After COVID-forever, the holidays are ready for full display in all their splendor. For many empaths and sensitives, COVID gave us a break from overextending ourselves to fulfill other's expectations. Cue a collective sigh. Now the season is here and we are preparing and planning to give our time, energy, meals, and gifts to others.
Before awakening to being an empath, or highly sensitive person, many of us show up in life as a people-pleaser, or someone everyone considers helpful and kind by constantly making ourselves available to others. In doing so, our unending "helpfulness" can takes its toll.
Does this scenario sound familiar?
Everyone is having parties this holiday season after COVID, and you've just received your 5th party invitation. In the midst of the joy and excitement to see your friends, a pang of overwhelm flashes through your mind, but you vow to make every single one, with their favorite dish in tow. There's no way you're going to disappoint your hostesses!
The first party is in 3 days and you need a new outfit. Everyone will be wearing something new and you must look your best. And your dish has to be shining too. Uh-oh! You've got some serious shopping to do, but your budget is limited. You consider backing out, but you can't disappoint your friend. You spend more than you have and make it happen.
The day after there are two more parties. You got this! The first one is a lunch, lake-casual party. Your friend calls the day before and asks if you could come early to help set up and you quickly respond, "Yes, of course. Anything you need!" As soon as you hang up you remember the evening party is a black-tie event. Faaannncccyyyy! Better get a dish made by the local caterer. The thought of the tight schedule raises your anxiety. Not only is it packed, you also have to spend more money. But it's for your best friends and you can't disappoint them. You try to calm yourself and prepare for the day. You'll figure out how to pay the credit card bill when it comes in.
Parties 4 and 5 are the following weekend. They are theme parties: ugly sweater and favorite holiday movie character, including theme dishes. Most importantly, both of these parties are collecting food for the local food bank. At the end of each party, you offer to drop off the collected food because you pass by the food bank on your way to work every day so it's no problem. Each host gratefully obliges. As you walk out the door, the host says to you, "I just love you. You're so helpful!"
Back at home after the last party, you flop onto your couch. Five fabulous parties in 2 back-to-back weekends. As you wearily reflect back, you think about all the people you saw and new faces too. You were warm and kind to everyone you interacted with. Of course, you were! That's who you are!! And as you weaved in and out of conversations, you were pleasantly agreeable with everyone, even if the discussion wasn't in line with your values.
In all the joy of giving, how have you made time for you?
COVID gave you an opportunity to make space for you, but all that's gone out the window. Can you see any signs of people-pleasing? The scenario above is harmless on face value. But doing this day in and day out - at work, at home, with friends, with strangers - for years on end can make you lose sight of who you are. At some point you have no idea of what makes you happy and you feel lost if no one needs you to help them.
People-pleasing can lead to:
a lack of self-care
getting sick or mentally burned out from the self-imposed pressure of trying to please everyone
a river of resentment inside as a result of bottled-up anger because you feel taken advantage of by people you love
pulling away from people instead of letting them know how you feel and what's going on
difficulty genuinely enjoying the little things in life
inability to relax because you are so concerned about everyone else' quality of experience
If any of this speaks to you, your brain currently knows people-pleasing behaviors, but it can learn new ones. It will take conscious action on your part to move from people-pleasing to healthy giving as an empath or highly sensitive person.
12 Steps to move
from people-pleasing to healthy giving
Realize you have a choice. Every time you are asked to do something, become aware that you have a choice instead of reacting with an automatic behavior.
What are your priorities and who do you want to spend your time with? It becomes easier to say 'no' to anything that doesn't align with your goals and values.
Love yourself enough to say 'no' by creating boundaries for yourself. Some people in your life will get upset, defensive, or angry because they have benefitted from your people-pleasing in the past. Begin to surround yourself with people that support your healthy steps to live authentically.
Set a time limit when doing things or helping others by letting them know you have a hard stop time or you need to be home at a certain time.
Use your spidey sense to consider whether you're being manipulated into doing something someone else doesn't want to do. It shows up as a compliment or flattery that you "do it sow much better than I ever could."
Place an empowering mantra on your bathroom mirror to start your day off: "A 'no' to them is a 'yes' to me" or "I'm the guardian of my time and energy."
Until now, your go-to responses to requests of your time and energy are 'maybe' or 'I don't know.' If you know your response is a firm 'no' on the inside, stand tall on the outside and say 'no' with conviction: "I won't be able to make it," or "Unfortunately I'm at capacity," or my favorite, "I have plans that day but thank you for thinking of me." No explanation or excuse needs to be given.
Create time to think about your decision to commit your time and energy by responding with: "Let me get back to you on that," or "I need to check with my partner. I'm not sure if we have any plans that weekend."
When you start using 'no' you'll begin to experience a new set of feelings: the discomfort of rejection, judgement, abandonment, or feeling less-than-perfect. Welcome these feelings, instead of avoiding them, so they'll have less power over your choices and actions.
Every time you say 'no', document your win and celebrate in a way that fills your soul.
Know that no matter what you do, someone will disapprove. At the end of the day, YOUR opinion is the only opinion that really matters.
Reassure your inner child that this is about saying YES to loving and respecting you, your time and your energy. You are the only on who can do that. Remind yourself, "I'm lovable for being...not doing."
In the Spirit of Living Bravely
Shine your love and light, my friend.
Nikki Hewett is a certified Whole Person Relational Coach that specializes in empowering awakening empaths and highly sensitive people live a one-of-a-kind, engaged life and experience flourishing relationships. Nikki awakened in 2017 and now supports other empaths and highly sensitive people through their awakening to Living Bravely.