Listening to people in their dark and lonely times. It’s what I do…what I’ve always done. I am the friend you call when you are feeling sad or broken or scared, but probably not for the party or movie or babyshower. Small talk eludes me, and my deep conversation may scare your guests away. Being that kind of friend was something I prided myself on as a child, but quickly learned that most people don’t want to go that far down the rabbit hole. I spent a lot of years giving other people what they wanted from me, slowly emptying my cup but never filling it back up. I became what others needed of me, rather than being myself.
It came to a head a few years ago when my cup, empty and cracked, finally broke. I ended up having a mental break and all the things I was trying to be came crashing down to crush me. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. After some serious counseling and self-reflection, I realized there was no room left to be anything other than me. All the titles I had collected over the years had to be thrown off in order for me to re-evaluate their usefullness. It was time to choose who I wanted to be, not just take what was put on me. Who was I when all those layers had been washed away?
In the last year or two, I’ve been forced to reconnect to my core self. In that core, there is the familiar darkness that I embraced as a child. More than that, I’ve found that there is value in being a light in the darkness for others. What other children shunned, people are now actively seeking. We, as humans, are surrounded on all sides by mounting stress and expectations. It’s overwhelming and sometimes we need a helping hand to find ourselves again. That is who I am and who I always wanted to be.
Over the past few years, I’ve noticed some familiar threads tying people together. One particularly tangled thread (found in everyone but especially common in INFJs, INFPs, and HSPs) is low self-worth. That’s an incredibly broad subject, so today I wanted to separate them into sections to take a closer look. These are roots of a giant, ugly disesteem monster (disesteem being the opposite of ego). This monster trudges behind us, casting a heavy shadow over anyone with low self-worth.
The disesteem monster makes friends with us when we are very young, disguising itself as good advice from well-meaning adults. “Be humble. Be kind. Be helpful.” These are all good things to be, but for some of us–for whatever internal and external factors as we grow up–it turns into: “Be self-depreciating. Be indulgent. Be subservient.” The disesteem monster licks it’s lips and laughs maniacly as it twists our ideas of virtuous things until we push ourselves to a level below the dirt other people walk on. This, and all it entails, leads to burnout.
Here are 4 common factors I’ve found in most of the burnt out people/creatives I’ve met along life’s journey and in my coaching.
- Stretching yourself too thin.
- These days, everyone seems to be cramming in just a few more responsibilities into an already busy life. Every single person I’ve talked to (client and otherwise) is trying to juggle work, personal businesses, kids, school, spouse, etc., and the results are worrying. People feel the world is speeding up because we keep adding more to our plates while the amount of time we have to finish remains the same. This kind of behavior is especially hard on INFJs and other HSPs because of their perfectionism (see number 3). The effects of all this life cramming include constant exhaustion, anxiety, and even illness.
- Flawed perception: ego vs. self-worth.
- This one is slippery. In Greek mythology, there is a word called “hubris” which referrs to extreme pride and arrogance that may be hurtful to others. Hubris leads to the downfall of many a hero and is considered to be a serious character flaw. This warning against super-egos is echoed in what many of us teach our children at home and in school, which is good. However, it’s important that we note, only the extreme end of pride is a bad thing. What I don’t really remember much of in my formative years were the teachings of healthy pride and how to enjoy a hard-earned success. It seems like we are encouraged to keep moving forward to gather as many successes as possible, without stopping to revel in a job well-done. Perhaps it was there and I just latched onto the negative. Either way, there sure do seem to be a lot of INFJs and other HSPs that missed those lessons. Where is the line between pride and hubris? We don’t know, so we keep to the side of constant self-depreciation and debasement, just to be sure we aren’t being arrogant or hurtful to those around us. The idea of hurting someone’s feelings is almost physically painful, and we avoid it at all cost, using self-sacrifice as a tool in our safetybelt. In this way, we slice off pieces of ourselves, emptying our cups, until there’s nothing left, and then wonder why we have no energy for others (let alone ourselves).
- Perfectionism in the INFJ and other HSPs is one of our biggest potential pitfalls. In number 1, we talked about stretching yourself too thin. This problem is greatly exacerbated by our high standards, because not only do we expect to all of those things (work, family, etc.) at once, but we also demand each of them be done 100% flawlessly. You’re an employee? You’d better toss all thoughts of the problems you’re having outside of work out the window because you’re expected to be 15 minutes early, and dressed better than your current position, and constantly going above and beyone in case of that promotion you’ve been waiting 7 years for, and you’d better never call in sick, and, and, and… How about if you’re a parent? You’d better be cooking super healthy meals, keeping the house spotless (is that a stray toy you see on the carpet?), performing well at your 9-5 (if you have one), and keeping up on that side hustle (MaryKay, Scentsy, BeachBody?) to make enough extra money to afford a top tier day care, and, and, and… The list goes on, and if we don’t measure up to what we think society expects of us, we can’t help feeling like a horrible parent, spouse, employee, and generally crappy human being. No matter which part you’re currently playing in your life, you cannot give 100% to them all when you’re over-loaded. Plus, if you’re giving all that energy to too many things, you’ll have approximately -500% for yourself, which ties in with the next section.
- Putting others before self. Always.
- I feel this is the most important section in this article. Why? Because I talk to more and more people all the time who seem to have lost their identity. All of us humans are made up of a myriad of titles. I’ve mentioned in the other sections how we are parents, employees, siblings, spouses, and so many more. When those titles cease to fulfill us, we can’t help feeling empty and sad. But…when do we get to be ourselves? When you’re constantly doing for other people what you are unwilling to do for yourself, does the real you even still exist? Who are you outside of those titles you’ve been piling on since childhood? Somehow, in your effort to be giving and to love everyone the way you wish to be loved, you have lost something essential. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly when it happened, but for so many reasons, you just can’t seem to find time to do those things you love anymore. As far as priorities go, you are at the bottom, six feet under, less than human, animal, and even occupation. Your cup is empty, depression and anxiety have made a nest inside, and you are too busy being useful to everyone else to figure out how to fill your cup to wash that nest out.
So, if you’re reading this and nodding, please do something for yourself today. It doesn’t have to be big. Could be as simple as some home-made drink or treat of choice or as extravagant as a vacation. Doesn’t matter, as long as it’s for YOU. I don’t have the magic answers (yet…working on it), but my advice is to try to take an hour once a day or once a week just for you. Many of the people in your life are adults and capable of tending to theselves for at least a little while. I realize it’s harder if you’re a parent, especially for single parents, but if you can, during their nap or when they’ve fallen asleep or gone off to daycare…take some time to just sit with yourself. Decompress and fill your cup a little.
It’s not easy, so don’t sit there and berate yourself for not doing it, either. That’s counter productive. Forgive yourself for the things you can’t do, and those around you will follow suit. You are harder on yourself than anyone expects you to be, so ease up a little. You deserve just as much effort as those you care for.
You are a whole person and you are enough.