Lately, I’ve been noticing more and more that people often shrink themselves down to accommodate people around them. Myself included. Like when I pretend to not know something to allow someone to feel good about themselves for being able to save the day and explain. Sitting there silently in despair as they waste my time with details I already know about.
No fault of theirs, I completely allowed this.
…Or at the store when a woman apologizes for someone else bumping into her. I absolutely cringe when I hear the person that bumped her say “you’re fine.” Eeeek, I’m cringing just thinking about this!
I have no idea why people do this but what I do know is that it needs to stop. Making yourself smaller in order to serve others is damaging. Not only is it frustrating, you’re training people to think that you’re capable of less. Acting small ignites the ego of other people and hoists them up on their high horses and it can happen without you even realizing it!
And while I’m all for uplifting others, I’m not here for uplifting others while simultaneously downplaying your capabilities. There are enough high horses to go around so everyone can be elevated and uplifted. There’s no need to fake your fall in order to keep other people on their horses!
So, I’ve compiled a list of five of the most common ways I’ve observed myself and others act small and shrink themselves often without even realizing it (and how to combat them, of course)!
Here are 5 ways you might act small without even realizing it:
1. You over-apologize
I know you’ve heard that everyone needs to stop apologizing all the time. But it’s become so automatic that it’s hard to fight the impulse! If I had a dollar for every time I ever said sorry for no good reason, I could retire at my ripe old age of 28. Walking around all day saying “sorry” as if your very existence is a problem is not cool.
Also, saying “sorry” for everything really diminishes the meaning of the word “sorry.” People say and hear it so much that it really loses its luster and is of little value when it’s actually something that really needs to be said.
The first step to fixing this is being conscious of when you do it. Now that you’ve read this, you’ll start to notice all of the times you apologize and when it’s needed versus not. If you’ve truly wronged someone, apologize; otherwise, don’t. And for the love of all that is good, stop apologizing for things you didn’t do!
2. You over-explain yourself
In case you missed it: “No” is a complete sentence. So are “I don’t know” and “Okay”. I’d also be able to retire at 28 if I had a dollar for the number of times I over-explained my circumstances or my choices. Whether it’s feeling like I need to give a reason to my employer for taking the day off or feeling like I need to explain to a friend why I declined their invitation to hang out.
If you do this, you know how painful it is to hear yourself trying to come up with an explanation for everything you say or do. I know I do this to try and make the other person feel better about me inconveniencing them or to alleviate their confusion or anxiety about my personal choices. But I’m coming to realize: I don’t owe anyone anything. And neither do you.
The key to stop over-explaining is to get comfortable with unfilled silence and unanswered questions. Because the thing is: it’s not your responsibility to fill in the blanks of every situation you’re part of. Allowing things to hang in the moment is super uncomfortable but giving people more information than they need or deserve is damaging and anxiety-provoking.
Stand tall and firm in your decisions and don’t let people’s nosy facial expressions coerce you into over-explaining yourself.
3. You downplay your abilities and accomplishments
We can all use a little modesty from time to time. What we cannot use, though, is downplaying or diminishing our abilities and accomplishments to make other people around us feel comfortable. Again, I’m guilty of doing this as well. I 100% have pretended not to know something about a particular topic and allowed a dude to mansplain the crap out of it.
I have also pretended not to be proud of myself and excited for my accomplishments as to not stir reactions from people around me or to “rub it in.” I took a solo trip to London this past January, and when I got back, people asked me how it was to travel by myself – I’d say it was no big deal. BUT IT WAS A HUGE DEAL. And I was SO proud of me for going to a foreign country alone, despite the naysayers *pats self on back*.
If you do things like this, please stop. You’ve done so many profound things in your lifetime. Don’t sweep them under the rug. Celebrate them and embrace them. Don’t be afraid of being the smartest person in the room with the best ideas, either. It’s okay to tell people that you’re good at something; you celebrating and being proud of yourself is not a negative reflection of how you feel about other people. Take up space!
4. You use indirect, imprecise, or cryptic language
You’re a human with needs. That’s a fact of life. Expressing those needs is a whole different ball-game. When I was younger, the INFJ in me would always hesitate to ask for what I wanted. I guess I was afraid of the possible rejection or something. This evolved to me learning to dance around the topic in question; if I got rejected, it somehow felt better knowing I didn’t divulge exactly what I wanted to say.
Weird, right? But so many people are cryptic and vague. In relationships, at work, at the bar. I used to do this by trying to sound super intelligent at work and realized it’s just not me. The key here is finding your voice and owning it. Trying to sound like someone you’re not or not communicating your needs out of fear of rejection will simply lead to people looking at you with blank expressions. This will also lead to unanswered emails at work! Say what you mean and mean what you say!
5. You downplay how situations affect you
Have you ever said “no worries” when you were, in fact, worried (or offended)? Or how about saying “no problem!” when there was, in fact, a problem? It’s almost involuntary so you can’t help it. But trying to be “nice” and not a burden turns into you “no problem-ing” everyone to death.
It can be scary to speak up when you’re not comfortable with something or when you’re offended but it can be the difference between you walking away feeling lighter and happier and you walking away secretly pissed off. In order to get what you need to feel your best, you’ve got to speak up and let people know when they’ve offended you.
So, next time your coworker pisses you off, let them know. Now, you don’t need to go postal on them, but letting people know how you feel in a calm and professional manner goes a long way. I’ve found that being candid and not brushing things off can lead to a better understanding and often people will remember it and not cross the same line in the future.
In the same vein of finding your voice, if there is an issue (or even if you LOVE something and are super-duper excited), say something! Don’t hide or downplay how situations affect you.
Are there more ways one might act small?
Probably! What are some ways that you’ve observed yourself and others acting small? What are some ways that you’ve overcome the reflex to shrink yourself and step into your power? Let’s make bold and elevate ourselves and one another – no more knocking ourselves off our horses.