The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Miss Manners: Trying to ‘be myself’ while regretting past actions

Dear Miss Manners: I am 22 years old and have recently realized that I am a calm person by nature. I have suffered inwardly for years because my mom, being excessively gregarious, loud and intrusive, made me believe as a child that I had to be like her to be liked by others.

So instead of learning to be myself, which would have been far more beneficial, I spent all my adolescent and early adult years trying to act outgoing and boisterous — constantly trying to shock and tease others (which is how my mom normally acts). As a result, I became a people-pleaser who couldn't please most people! I inadvertently offended people instead of making them laugh. The raised eyebrows and cold shoulders I received made me work harder, and in turn, become even more shunned.

Now, I have only one dear friend I can talk to. My energy is naturally soft and calm, so overexerting myself the way I used to makes me exhausted and depressed. Now that I have realized this, I strive to be myself: being more calm and practicing etiquette with everybody.

Nevertheless, I still occasionally feel the insecurity that comes from my past of people-pleasing. And although things have considerably improved for me socially, I still get anxious that I might have offended someone. How can I overcome this?

While Miss Manners is not always a fan of the directive to “be yourself” (it is usually an excuse to be frank, which quickly turns into selfishness or meanness), it seems to her that in your case, it is justified.

Not everyone is a comedian, and most people do not welcome the attempts of clumsy or amateur ones. If you slip up and have tangible evidence that you might have offended someone, ask for forgiveness. But do not make the mistake of constantly assuming that you have done so, as that can be its own annoying self-indulgence.

Dear Miss Manners: How does one best phrase a thank-you note in which one wants to express sincere gratitude for the giver's generosity and consideration ... for a gift that cannot/will not be used by the recipient, and for which returning, exchanging, donating or clandestinely regifting may prove impossible?

The giver's intentions were earnest, but one wishes to gently discourage them from anything further in the same vein — or from further iterations or "refills" of the original gift — in the future.

“Thank you, as always, for the side of beef from your local farm. We are still vegetarians, but appreciate your thinking of us.”

New Miss Manners columns are posted Monday through Saturday on You can send questions to Miss Manners at her website, You can also follow her @RealMissManners.

2021, by Judith Martin