Taking Up Space: Do you let yourself be seen and heard

“how you love yourself is
how you teach others
to love you”
― Rupi Kaur, Milk and Honey

We are born with the right and innate ability to take up space, but not everyone feels capable of doing so.

There may be several reasons why someone feels incapable of taking up space. Perhaps they grew up in a home where they were frequently shut down. Perhaps they have been deemed “too loud” or “too needy.” Regardless, a lack of confidence in one’s ability to take up space can impede progress in life. Taking up space can be a sign of physical health and self-assurance. It enables you to be seen and heard and to share your talent with the world. This article will discuss how this psychological barrier develops and how to overcome it.

Do You Take Up Space?

— Do you have a fear of silence? Do you fill your life to the brim with work, social obligations, and activities so that there is no space?

— Do you feel unsure of who you are, how you feel, and your likes and dislikes?

— When you’re in a conversation or a group, do you attempt to avoid talking about yourself by shifting the focus onto others?

— Do you feel guilty and selfish when discussing your difficulties or problems?

— Are you incapable of displaying emotions like anger and sadness in front of others?

— Do you feel unable to say no?

— Do you apologize frequently, even when you are not in the wrong?

— Do you sometimes feel disconnected from your emotions?

— Do you not notice when stress builds up in your body until you are completely exhausted?

— Do you feel uncomfortable when the room is silent?

— -Do you believe that therapy or counseling is useless because you do not see any value in ‘talking about yourself?

— Do you not know what to do with your time unless your schedule is completely booked?

— Do you experience physical reactions, such as sweaty palms and an increased heart rate, whenever the focus of attention is on you?

— Are you haunted by the need to be ‘productive’ at all times and miserable when you are unable to work for any reason?

— Do you find it difficult to promote yourself in situations where it is appropriate, such as a job interview?

— Do you find it difficult to make time for “free play”? That is, work-related activities that do not result in an exact, measurable outcome.

Challenges of Not Being Able to Take Up Space

Suppose that, as a child, a person never had the chance to be themselves or express themselves in an authentic manner. In this case, they may experience an inner shame attack when talking about themselves, in which they feel guilty and egocentric.

People who are unable to take up space frequently suffer from social anxiety because they find unstructured situations intimidating. When there is no clear objective or rules in a situation, they would not know what to say or do, and they would feel lost if they do not know how to please the other person.

When a person is unable to take up space and talk about themselves, their ability to relate to others suffers. Many trauma survivors feel alone in life due to their inability to let others truly know who they are. Even when they are surrounded by people, they feel unseen and unheard, as if they are completely alone. In other words, by not taking up space, they are preventing genuine intimacy.

People who struggle to take up space typically have dysfunctional relationships with power, anger, assertiveness, and exposure. As a result, they constantly avoid the spotlight and shun opportunities because they cannot tolerate “being seen.” This implies that they limit a variety of opportunities, including career advancement and romantic relationships.

People who have difficulty claiming their space may also be trapped in unhealthy relationships. Like everyone else, they desire to be observed, heard, and cherished. However, it may be difficult for them to find people who can love them as they deserve. Instead, they may attract self-centered, narcissistic, and selfish individuals who exploit their inability to speak their truth and draw a boundary. In fact, it is not uncommon for one partner to “take up too much space” — being emotionally unstable, dominant, and opinionated — while the other partner is “unable to take up space” — constantly conceding their needs and desires, unable to assert their needs, passively protesting, etc.

Some people may believe that takingup space is “selfish,” but it is actually a sign of healthy strength and self-assurance. It enables you to be accepted by others and to share your gift with the world. By taking up space, you communicate, “I am present and will not be ignored.”

Why You May Have Difficulty Taking Up Space

Children who have not been traumatized by a narcissistic parent or an abusive sibling have an innate understanding of how to take up space without fear or shame. Most children are born knowing how to assert their physical and emotional independence. They cry when they feel like it and laugh when they feel like it. When a securely attached child enters a room, they are not afraid to explore, according to well-known attachment research in the field of psychology. They are pleased to have a place where they can be spontaneous and playful, and they will explore uncharted territory without fear of punishment. However, the story is different for those whose upbringing caused them harm.

When traumatized children enter a new environment, they become extremely cautious and vigilant, watching for any sign of danger and observing their parents’ responses with extreme vigilance. Even if they are granted permission to play, they do not know what to do in a vast, uninstructed space.

