I was raised in a tradition that emphasized knowing your place. And for those who were presumed female, knowing your place meant staying small. Being invisible. I was raised to be polite, deferential, and to ignore my own needs in the face of others.
I was raised to obey without question and even more importantly without complaint. I remember, as a child, being told to change my attitude. It wasn’t enough that I did what I was asked, I also had to do it with the attitude demanded of me as well.
I was told over and over not to be prideful. Which also translated into not taking joy in my accomplishments or even being joyful about the things I was good at. If I came off stage feeling like I had done a good job, there was always someone there to try to make sure I didn’t get a puffed up head. Even if it meant taking me down emotionally.
I was told not to get a Masters degree because it would make me prideful. I was told that my very being was sick and sinful (and that was before I came out as queer and trans). After I came out I was told I was mutilating my body.
You can imagine, how, after years of this training, my sense of self got a bit warped. I thought I couldn’t trust myself. I thought pleasure in my body or talents was pride. I thought if I did anything that set me apart I was doing something wrong.
And even as I left the church of my childhood, I found other spaces that reinforced these notions. The idea that you shouldn’t want to make any money because capitalism is bad (so instead you should grind and grind for nothing and always be at risk of not having enough to eat). The idea that anyone who has any kind of platform is a sellout (even if the way they’ve attained that platform is by being genuinely helpful). The idea that anyone who’s done anything good/public/that’s gotten attention is someone to watch out for.
All of these messages coalesce to create behaviors that cause me pain sometimes:
I am hyper aware of the space I take up (both physically and emotionally). When I am in a store, I am constantly scanning to make sure I’m not getting in anyone’s way. I will do whatever I can not to inconvenience anyone else, even if it means I’m inconvenienced.
Whenever someone compliments me for anything I immediately try to deflect.
I make myself small (both physically and emotionally) before anyone else can.
I try to hide my talents or say they aren’t a big deal or don’t invest time in them.
I say yes when I should say no because I am afraid of disappointing other people.
I pick up more work even when I’ve already done my share.
I overcompensate in order to make things run more smoothly.
The list could go on and on and on. Does any of this feel familiar to you? I have a strong feeling I’m not the only one who was raised this way and who created a bunch of protective behaviors in order to survive.
I’ve been working really hard over the last year to stop some of these behaviors. To say no. To stop when I’ve done my part. To unhook myself from my messed up beliefs around money. To set boundaries for myself and protect them.
But this idea of not taking up space, phew, that’s a hard one to overcome. And it means that I am very susceptible to criticisms that say I am too much (even when it’s only insinuated). When someone hints that I’m getting too big, when someone hints that I don’t deserve the success that’s coming my way, that it’s all a fluke, that it’s nice, but there are still people who are better (and on and on and on) it gets to me. I start to worry they are right. That I’ve done something wrong. That my work isn’t very good. And sometimes, when someone says something my first impulse is to either apologize: for taking up space, for changing, for daring to do something bigger. OR to defend: Don’t you know how hard I’ve worked? Nothing has been given to me!
And what I’m realizing is neither of those things are serving me, nor are they serving the person offering the criticism. (And I’m not talking about critique from trusted people who are confronting me about behavior that might be damaging, I’m talking about the anonymous insult on the internet or the acquaintance who offers a dig.)
Instead I am trying to stand in my power. To understand the responsibility of putting work into the world. To realize that putting work into the world means that you are vulnerable. I don’t want to shut down my vulnerability, but I do want to make sure I am vulnerable to the right people.
Playing small, shrinking myself down, not sharing my gifts, demeaning myself serves no one.
So I will take up space, I will share what I have to share, I will be vulnerable and visible, and I invite you to do the same.