February 1, 2024

How To Make the Most of Your ‘Villain Era’

It’s not about embracing your dark side — it’s about showing up for yourself

person standing on exclamation point holding up a No. 1 finger, wearing cape and mask in front of crowd

You ever have those moments where you think to yourself: Enough is enough? No more late-night work without getting proper pay for it. No more saying “Yes” to activities you don’t really want to do. And no more sitting back quietly while someone talks down to you in a condescending tone. It’s time to reclaim your power. You’re the hero of your own story!

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But when you start making power moves and reinstating those much-needed boundaries, people might be quick to cast you as the villain — especially if they’re used to you putting their needs before your own.

When this happens, it’s important that you embrace your “villain era” — the time for being a pushover has passed.

While every good story certainly needs an iconic villain, your villain era doesn’t have to be full of negativity. But what does entering your villain era mean, and what does it look like? And aren’t you deserving of your just rewards? Why take on the role of a villain anyway when you’re just embracing your authentic self?

Here’s something to consider for a plot twist: Psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD, says the term “villain era” isn’t about tapping into your dark side motives — it’s about empowerment and choosing to be your best self when faced with adversity.

What is a villain era?

“Villain era” has gained popularity in social media circles as a term that defines your intentional decision to prioritize yourself, your needs and wants over the priorities of others.

Despite the phrase’s negative connotations, it doesn’t exactly give you a hall pass to exact revenge on anyone — but it does provide a space in which you put yourself first and don’t have any regrets about doing so.

“Your villain era is a shorthand way of referring to asserting your boundaries,” states Dr. Albers. “It’s particularly aligned with feminism to communicate the idea that it’s perfectly OK to assert your boundaries, to say ‘no,’ to take care of yourself and know what you want even if it makes other people uncomfortable.”

And that’s where the villain aspect of this mentality comes into play. If you’ve gone so long without upholding healthy boundaries, or if you’re often a people-pleaser, you may be more likely to experience negative reactions from people when you start putting your foot down.

That’s certainly not a reflection of you doing anything wrong. But it is a moment to pause and ask yourself whether the people who are casting you as a villain really care about you and your well-being.

“In small doses, people-pleasing isn’t a bad thing, but in the long run, if you exclusively people-please, it can lead to a lot of resentment, anger and not feeling authentic to who you are, which can snowball into other mental health issues,” explains Dr. Albers.

People-pleasing is often a coping mechanism that kicks in as part of our fight, flight, freeze or fawn response to fear or trauma or to prevent any kind of negativity. Because of this, we sometimes end up being trapped into thinking that it’s OK to sacrifice our needs in order to support others. Over time, if our needs aren’t being met — at work, at home, and in our relationships — we can lose sight of what’s most important.

“Sometimes, boundaries are so evaporated that you can lose touch of whether you’re doing things for another person or for yourself,” adds Dr. Albers. “It can be difficult to feel like you have a right or that it is OK to have boundaries.”

There’s some overlap between the villain era mentality and main character syndrome — but rather than being the star of your own fantasy, the villain era is all about defying other people’s expectations. You’re actively no longer putting on a show for the sake of other people. Instead, you’re choosing to empower yourself to be the best version of you.

“You can be seen as ‘the bad guy’, but that’s where you have to embrace it and be OK with it, to not care if people do not like when you assert yourself,” encourages Dr. Albers.

How to enter your villain era

When thriving in your villain era, you’ll likely make several behavioral changes that might include:

  • Prioritizing your needs over others.
  • Re-evaluating your relationships and letting go of people who aren’t supportive.
  • Learning how to say ‘no’ when you feel uncomfortable.
  • Only participating in activities and social gatherings that inspire you, motivate you or suit your needs.
  • Asking for the things you believe you deserve.
  • Asserting your boundaries and calling attention to those who ignore them.
  • Reinventing how you physically express this new version of yourself.

Looking at this list, it certainly feels like you’re reinventing the wheel. And in a lot of ways, you are! But you don’t have to tackle it all at once or even do this on your own.

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Dr. Albers provides some helpful tips for embracing the villain era mentality without running the risk of becoming an actual storybook villain.

Brainstorm

If you’re not sure how to start your villain era, begin by taking inventory. Make a list of what you like and what you don’t like, and then brainstorm ways to make changes in the areas you’re not satisfied with. It becomes easier to know your path forward when you can step back and take a look at the bigger picture and how things are affecting your physical, mental and emotional health.

“Sometimes, it’s easier to start with what you don’t want,” suggests Dr. Albers. “Pay attention to what your mind and what your body says when someone makes a request. If your gut reaction is, ‘I don’t want to do that,’ pay attention to it. Or if in your mind you feel uncomfortable, slow down and be mindful of it and listen to it.”

If you’re a people-pleaser, your gut instinct may be to push negative thoughts aside, talk yourself out of making changes or ignore your negative reactions to what’s unfolding in front of you, but do what you can to stick to your plan. Doing so will have positive returns down the line when you begin to normalize some of that behavior.

Start slow

Entering your villain era doesn’t mean you have to throw caution to the wind and completely overhaul your life. But you can start small with low-risk actions.

