People who know me well understand that I am an introvert. However, for most of my life, I believed I needed to be around people. I had serious FOMO (fear of missing out). But once I began analyzing the reasons behind my own behaviors, a lot of it was not fear of missing out, it was fear of people finding out. Finding out how inadequate I am, how insecure I am, how inept I am, how traumatized I am. I was afraid that if I was not around, they would be talking about me, and not in a good way.
With people but always lonely
I was not comfortable with my own thoughts or in my own skin. I vibed off everyone else’s energy. I was a taker. I was taking all that I could get from everyone I could – so I was energized when I was in a group – but I was still lonely. I tried everything in the world to be somebody else because I did not like me. I used comparison as justification for why my life was not what I wanted it to be. I did not grow up like her, did not have the same privileges, did not have the income, the education, the access, the support. So, I continued to take what I could from others to make up for the perceived deficits I had in my own life.
I know what it feels like to be totally lost and alone even in a room full of people. I would pop in on people uninvited and impose myself on them because I needed them, I needed their energy. When I was alone, I would get depressed and my thoughts about me and about others were not good. I had no authentic relationships. Today, if you ask me the names of my “friends” from my high school years, my twenties and my military career, I have a hard time recalling them. I was simply a taker. It’s embarrassing to admit.
The stillness was uncomfortable
When all the busyness stopped, the noise died down, and the dust settled, the stillness and peace was so uncomfortable for me. I was depressed to the point of distress and it truly became a crisis. I was terribly low, yet I had plenty of followers and friends. How can this be?
It was all synthetic. I was not transparent and honest, so none of my “relationships” had depth or intention. It all started with my relationship with me. I was a poser. I presented a false self. As I continued to be distracted by the dizziness of the world, I drifted further and further into this role of “whoever you want me to be” to get what I needed. As I began my healing journey, I found my identity. I found that who I am can never be determined by an external factor, it is determined by my Maker. Knowing this truth, I began a quest of loving who I am and becoming my authentic self.
The need to set boundaries
Setting clear boundaries can be one of the healthiest moves you make. Boundaries will test the quality of our relationships. When a person cannot or will not respect our boundaries, they are telling us they will not accept our no, they only love our yes (our compliance), when we do what they want even if it contradicts what we want or need. When a person in our life is unwilling to accept our no, we find quickly that the perceived intimacy we had was synthetic.
Sometimes setting these boundaries will expose why we have felt lonely for years, yet the other person in the relationship perceived there was no problem. It may become clear that all their needs are being met at the expense of our own. We cannot rely on another person to fulfill our needs. Meeting our needs is our responsibility. We sacrifice for those we love but we cannot sacrifice that which we do not have. We must ensure that our own needs are met.
Taking on responsibilities that are not ours to carry
It is so important that we take time in solitude. This world is so stimulating and the “information superhighway” is overloading us. I believe that we are responsible for what we know, and many of us are “in the know” on entirely too much. We have taken on responsibilities that are not ours to carry. In essence, we have crossed boundaries into territory that we are truly trespassing on. All in the name of helping.
To advocate for the lives of others, I must start by advocating for my life. I must see my life as sacred and worthy of protection. This means taking time to care for myself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. This includes having healthy boundaries. I cannot give what I do not possess. Love and limits are married.
Obligation is hard to let go of
A major obstacle to setting boundaries is our feelings of obligation. What do we owe anyone who has even loving toward us? What is appropriate and what is not? We have this idea that because we have received something then we must owe something – or because we have given something then there is an obligation for that person to reciprocate whether it is to us or another person. The problem here is a nonexistent debt. Love is a gift. Whether it comes in the form of time, money, or comfort, it is a gift. A gift implies there are no conditions.
Just turn it all off
How can you ensure that the protection and care you offer others comes from an overflow of the care you have given yourself? One thing that I do is model taking a retreat every month – this is a weekend of turning OFF my phone and social media and intentionally engaging with my family or in activities that add equity to my life. Sometimes it is a getaway, other times it is simply no overstimulation with media, people and distraction. I do my best to model boundaries. One of my coworkers commented “you are the best at setting boundaries”. It is because doing so has been a saving Grace in my life.
Being alone doesn’t mean being lonely
I want to be a fountain, not a drain. I want people to look at me and say, “Because of you, I didn’t give up”. If I am going to pour out like this, then I must be filled first, right? I do not want to offer people scraps.
I know now that while I may be alone, I do not have to be lonely. Knowing how to be alone is essential to learning how to love properly. When I can be alone, then I can truly be present with others instead of using them as a means of escape. This is when you learn to believe you are worth something and that others have value too. I strive to have sincere relationships. I do not want anyone to feel devalued in my presence and my care is not conditional on how you make me feel. I do not expect you to fill some space that is void in me.
If I value my own life, then that will overflow in the interactions that I have with others. It will be real, true, authentic.
How to do get out of the bad cycles
We can become so busy taking care of others (kids, spouse, parents, volunteering) and forget to take care of ourselves. This results in a disturbance of identity development. It is unhealthy for our identity to hinge on someone else. It is exhausting for my actions to be based solely on what another person wants. If you’re caught in this cycle, there is a way out.
1. Be honest about your expectations and where they originate.
2. Set some boundaries.
3. Resist the urge to be right, fix, or save.
4. Verbalize your needs.
5. Prioritize your peace.
Can you see the insanity? Do you feel the fatigue of it all? Don’t burnout, tap out for a minute. Take a break. Release yourself from the constrains of obligations. You’re worth your own time.