“When I uncovered my need for approval in the Fourth Step, I didn’t think it should rank as a character defect.” – “Character Building,” AA’s Daily Reflections, April 2
The writer of this meditation goes on to state that she wanted to think of her need for approval more as an asset, in that it reflected a desire to please people. She soon learned in AA that her “need” was really more like a liability. It forced her to bend herself into a “pretzel” to get people to like her.
The liability was not in the desire to please, however, but in an excessive desire that had turned into a need and degenerated into “people pleasing.” Wanting people to like us is normal. Needing them to is something else. It puts us in a position of unhealthy dependence on others. “If you set your heart on human approval,” says Becky Pippert, “you’re controlled by the people you want to please.” We become overly concerned with what they think of us and begin to shape our behavior around gaining their approval. The result is that we lose our sense of who we really are. We start compromising our principles. We become fakish. This is not lost on people. Rather than liking us more, they like us less.
A desire to please can translate into a desire to help, to be pleasant, to be of service, to give of oneself. In this desire, our focus is on what we can do for others. Once we become more concerned with how people will respond—with getting them to like us and approve of us—our focus turns to what we can get out of them. It becomes self-serving.
The fact is that we have no control over whether people like us or not. What we do have control over is whether or not we like and respect ourselves. For those of us in AA, that is largely a function of character building and living a life of integrity.