“You want to build up your confidence in saying no and going for the things you want without having anything disastrous happen,” notes Dr. Albers.

Start with the people in your life who are important to you and you know care about you. Express the changes you’re making, experiment with saying “no” when you don’t want to do something and emphasize the things that matter to you most in the moment.

“The people who are closest to you are likely not going anywhere and they’ll be more willing to communicate and be respectful of your boundaries,” affirms Dr. Albers.

Practice saying ‘no’

Look, saying “no” to anything can be SO hard sometimes. No one wants to experience negative backlash or be confronted with an uncomfortable situation. But you have to start somewhere, and sometimes, that starting line begins with practicing in the mirror.

“If you’re someone who’s uncomfortable saying ‘no,’ practice in the mirror or in your car by saying it out loud. Over time, you’ll find a way to get comfortable with how it sounds,” says Dr. Albers. “When you say ‘no,’ you want to say it in a tone that’s firm and assertive, and you want to really sit in that decision.”

Honor your limitations

Change can be difficult, but the most important thing is to be true to yourself and be consistent in the changes you’re embracing. You also want to state and clarify your boundaries in a firm yet affirmative way, and try to avoid mixed messaging.

“You don’t have to explain to anyone why you’re taking care of your own needs, but it’s about being true and consistent with the changes you’re making,” says Dr. Albers. “Reassure people you are on their team, and then, continue to circle back and reassert those boundaries.”

For example, if a friend calls you late at night and you’re exhausted, but they want to have a conversation about their terrible day, it’s OK to say, “I can talk for 10 minutes, but then we can regroup tomorrow.”

“You’re setting a limit there and being clear about what is OK and what is not OK,” clarifies Dr. Albers. “It’s fine to help people. But where it crosses over into something negative is if you feel taken advantage of or if you’re saying yes to something when you mean no, or if it’s something you feel uncomfortable with from the beginning.”

Ask for what you want — and what you need

You’ve been putting in a lot of extra work lately, with late nights at the office and a little bit of overtime on the weekends. A people-pleaser may feel like they deserve extra pay or more time off, but they may talk themselves out of having that conversation because they don’t want to make any waves. But if you’re embracing your villain era, you’ll take yourself seriously and recognize that it’s more than OK to ask for what you deserve.

“You’re cognitively reframing the situation and coming to that understanding that communicating your needs and prioritizing yourself is OK,” says Dr. Albers. “Once you wrap your mind around that, it can really be a game-changer.”

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Don’t apologize

If anyone gaslights you into feeling selfish for wanting what you deserve remember: There’s nothing selfish about choosing to empower yourself.

“There’s such a double-edged sword with the term ‘villain era,’” points out Dr. Albers. “It’s implied that it’s OK for men to be assertive or to set limits, but for women, if she’s being assertive, she’s seen as bossy. We should take away some of those negative terms for women and empower them.”

So, if you’re feeling a tinge of regret for embracing who you are, or if you feel the need to apologize, take a step back and ask yourself who you’re apologizing for.

“I don’t think you have to apologize for saying ‘no’ or making changes in your life,” reinforces Dr. Albers. “Sometimes, women become too apologetic and explain why they’re doing what they’re doing instead of just acting on their needs and wants.”

Learn to let go

“We all have the right to reinvent ourselves, and I think part of the villain era is letting go of things and walking away from relationships that no longer serve you,” says Dr. Albers. “If it’s not a reciprocal relationship, then that’s a sign it’s one to let go.”

One-sided relationships can pop up at home, at work and even with long-time friends and family members. If someone is consistently dumping their problems on you and they’re not there when you need the same level of support, that might be a relationship that needs re-examined. The same can be said for that person at work you’re always cleaning up after without receiving any positive returns.

“It’s OK to say goodbye to people, and sometimes, it’s necessary,” notes Dr. Albers. “Sometimes, it’s important to our well-being to reject societal expectations and behavioral norms.”

Look the part

Some of our most memorable villains have a wardrobe to match — and you can follow the same suit if it makes you feel more confident taking on these new changes. What you wear, how you present yourself to the world and what you share on social media can speak volumes about the shifts you’re taking in your life. This is your narrative.

“Your posture, your clothing and even your tone of voice can communicate a sense of empowerment,” says Dr. Albers. “Changing how you think about yourself and how you act can really help you change your behavior.”

Be prepared to be left behind

Remember, your villain era isn’t about offending anyone or being mean. If you’re hearing those terms pop up in your head, it can be important to investigate the root of where those feelings are coming from.

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help you look at the origins of those thoughts, restructure those thoughts and help you realize what triggered them,” suggests Dr. Albers.

And if people push back or threaten to end relationships over your new normal, it’s OK to forge ahead without them if they’re not respecting the boundaries you’re putting in place.

“Initially, people may push back. But over time, as they see this new side of you, they will adapt,” reaffirms Dr. Albers. “If you move one way, they may try to get you to move in a similar way that you would in the past. But they will step in a different direction once they are aware this villain era is here to stay.”

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