Self-Care Makes Me Cringe

(This is the first installment of a 5-part series for the month of May, which is Mental Health Awareness Month, about being a healthy INFJ.)

Do you have certain words that make you cringe? I have a whole list of words that make me go ew. You can probably guess some of them: moist, damp, plump, and most abbreviations of words like bujo, FOMO, and LOL. I realize I used OMG in the last newsletter. What can I say? I’m full of surprises.

Let me tell you about another word, or rather phrase, I don’t like: self-care. Self-care? Isn’t that synonymous with self-absorbed? Lazy? Wasteful? I mean, who has time for self-care when there’s so much to be done?!? So many people who actually need care? I recognize now that I need to be very purposeful about self-care (just as you do, dear <<First Name>>) because of the way I'm wired.

As INFJs, we tend to not think too highly of self-absorbed people. We’d never admit this, mind you, but it’s a real thing. But get this: if you continually push self-care aside because you feel guilty about doing something for yourself, you will crash and burn at some point. It's just a matter of when. Maybe you already HAVE crashed and burned, but you still kept going. I get it. I’ve been there. I beg you, from someone who has crashed and burned multiple times by neglecting self-care: please reconsider. Or, if you’re already working on self-care, take the next few minutes to consider how effective your current self-care is, and if there are new ways you can take care of yourself. 

Nearly two years ago I found myself at the lovely crashing and burning stage. For me, this meant a physical manifestation in my body coupled with increased anxiety. I had massive shoulder/back/neck/head pain that put me out of top-working condition for days. I had heart palpitations, and—although they’re rare for me—a panic attack. It was a series of life events that converged and left me in a state of not coping very well. I once again sought therapy to help me process through the swirling events in my life.

Therapy is tremendously helpful for INFJs because it helps us process our nonstop thoughts. If you have health insurance that provides it, or the funds to pay for it, a good therapist can provide a safe place to work through issues. That’s a huge step in the self-care direction. I felt so indulgent at first, sitting there, talking about my feelings. But it helped so much! Even if therapy is not an option for you, though, you can begin incorporating self-care in your life before the crash and burn stage so you never actually crash. Or burn.

Here are two things I’ve learned that helped me get over my distaste for “self-care” and actually start…well…taking care of myself. I hope they help you, too.

1. Figuring out what I want and like helps me make decisions that protect me from burn out.

On the surface, this seems like a very obvious statement. As INFJs, though, we can be so focused on what others want that our own interests become blurred. Take a few minutes right now to list some things that you like. Take it a bit further and describe how you want to feel throughout the day and what makes you feel inner peace. What truly moves your heart? Think about everything—foods, activities, experiences, people, environments, colors, smells, weather conditions, etc.

I hope this is an easy task for you, but depending on where you are in your journey, it may be difficult to decide what you like. If your list is rather short, start keeping track of things that make you smile and make you feel how you want to feel.

Once you know what you really want, how you really want to feel, and what you really like, you can begin to make decisions based on those things. Use this list for ideas about how to take care of yourself! You may have to make some difficult decisions because it’ll mean saying no to people and things. It also means you'll have to put your own interests above others at times. However, this is the most basic first step to avoid overextending yourself and eventual burn out, which is all too common for INFJs who don’t actively guard against it.

In my life, one of the things I value most is freedom. My strong desire for freedom is also rooted in a strong set of values and integrity. I’ve learned to recognize what it feels like when something is encroaching on my freedom and if I don’t change my perspective, or simply say no, I’m going to end up feeling resentful and trapped. This doesn’t help anyone. Recently, this meant saying no to a contract job opportunity with a very long list of rules and to-dos. It was very difficult to say no to the income and opportunity, but after running it through my values, interests, and desires (and the fact that I actually could say no to the income at the moment), I made the very difficult decision to contact the client and tell them I couldn’t do it. It was hard because I didn’t want to be a disappointment. After I made the decision and followed through, though, I felt immediate relief. The guilt that I had before disappeared because the choice was based on what fuels me and ultimately makes me a better person. It allowed me to reserve my energy for things I truly care about.

2. Most people will not understand when you need to say no, or take time for yourself. And that’s ok.

Most INFJs are people-pleasers to the core. We crave harmony and we’ll do almost anything to achieve it, as long as it doesn’t conflict with our core values. The vast majority of people think about what they want or need, so it shouldn’t bother us so much when someone is upset with us for saying no. Your friend’s response when you say you need to stay home this weekend is not about you—it’s about her. It’s true. You can’t control someone else’s feelings and responses, so how can it be about you? It’s that their plans are not happening as they had hoped. I know this may sound incredibly selfish, and I even feel a little taken aback by writing this. Yes, I want the other person to be happy with me. Yes, I want to maintain my friendships. But this goes back to #1 above. Knowing what I truly like and want, knowing how I want to feel, and using those things as a filter for my decision-making actually makes me (and YOU) MORE available for things that matter most. Ultimately, my energy is reserved for making a difference in the things I really care about.

I want to hear from you—What are some things you’ve discovered that YOU like, and how have you incorporated more of them into your life? Comment below with your ideas.

Read part 2 of this series about being a healthy INFJ here »