Looking back on my life so far, I see that I’m definitely the burnout queen. Or princess. I would rather be the princess.
I experienced my first bout of burnout when I was in high school. I was taking college-level chemistry classes, and some days I was so depleted I did not have the energy to get out of bed. My mom had to take me to the doctor to make sure I wasn’t sick.
As I got older, I experienced burnout from working in retail. A year into the pandemic, I faced the most extreme burnout ever. Chronic pain and inflammation flared up in my body from overwork and stress, and I was stuck in bed for months due to fatigue and pain. Do not underestimate how damaging overwork can be to your health.
But wrapped up in all the pain, I found a level of healing that I never expected through shadow work.
What is Shadow Work?
Shadow work is getting in touch with the hidden parts of your personality. Sometimes other people can see your shadow, but you are left unaware of it. When others point out aspects of your shadow, you can still fail to see it due to the tricks your mind plays to undervalue it.
Your childhood wounds create your shadow. At some point as a child, you concluded that you had to be a specific way to receive love. In the process, you rejected the parts of yourself that failed to win the love of others. Then you hold on to or even amplify the actions and traits that get the look of approval.
The shadow is known for holding rejected dark desires and vices. My most damaging addictions were a part of my shadow. However, the shadow also holds subconscious abandoned dreams and gifts that you were endowed with from an early age but was forced to reject because they didn’t win the love you wanted so badly from others.
Burnout and the INFP Personality Type
Burnout forces you to face some tough questions. Questions like, “How did I get into this situation? What in my life needs to change? What do I need to let go of? What do I truly want?”
I think the last question is the one I asked the most.
When experiencing burnout as an INFP, you are in the grip. That means the inferior function, extraverted thinking, has taken over. You are now disconnected from the other functions, especially your primary and secondary functions of introverted feeling and extraverted intuition.
“What do I want?” is a great question to ask to reconnect with introverted feeling. It reminds you of your values and what is meaningful to you.
So this is the question I journaled about the most. I wrote about how I wanted to be healthy again and return to my productive and busy life.
But then I started asking myself, “Why?”
Why did I want to go back to being busy and productive?
Because it made me feel good. Obviously.
Why did it make me feel good?
Because being busy made me feel needed and loved. I felt like I mattered.
I believed if I couldn’t work and be productive, I wasn’t worthy of love.
Then I started writing about my fears. What scared me the most about not being able to do what I did before? Why did that scare me?
Focusing on this topic unearthed themes of being afraid of ridicule for being in pain, looking like a “loser” and being discarded by others, especially by those who I loved.
I realized that pushing myself too hard and not getting enough rest was tied to what I believed I needed to survive. It was linked with my desire for love.
I had never seen this part of myself before, and it greatly impacted my actions leading up to the crash. For one thing, I was consuming a lot of caffeine to keep myself going. It had been pointed out to me before that I was a workaholic, and I just laughed it off.
“Work doesn’t feel like work when it’s fun, and resting isn’t my thing.”
But when my body forced me to rest, then I could see through the lies I had been telling myself. And my concept of what it takes to be loved was the biggest deception.
As friends and family cared for me while I was bedridden, I saw that I didn’t need to perform to receive affection. The best people in my life are those who still love me when I’m not beautiful, happy, or productive. As a human, my ability to love others, taste life, and experience the present are far more valuable than what I can accomplish.
Finding Inner Healing from Burnout
So if you’re reading this, you are probably concerned about getting burned out or are currently suffering through it.
My first suggestion is to take a break from seeing yourself through the lens of extraverted thinking. Step away from measuring your worth in terms of how productive you are, how much money you make, how many followers you have, and any other external measurements of success that involve time, money, notoriety, or how you appear. Don’t worry about keeping up, falling behind, or proving anything. Also, tell your inner critic to take a vacation.
Instead of focusing on the external, shift to the internal. Ask yourself what it is you want right now. Write the first, most obvious things that come to your mind without judgment.
Then ask yourself why you want what you want. Keep asking until you get to the center of it.
You may find that the underlying reasons for your desires differ from what you expected. Or maybe not. Either way, it’s okay. The goal here is awareness.
If fear is holding you back from changing the situation that is making you exhausted, write about what specific fears you have and why they matter.
What to Do When You Cannot Escape
Sometimes, it is impossible to immediately escape the situation that is causing burnout. In high school, I didn’t have the option of dropping out of AP Chemistry. But it was within my power to study less, be less perfectionistic with my homework, and settle for a lower grade than I would have gotten if I had worked harder. But the peace of mind I found was worth so much more than achieving a higher grade point average.
And my burnout inspired me to forget about taking college classes my senior year and enjoy as many art classes as I could instead. That was without a doubt, my best year of high school. All I did was draw, paint, listen to music, and hang out every day since I had already completed most of my required courses.
For the sake of my health, I had to sacrifice achievement. What will you need to let go of to avoid or heal from burnout? Whatever it is, make sure to say goodbye to it with appreciation. Burnout always teaches a lesson, even if it’s a hard one.
Moving Forward from Burnout
As I’m recovering, I’m looking forward to the life I will build as I get better. I will make sure it reflects my updated outlook. However, unlike when I was younger, now I know why I was driven to burnout.
Seeing my shadow has helped me to understand and finally break away from my addiction to work. I no longer equate the admiration earned from achievement with love.
Realize that you need to be healthy to get things done. If you’re burned out, you can no longer be of service in a meaningful way. So take care of yourself. Rest, nap daily, get a massage, take baths, go to bed early, eat healthy foods, and do the inner work.
Keep notes of any insights you have while working through burnout. They have the potential to permanently change your outlook. Another reason why many INFPs experience burnout is because they may have the trait of high sensitivity. For more about how being highly sensitive can impact the way you function, check out my post, Eleven Traits that Show Up When You Ignore Your Needs as a Highly Sensitive Person.
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