Playing small involves you shrinking or making yourself less valuable, less worthy and less powerful. It is a tactic that many of us learn as children to fly under the radar so that we don’t attract attention, we don’t get bullied, we don’t pose a threat to anyone and we don’t get abused or hurt.
Unfortunately, as adults we don’t realise that we still use this tactic when we feel threatened or scared, this means that in certain situations we will constantly make ourselves small, agree with whomever is in front of us to keep the peace, lose sight of what we need and hand our power over. It may be an automatic defense response that our nervous system has drawn upon in the past to keep us safe, it is sometimes called appeasing or people pleasing. It is a successful survival strategy where we might smile, be nice, shrink our body posture, work out what the other person wants from us and do what we can to avoid attention and to move back towards safety.
For most adults this is really frustrating, ‘Why do I always let people walk all over me?’ or ‘Why does nobody take me seriously?’ or ‘Why can’t I say NO?’
Appeasing or becoming small often means that you lose sight of what you need and focus on what you perceive the person in front of you needs- you turn into a ‘Yes’ woman or man.
It also means that it is difficult for people to take you seriously, it’s like you don’t show up, you hide and become invisible and they lose interest in trying to find you, so both parties get frustrated and it all seems too hard.
What to do:
- Get curious about the beliefs you have that fuel the behaviour; ‘If I’m powerful I might hurt people, be up myself or arrogant’, ‘I might fail’, ‘If I’m big or powerful I might get hurt or annihilated’.
- Notice when you get small, who is it around? What is it about? How does it feel in you body? How does your body change to ‘be small’?
- Reminisce about your childhood- how did it serve you to be small? Why did you need to be small to be safe/ seen/ get your needs met?
- Learn how to connect with your own feelings and identify them, be curious about those feelings and what they are trying to communicate to you.
- Name your feelings, this actually helps you take charge and regain perspective of what is really going on for you- name you feelings to tame your feelings. When we remain un-aware of what we are feeling those feelings often take over and we will then go into our default response. This means that we will react and then regret it later.
- Practice taking mindful deep breaths and supporting yourself to stay connected to yourself and your feelings when you feel yourself shrinking.
- Challenge your beliefs and behaviours, remind yourself of the ways you are powerful and capable- Are you really less important/ valuable/ worthy than everyone around you?
- Learn to be your own cheer squad, celebrate your wins and back yourself
9. It’s always helpful to see a therapist to work through the underlying issues.
I would love to know any other strategies that work for you. Leave a comment below!