasonable to please people because even amongst Christians, judgmental attitudes and critical spirits are too prevalent. It’s pointless to try to please people because even Jesus Christ, the perfect man, did not please everyone. It’s useless to try to please people because people are fundamentally incapable of being pleased by anyone or anything other than Christ. 

Dale Johnson: That’s such a phenomenal point, Lou, where you’re using Christ in it, that people were certainly not pleased with him. I think that’s a good warning to us, a caution, even, as how often we try our best to please people, but how often we fail? Even when we give all of our efforts to doing something like that, it becomes a futile pursuit, and I want you to talk about the biblical alternative. What is an alternative to being a people pleaser? 

Lou Priolo: Yeah. This is really the heart of the book. The first half of the book basically convinced the stew out of you, it helps you realize in how many ways, dozens of ways, you’re a people pleaser. And then, the second part of the book talks about to how to correct the problem, and fundamentally, the solution to be too much of a people pleaser is to train yourself so that in every decision you make you think about what is pleasing God. So the put-off is pleasing people, the put-on is pleasing God in every decision, what does God want? What will please Him? What would the Lord have me to do? So it’s a matter of sort of retraining your conscience, which for many of us have been programmed by our upbringing because, you know, our culture says we have to please people and then to train our conscience to think in terms of what does God want me to do, what will please God? And then to make the decisions more on the basis of what pleases God than on what pleases man. They loved the approval of man more than the approval of God is the way that the word can be actually translated. 

Dale Johnson: And this is foundational. This is why we talk in biblical counseling so much about our aim is to help someone work through the process of sanctification in the counseling room. Our aim is to allow a person to live before the face of God, to do the things that please the Lord because that’s the way we were made as human beings. That’s the aim that God gives us in the Scripture. This is not a secondary issue. This is not a peripheral issue. This is a foundational issue and this is where we see the fallout when we desire to please people more than we desire to please the Lord. And this is something that’s so helpful to discern and so helpful to keep in the forefront of our mind, as so many passages Colossians 3:17, 1 Corinthians 10:31, remind us that everything we do, all has to be done to the glory and honor and the pleasure of God. That’s why we were made. So what are some of the benefits of being a God pleaser? 

Lou Priolo: Well, the first one is you only have one master to please, rather than many, and one master is a lot easier to please than hundreds. Another benefit is that the One you please is wiser than men and will neither misunderstand you nor treat you unreasonably. The One you please will judge you not on outward appearance but on that which is in your heart. In the book, I make the point that God will reward us, not only for what we actually do but also for what we want to do but we’re hindered from doing. The One you please is not a respecter of persons. The One you please is immutable, unchanging, and will not be displeased with you today over something He was pleased with you yesterday, like so many of the people that we have to do business with. The One you please does not require you to harm yourself in order to please Him but is pleased only with those things that will ultimately lead to your own happiness. The One you please will not be influenced by tail-bearers, gossips, or false accusers, neither will he be misled by misinformation. And I think there are a few more in the book as well. 

Dale Johnson: All those are so helpful and you see what’s happening as you’re listening is you’re building our discernment, Lou. You’re helping us to discern the way the Scriptures do, not based on a cultural lens or measuring stick, not based on our upbringing, not based on what’s societally approved, you’re helping us to see through the lens of Scripture on how to approve these things. One other thing that I want to ask about maybe we’ll end here, is I’m thinking of Philippians chapter 2 and having the mind of Christ, and part of our being conformed to the image of Christ is to treat others the way that Christ treated others in preference of others, thinking of them more than we think of ourselves. How can a Christian learn to esteem others better than ourselves?

Lou Priolo: I think it’s important to look for specifics. I mean, obviously, there are things in which, as we evaluate ourselves, we know that God has gifted us in, right? Like, whether it’s counseling or some kind of athletic ability, or musical ability. But to look for the things in other people that are praiseworthy and commendable, sort of like the Philippians 4:8 list, right? Whatever things are true and honest and just and pure, think about those things in terms of the people around you. What are the things in these other people that are true and honest and just, and pure, that kind of thing. Whenever you see a quality in someone that is a biblical quality, a quality of the Bible says Christians should have a portion of the fruit of the Spirit, or characteristics that an elder should have, or characteristic of a Titus 2 woman or a Proverbs 31 woman to look for those things and to approve them.

But Dale, the bottom line with this, I end up saying this to a lot of counselees in a lot of different contexts. The greatest commandment is to love God and then love your neighbor. The trick is to learn how to focus more on how I can love my neighbor. Who is my neighbor, right? Whoever God puts in my path. Remember the Good Samaritan. To focus more on how I can love my neighbor than on how my neighbor is not loving me. It’s really easy for us to get our feelings hurt, to respond sinfully, to be filled with self-pity because we think to ourselves, well, I wouldn’t treat someone that way, or what was he thinking? Doesn’t he realize how hurtful that we’re supposed to, wait a minute. He’s a sinner. I’m a sinner. I really need to focus my attention not on how he didn’t love me or she didn’t love me, but how does God want me to love him? What are his needs? What are her needs, and how does God want me to meet those needs, to minister to him, to minister to her? 

Dale Johnson: I love that. It puts it in proper priority, and that’s what we really need. We need that type of discernment to think, how do I love other people? Because we know that’s what God wants us to do, but do it in a way that pleases Him, that honors His name in the way in which He would handle other people as well. So Lou, this has been very helpful. You mentioned that you wrote a book on this back in 2007, released by P and R, and wrote a book called Pleasing People: How Not to Be an Approval Junkie. We will put that in the show notes, if you want to read more on what Lou has been referring to hear about how to counsel those who are people pleasers. Thanks, brother, for your time. Really appreciate it. 

Lou Priolo: My pleasure, Dale. Thank you.

Helpful Resources:

Click here for more information about ACBC’s fall training events. 

Click here for more information about ACBC’s Annual Conference.