If your parents were narcissistic

People with narcissistic parents fear taking up space because they have learned that doing so is dangerous. They may have been constantly criticized or made to feel inferior by their parents, which has caused them to question their own self-worth. Consequently, they frequently believe they must apologize for their existence and remain silent to avoid attention or criticism.

In addition, children of narcissistic parents may have difficulty asserting their own needs and desires because they were never the focus of their parents’ attention while growing up. Each time they express a need, they are punished. Even as adults, they feel compelled to constantly cater to others.

Because narcissistic parents are frequently possessive and like to dictate how their children should live, their children may be unable to develop a sense of self. They may not have the opportunity to discover who they are, their likes and dislikes, and their interests as they grow up. A child harmed by a narcissistic parent may experience a loss of identity. Constantly ridiculed and repressed, they are not permitted to express their thoughts or emotions. As a result, they may experience chronic feelings of emptiness, as though they do not know who they are.

If your parents are emotionally unstable

When a parent is emotionally volatile, they inevitably consume all of the emotional space in the home. They may be charming and sociable on the surface, but their colorful personality and exciting lifestyle come at a price for their children. They constantly have dramatic ups and downs, intense conflicts, and drama that demand attention, leaving no room for a child to express their needs.

If your parents are emotionally volatile, violent, or abusive, your nervous system will be permanently on high alert. You are taught to act solely based on your parents’ facial expressions. If you believed that your parents desired you to laugh, you did so. If you believed that your anger causes them trouble, you would suppress it.

If you carry this conditioning into adulthood, you will not know how to behave in a relational space that is not structured. If you are with someone you cannot “read” or who does not appear to tell you what to do, you will experience extreme anxiety.

Unfortunately, this means that you are more likely to be attracted to someone who dominates and controls you than to someone who respects you. For instance, you may experience a sense of familiarity when someone makes decisions for you, despite the fact that you know this is unethical. In contrast, when someone respects your autonomy and wants you to make your own decisions, you feel anxious and are likely to avoid such relationships.

When a parent is emotionally fragile and dependent

Some parents do not abuse their children, but they are so emotionally fragile that they rely on their children for support rather than assume the role of primary caregiver. These parents are said to have “parentified” their children. It is more damaging to be emotionally parentified than to take on parental responsibilities such as errands or cooking. (For an in-depth article on what parentification means, please click here.) If you were emotionally parentified, you would always tend to your parents’ psychological requirements. Your parent may view you as a counselor, mediator, or friend. You may even serve as a surrogate parent to make up for the absence of one of your parents.

If you were raised by vulnerable and needy parents, you may have subconsciously internalized the belief that you are loved not for who you are but for what you can do for others. This can result in a lifelong battle for unconditional love and self-acceptance.

This perception that one is only loved for his or her utility may also contribute to social anxiety. If you do not believe that you can be loved for who you are, you will feel that you must constantly do something to avoid being rejected and abandoned by the world. This may mean you find it difficult to sit in silence. When there is no structure or direction, you would not know how to be helpful. You feel lost and are confronted by profound emptiness. You may describe it as “awkward” or “uncomfortable,” but in reality, you may be confronted with deeply rooted feelings of shame from your past, such as the shame of not being able to do anything useful for your parents, the shame of not being able to save your parents from an abusive partner or an alcoholic spouse, etc. There was no cause for shame; of course, it was never your responsibility to rescue your parents from their dysfunctions and unhappiness, but as a child, you mistakenly believed this to be the case. It was your way of showing your affection for them. Since no one was there to reassure your young soul that it was not your fault, you have internalized the belief that no matter how hard you try, you will never be good enough.

Having a parent who is emotionally absent

Many people underestimate the traumatizing nature of having emotionally absent and neglectful parents. Abuse can occur both by ‘commission’ (something that was done) and by ‘omission’ (something that was not done). The fact that what you required — love, attention, and emotional communication modeling — did not occur could have left you deeply wounded. T If you had felt like a burden to others throughout your life, it would have been difficult for you to take up space that is rightfully yours.

A child lacks the ability to see the big picture. If your parent had ignored or neglected you, you would have received the message that you were unimportant and unworthy of a place in the world. You may have also rationalized your parents’ neglectful behavior by assuming it was your fault. When these feelings and beliefs crystallize and are carried into adulthood, they can significantly impair one’s capacity to take up space and to be confident and assertive.

