getting off the people-pleasing treadmill

For years, I was a world-class runner.

Amazingly, I didn’t own a decent pair of sneakers. Or a single cute and sporty work-out outfit.

Yet, everyday, I woke up and began working out on my “treadmill.” It didn’t have a bunch of fancy settings. In fact, it had only one: Pleasing People. With each new little life I brought into this world, I turned this setting higher and found myself running at an ever-steeper incline.

If I could please no one else, I was determined to please my children. Earn their love and approval. Satisfy their every need. Be the best mom that I could be.

I painfully discovered that like a treadmill, people pleasing takes us no where. It makes big promises that keep us moving, but the direction is never forward. It keeps us stuck in a place of continual, worn-out exhaustion.

As a mom, these were the dangling carrots that I kept chasing after on the people-pleasing treadmill:

Love. I so desperately wanted my children’s unconditional love. But my method was often too much indulgence, too many second chances and not enough responsibility. I did have their love, but I “earned” it at the cost of a healthy amount of their respect.

Peace. If there’s anything that an approval junkie craves, it’s peace. At any cost. We just want everyone to be happy with us. All the time. You may find this shocking: I discovered that to be an unattainable goal with children. In fact, the more I tried to soothe their displeasure and fulfill their desires, the more their demands and discontent intensified. I didn’t understand that peace at all costs isn’t a healthy goal. When the right kind of peace is achieved, it’s the product of many hard-won, unpopular battles over many years.

Worth. The reason I wanted these little people to love me so much? My worth depended on it. If I could be the best mommy, do all the right things, earn their undying love and gratitude, I might just be enough. But anytime we try to anchor our worth to anything other than God, we end up feeling hollow and hopeless.

Each disappointment and failure to obtain what I sought, left me wounded. I was determined to try harder, but with a fading emotional energy to sustain me.

Finally, burned out and defeated, I jumped off the treadmill. And when I did, it was as if Jesus simply said to my heart, “I was waiting for you to do that, Child.”

No condemnation. No, “What took you so long?” Just an invitation to walk a different path. God calls us to run a race, but not a futile one. He gives us direction, worth, grace, unconditional love — none of which we have to earn. And He invites us to take time to rest and rejuvenate.

I’m still running the good race. But I’m leaving the treadmill behind.

Obviously, I’m not trying to win the approval of people, but of God. If pleasing people were my goal, I would not be Christ’s servant. Galatians 1:10

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  • God brought me to the “end of myself” about 5 years ago. He showed me that my people pleasing was all tied up in perfectionism. I had to be a involved in ministry because that was what a perfect Christian did. I had to make my own baby food, cook healthy, imaginative meals, keep a perfectly clean, lovely home (which I failed at constantly!) because that’s what a good wife and mother did. I was strict with my kids so they would be good, polite, helpful so I would look like a good, no perfect, mom to people outside of my family. I did everything I could to project the image that I mostly had it all together. The result? I was resentful, felt undervalued and I was just plain tired–mentally and physically. I looked around and it seemed that people who were the most loved were some of the most “flawed”. They allowed their flaws to be seen, they were “real”. I was amazed. I finally got off the treadmill and began saying NO a lot. I set boundaries for myself which felt mean but I needed it to get better. I reminded God that he said that he already loved me for who I am and not for what I did. I asked him to prove it. He did. I began to see there are people in my life I will never please and that’s okay. I think it says more about them than about me. Now the ones I concentrate on are people who love me just as I am–flawed, sometimes crabby, messy, and real.

  • Thanks for your post it gave me a new perspective on a painful decision I had to make regarding my parents and brother’s family. I always just tried to keep the peace by biting my tongue. Ultimately it just led to more emotional abuse. When my, for lack of a better word wimpiness led to them treating my kids the same way, I found my backbone. I knew speaking up would cost me my relationship with my family but I have learned that it wasn’t nearly as valuable as I thought it was.

    • {Melinda} Yes, they do, Lyza. It took me a long time to recognize and embrace that, but it was so freeing when I finally did. Thank you so much for coming by and commenting!

  • What an AWESOME post!!! It absolutely resonated with me in so many ways… I also think of not only my children and all that I have done to “win them over” but so many many people in my life that have been my idols and been given priority over God! I need the reminder DAILY to honor the ‘vertical relationship’ more than any ‘horizontal relationship’…in the end, the peace from that is much more gratifying than finding worthiness in others.

    • {Melinda} Thank you, Chris! This is an issue that is so close to my heart because I have struggled with it SO much! The right kind of peace that comes from putting God and His ways first is so worth the battle.

  • You really hit the nail on the head here! Being the parent is hard work and can seem pretty thankless, but you are so right: peace is the product of many hard-won, unpopular battles over many years. Our kids grow through challenges, just as we do. If we give in and give them everything to make them happy, everyone ends up losing.

    • {Melinda} Yes, giving in seems like it will make them happy. And it might — short-term. But we’re really hurting them in the long-term. I have asked God — and them — to forgive me for not doing right by them in some areas.


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i’m melinda


I’m a woman who was radically changed when the God I thought I knew since childhood opened my eyes to the overwhelming depth of His love for me. I love speaking, writing, and pointing women to the Father so they can experience for themselves the healing power of His incredible, captivating love.

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