I’m exactly 72 inches tall. That’s 6 ft. for the mathematically disinclined. With heels on, I can be as tall as 6’4”.
As a 6 ft. tall tween, I used to avoid wearing tennis shoes because they put an extra inch on me. School dances were excruciating because I couldn’t wear heels, and I certainly couldn’t fit in the junior-sized cute clothes.
The phrase self-conscious doesn’t do it justice. I hated standing out. I hated people commenting on it. I hated people telling me how intimidating I was. I just wanted to be small.
But here’s the struggle. I’m not small. I’m big. I’m also loud. And I take up lots of space.
So 25 years after Little Mary had those big feelings and now feels confident in 4in heels, why is it STILL so hard to take up space?
Playing Small is About Fear
Many of us are familiar with the famous psychologist Abraham Maslow and his often explored hierarchy of needs. A lesser-known idea that Maslow explored is what he called the Jonah complex: “The evasion of one’s own growth, the setting of low levels of aspiration, the fear of doing what one is capable of doing, voluntary self crippling, pseudo stupidity, mock humility.“
It’s this idea that you feel a little whisper calling you, but you distract yourself enough with to-do lists, endless gratitude lists, and counting all of the reasons why this should be enough. Playing small is simply easier than dealing with the fear.
It turns out this resistance is universal and instinctive, albeit f’ing frustrating.
The human race has been around a while, and unfortunately for us, most of those years on Earth were spent avoiding real dangers, so we are wired to feel lots of fear. It was essential for survival to use fear as a mechanism to STOP.
The Obnoxious Link: Fear and Control
Some people love scary movies, haunted houses, and roller coasters. And then there’s me. D. None of the above.
Most likely, this has to do with the way our brains are wired. If you have a higher threshold for fear, your brain may release dopamine during what some think are scary events, so the fear is almost pleasurable.
If you’re like me and refuse to enter a haunted house, your brain can be overcome with the need to control the situation. I guess it’s no surprise that I’m also a control freak. I’m a party to hang out with.
So WTF Do We Do?
I wish I could laundry list five ways to get over the fear for good. I’ve spent time in the research of fear, and all of the usual suspects are there: exercise, meditation, get an accountability partner…blah blah blah.
The truth is that I’m right smack in the middle of a time when a lot of fear is coming up.
And I do those things, and I find it NO easier to make a move. It’s no less scary. But here is what I’m learning:
- Journaling helps you realize that it’s fear, so you know what you’re working with. It’s all too easy to ignore the whispers and chalk it up to bad timing or ideas unless you take a hot second to unpack it.
- Once you know it’s fear, tell someone that you trust immediately. They will often confirm everything you already know, but it feels better not to be alone in the fear.
- Take small steps. I’m about a 3.5/10 at this. You don’t need to blow everything up tomorrow. I’m both very good at thinking I have to go from 0 to 60 in 3.5 seconds and very good at doing nothing. There is an in-between here that I’m trying to get better at recognizing.
- Recognize what you are afraid of. Are you afraid of it failing, or are you afraid that you will succeed beyond your wildest imagination?
- Give people around you time to support your dreams and understand your fears. But you have to tell them. You can’t expect people to read your mind. They can’t help you through it if they don’t know what’s happening.
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- Smithsonian Magazine | What Happens in the Brain When We Feel Fear
- PubMed | The contextual brain: implications for fear conditioning, extinction and psychopathology
- Neuropsychopharmacology. | Changing Fear: The Neurocircuitry of Emotion Regulation
- Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience | The biology of fear- and anxiety-related behaviors