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Please Please Please Let Me Give You What You Want by Jamie L. Rotante

Mar 28, 2024

One Punk’s Look at Social Anxiety, Neuroticism, and Other Fun Stuff

I’m a people pleaser. There, I said it. I know that’s not very punk rock, take no shit, #girlboss of me, but it’s true. And it’s something I’m reminded of on a near daily basis.

I’ve been going to therapy consistently now for nearly a full year and it’s helped me in myriad ways (more on that another time), but the thing it’s constantly done is remind me that I’m still, and likely always will be, a work in progress. It’s also given me incredible insights into my brain and odd habits; those aha moments during sessions always carry a ton of weight.

Unfortunately, though, they can also be infuriating. That’s not because of my wonderful therapist, but because of me. Most of my aha, there it is moments boil down to the same root cause: I am, perpetually, a “people pleaser.”

This term can mean a lot of things to a lot of people and, despite the positive connotations of its phrasing, it can often be negative, no matter how you slice it. “People pleasing,” at least in my experience, isn’t really focused on the pleasure of others. Even if it is, it’s at the loss of my own sanity or happiness. But it’s never really about “pleasure,” so much as it is about keeping a status quo. Not upsetting people, but not necessarily making them ecstatic, either. Sure, those moments of validation or praise can absolutely feel good, but is it really worth it after the mental gymnastics and torture that led up to one meager compliment?

A large part of people pleasing is accommodations. Being accommodating to others’ needs and wishes isn’t inherently a bad thing. It is, however, a problem when it becomes less about being flexible to the needs of others, and instead being so flexible you’re consistently bending over backwards to make someone else’s life as convenient as possible. It’s a problem when you become a master at eggshell-walking, carefully bending your toes just enough to never elicit a single crack, even if your bones are breaking from under your feet. It means never saying no, even when saying yes causes you physical, emotional, and mental distress.

The wildest thing about people pleasing is it often rears its ugly head in the strangest of ways. There have been things I’ve done, completely unwittingly, to the point of making myself as small, accessible, and likable as possible. I lived above an awful, awful woman for five years and dealt with near-daily panic attacks and crises of conscience because I didn’t want to ruffle her feathers. Sure, I was also petrified of putting my husband and me in a situation where we wouldn’t be able to find affordable living anywhere else, thanks to capitalist hellscape America, but the reason I believed so sincerely we had no options was because I warped my mind into thinking I was only worth what we had, and having something was better than nothing.

I don’t want to live my life in complete service of others, shrinking myself to fit in someone’s pocket

So I let an eighty-two-year-old woman harass me every single day for five years. I let my heart race every time I thought about having to go home and encounter her. I put up with 3:00 AM phone calls because I was too afraid of upsetting her.

Finally, I stood my ground. I told her off, asked her to not contact me again, and set clear boundaries for the first time in my life. We moved out one week later.

And I felt bad about it for a long time after. I was proud of myself for my ability to finally put my foot down, but I kept dwelling on the fact that she was an older woman, living alone, with few other people in her life. That didn’t mean I had to be her only support system, especially when I didn’t consent to that responsibility, but how could I feel good about snapping at an eighty-two-year-old woman who was just released from the hospital? Saying “no” to people pleasing didn’t feel good in this instance, even if it was vital to my own freedom and sanity.

In a perfect world, I would’ve been able to change her, to challenge her perspectives, to bridge a gap. In the real world, she would’ve just upped her harassment towards me for even trying. I knew this, but it just felt safer to make myself small and accept what was happening than possibly risk failure.

I think and overthink about every possible scenario before sending a simple email, worrying that it’s going to be misconstrued and bracing myself for impact. I agonize over saying the right thing, even if it is the right thing to say, because someone might take it the wrong way. I also feel the need to make myself responsible for other people’s happiness, and struggle with the possibility of someone being upset over my actions—even if it’s the right thing to do.

The thing is, at the end of the day, I can’t control other people’s actions or responses. I can mitigate to the best of my abilities, but the other person will never know the agony I went through to make things as palatable as possible for them. No one will ever know how much courage it takes me to do a lot of things others can do without regard. No matter how much effort goes into people pleasing, for others, it’s just a normal human transaction—which also means that, despite my best efforts, they can still react negatively to it if they so choose.

It’s hard to unlearn people pleasing, especially when it’s so ingrained in me that I realize I’m doing it without even doing it. But the key thing I’ve learned is that doing the opposite of people pleasing—i.e. not giving a single fuck—ain’t it, either. People pleasing sucks, but empathy is a good thing. Apathy will not make me feel better—it might not make me feeling anything at all, but I want to feel things. I want to care about the emotions, needs, and desires of others. I want to be a positive force in the lives of folks around me. I want to help people.

But I want to be accepted, accommodated for, loved, respected, and, when I need it, helped, too. I don’t want to live my life in complete service of others, shrinking myself to fit in someone’s pocket, to be used when needed and given a pat on my head, and then back into the pocket I go. I want to be someone people can reach out to when they need it, but also, think about me other times too. I can be a shoulder to cry on, but a friend to laugh with and take part in the fun parts of life, too. I want to offer opportunities for others, while also having confidence in the decisions and actions I make. I truly believe all things can be possible, if I just don’t decenter my own happiness in the pursuit of validation.

Because, at the end of the day, I’m a person. And if I’m not pleased, then I’ve done an awful job of this whole “people pleasing” thing I’m so damn obsessed with.


Jamie L. Rotante is a writer/editor/proofreader/mentor/Jill of all trades, so long as those trades involve words. She works full-time as the Senior Director of Editorial at Archie Comic Publications, Inc., and has also written a number of series for the legendary company. She enjoys doing hands-on work with youth, teens, and mental health organizations, and doing all she can to make people smile. She’s also a recently converted wrestling fan and would love to talk your ear off about it if you’ll let her. She’s proud to call the near-outskirts of New York City her home, where she lives with her husband and their small-yet-thriving window plant collection. You can find more of her work at www.JamieLeeRotante.net

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