People Pleasing 101

By Wes Frisby


“What would make you happy?” My mother asked as we drove in her car, rounding a corner by my elementary school.

“For everyone else to be happy,” was my only response.  I could not have been more than 10 years old.

Since I can remember, that had been my answer to that very same question.  From a young age, I almost instinctively took on this martyr-like role. Before any heavy traumas, before I learned the cruel outlook on life that I used as an excuse for behavior in my teen years and early 20s, I somehow fell for the trap that I, one singular individual, would be able to have any say-so in everyone on this planet’s day.  Thus began a long road of obscure interests and a forgotten sense of self that was all created on by my own doing.

I made sure to take note of what people liked as a whole, or at least a majority at first.  Speech patterns, personality traits, trending interests in politics and pop culture, and most commonly deciphering what box I fit in best for the world around me.  At the time, this resulted in a lot of RocaWear and music about a lifestyle that at the time I knew nothing about. As time went on, I made things more concise by choosing a specific character that I wanted to be.  I figured if I could choose a certain non-playable character (coined NPC in the gaming world) it would be easier for people to digest and swallow what it was that I was feeding them. This means two things: 1) before I was 13 years old, I was already attempting to be a master manipulator and 2) I was also going to cut the amount of people who’s days I would brighten severely.  However, at such a young age, I did not take into account the second part.

As time progressed, and I started seeing that some people loved the new mask I was wearing while others despised it, the thought popped into my head that I could just create more and wear them interchangeably when I needed.  It was not as though anyone had the slightest idea of who I really was or genuinely enjoyed in the first place solely because I made sure no one knew. I was certain if they did, they would not like what they saw. For whatever reason, this fear of being found out ran a large portion of my life.

The clock continued ticking, dates on the calendar were marked with crimson X’s, my army of masks and fake identities grew larger, and the actual mess that my mom named Wes went further and further into an abyss of doubt and pain from living a miserable existence.

There is something to be said about being a hardcore people pleaser.  It is a harsh duality of attempting to drain every once of your essence to be an empty vessel for whatever someone else needs you to be, coupled with the eventual failing that inevitably takes place which almost always creates unhealthy coping mechanisms that you keep secret at all costs while ever still insisting that you will do better next time.  I continually forced myself to give up portions of what I can only really call my soul and was absolutely astonished when I found myself up in the wee hours of the morning, confused as to why I did not feel full, even though work, school, family, and friends were all amply pleased.

My life revolved around making sure I was the perfect, most non-threatening form of a person as possible while still being cool enough to hang out with anyone that was thrown my way.  I got fit, without getting too fit. I was outspoken without trying to ruffle too many feathers. I made myself strong through my traumas without being overpowering or willing to fight for anyone else.  I dulled my natural glow with the mud of being a bite sized morsel for people who under no circumstances deserved it. I watered down the aged whiskey that I am with as many mixers as possible to ensure everyone could have a swig.  

By the end of it, life looked pretty great.  I had established a decent life for myself. I got the guy.  I had a decent car. I had a host of friends. Money was good and I was working in a field that a part of me still would like to make a career.  I even accumulated time sober from all mood and mind altering substances. Meanwhile, I was completely and totally dead inside. Years of manipulation and lying to please others and simultaneously get what I wanted culminated into a crap ton of possessions with very little inner peace.  A big part of me knew that if I did not change then I quite honestly would have killed myself.

Through a gradual and then sharp decline, I did just that.  It was not the best route. Relapsing on drugs and alcohol, pushing away any and all friends I had the heart to, shutting out my family from what was actually going on with me, and gladly giving away everything I had while I looked for an option to get out were all seemingly appropriate actions to take at the time when I was completely losing my mind.  

The opportunity arose from a friend to go across country to clear my head and go into rehab.  I jumped at the chance. I thought that maybe a 28 day trip in sunny California would possibly give me enough time to re-evaluate things and construct another mask since all the previous incarnations clearly did not work.  I made my way to the airport a few days later and in 10 hours was 2300 miles away from anything I ever knew. Much of the first few days were a blur as I was still detoxing from a plethora of drugs and drinking far more than any 5’8” 160 lb man should be able to put down.  Only random fragments of songs and memories swirled in my detoxifying brain. One thing that stood out was an interview with Lady Gaga that I enjoyed, strangely enough.

The interview was recorded at the Emotion Revolution in 2015 where she spoke on authenticity.  The snippet that stuck out to me was always when she asked herself: “Why are you unhappy?” I found myself asking that question in the mirror all the time.  I seemingly tricked myself into not knowing in the forefront of my mind that creating personas for any occasion to garner popularity, material possessions, and building a form of the “American Dream” can actually make a person absolutely miserable, that person being myself.  As the fog began to clear, I had my first real therapy session with one of the best therapists I have ever come across. I walked into her office and sat down as she typed away.

She greeted me quickly and opened my session with a simple question: “Why are you unhappy?” Without any sort of hesitation I answered her.  I went into a long tangent about how I was unhappy because I did not know who I was and always made sure that I was what everyone else wanted even with my using and drinking.  I told her about how I wore every kind of mask I could think of in order to be what everyone else wanted me to be. In that 45 minute session, I unloaded on her more than a decade of frustration towards myself for not being able to live without the fear of being unliked by people.  It was a good starting point.

I commenced on a journey of being able to look in the mirror and like the big brown eyes looking back.  I had to begin the long road to understanding who Wesley actually is. Needless to say, it is still a work in progress.  However, I can say that I no longer let people of any sort walk on me like a doormat. If I dislike something, I have gotten much more comfortable about expressing my discomfort in an assertive away aside from accepting things that I can actually change or attacking them like a mad dog.  I now can refuse to go with the flow if said flow is headed towards the edge of a waterfall. When I look in the mirror, I am happy with who I am going to bed with. I know a lot more about the guy looking back at me. And I would not have it any other way.