Wednesday 27 July 2022

Everyone Gets to Be Who They Are

I saw a social media post the other day which invited readers to share a quotation or piece of wisdom that had changed their outlook on life. The first that sprang to my mind was something I learned from Fran in the early days of our friendship.

Everyone gets to be who they are.

Fran had been telling me about someone she knew, and how their behaviour had irritated her. I made a half-joking comment to the effect that maybe she needed better friends.

“No,” she replied. “Everyone gets to be who they are.”

“Even the assholes?” I asked, now less than half joking.

“Even the assholes.”

Something about the exchange stuck with me. Along with other favourite mantras of ours such as no pedestals and baby steps are steps too, Fran and I reprise everyone gets to be who they are from time to time. Why does it resonate with me so much? I think it’s because it’s a healthy reminder that none of us is perfect. We all carry our share of hang-ups and issues around with us. Some of these might be classed as quirks or personality traits. Others are more problematic. We may be aware of them or not. We may be working to change them — or not. But in this moment we get to be who we are.

It’s important to emphasise that this isn’t an excuse for us to behave badly or inconsiderately. Neither should we tolerate abusive or otherwise hurtful behaviour in others just because “that’s how they are.” I’ve touched on this before, in a post titled Is Being “Too Sensitive” a Bad Thing?

[“Everyone gets to be who they are”] reminds me that we’re not responsible for (or able to change) other people, even those we find difficult or have issues with. On the other hand, we don’t have to excuse or condone behaviour that hurts us.

Fundamentally, I’m talking about accepting three things: people make mistakes; people can change but often don’t or haven’t done so yet; and we get to decide if we want people to remain in our lives or not. And it’s not all about other people. We are the “other people” in our friends’ lives. Sometimes, we’re the asshole. This is something I’ve written about previously:

A friend on Twitter shared a link today to her blog article about needing to let go of unhelpful, toxic people and relationships. Her words brought me face-to-face with the realisation that there have been many times in my life when, for one reason or another, someone has needed to let go of me. It’s not an easy thing to admit to oneself, but I don’t have to look too far, or too far back, to find examples.

Acceptance isn’t enough, though. Seeing ourselves clearly — and with compassion — is only the first step on the road to changing inappropriate or unhealthy outlooks, beliefs, or patterns of behaviour. We’re not required to hide or bury our true selves order to please others, but neither are we to use the “this is how I am” defense to excuse riding rough-shod over other people. As I’ve written elsewhere:

We’re each responsible for how we handle, or attempt to handle, the situations in which we find ourselves, but that doesn’t release us from responsibility for how we behave towards, relate to and interract with others. We may not know their histories, their pain, their needs, their triggers, and it is okay to get it honestly wrong sometimes, but we need always to be aware that our lives impinge on others and that good intentions don’t give us the right to wade in, unannounced or heedless of our impact on those around us.

That’s fair enough when it’s our behaviour that needs attention. It’s less straightforward when we’re talking about the impact other people have on those around them. Where do our responsibilities lie then? If someone is at risk of hurting themself or others, I believe we have a responsibility to speak up. Where that’s not the case, it falls to us to check our boundaries. Is this behaviour acceptable to us? If it falls within the allowance of grace we extend to those closest to us — and hope they extend to us — then all is well. They get to be who they are, and we’re ok with that.

Where we’re unable or unwilling to make such an allowance, we have a responsibility to protect our boundaries, ourselves, and our wellbeing. That might mean temporarily putting some distance between us and the other person or finding some other way of mitigating the effect their behaviour is having. A short break may be all that’s needed. In extreme cases we may need to part ways. Whatever happens, the important thing is to act in our best interests. No matter the situation or relationship, it does not serve us to sell ourselves short, make do, or accept less or worse than we deserve. In the words of Maryam Hasnaa At-Tauhidi:

Having compassion and empathy for why someone behaves the way they do based on their experiences, never means you have to tolerate the behavior or hold space for it. You can absolutely have compassion and set a boundary. This is what it means to also have compassion for yourself.

And that is how we get to be who we truly are.

Over to You

In this article I’ve shared a saying that has had a major and lasting impact on my life. Does it resonate with you? What do you think about the topics it brought up for me? Maybe it conjures different ideas and meanings for you.

What are your favourite quotations or sayings? Has something you heard or read had a lasting impact on you?

We’d love to hear from you, either in the comments below or via our contact page.


Photo by Jacek Dylag at Unsplash.



  1. From ‘Conversations with God: an Uncommon Dialogue: “allow each soul to walk its path”

    1. I haven't read that book but I agree with the sentiment of the quotation. Thank you.

  2. This was such a well-balanced article!

    I grew up in a church that made a few too many excuses for bad behaviour. It was refreshing for me to realize that while I’m not responsible for the behaviour of others, it is also totally okay to avoid spending time with people who behave in certain ways.

    I also liked the way you drew the conversation around to times when others have had to set boundaries with us and how that’s okay, too. That was a nice way to wrap everything up.

    1. Hi Lydia, thank you for taking time to comment. I am glad the article resonated with you. It was a minor revelation for me, a few years ago, when I realised that sometimes people would have perfectly valid reasons for holding to their boundaries with regards to keeping me in their lives, and that whereas sometimes yes it was because my behaviour was misguided or wrong in some way, at other times it might not have anything directly to do with me or how I had behaved. And both those situations were okay.