Yeesh! Tough question. Our initial answer may be to say “it doesn’t….it just hurts me”, usually followed by a plan to just “stop doing it” in order to take up more space or “take our power back”. I wish it was this simple. But the reality is that if we’re engaging in behaviours that help us to stay small, they are serving us in some way. Otherwise we wouldn’t be doing them. So let’s get honest about how playing small benefits us.
What do we get out of it? By not having a voice or expressing ourselves, are we ensuring love and acceptance from others? By shutting ourselves down, do we get to remain victims of life circumstances, rather than leaning into our pain and taking emotional responsibility for our lives? Let’s take it one step further…..can we think of a time wayyy back when we actually HAD to play small in exchange for love, acceptance, safety or basic survival needs? Many of us learned that in order to be loved and accepted, we had to fundamentally change who we were. And as adults, we may still suspect that we are unworthy of love, or that who we are is not enough. So we go through life as stealthy chameleons, modifying ourselves as necessary and throwing away parts of ourselves that we deem unloveable.
It’s time that we unlearn these patterns. They may have been necessary in our early years, but they’re not serving us anymore. We can do this by noticing and being with them when they come up, honouring their origin as adaptive survival strategies, and then choosing to do something different. That third step will likely feel uncomfortable. It may feel as though we’re doing something “wrong”. But we’re not. It’s just an old, well-trodden pathway in our brains and bodies. And learning to embody all of who we are is necessary if we want to grow, heal, thrive and live to our full potential.