A while back I wrote a post on being “high maintenance,” in which I promised two things: first, that I was going to work on getting back into proper habits for self-care, and second, that I was going to blog about it weekly.
Well, I have at least followed through on the first, if not the second. It wasn’t very long at all after I wrote that post that I got the ultimate People Pleaser Self Care Test. My lovely husband’s parents came by for a visit. A three month visit, which is still ongoing.
You see, the real problem with being a people-pleasing high maintenance person is not the amount of “maintenance” that you require to function properly. It’s that we have a nasty tendency to expect the people around us to provide that maintenance, usually without being asked.
We expect the people around us to naturally know that we can’t function properly if we have to go weeks without a certain amount of private “down time” sans social interaction. We expect them to know that having four people talk to us simultaneously, all of whom are apparently blissfully unaware that three other people are talking at us about something entirely different, at full volume, makes us want to run out of the room and hide in the nearest chifferobe. (Assuming we have a chifferobe. I suppose a wardrobe or a broom closet would also work.) We assume that our spouse, surely, would at least understand the conjugal implications of not having any privacy for three months.
Unfortunately, even the people who genuinely love us, do not automatically know these things.
Which brings me to the thrust of this post. Part of good self-care for sensitive people is educating those around us about what we need from them to be healthy.
For many sensitive, high maintenance folks, step one is learning to not depend on other people to calm our anxiety. I just picked up Hal Runkel’s excellent book, ScreamFree Parenting. His primary assertion is that the most important thing you can do for your kids is to learn to calm yourself down. Runkel writes that we need to “grow ourselves up” and learn to calm our own anxieties, rather than insist that our kids calm them by doing exactly what we say. I’m vastly oversimplifying the content of the book, but the concept applies in adult relationships as well.
As long as we both expect others to manage our anxiety for us by automatically behaving in a way that doesn’t trigger our sensitivity, and fail to communicate clearly what they could do that would help us, we’re stuck.
We’re expecting others to not only be mindreaders, taking responsibility for something that’s really ours to manage; but also often assuming that if we told them what would help us, they wouldn’t do it.
Let’s use my houseguests situation as an example. I did the wrong thing initially. I didn’t develop a realistic plan for a situation I knew beforehand was coming. This is fairly typical behavior for many sensitive folks: we hunker down and sort of become human armadillos, rather than reacting proactively to stressful situations.
Fortunately, my life and my job won’t allow for me to curl up into a metaphorical ball for three months.
That said, I did have a plan for the situation; it just didn’t go far enough. I had planned periodic “retreats” for myself each week to recharge and decompress. I had stocked up on healthy comforts for myself (aromatherapy products, particular magazines, teas, and snacks). I stocked the fridge with some healthy foods that I know help me maintain my energy levels under normal conditions.
The problem was, I wasn’t under “normal conditions.” I was depleting my energy and becoming stressed much faster than I had expected.
The parts of my self-care plan that I could do entirely on my own were not enough. So I called in reinforcements–I let my husband know that I needed a dedicated private space in the house. We sat down and brainstormed, and came up with a plan just before a business trip took me out of town.
This is when I re-learned an important lesson: Your needs as a sensitive person are not someone else’s priority, or responsibility.
When I got back from my trip, the plan was still just that–a plan, with no action taken on it. I had to enlist help again to actually get the plan executed.
I also had to set (and enforce) some limits to the social activities and invitations I accepted. Even though you tell people that you need to cut back your socializing to stay healthy and in balance, you will find that everyone assumes you’ll be cutting back on someone ELSE’s event, and will be totally free to attend theirs.
With a re-tooled, more realistic plan in place and working, I was back to my usual energy level in time to go to a conference in Las Vegas, and deal with both business networking and the sensory-stimulation-fest that is Vegas itself, without getting completely wiped out. Even so, I paced myself at the conference, and when I was feeling drained, I begged off for the night.
So the key ideas I leave you with are:
- If you know in advance that you have a situation coming up that is going to tax your reserves of energy, have a plan in place to take care of yourself.
- If you find that the plan isn’t working, enlist help to brainstorm an improved plan.
- Don’t count on others to know your needs.
- Take responsibility for executing your plan, even when you’ve enlisted help. Your needs are not their priority or responsibility.
- Set and enforce limits on activities that will knock you out of balance, even when doing so makes others unhappy. They’d be less happy to have you break down crying at their party–it’s a buzzkill.