Minimize Me: How We Shrink Ourselves + 4 Ways To Shift Into Healing And Feeling Our Power
One of my clients, Amanda, was brought up in a big family with 5 siblings. Whenever she would get hurt, physically or emotionally, her father would say:
“Want me to stomp on your foot so you forget about it?”
This is akin to a common expression, “Your finger hurts? Should I cut off your hand so it stops hurting?”
Or even, the obviously hurtful, “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”
When our parents, family, or friends communicate, even “jokingly,” that our feelings don’t matter, or that we shouldn’t feel the way we feel, we feel minimized. We feel like our feelings aren’t valid. We begin to believe that how we feel is wrong. And so we start the lifelong habit of minimizing ourselves. When our pain is ignored or joked about, we don’t feel the right to have our experience.
And when we don’t feel able to honor what we feel, and our true experience, we feel less than. Unworthy.
Another client, Jennifer, grew up with two alcoholic parents. She was made aware that she was “a mistake” and that her parents “had to” get married because of her.
Throughout her childhood her emotions and feelings were routinely ignored, so she watched a lot of TV, and became the self-appointed guardian for her younger siblings. She was the oldest, so her feelings didn’t matter much as she was supposed to take care of everyone else.
Jennifer recounted in one of our sessions, “I wasn’t beat up or physically abused, so I didn’t think I had any right to complain. But I was always afraid and never felt like I had anyone to turn to.”
This kind of toxic shame can be created by ongoing parental neglect, rejection, being told you’re too fat, put on endless diets with your mother, and more.
The top 12 results of this toxic shame are a huge cause of women’s health concerns I see in my clients:
- Hair trigger fight/flight response
- Adrenal exhaustion
- Emotional flashbacks
- Stuck Weight
- Self abandonment (no/poor boundaries)
- Fragile self esteem
- Overly sensitive to stress
- Vicious inner critic
- Social anxiety
Toxic shame inhibits us from seeking help and comfort, because we internalize the minimization. We just don’t feel deserving or worthy.
You begin to see how the way we are taught to/forced to minimize ourselves has a huge, long-lasting effect on our lives.
Teasing is another form of minimizing that gets passed down through family generations.
My husband’s family has a habit of teasing that is supposed to be funny, but has always made him feel bullied and separate from his parents and sibling.
As he got older, he started to speak up for himself, but the family would tell him to “Lighten up! We’re just joking around!”
That kind of teasing culture can lead to years of ill will between family and friends, as well as real trauma that, unless addressed and healed, gets stuck in the body.
It was only when the teasing at a recent family gathering caused our son, at 9 years old, to burst into tears and leave the house, that Bob realized he couldn’t put another young boy through this torture. He was able to stand up for and protect our son in a way that no one ever did for him, and it began a deep healing process for our whole family.
Minimizing is so common, it’s like polluted air:
everywhere and unseen, yet toxic.
Parents minimize their children’s feelings and emotions, calling them “too sensitive,” or rebuking them to “be a man.”
Siblings minimize each other’s feelings and emotions, accusing each other of being “a baby, just grow up.”
Friends minimize each other’s feelings and emotions, putting peer pressure on each other to “go along with it – be a part of the group.”
Partners/girlfriends/boyfriends minimize each other’s feelings and emotions, belittling the other’s difficulties, or accepting bad treatment as “that’s just how s/he is – they really love me underneath all that.”
Husbands/wives minimize each other’s feelings and emotions and make negative comments about weight or appearance, saying “I’m only saying this because I love you and want what’s best for you.”
All of these are examples from current and previous clients. It’s so common we don’t see it until we have it pointed out, or it gets so bad that we begin to crack under the pressure.
When we are minimized over and over again, we believe that we don’t have a right to express our truth.
When we feel small, our energy squished out of shape, we feel unable to take control of our lives.
A SECOND STORY OF HOW I MINIMIZED MY TRUTH AS AN ADULT:
Lest you think I outgrew my minimizing habits in childhood, I have another story to show how challenging it can be to see and transform this habit. And then I have four real, instant steps you can take to begin to turn this around. (Because we all want you to feel as strong, whole, and powerful as possible. In fact, we need you to feel your power, asap.)
When my ex husband and I made the film Super Size Me together, I felt like an equal partner in the creation process. I was there, having a conversation with Morgan, that led him to get off the couch, make a call, and begin filming the documentary that became a global sensation.
Introducing him to several of the experts and featured story lines in the film, meeting in the production office with him and the crew almost daily, participating in creative conversations, even coming up with some of the music for the film were all pieces of my contribution.
What I didn’t know was that the role I was playing was what people in Hollywood call co-producer. At the time I was a culinary student, not a film student. I didn’t know what to ask for. I went along for the ride, appearing in the film as his experiment wove into our life, contributing and supporting.
It wasn’t until our divorce, as I was getting my career back up and running after taking two years to raise our son, that I started to call myself co-producer of Super Size Me. At this point, I had learned something about the film business, and began to see the value of my contributions.
Then I received a very legal email, from my soon-to-be-ex, copied to a huge lawyer, that I had no right to call myself co-producer, and that my ex “would help me find a definition more appropriate.”
I felt shut down, threatened, disrespected, and minimized.
So I called myself co-creator, instead. I shrank. I didn’t fight. Even though I knew I had a right to.
When we feel undeserving of our feelings and emotions we lose touch with who we really are, and what we really want. We step back, dimming our light. We don’t stand up for ourselves.
We disconnect from our truth and our bodies, because what our bodies are telling us has been made wrong.
We settle, accepting far less than we want, scrambling after the crumbs life seems to offer. Or we try to minimize the emotions and deaden the feelings, using TV (avoidance), food (deaden), shopping (filling the void of worthlessness).
We don’t even know what we like and what we care about anymore, because we’ve accepted the false reality that what we think and feel isn’t true.
Some minimizing can go as far as gaslighting, a way of manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity. (I’ve had many clients and friends experience this – it’s all too common.)
So how can we begin to MAXIMIZE rather than minimize our own experiences and emotions in a way that’s healing and fuels our growth?
- Begin to tell your story. Write, talk, draw, dance your experience and tale. Find a trusted friend or community in which to share your journey. Being seen and heard is a first step so that you can see and hear your own self.
- FEEL the emotions. When you feel emotions, let them bubble up. Don’t cover them up with escape, food, or shopping. Allow yourself to experience feeling sad, angry, or afraid. Cry. Kick the shit out of your pillows. Name the emotion out loud. You’re not crazy, you’re feeling an emotion. As you acknowledge them, only then can you let them go and begin to change how you feel.
- MOVE the emotion out. Emotions get stuck in the body. Trauma, fear, anxiety, depression, sadness, and more are felt by our physical selves. Through dance, massage, yoga, and other practices administered by counselors or doctors like EMDR and acupuncture, the body can be supported to release past stuck energy. Try this wonderful online dance resource called EMBODY from Nadia Munla
4. Join me in consciously growing a community of self-celebration
(shall we call it self-ebration?) where we begin to acknowledge what’s right with us. In my positive psychology training, I’ve learned that focusing on our strengths is one of the most powerful ways to step back into our resilient, capable selves. I encourage you to share what’s going well, what you’re good at, what you’re creating, and what you’re proud of on a daily basis. Here in this community, we promise to support and reflect your brilliance back to you.
Thank you for showing up and being the kind of person who is always seeking that next stage of growth and healing…