Feeling unhappy or unfulfilled? Does your Self-Esteem Need a Boost? Then Stop Shrinking and Let Your Light Shine!
It shows up with varying intensity, but is always a knot-like sensation in my upper abdomen, around my solar plexus. I call it my “Incredible Shrinking Woman” feeling. Let me tell you why.
Whenever I recognize this physical sensation popping up, I’m either 1) saying, doing or agreeing to something that doesn’t feel right to me or 2) refraining from saying or doing something that does.
It’s like a big fist inside my stomach. When I minimize my accomplishments, or suppress my feelings of joy, it clenches tightly, grabbing onto the nearest organ and twisting. It creates an inward vortex of energy, and sucks the rest of me into it. It feels like I’m shrinking; from the inside. I’m sure it’s no coincidence that it shows up in this area of my body either, as the solar plexus is where the third chakra is located, and this chakra governs our personal power & self-esteem.
The last time I noticed myself doing it, I got very frustrated and started wondering why we do it. Most of us are striving for more joy in our lives and we work hard to accomplish our goals. So why then, when we have every right, and even a legitimate reason to live and express ourselves to our full potential, do we shrink?
I believe it’s because we’re taught to.
In most healthy families, young children are encouraged to embrace their accomplishments and strengths and are supported and cheered-on when they openly acknowledge them. Then the beautiful, shiny children enter the real world, and society begins programming them to dim their light.
Nobody directly tells you not to shine, but somehow it just becomes less acceptable. It seems like outside of a college application or a job interview, people become very uncomfortable when others acknowledge their own accomplishments. We don’t just tone down the verbal expression of it either. We learn to tone down our good feelings about it too. We might become embarrassed or feel ashamed If we’re too excited or feel too proud of what we’ve achieved. This makes me want to scream!
Sometimes it’s subtle, and you may not even realize that you’re doing it. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and have been consciously observing myself, and others, in action. Here’s what I’ve noticed.
Some common ways that you might be shrinking:
1) Minimizing your excitement so that others won’t feel uncomfortable. .
I have a friend who found out she was pregnant with her first baby. She excitedly posted about it on social media to let her more distant friends and family in on the news. Later, I noticed I couldn’t find the post, so I asked her about it. She told me that an old friend, who couldn’t get pregnant, had sent her a private message and told her that she shouldn’t brag about it because there are a lot of women who can’t have children.
My friend felt shamed and took down her post. WHAT? Are you kidding me? I find this ridiculous on so many levels.
Here’s my simple rule for situations like this, and this goes for absolutely anything you accomplish or feel excited about: no amount of hiding or dimming of your own light will ever make someone else’s shine brighter. Just don’t do it.
2) Believing that your strengths are weaknesses.
Have you ever been told that you’re too sensitive? Too loud or too opinionated? That you think too much? I’m calling BS on all of them! When someone tells you that you’re TOO much, it’s a projection onto you, of their inability to deal with their own discomfort. If you buy into it, you start believing that your strengths are actually weaknesses. A true strength isn’t that thing you do better than everyone else, but that thing you love doing. It’s that thing that lights you up or makes time stand still while you’re doing it. Over the past couple of years, I’ve discovered my true superpowers lie in the exact areas I’ve been trying to suppress. Embrace them!
3) Working only on improving your weaknesses, while ignoring your strengths.
We’re programmed to believe that to be successful, we must strive to improve all the skills we haven’t yet perfected. I’m starting to believe that maybe we don’t need to. Maybe we aren’t supposed to be (or don’t even need to be) good at everything. Maybe the unique and special skills we do have are what we should be fostering instead.
I love this quote that has been attributed to Albert Einstein:
“Everybody is a genius, but If you judge a fish by Its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working to become more proficient in areas you feel will help you achieve your goals, but don’t forget to leave some time and energy to focus on what you already do well and the things you enjoy. If you can find something that lights you up AND comes naturally to you – you’ve struck gold.
4) Failing to set and maintain strong personal boundaries.
This includes things like failing to stand up for yourself, continuously putting the needs of others above your own, and agreeing to do things that you don’t truly want to do.
A good way to tell if a boundary has been violated, is to notice your level of resentment about a situation. Even if you don’t yet know what your boundaries are, you’ll still feel the resentment. It’ll just be more confusing for you to sort through, but don’t fear! It’s never too late to start.
Bring to mind the situation and then imagine yourself in a perfect world, where you can define exactly what you want and need. Make a list of terms and conditions that must be met for you to feel happy, respected, etc. (usually the opposite of what you’re currently feeling). Refine your list until it feels right.
If you’re ready to immediately start enforcing your boundaries, go for it! If this is a new concept to you, on the other hand, it might feel a bit scary at first. I found that the simple act of defining my boundaries created a much-needed shift that later led to me feeling more empowered and able to put them firmly in place.
5) Putting yourself down.
Whether you say it aloud or to yourself, the results are the same. The way you talk about yourself either opens you up and makes you shine brighter, or it shuts you down and makes you feel small. Pay attention to your negative self-talk. Try to always treat yourself the same way you would treat someone you love and care about. If you notice critical thoughts or words, consciously shift them to something kinder. Keep noticing and continuing to replace those thoughts and words until doing so comes naturally to you. This can have a dramatic, positive impact on your self-esteem.
6) Pretending that your feelings don’t matter.
For most of my life, when my feelings were hurt, my first inclination was to become stoic and to dismiss the way I was feeling. This was probably the worst thing I could have done for myself, my relationships and my self-esteem. By pretending not to feel, you send a message to both the offender, and to yourself, that you don’t matter enough to be heard. There’s no way this can make your inner light shine brighter.
If it’s not appropriate in the moment, be sure to acknowledge and process your feelings later. Then, find a way to calmly discuss it with the person who hurt you. Explaining how and what you were feeling creates open communication in the relationship and can deepen the connection you have with yourself and others. If you don’t say anything, the other person may not even be aware that their actions bothered you.
7) Letting fear stop you from going after your dreams.
For most of my life, any excitement I felt about life was immediately followed up with a warning from my mind not to get my hopes up, in case it didn’t work out. I was so afraid of not being able to handle the emotion of the letdown, that I rarely allowed myself to enjoy the moment. I let fear stop me from doing almost everything. Fear of failure, fear of success, fear of judgment, fear of the unknown and even fear of the known. Shrink, shrink, shrink…I think you get the picture!
As a result of trying to play it safe, I ended up miserable. I was cowering in the corner of my life, afraid to do anything. I was in a career that I absolutely hated, and I suffered with anxiety, depression, insomnia, neurological symptoms, stomach issues and just before rock bottom, multiple autoimmune illnesses.
Up until recent years, I’d lived my life as the incredible shrinking women. It’s a wonder I didn’t disappear altogether. What I’ve come to know is this: We’re on this earth for a reason and we’re meant to shine a bright, powerful, beaming ray of light, that not only makes us personally radiate, but that also lights the way for other souls in need. To shrink is to deny yourself of your birthright and to deny the world of the light you that you have to offer.
In one of my favorite Marianne Williamson quotes, she says, “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be?”
I suggest that you check in and see where you might be shrinking in your own life. Then, start making the necessary shifts to unleash what wants to erupt out of you and share it with the world. Take that class, get up on that stage and sing, show the world who you really are. At worst, you’ll learn something new about yourself and have some fun doing it. At best, you’ll see your dreams manifest before your eyes. Chances are, you’ll also inspire someone else to do the same in the process.