Gifted Trauma

“Gifted trauma” is another type of injury that can cause a person to lose the capacity to take up space. This occurs frequently among children with exceptional intelligence, intuition, and intensity. Possessing maturity beyond their years, these children naturally shine with their creativity, perceptiveness, and profound empathy. They typically are unaware, but they stand out among their peers. However, others frequently view them as a threat, resulting in envy and resentment.

To protect their siblings is one reason parents silence gifted children. This can occur in a variety of ways, but frequently includes the notion that the gifted child should not stand out. As a result, the gifted child is not permitted to engage in more challenging work or activities, is not praised for their achievements, and is sometimes even concealed from other family members.

Feeling threatened is another reason why parents suppress a gifted child’s ability to shine. If you were intellectually, emotionally, or spiritually gifted as a child, your parents may not have intended to harm you, and they may not have been aware that they were constantly silencing you. However, because they were uneasy with being continually confronted by your radical candor, they attempted, either subtly or explicitly, to prevent you from expressing your opinions.

Moreover, if they do not have a healthy relationship with their emotional world, they may perceive your strong emotions and intensity as a threat. In order to protect themselves, they convince you that expressing your emotions and speaking the truth is wrong. You have been conditioned to mute yourself because you have internalized the message that your natural self is a threat to others and that your parents will “love you less” if you continue to take up space.

You may constantly experience a great deal of inner conflict as an adult. On the one hand, it is impossible not to see how things can be improved, to be highly efficient and shrewd, and to be skilled at what you do. On the other hand, whenever you speak up, you experience an uneasy feeling that “something is wrong” or hear an inner voice saying, “You should not outshine others.” You’ve been conditioned to believe that taking up space will result in others labeling you as “arrogant” or “showing off.” Even though your parents and siblings are no longer physically present, you are still haunted by the conviction that it is improper to play in the spotlight. Consequently, you limit your most profound potential and experience unconscious self-sabotage, self-abandonment, existential anxiety, and creative blocks.

Where Do You Begin to Take Up Space?

Taking up space involves assertively and confidently occupying physical or psychological territory. There are a few things you can do to begin occupying more space in your life.

Becoming aware of how you hold yourself

Numerous studies indicate that the way we hold ourselves can have an effect on our minds. For instance, adopting a confident posture can make you feel more confident, whereas adopting a shrinking posture can cause you to feel insecure. Focusing on your posture by elongating your spine and widening your shoulders is one way to physically occupy more space. You can also observe the body language of leaders, public speakers, and confident individuals. Increasing your body awareness and learning to express yourself can help you feel more powerful and in charge. When you occupy physical space, you demonstrate that you belong in the world and that your voice deserves to be heard.

Try not to view this as an act of egotism. Consider your expression to be a contribution. When you speak up, you express your ideas and provide opportunities for others to do the same. Even if only one person benefits from what you say, it is still worthwhile to share it with the world.

Even if you feel awkward, be yourself

Many individuals who have not known how to take up space for years feel void and identity-less. You may believe that you must know who you are and feel secure before expressing yourself or engaging in social activities. However, if you wait until you are completely prepared, you might never be.

How can I “be myself” if I am unaware of my identity? You may ask. However, the chicken or egg dilemma applies here. We are social beings who cannot exist in isolation. You can only discover who you are when you are in the company of others and see yourself in relation to them. If you allow yourself to be more honest with others about your emotions, thoughts, opinions, needs, likes, and dislikes, you will be better able to determine who you are.

Developing self-awareness is a good starting point. This involves becoming familiar with your emotions, beliefs, habits, and specific emotional triggers and responses. Once you comprehend your emotions and preferences, you can determine how to express them in a healthy manner. Remember that there are no negative emotions. Even emotions that are frequently disregarded, such as anger and sadness, have value and serve an essential purpose.

Being authentic requires that your words accurately reflect who you are, not who you believe you should be. This requires letting go of concerns about how others perceive you, which can be unsettling. When you realize, however, that you can never control how others perceive you, you may feel free to follow your heart and express yourself regardless.

Ultimately, authenticity is the only way to connect with others in a genuine manner; how can others relate to you and develop a deep connection with you if they never hear what you feel and want?

Consider that you are cherished for who you are, not for what you do.

To learn to take up space, you must recognize your inherent worth as a person, regardless of what you can do or achieve. Once you have a strong foundation and recognize your inherent value, you can accept love from others.

Suppose you must continually demonstrate your worthiness. In this case, it will be difficult for you to be playful, spontaneous, or creative, to unwind in relationships, and to create original, influential work.

