How to Prioritize Your Own Needs as a Sensitive, People-Pleasing Introvert

A highly sensitive introvert walks his dog

Highly sensitive introverts don’t like to disappoint others, but putting your needs first is important for your mental health.

Do you find yourself being an introvert who is also a people-pleaser? Let’s form a club, you and I, one where we may not meet, but we will have great empathy for one another.

I didn’t know I was a highly sensitive introvert until I was an adult. And, like many other introverts, I tried very hard all my life to figure out what was “wrong” with me. Why was I so quiet? Why did I prefer my own company to the company of other people? And why did I like spending long periods of time alone? The list could go on and on…

Also, due to a constant lower-intensity abuse cycle in my life, I was on edge all the time from the trauma and always trying to avoid the wrath of a certain parent. I learned as a child that it was safer to try to anticipate the needs of that parent than to have their anger as a constant companion. 

As an adult, this safety net is no longer useful or necessary, but until I could bring it out of my subconscious to untangle, I was a diehard people-pleaser.

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Putting Others’ Needs Above Your Own 

If this is something you can relate to, perhaps you will also recognize a common people-pleasing trait: putting other people’s needs before your own. Maybe you promised yourself you would go for a morning walk, but your friend is having problems and calls for help. “It’s okay,” you tell yourself, “I’ll walk tomorrow.” But a little piece inside you withers and you start to resent your friend. 

Or maybe you have decided to drive to that store across town that you love and get some of that solo discovery time that you have been craving. Then your teenager asks to borrow your car. “Oh well, it wasn’t that important,” you tell yourself as you hand them the keys. 

In the meantime, you’ve created yet more evidence that you are not worthy of your promises to yourself and the resentment builds. Is it time to change that? It sure is. Here are some ways to do so.

8 Ways to Keep Promises to Yourself as a Sensitive, People-Pleasing Introvert

1. Become aware of the promises you are making.  

As with everything growth-related, bringing awareness to your inability to keep your promises to yourself is the first step. Start noticing what you are promising yourself and make a list as the promises pop into your brain. For instance, I’d start with my examples above: 1) Morning walk (walking and hiking is a common go-to activity among introverts); 2) Going to the new store across town for some alone time; and so on. 

2. Decide if this is a promise you really want to keep — or can let go of.

Do you wish you could play the guitar or learn a new language? Do you want to try skydiving? Do you really need to re-pot those 12 plants? 

Similarly, is going to your high school reunion what you want to do or what you think others want you to do? 

Get very clear on this: Do I really want to do this? Or do I think I should do this? Am I doing it for me… or to please others? 

Once you have a heart-to-heart conversation with yourself, you may be surprised at what is revealed to you. Introverts don’t like to disappoint others, and we’re also not fans of conflict, but putting your needs first is extremely important for your mental health and well-being.

3. Practice letting go of the self-promises you don’t truly want to keep.

Next, it’s time to honor your decision to let go of the promises you don’t want to keep. Let’s say your friend suggested skydiving, and although it sounded exciting at first, you don’t really want to do it. If you are required to jump out of an airplane to keep a friend, it’s time to find new friends! Let your friend know as soon as you decide: “Thanks so much for including me, but I am going to pass on the skydiving. I can’t wait to hear all about it though!” Plus, by forcing yourself to do it, you were people-pleasing instead of listening to your instincts — and highly sensitive introverts have great instincts.

4. For the promises you keep, set a deadline.

For those promises you want to keep, decide on a timeline. If it’s the reunion, then you already have a date. If it’s your morning walk, what time will you go? Maybe those plants need to be repotted this week, or maybe it could be done sometime in the next month or two. Whatever you decide, don’t let other things get in the way of breaking these promises to yourself. (Hint: Putting your phone on Airplane Mode can come in handy at these times.)

Plus, since we highly sensitive introverts get overwhelmed more easily than others, don’t try to get everything done right now. Otherwise, it’ll be too easy to break your self-promises. 

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5. Start small: Keep one small promise to yourself, then add another… and another.

Once you keep one self-promise, it’ll be easier to keep a second… and a third. By starting small, you’ll start gathering evidence that you are capable of keeping your promises to yourself. Some examples could be: “I will watch three more social media clips and then go to sleep” (so make sure to put your phone down after three more clips); “I will put one load in the washing machine before I leave for work” (and do it); and “I will get off the train one stop early to get a little walk in” (and follow through). 

Keeping little promises to yourself helps you see your self-worth and paves the way for keeping more challenging promises, too.

6. Decide ahead of time what is worth breaking a promise for. 

Some things are obvious, like your partner or child is in the emergency room at the hospital, so it’s easy to decide what the priority is in a situation like this. Then there are the harder issues to stand up to or put into a category of “yes” or “no”: a best friend in need; your child asking for help; a highly tantalizing invitation; that email or message alert on your phone. Then there are the pure distractions: social media, Netflix, screen time. 

Think ahead about what your boundaries will be around your promises, and these different categories of distractions and road bumps. It can be hard to set boundaries as an introvertsaying “no” to others is hard — but it’s necessary for your self-care and well-being.

7. Schedule your promise — treat your time as the valuable commodity it is.  

Want to go to the gym three times a week? Put it in your phone (or paper) calendar. Finally taking time to go beachcombing? Put it in the calendar. Going to go see that movie you’ve been dying to see? Mark it down. Having things in your calendar not only serves as a reminder for you to do it, but it is also blocked-off time that you are not available to others. 

It’s okay to say, “I’m all booked up Tuesday,” even if it’s time with yourself and not with others. As highly sensitive introverts, we especially need that alone time with ourselves. It is not a lie to say, “I’m scheduled at that time. Do you have time next week?” Time with ourselves is just as important (if not more so) than time with others. 

8. Honor your promises, for they reflect your priorities.

Okay, this is probably the toughest one, but you’ve got it. You’ve kept your little promises, you’ve kept your bigger promises, and you’ve gotten a better understanding of what your priorities are. Now, honoring your promises may involve that people-pleasing swear word: “No.” 

Saying “no” will probably be new to you and to the people who hear it come out of your mouth for the first time. How to say it easily? You may stumble the first few times. “I have a commitment for the next 30 minutes, but I will call you right after that.” Or, “I need my car today, but it’s available tomorrow.” Or, “Thanks so much for inviting me, and I hope you will again, but I have to pass on this event.” 

Or, if you are unsure, you can say, “Okay, let me think about it and I will get back to you by lunchtime.” Like gathering evidence that you can keep promises, saying “no” more often will help you gather evidence that you, your friends, and your colleagues will survive when you say no. Trust me! 

Keeping Promises to Yourself Is an Act of Selflessness

I have found that keeping promises to myself has become easier as I’ve become more aware of why, as a people-pleasing, sensitive introvert, I broke them in the first place. Often, it is a promise to myself to schedule alone time, which others (like less-sensitive people or extroverts) can’t really wrap their heads around. “It’s not like you are doing anything,” they may say. Oh, but I am…

By keeping our self-promises to be alone, we are creating space for others in our lives (later on). By honoring our promises and our relationship with ourselves, we grow the energy to become better friends, parents, children, coworkers, partners, you name it. Keeping our self-promises is one of the most selfless things we highly sensitive introverts can choose to do. You’ll see.

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