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Christian Counseling: Compulsive Pleasing

Psychologist, Les Barbanell, Ed.D., wrote in The National Psychologist (May/June 2013) on the subject of compulsive pleasing. In his article he explained the criteria of what he and some others call The Caretaker Personality Disorder (CPD). I do not believe this disorder made it into the soon to be released DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition). Never-the-less, it helps us better understand the problem that, in my opinion, is not short on subjects.

Those suffering from CPD are compulsive pleasing who put others way ahead of themselves to their own detriment. They can’t seem to help themselves from sacrificing their own wants and needs to satisfy their own fear of offending and not pleasing or caretaking of others. They have great difficulty in saying “No” to the requests or expectations of others. They are guilt-ridden. They are commonly sensitive to rejection and have difficulty understanding why it seems to happen to them so often, especially since they are so giving. Barbanell says these people include those in the helping professions—doctors, nurses, therapists and religious leaders. To that list I would add many Christians, mostly women.

Scripture speaks much about caring, loving, attending to, accepting and giving to others and of self-sacrifice, but few direct comments about self-care. However, the latter is there in good measure and visible when time is taken to understand implications behind words of wisdom or commands. For example Paul in Acts 20:35 recounts the words of Jesus, “‘It is more blessed to give than receive.’” It doesn’t say it is only blessed to give, but more. And Philippians 2:2, 3 says, “regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (NASB). Many read this as forget yourself and always give to others. Yet, it clearly states we are to regard others as “more important” meaning we are also important. It doesn’t say always look out for the interests of others, but in addition to looking out for yourself, look out for others as well. The same can be said for the second great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. We are expected to love ourselves, but not to the extent we forget or don’t care about others or become too self-centered.

Scripture also speaks to limitations on giving. Jesus withdrew Himself from needy people to be alone; He needed and took downtime. There were times He said "No" to the pressures of demanding and needy people to sleep, eat and take care of other needs—bodily and spiritual. Galatians 6:1 tells us to consider ourselves before jumping in to help someone else caught in a trespass. Sometimes we should say “NO” and not permit ourselves to help. If we don’t reasonably take care of ourselves—emotionally, physically, spiritually, and intellectually—we will have less to give to others and can even prove to be harmful to the receiver.

Giving because someone has a need or simply out of a desire to help or please another is commonly characteristic of a healthy Christian. But to give out of duty or obligation is near the line of unhealthy and is crossed when self-sacrifice is coupled with a feeling of being driven by fear, guilt, and/or poor self-esteem and not the Spirit of The Helper. Does God always say "Yes" to your every prayer? 

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