Pathological people pleaser

Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you not look only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

“It’s me. Hi! I’m the problem. It’s me.”

“Pathological people pleaser.”

If you had told me at the beginning of this year that I’d have two articles inspired by Taylor Swift, I would’ve thought it was crazy. But here we are.

(Read my first one, about the Eras Tour phenomenon, here.)

Both phrases above are lyrics from Taylor Swift’s “Midnights” album — one from an original single “Anti-Hero” and the other from a recently released vault track “You’re Losing Me.”

Both are deep cuts. I relate to both.

One of the primary dilemmas of my adult life is how to serve and give selflessly, while still taking care of myself and not getting used or walked all over.

‘Also to the interests of others’

I want to be kind and giving and open. The Bible commands it.

Philippians 2:4 says, “Let each of you not look only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

I want to be the person who is always available when someone needs help. I want to always be kind and gracious when people ask for help. 

But I’ve recently found myself considering whether I’m taking care of myself in the meantime. 

Am I neglecting to set up healthy boundaries and then letting myself get worn down? (“It’s me. Hi! I’m the problem. It’s me.”)

Am I a “pathological people pleaser,” so consumed with meeting others’ needs and gaining their approval that I’m neglecting my own needs?

Where can I find the balance we all need to sustain selfless service and personal health? I think both are equally important.

Displaying Christlikeness

When I am feeling run down, tired and taken advantage of, it affects my attitude when helping others. It affects how and when I am able to help others. It affects the Christlikeness I’m supposed to be portraying.

Here’s an example:

Recently at work, someone had a project nearing a deadline. I knew it would take them longer to do it all themselves, so I helped out. But in helping them out, I got behind on my own work, causing me some stress and irritability at work. 

And it’s no one’s fault but my own. They didn’t ask me to do part of the project for them, I decided to do it on my own. I wanted to help, but at what cost? They were completely capable of doing it on their own. 

Or another:

A longtime friend asked if she could come over and I help her out with something. To which, of course, I said “Yes.” 

I said, “Yes,” while also knowing that I’m going on vacation in a week and because of that I have extra work to catch up on and extra chores around the house. And I have commitments for several nights already that week. 

And I don’t even know that the “wise” thing would have been for me to say, “No” — but I wish I had really considered the implications of that “Yes.” Do I want the last few days before my vacation to be stressful? 

As an introvert, I really value (and desperately need) my recharge time, but sometimes I wait too long to have it. 

I don’t have a magical solution. I’m still trying to figure it out myself. So just know, if you find yourself as a pathological people pleaser feeling burnt out, you are not alone. Take some time for yourself. In most cases, things will be just fine without you. (But have the wisdom to know when things are emergent.)

Jessica Ingram is a regular contributor to The Scroll. She also is project manager for TAB Media Group. She graduated from Mississippi State University in 2017 and is a member of The Church at Brook Hills, Birmingham.


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