Trusting that you are loved for who you are entails believing that others will love and appreciate your inner qualities, such as your personality, character, and what comes from the heart. To be loved for what you do, on the other hand, is to feel or believe that others want you around because of what you do or have accomplished, your social status, and what you can do for them.

Because it allows us to connect with others from a place of authenticity, it can be a profound experience to feel accepted and valued for simply being ourselves. The belief that we are only loved for what we can do for others requires us to frequently perform or please others.

Relax yourself in the presence of others when interacting with others. Try not doing anything, not saying anything, and not trying to impress anyone. You are not required to offer advice, be helpful, or offer advice. You can practice ‘just’ listening and offering your quiet presence even when others are expressing distress. This will help you gradually realize that your mere existence is sufficient and that there are limits to “doing” .

Even if you have flaws and limitations, you are permitted to be accepted for who you are. When you are unfairly criticized by others, you must learn to defend yourself. In addition, accept compliments with grace. You could respond with “thank you” or “I appreciate that,” but you should avoid playing down the compliment or being self-deprecating. Initially, this may feel unpleasant. You may believe that you are conceited or egocentric, but this is not the case. Accepting a compliment, in contrast, can mean a great deal to the person who offered it. They would be pleased that their sincere feelings were considered.

Even if it sounds trite, you may want to remind yourself every day while looking in the mirror that you are valuable and loved simply because you exist, and not because of what you do or produce.

Practice not being intimidated by criticisms

It is natural for a highly sensitive person to take everything said about them to heart. Many HSPs are terrified of receiving or perceiving negative feedback and quickly collapse with shame upon receiving or perceiving it. This can make relationships extremely challenging, especially in a professional setting or with those in authority.

Many individuals who have been told they are “too much” have developed a strong negativity bias; they almost always hear only the negative and exaggerate it.

If you were traumatized by narcissistic or overly critical parents or if you have a high degree of sensitivity, you must avoid collapsing in shame when someone give you negative feedback. Remember that everything said about you will invariably be colored by the speaker’s subjective experiences, personality, limited knowledge, and even their own fears. Consequently, a critique is never entirely objective or fair. No one knows you better than yourself, and other people’s opinions are not necessarily authoritative.

A person’s opinion does not define you. Even if what the person says is accurate, it may be unfairly biased or overly critical. Obviously, you should be able to accept constructive criticism. Therefore, it is essential to distinguish between fair and accurate information and unfair attacks.

If you can find something to learn, keep in mind that you are not less perfect simply because you have more room to develop. Instead of allowing shame to consume you, give yourself credit for putting yourself out there, even if it means taking risks. You do not need to be perfect to be loved, contrary to what you have been taught.

If you have a tendency to react with shame or fear when confronted with conflict or disapproval, try to keep in mind that although it may feel awful, someone not acknowledging or agreeing with you is not the end of the world.

Remind yourself that relationships should be mutually beneficial.

A relationship is a two-way street; to maximize its benefits, both parties must contribute. You must also receive something from the relationship, such as love, friendship, or support.

In reality, all relationships are transactional in the sense that they require an exchange. Each partner in a romantic relationship, for instance, may provide the other with emotional support, companionship, or more tangible things such as money and sex.

In a healthy relationship, the exchange is balanced and not excessively weighted in one direction. Consequently, you shouldn’t always be the listener or supporter; you should also be willing to ‘take’ other people’s support, listening, and time.

This may necessitate that you practice talking about yourself and expressing your emotions, even if you begin with a small amount. People can only feel connected to you if you are occasionally vulnerable and able to talk about yourself. As much as possible, believe that others want to know the real you, not a version you’ve created to meet their expectations.

Taking up space

If we wish to be successful in life and have healthy relationships, we must learn to respect our own space. Perhaps you are aware that you must change, but a part of you is afraid — of disappointment, of being attacked, and shame. But ultimately, the risk of a dulled spirit and lost potential can be much more painful than the temporary discomfort of change.

Through your words, actions, and presence, you can make room for yourself. Begin by standing tall, making eye contact, and being assertive. Taking up personal space is neither selfish nor egotistical. When you express yourself, you offer the world your gifts, which ultimately benefits the world. It can be challenging to unlearn what you have been taught about your presence and power, but with time and effort it is possible to find your voice and assert your place in the world.

Originally published on Eggshell Consulting

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Imi Lo

Imi Lo

Imi works with highly intense, sensitive and gifted people. More at eggshelltherapy.com or imiloimilo.com