I caught the words as they were coming out of my mouth. I found myself apologizing for being too much or too little. I was in a new relationship and a self consciousness had risen in me that pushed and pulled on me until I felt the pressure to trim myself down to size before someone else could. I was caught in the pattern of trying to explain myself and asking for permission to take up space.
As many women know, this is not an uncommon experience. We didn't make this up. I'm sure, as I do, that you have examples of teachers, bosses, family members, lovers, and institutions that made it very clear that you had to ask for permission to be yourself. If you expressed your voice, danced, sang out loud (let alone out loud and out of key!), or if you allowed yourself to be vibrant, or get angry that you would be going beyond the bounds of the prescribed box. The reality is that for many of us, staying small meant literally staying safe.
We all fall somewhere on a continuum. Some of us find that certain kinds of experiences bring up the impulse to act small more than others. Maybe in love you feel confident and certain of your place in the world; or maybe you feel this way at work while new situations make you feel unsteady and self conscious. But any time we approach relationships and life by asking for permission, something happens energetically. With this comes a loss of attachment to the natural flow of connection to self and others. Our life force ceases to expand to its full potential.
Remember, the funky thing about asking for permission is that it messes with our thinking. It doesn't just make us small and make shining our light in the world tougher, it also acts like sticky goo spreading out beyond one moment. And then we're stuck trying to recover ourselves again, in more ways than one.
So how do we support the full expression of ourselves and counter the conditioning that goes along with asking for permission?
- Claim your time. Stop compromising; put self care and play on the calendar. If you want to grow your business, etch it in stone! If you want to learn to play the guitar, get it on the calendar and stick to it.
- Claim your space. Does your space reflect you or a version of you that is for others? Put yourself on the map, baby! You want the whole table at the coffee shop instead of sharing today? Go for it!
- Own your feelings. You can't have it both ways. Taking up space requires getting uncomfortable sometimes, actually, a lot of times, especially at the beginning. Don't make people read your mind. Get as clear as you can about what you need and practice stating it and looking at ways for you to get what you need when those around you are unable or unwilling to go there with you. However, you may want to think about ditching those people that just seem to want you hear you explain yourself over and over again.
- Get clear about what you're committed to and where you want to spend your life force. This takes time, loving attention, silence, and for some of us, a lot of experimentation. Stop wasting time on soul sucking projects, people, and environments.
- Watch your language. Your language can be the perfect cue that you have fallen into asking for permission. "I'm sorry but... Would it be okay if... I know this might seem like a dumb idea but..." are all potential examples. Stay conscious and loving as you observe what shows up. Here's one for you -- have you ever apologized when you have bumped into a piece of furniture when you are the only one in the room?
- Drop the drama! When we stop compromising we have the opportunity to get REALLY clear. Clarity is free of drama. There doesn't need to be a lot of finger pointing associated with it and I find it has little to do with explaining yourself. You can make it personal to you but not about them.
- Get familiar with what yes or no feel likes in your body. Our body is oftentimes the first indicator that something is off or someone has crossed a boundary or when we have loosened a boundary. Is it your stomach, your breathing? What happens? Listen. Mindfulness practice is a tremendous resource.
Once again, all of us are in different places at different times with this. That judging voice that tells you that you should be beyond asking for permission and be perfect at this point in your life is the voice of the oppressor (thanks to Anne Lamott for that one). Although I love being with women who rarely ask for permission, they can also make me uncomfortable sometimes. I know that part of finding my voice is not about adopting someone else's expression but my own. The only way I get to discover it is to practice, experiment, get fierce, remind myself to have a sense of humor and be very, very kind to myself.