How to Care for Yourself as a Person Who Puts Others First

When you’re wholeheartedly focused on the emotions, wellbeing and needs of others, keeping relationships healthy takes special skill. In Myers-Briggs personality typing, this way of approaching relationships is called extraverted Feeling, a mental function that is focused on others and is defined by the desire to connect with others with empathy and consideration.

For those of us who lead with this way of relating, relationships pose a particular challenge. If we’re not careful, our emotions and needs could get lost in the shuffle of caring for everyone else—but they don’t have to. It’s possible to keep our relationships healthy and balanced by practicing healthy boundaries that include our own emotions and needs.

When you naturally long to serve others before yourself

If you are an INFJ, ENFJ, ISFJ or ESFJ personality type, this function of extraverted Feeling is your guiding force, and the chances are good that you value harmony, peace and connection with others. You probably find that you’re the first person to have compassion for a struggling colleague, help a friend with a newborn, or attentively listen to the life story of the person next to you on the bus. These values are the combination of several gifts you enjoy as an extraverted Feeling type, like:

  • Rich storytelling abilities
  • A natural understanding of human nature
  • Natural care and compassion for others
  • An inviting warmth that draws others in
  • Deep conviction and moral values
  • Highly adept social and social problem-solving skills

Life as an extraverted Feeling personality type means that, while you value your own experiences and emotions, you process and relate to others’ emotions and needs first—and you are not alone in this. Famous people like Martin Luther King, Jr., Jimmy Carter, Oprah Winfrey, and Mary Tyler Moore share this trait with you, which explains why people often connect so readily with their work.

The tendency toward burnout and resentment

While desiring connection and harmony is a positive thing, you might find that you tend toward burnout and resentment when you give too much. As an INFJ, I have sometimes found myself tempted to dunk my phone in my hot tea or cancel all social engagements for the next week during an episode of burnout. I have been known to put my phone on airplane mode when I can’t take another text or call.

It can be tempting to give, give, and give some more—even when you have not filled up your own cup. You might even notice the following signs of burnout:

  • Resentment toward dates or social engagements
  • Resentment toward phone calls, texts, and other interruptions
  • Feeling physically, emotionally, and/or spiritually exhausted
  • Sleep disruptions
  • Eating disruptions
  • Increased illness
  • Anger, depression, and/or anxiety
  • Pessimism or cynicism
  • Isolation and lack of interest in things you used to enjoy
  • Being unable to feel productive or engaged

It’s really challenging to enjoy being in relationship with others when you feel resentful, exhausted and miserable. Even if you think you are covering up how you really feel, the people around you will notice your stress and it is impacting them, too.

In the past, I’ve been guilty of feeling annoyed by conversation at the dinner table and secretly wishing I could crawl into bed to enjoy silence instead. My dinner partners noticed and started asking what was wrong, if I was sick, or if I was tired. Even though my heart’s desire was to care for them, I just couldn’t.

Self-care and boundaries can be a service to others

When you recognize how burnout and lack of self-care negatively impacts those who love and care about you, you might also notice how healthy boundaries and self-care are a service to them.

Instead of a grumpy and depleted friend, you give them the gift of experiencing you as you are:  

  • Fully present in the moment
  • Listening attentively
  • Caring genuinely
  • Responding with heartfelt empathy
  • Extending compassion and grace
  • Making eye contact with joy
  • Enjoying their company without hurry

When you sit down to dinner or meet for a movie at times when you truly have the emotional reserves to connect, you can fully enjoy yourself. This gives your friends and loved ones the precious gift of feeling loved, treasured, heard, valued, wanted, and understood.

Healthy boundaries lead to more harmonious relationships with others

Not only will others experience you in a more positive way when you’re taking care of yourself, but your relationships are likely to become healthier and more harmonious, too. It’s easier to truly care for others without wanting something in return when you are feeling your best. At the same time, when your own emotional needs are cared for and you’re putting our best foot forward, others are also more likely to want to care for you, too.

