“A good rule of thumb is that any environment that consistently leaves you feeling bad about who you are is the wrong environment.” ~Laurie Helgoe
Do you ever worry that if you fulfill your needs you will disappoint others? Do you ever feel guilty for doing what’s best for you?
For years, I felt guilty about taking time for myself. I thought that being alone, away from the rest of the world, meant being selfish. This was especially true in one toxic relationship that kept dragging me down because I was afraid to make a change. As a peaceful, compassionate person who’s always been a good listener and a giver, I was drawn to his unstable and needy behavior, thinking that I could help him change for the better.
But after two years of having to deal with constant putdowns from a possessive partner who thought I was selfish every time I craved alone time, I knew I was nearing my breaking point.
I remember one night, after an exhausting day at work, I joyfully looked forward to a relaxing evening. As I drove home, all I could think of was taking a hot bath, brewing a fragrant herbal tea, and putting on my favorite fluffy pajamas. Under the dimmed light of my reading lamp, snug in a warm bed, I got lost in the world of mystery and imagination that made my soul come alive.
Just a few minutes into my reading session, I received a text from him, demanding me to “get ready in ten because we’re going out, and you don’t have a choice.”
At first, I ignored the message and went back to my reading, since he’d made plans earlier that week to see his friends. Then he called but I didn’t pick up. Finally, after several attempts to reach me, he came rushing to my apartment, banging on the front door.
I pretended to be asleep and didn’t answer. The truth is that I was frightened and reluctant to open the door given his usual aggressive behavior.
I didn’t want to confront him because I knew he wouldn’t understand. I felt mentally and physically drained for having to constantly explain myself and for letting him manipulate me yet again. I was fed up with having to come up with believable reasons why I needed time for myself, and I was sick and tired of constantly changing my plans for him.
But as he left, I started to feel horrible. I felt guilty about avoiding the situation and for not being able to stand up to him. What made me feel even guiltier was that I’d finally done what I was afraid to do for so long. I’d listened to my inner guidance and done what was best for me.
Still, instead of going back to reading and enjoying my evening ritual, I opened up a one-pound bar of chocolate and slowly devoured the massive amount of fat and sugar in a matter of minutes. Instantly, I got back into my “happy” mood, thinking life was good again. But then, as the guilt of eating so much sugar slowly sank in, I found myself back at square one, feeling even worse.
This happened over a decade ago, when I struggled with a full-blown sugar addiction. To compensate for my inability to say no, being a perfectionist, and staying in a toxic relationship, I’d eat sugar. A lot of it. I was so drawn to sweets and chocolate that I couldn’t go a day without eating at least a whole bar. It was part of my daily routine and something I considered normal.
Sugar was the answer to all my hardships. It was my biggest excuse for staying where I was and not doing anything about my life.
Unsurprisingly, I struggled with self-blame, feeling that I was deeply flawed because I was an introvert. In childhood, I was ashamed of being regularly humiliated by my math teacher in front of the whole class and continuously bullied by some of my classmates and older students. Later on, the same guilt haunted me in similar ways, but as I grew older, it became a part of me, almost like a sickness.
After that day, I decided to end the toxic relationship that made me doubt my worth and scarred me emotionally for years. I finally found the courage to confront the person who’d used blaming, shaming, and threatening to cover up all of his wrongdoings.
Throughout our whole relationship, I apologized every time he hurt me because I felt guilty for making him feel bad. I tried so hard to be the perfect girl who never made mistakes, never spoke her mind, and never messed up. I found myself agreeing with everything while my conscience screamed the opposite. For so long, I tried to fix what was broken. I felt hurt, lonely, and betrayed.
The truth is that I believed I was responsible for what he felt. For his actions. For how he saw me. I was afraid of being judged, so I diminished my value to make him feel comfortable. And I was slowly losing myself.
I became an obsessive perfectionist, paralyzed by the fear of not being good enough. Everything I did had to be absolutely perfect. But no matter how hard I tried, it was never enough to meet his expectations.
Now, I know that the guilt I felt that night was the reaction I’d gotten accustomed to, my place of comfort that told me I was safe. But no matter how guilty I felt for doing what I felt was right for me, I gained invaluable courage to start making a change.
It took a great deal of work, patience, and understanding, as well as learning through growth and change, to know what I wanted out of a relationship and how I wanted to be treated.
I started with forgiveness. I forgave myself for not listening to my intuition and for treating my body and mind badly. Knowing that I cannot change the past and that I do not actually want to go back there, I became mindful of the mistakes I’d made and learned invaluable lessons.
When I became honest with myself about what I wanted, I began to take care of myself, preserving my health, nourishing my body, and nurturing my soul. I made my priorities clear and realized what was important to me. I started eating healthy and exercising regularly.
Finding the courage to put an end to my unhealthy relationship inspired me to take action and do something about my serious sugar addiction, which was slowly but surely destroying my health. I signed up for a wellness course that I’d been telling myself I would enroll in for months. Just reaching this place was a huge success for me, at the time.
I remember the moment I got there, I freaked out, unable to catch my breath. All I wanted to do was leave and never return. I thought I wasn’t ready to give up sugar, since it was keeping me safe and comfortable. All I could think of was getting one more bite of my favorite chocolate while promising myself, “I’m quitting tomorrow.”
After days of crying in agony and successfully completing the workshop, I decided to continue without sugar for the whole month. I promised myself that I would let go of the one thing that was making me happy momentarily but holding me back in so many areas of my life.
And that’s when something incredible happened. I noticed that the more I held off sugar, the more I pushed myself to pursue other things. I started waking up early and meditating. I began making better food choices and training for long-distance running. Postponing the immediate gratification and choosing not to eat what was actually hurting me, made me a much happier, more productive person.
I became completely aware that my vice provided a powerful short-term relief, but in reality, it was forming a vicious cycle that was leaving me feeling vulnerable, empty, and regretful.
After I’d forgiven myself, I forgave others. No matter how hard it was, I found the strength to forgive anyone who’d harmed me and asked for forgiveness of everyone I had unknowingly or deliberately wronged in the past.
Forgiving someone means that you are letting go of bitterness and resentment toward that person. It doesn’t mean that you need to contact them or continue having them in your life. Not at all. They don’t even have to know, but in your heart, you know that you have no sourness left, only love and acceptance.
And finally, I accepted myself for who I am and for having my own needs. I went back to reading daily and taking courses and certifications to better myself and improve my skills. I started trusting my innate needs and desires because I finally realized that it’s up to me to decide how I spend my time and how much alone time I need.
As introverts, we feel guilty for not talking enough, for not going out as often as we think we should, and for avoiding social situations because we need time alone. We often end up in toxic relationships because we give, we love, we care about other people’s feelings, and we don’t want to hurt anyone.
But our alone time is so vital to our well-being that if we don’t listen to our needs we end up feeling frustration, resentment, and the inevitable fatigue that goes with them.
Living life according to your own needs doesn’t make you a selfish person. It’s perfectly okay to spend time away from others, to fulfill your need to read, write, create, and explore. It’s okay to want to be alone and to enjoy it. It’s okay to do whatever you need to do to feel fulfilled, balanced, and connected to yourself.
Never feel guilty for doing what’s best for you or for prioritizing what you value in life. Never feel guilty for being honest about how you feel, and never apologize for being you.