A woman leaning against a white wall with the shadow of another person on the wall

“Letters to My Younger Self” is a series focused on wisdom and self-awareness. Just as you write letters to a friend to encourage and uplift them, here is the advice we would go back and tell our younger selves.

Dear 15-year-old me,

Someone just whispered about you. Then, someone told you. Now, someone is yelling at you that you are a bad friend for something you didn’t even do. It’s so confusing.

The pit in your stomach grows as you try to figure out how to make sense of it. The group that’s threatening you gets up to leave math class. Meanwhile, you struggle with the decision of whether or not to run after them and try to still be in the group or let it all go and find your own way. 

Stay still. Feel your breath. Trust your worth. Then, turn around and walk away. Pleasing others, though tempting, will never be a path to truly becoming yourself. It feels like belonging to the group is a safer option, but you don’t know yet what a big world it is. 

Pleasing others, though tempting, will never be a path to truly becoming yourself.

I wish you knew that finding your own way, though hard, will be the path to becoming yourself. You are a loyal person and a loyal friend. Loyal to a fault even. Your compassion, which will later drive your career, is not a compass for choosing friends.

Don’t get me wrong. Compassion is essential in friendship, but it is not the reason to pick it. You’ll learn this later too.

You are a pleaser, a pleaser who earnestly and honestly wants to make the people in your life happy. If I am totally honest, you have chosen some people that take advantage of this trait. Now, I am not saying that is a conscious choice. Yet, your commitment to making others feel better has set you up for friendships that take advantage of your desire to be good. When they are upset, a listening ear you provide will be turned into a receptacle for blame for things that are not yours to carry.

You are so sensitive. While this feels like a liability now, it will later be your superpower. I want you to know that one of the most important things you will ever allow yourself to do is to disappoint other people. Pleasing people may be an adaptive strategy from your childhood to feel loved, but it doesn’t serve you well.

Pleasing people may be an adaptive strategy…to feel loved, but it doesn’t serve you well.

Pleasing people keeps you from becoming all of who you are made to be. In the choice to please versus become, you no longer have to compromise. Becoming the woman you are meant to be and pleasing others do not always go hand-in-hand. You will learn the freedom in that.

Healthy relationships don’t require you to be pleasing. They are built on mutual care, kindness, respect and healthy boundaries. You will learn this eventually, and you will make some of the best friends you have ever had in your life. You will be understood by them and be supported by them in ways that teach you about what friendship is.

You don’t have to sacrifice who you are and bend in ways your body, mind and heart are not made to bend to keep these friendships. Because that is not friendship. That is something else entirely.

Who you are—fiercely loyal, sensitive to others, driven by compassion—when in the right relationships and with the right boundaries, these things will no longer feel like liabilities. You will see them for the gifts they are. When you allow yourself to disappoint people and remove yourself from the mandate to please others to be OK, you will find yourself free to become who you have always been. 

What I would tell you is this—who you are is just fine, better than fine. No amount of approval or disapproval can change that. So walk away, kindly and with purpose. Walk away from unhealthy friendships and become yourself.

Your Future Self

Have you ever struggled with people pleasing? As you have gotten older, are there certain friendships that have ended because they were not healthy?

Image via Silke Labson, Darling Issue No. 16 

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