March, 2020, it was the start of the Corona Pandemic here in the Netherlands. A week prior to the lockdown measures were in place I was already home with a burn-out. Years of built up stress and always giving in to social pressure from people got me in this position. It was one of the worst ways I ever felt mentally and something I don’t care to repeat any time soon.
Saying “No” and why it matters
People often say that burn-outs are a lifechanging event and this is also very true for me. I’ve learned to say “No” more often, but people don’t always willingly accept my honesty, nor do they seem to fully understand my position. Both are not a problem I can really deal with, because I am not responsible for the opinions of others. But I am always willing to answer their questions about why I choose not to. If after that people still don’t understand, it is probably a lack of empathy, or inability to comprehend why some people can’t always indulge you.
By nature, I’m a people pleaser and this group of people is prone to put the needs of others in front of their own. This is what I used to do for years, until my burn-out. Then things changed and I finally understood how much stress comes from not putting your own needs first. The axiom “To be there for others, you first need to be there for yourself.” comes to mind.
When I used to go to parties, I’d often have a lot of trouble focussing on conversations and choosing which to take part in. There was just too much going on around me for me to focus on. This meant that social gatherings would leave me exhausted, because there were so many impressions. In a way I was thankful for the Corona pandemic, because this meant that pretty much all social gatherings were effectively cancelled and I really started enjoying the calm and lack of social pressure. So much, in fact that I finally understood that at heart, I’m really an introvert and needed to start reevaluating how I used to go about my business. In other words, I needed to say “No” more often, because of how exhausting social gatherings with larger groups of people are. It matters to do this, because otherwise you’ll risk another burn-out, because you overexert yourself. It matters, because the only one who can truly look after your needs is you, because only you know what your needs truly are.
Dealing with the disappointment of others
Saying “No” will inevitably lead to disappointment in people who invite you to a social gathering. This is why it’s so hard to say “No” in the first place, you don’t want to disappoint anyone. Always remember that whenever you don’t want to disappoint someone else, you are disappointing yourself. And then choose which is worse, accordingly.
But how then, do I deal with this disappointment? Well, for one, I always try to appeal to the person’s understanding of my situation. I understand that they want me to be there, because I’m important enough for them to invite me, but I’ve learned that I need to choose my “battles” so to speak. The thing is that you can’t really change the way someone feels if you say “No” and it’s something for them to deal with, after you’ve explained everything and answered all their questions. So keeping an open dialogue is key in dealing with this.
Of course, the disappointment often reflects on yourself as well, because you still have to deal with it, because it might make you feel bad. Still, as I explained above, after everything has been said and done, you can’t really do much else. You are not responsible for the thoughts and opinions of others and as such, it won’t be productive to dwell on this long. What you can do is change your opinion about their disappointment, that really is the only thing you are responsible for at this point. This is the Stoic mindset I try to maintain during these situations. It’s never easy, but certainly gives me peace of mind in the end.
Extroverts might not be as influenced by social gatherings as introverts in terms of how much energy it costs them to go somewhere. In fact, I think they might even gain energy from being outgoing. For me, as an introvert however the opposite is true. When I go to a party, I need at least a day to recover and regain my energy. This means I have to set my limits, for my own sake and choosing for yourself, especially when others don’t is a must if you want to live a happy and fulfilling life on your own terms, and that’s what I’ve been doing these past few years. It is quite liberating, even though not everyone can appreciate it, but that is something for them to deal with. I don’t love them any less, I just live differently from what I used to.
Stay safe and healthy!
Jeffrey, Well said & explained! Geri & I approach “saying no” from a different prospective but with the same result. We look at it as just being honest with people. We don’t lie or make excuses. If something is just too much for us socially, we explain in brief what’s going on in our life & “pass.” Same result as your approach. Phil
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Hey Phil, thank you for your reply! I think our approach is similar, I’m always honest and genuine in my reply to people and don’t make up excuses either. What I’m facing often is a lack of understanding from the opposing side, probably because I used to always say ‘Yes’ and people are not used to me saying ‘No’ instead.
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Good to read this Jeffrey. In a way I feel much the same, though perhaps my limits were sometimes tested somewhat differently. I’m still figuring out how to change my approach to certain situations, so it’s good to see you have found what works for you!
By the way, the pandemic only started in 2020 here, though I agree it feels a lot longer ago.
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Hey Rogier, I thought I had edited it to 2020, apparently the edit didn’t come through, haha.
Back on topic: It has taken quite some time and I value 1-on-1 or meetings with up to 4 people the most. That’s where I can focus on talking and connecting with the people I love. If it goes up from there I experience a lot of trouble focussing and can feel the energy draining from me, after which I need time to recharge. You’re in a position where you’re growing and learning how to deal with it in a similar way that I have. I’m sure you will figure it out as well 🙂