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Do You Make Yourself Smaller to Help Others Feel Bigger?

If others can't handle who you really are, here's what you can do.

Key points

  • Making yourself smaller means repressing your true personality, thoughts, desires, and self around others.
  • You may make yourself smaller to avoid intimidating others or to meet some stereotype they have of you.
  • Constantly having to make yourself smaller can have an array of negative consequences on you and your life.
  • It's better to seek and be around people who appreciate who you really are and encourage you to be yourself.
People maintaining stereotypes of you can put in you in a box.
Source: DrGrounds?Getty

If you've ever worn underwear that's a few sizes too small, that's what it can feel like when you are constantly making yourself smaller to help others around you feel bigger. In this case, making yourself smaller means repressing your true personality, thoughts, desires, and self around others simply because, in the words of Jack Nicholson from A Few Good Men, they can't handle the truth.

It could even mean physically making yourself smaller by hunching over, rounding your shoulders, and keeping your limbs close to you, basically the opposite of manspreading. Doing so can leave you feeling very restricted and your sensitive parts feeling...sensitive.

The self-sacrifices that you make in restricting yourself so that others can feel better about themselves may go completely unnoticed. After all, that's kind of what happens when you make yourself small, right? You blend into the background and go unnoticed.

This may seem OK to do here and there. But playing small too often over time can lead to some big problems.

Problem 1: You won't get what you really want.

If you don't show others your true insights, abilities, and skills, they may not even know that you are qualified for a promotion, position, or relationship. Without making it clear that you want something, others may not know that you want it. So, in the immortal words of the Spice Girls, tell them what you want, what you really, really want.

Problem 2: You waste time being with the wrong people.

Do you really want to be around people who are too insecure or inflexible to deal with the real you? For some people, sharing center stage can, in their mind, be akin to sharing a shower when there's limited water and only one bar of soap. They don't want to feel exposed while battling with you for what they perceive to be limited resources.

Or maybe they have a stereotype of you being more submissive simply because of your race, ethnicity, gender, sex, physical appearance, or whatever superficial attribute that you may exhibit.

Why waste your time around such people? In fact, being your true self can be a great litmus test to determine who deserves the real you. If they end up being too intimidated, then it's probably not a good match.

Problem 3: You won't really grow as a person.

The words "make yourself smaller" and "grow" don't really go together unless you are talking about forming a black hole.

Problem 4: It can be tiring.

Always having to morph to others' too-low expectations of your can be exhausting.
Source: RUNSTUDIO?Getty

Regardless of how talented you may be at being a chameleon, constantly having to morph yourself to fit others' too-low expectations of you can be quite tiring. It's always on you to have to carefully observe what other people can handle and then adjust yourself accordingly. That can make you feel like Sarah Jessica Parker when she hosted the 2000 MTV Movie Awards and changed her outfit 12 different times. Except no one is paying you to change, you don't have handlers to do your bidding, and you don't get to wear a camouflage carpet and call it an outfit.

Problem 5: You can feel constipated.

Making yourself small all the time can leave you feeling verbally constipated—like you want to express yourself and get things out but can't or aren't allowed to do so. Consuming lots of fiber is not going to help.

Problem 6: You can lose a sense of your true self.

Here's the thing about too-tight underwear. Over time, you may get used to it. Similarly, when you are always playing a smaller role, you may end up adopting the persona and forgetting who you truly are.

Problem 7: You can lose confidence in yourself.

When you forget who you truly are, you can start buying into what others think of you, actually become smaller, lose confidence in yourself, and end up doing less in life. This is a case where you don't wear the too-tight underwear but the too-tight underwear wears you. It wears you down.

Problem 8: You can become resentful.

Speaking of being worn down. Resentment can result. And not just for the people keeping you small, but for everyone and society in general.

Making yourself smaller is not a good long-term strategy. It may seem like an effective short-term survival strategy, especially when you are very different from others. But over time, it's just not worth it. Instead, seek those who are willing to be around the real you and in fact encourage you to be the real you. You will find that it's really worth the effort to find such real people. This could pay off not in a small way but in a big, big way.

More from Bruce Y. Lee M.D., M.B.A.
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