Disappointing Others Can Be an Act of Self-Love

A highly sensitive person practices self-love.

Dear sensitive soul,

High sensitivity is beautiful, and beauty is sought after by others. That’s why others often pursue you. They see the thoughtful, conscientious, caring person you are.

But you often feel the need to make others happy. So you do things you don’t want to do and go places you don’t want to go. You say to yourself, “I only have to pretend for a little while, and then I can retreat and recharge. I don’t want to let anyone down.”

Afterwards, you feel exhausted and emotionally drained. You may even feel resentful of yourself and the other people.

But you dare not admit it, lest you come across as ungrateful or unwilling to compromise.

So what’s the problem here? The problem is not that you’re a highly sensitive person. The problem is that because you’re a highly sensitive person, you don’t want to let anyone down.

So you continue to pretend. You continue to people-please because you don’t want anyone to be disappointed in you. As a result, you find yourself stuck in an exhausting cycle of physical, mental, and emotional burnout.

Disappointing Others Can Be an Act of Self-Love

My dear beautiful soul, I want you to know something. Something that will help you stop feeling the need to pretend. Something that will move you from a place of exhaustion to a place of energy:

To disappoint others for the sake of authenticity is not selfish. It’s an act of self-love.

As a highly sensitive person, growing up was confusing for me — and just about everyone else. People saw me as an enigma. Teachers saw that I was usually smiling or laughing; church members noticed that I could carry on mature conversations; friends knew that I could make anyone around me feel comfortable; and mom and dad knew that I had deep empathy for others.

On the other hand, teachers wondered why I didn’t socialize more with classmates; church members wondered why I always went straight home after the service; friends wondered why I rarely went to parties; and my parents wondered why I spent so much time alone in my room, talking to my imaginary friends.

When you’re sharply attuned to social cues and body language, as highly sensitive people are, you can’t help but notice when people are disappointed in you. Sometimes they even say it out loud. I remember a friend telling me, “You’re so independent” — and that wasn’t a compliment.

Here are other examples:

“Why do you need so much time alone if you say that you love people?”

“Carla, you really need more friends.”

“I don’t understand why you respond to my texts but you won’t answer my calls.”

“Carla, you are constantly withdrawing into your room. You might have a social problem.”

It’s funny now, but it wasn’t funny then! My friends and family deemed my highly sensitive ways as socially unacceptable — dangerous, even.

I’ve had to painstakingly process, and ultimately embrace, who I am. And I’ve found that the key to doing so is self-love and authenticity.

4 Power Steps to Self-Love and Authenticity

When we act authentically, we’re saying that our needs are just as important as the needs of anyone else. We’re showing ourselves self-love and practicing self-care.

Authenticity is a process. That is to say, it won’t magically happen overnight. However, you can start taking small steps now to act more authentically — and ultimately get your energy back.

Here are the four techniques I’ve used that might work for you, too:

1. Get fed up

A desire for one thing usually arises from a desire to not have something else. My desire for authenticity arose from my desire to no longer pretend to be okay with things I actually wasn’t.

I was exhausted. After a while, people-pleasing literally made me feel sick. Headaches, stomach aches, you name it — I suspect these were all ways my body was trying to get me to stop pretending.

I simply had to stop. At one point, I remember my heart asking me, “Why are you making yourself miserable so that everyone around you can be happy?”

Highly sensitive people, the first step to acting authentically is to get fed up with your current state. Acknowledge that it’s time for a change.

2. Get reacquainted

You would think that as highly sensitive people, we would know ourselves well because we spend so much time reflecting, but that’s not necessarily the case. Sometimes it gets so hard to deal with people’s reactions to your complexity that you start to deny your complexity. We start to suppress the unacceptable aspects of ourselves so we won’t have to deal with rejection.

Unfortunately, this only causes more fragmentation. So I encourage you to get reacquainted with those things you’ve abandoned.

Is it weird that I’ll watch Star Trek: The Next Generation and The Real Housewives of New Jersey on the same day? Sure, but who cares! The fact that I like those two shows is part of what makes me who I am. Besides, what you are is never all you are.

Take some time to think about what fills you up. What makes you authentically happy. It doesn’t matter if these things would strike others as odd, indulgent, or even dull. Write a list of these things in your journal. Better yet, hang this list in a place where you’ll see it often, like on your bathroom mirror. Vow to do one thing off this list every day.

3. Get romantic

You know what I realized? No one will ever know me like me and no one will ever understand me like me. I also realized that the cells in my body love me; they work hard for me every day!

So I started to whisper “I love you.” While I’m brushing my hair: “I love you.” While I’m driving to work: “I love you.” While I’m in the shower: “I love you.”

If “I love you” isn’t your thing, you might try a different mantra, like:

  • “It’s not my job to please others or make them like me.”
  • “This is my life, and my life belongs to me.”
  • “My needs matter. My desires matter. My emotions matter.”

4. Give yourself permission to say no

Saying no doesn’t make you a bad person. It doesn’t make you rude, uncaring, or unkind.

Have you ever wondered why we feel compelled to say yes? It likely stems from our childhood. Growing up, we’re told that “yes” is the polite thing to do. If we said no, we got pushback from teachers, parents, and the other adults in our lives. “No” meant we were being difficult, disagreeable, or rude.

Sadly, we hold onto these limiting childhood beliefs. As adults, we continue to think (consciously or unconsciously) that we’ll be abandoned or rejected if we say no.

But “no” shouldn’t be off-limits. As adults, we’re fully capable of deciding for ourselves what is right and what is wrong for us. In fact, no one knows us better than ourselves.

The final step to acting more authentically is to own your right to say “no.”

Highly sensitive people, remember, the path of authenticity is not one for the faint of heart, but it is one that will preserve your heart — and your physical and emotional energy.

A version of this article was originally published on Introvert, Dear.

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