Brené Brown has a mantra she uses for authenticity, “Don’t Shrink, Don’t Puff Up, Stand Your Sacred Ground.” When we are faced with adversity that brings out shame, fear and ultimately vulnerability we put on armour to protect ourselves. It is the fight or flight response. Brown suggests that we need to stand our sacred ground rather than shrinking (hiding, self-deprecation, flight) or puffing up (grandstanding, bullying, fight). She explains that this is grounded in our need for love and belonging.
We shrink all the time — when we are put down, insulted, judged, stereotyped, hurt, threatened, made to feel incompetent or unloved.
Do you remember the last time someone made you shrink? Was it at school? With your family? With friends? In a social situation where you felt uncomfortable? Rejection? Taking a risk? Trying on clothes? Watching your child struggle? Applying for a job? Looking in the mirror? Jealousy?
Do you remember the last time you made someone else shrink? Was it your child? A friend? Someone at work? Someone in your family?
Did you do it on purpose? Did you puff up? Did you feel threatened? Did you do it to protect someone you love? Did it work?
I can see it when someone feels smaller. Their posture changes, their skin pallor, they get bags under their eyes, they avert their eyes from my gaze, sometimes, they even tear up. I watch for these signs when I speak to others and then I stop and listen. I don’t want to be that person.
If I am shrinking, I have to ask myself why — what trigger has made me feel small? What insecurity am I responding to? Do I take on my child’s shame and feel small on their behalf? When does my shrinking make me retreat and when does it make me fight?
When my daughter was 11 years old she attended her first Bat Mitzvah — she was wearing a skirt and one of my sweaters on top and I thought she looked adorable. A friend of mine was at the Bat Mitzvah and she called me and told me that Rach wouldn’t take her coat off and seemed to be uncomfortable. When she got home, Rachel told me that a friend made fun of her outfit and seeing her with her coat on covering up her outfit said to her, “That’s what you get for dressing like that!”
We went shopping after that and although neither one of us was interested in the types of clothes many of her friends wore, we found some outfits that made her feel good.
A couple of years ago, my son, who had tried to get onto a select hockey team for years, finally got onto the taxi squad. He would have preferred to get on the team but we recognized this as an opportunity to have more practice, more coaching and to improve enough to be a full fledged member of the team. He was satisfied with the idea of finally getting a team jacket with his number on it that he could wear to school as most of his good friends were already on teams and wore their team clothing to school all the time. He comes to school to tell his buddies that he is on the select team and another boy says to everyone — “He really isn’t on the team! He is just backup!” He was completely humiliated.
The thing is, we feel our pain and the pain of our children most profoundly. I know I have made people shrink. I think we all have in one way or another. We shame people, put them in their place, take advantage of a weakness — sometimes intentionally and sometimes not but we have all done it. Do you recognize that feeling before it happens? Do you try to stop it? Do you learn from it? Did it make you feel better? I am guessing it probably didn’t. This is our armour — we make people shrink when we puff up or we allow others to make us shrink when we retreat into our own self-deprecating talk.
In the meantime, I have to work on that mantra…Don’t Shrink, Don’t Puff Up, Stand Your Sacred Ground.
Originally published on Medium October 8, 2015.