For example, I once set a boundary with my kids that I need to have some quiet time in the morning before I can have big discussions or go on big adventures. I use that time to journal and process my emotions, and for spiritual practices. When I don’t enforce that healthy boundary, my kids say they get “grumpy mommy”—and they have since learned that they’d rather have “happy mommy” along on their adventures for the day. 

Sometimes, they will jokingly ask if I’ve had my quiet time before we go do something. Even my husband protects that time when we’re on family vacations or over the holidays when there are more demands on my time.

As extraverted Feeling types, you and I want others to feel cared for almost more than anything else. It sure is nice to learn that sometimes the best way for them to feel cared for is for us to be cared for, too.

Check-engine lights are clues that it is time to set boundaries and refuel

Part of learning to set healthy boundaries so that you can refuel is to recognize when it’s needed in the first place. Some extraverted Feeling types easily recognize what others feel or need but struggle to do the same for themselves. Here are some check-engine lights that could be a sign that it’s time to pause, set a boundary, and practice a little self-care:

  • Sensory overload that makes sights and sounds seem more intense than normal
  • The first rumblings of anxiety or panic
  • “Have-to” or “should” self-talk, rather than a “want-to” self-talk.
  • Inability to concentrate or stay present
  • H.A.L.T. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired)

When these little check-engine lights come on, they can be your cue to take care of yourself.  Doing this might be as simple as taking a five minute walk, practicing deep breathing, meditating, doing something fun, having something to eat, journaling, connecting with a close friend, or taking a nap.

Practice makes confidence when it comes to setting boundaries

When you are new to setting boundaries and asking for what you need, it can sometimes feel awkward or even scary. Practice makes confidence and some of the following tips could help you feel more at ease with it over time:

  • Practice with a close and gracious friend first.
  • Practice with someone else who is good at boundaries and self-care.
  • Give yourself permission to mess-up as you practice.
  • Try saying, “I think ______, so I feel,_____ and I need ______.”
  • Practice saying no to engagements by saying things like, “I wish I could, but I cannot” or “I am thankful for the invitation. Maybe next time.”
  • Communicate using “I” statements like, “I am uncomfortable with that,” “I need ______,” or “I am going to _______.”

Try keeping a journal so that you can reflect on what it’s like to notice your own needs, set boundaries, and practice self-care. Be aware of what recharges you, feels empowering, or makes you feel great. Take note of who in your life respects your boundaries and who seems to be a bit of a boundary buster. Over time, you’ll notice patterns in yourself and those around you that can empower you to not only practice healthier boundaries but also to enjoy healthier relationships overall. 

Anne Kinsey

Anne Kinsey is the nonprofit founder and executive director of Love Powered Life, as well as a Certified Trauma Recovery Coach, certified HRV biofeedback practitioner and neurofeedback geek. Anne hails from her rural North Carolina home office, where she resides with her husband and three children. In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, traveling and sitting by the beach, hot tea in one hand and delicious novel in the other.

Comments

Richa Saxena (not verified) says...

Thanks...this advice was much needed as I am an INFJ and I struggle with self-care. My mother was also just like me. She was an ISFJ and she was forever taking care of everyone's needs, forgetting her own. I enjoy being alone as I don't really need to worry about others. Boundaries are so important especially with people who don't respect other's boundaries... it really makes me angry now when people try my patience and abuse my kindness. I just cut off from such people who don't respect other's boundaries. I am learning gradually but sometimes I feel so tired and exhausted that I just give in. I wish I was not an extraverted feeler as I really have a hard time with people around me. Sometimes relationships can feel like a burden and less enjoyable esp. with people who only take from you and give nothing in return.

Anne Kinsey says...

Racha, you are definitely not alone. It sounds like you have definitely been growing in self awareness and your ability to better care for yourself. It's such a process, for sure. Good for you for having the courage to break generational cycles. 

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