Silence and Playing Small

February 19, 2014 — 17 Comments

Peering over Dad’s shoulder, I was entranced by his words and hand movements. He held a shoe in his lap, and was teaching my older brother how to tie the laces. I watched and carefully listened to the lesson, to my brother’s attempts to mimic Dad’s motions, and Dad’s continued guidance. My mind buzzed, trying to memorize every detail. After I felt I could do it on my own, I slipped away to find one of my shoes and excitedly followed Dad’s instructions.

shoesBeing able to tie my shoes was one of my first secrets, which I kept until what seemed an acceptable time after my brother learned. I don’t recall telling anyone in my family that I learned before him until last year.

It’s a small thing, but I learned this week that it’s part of a significant soul issue, one I am now trying to understand and process. I have discovered a very strong belief that I dare not achieve certain things or else my brothers will feel bad. This is laughable because my brothers are intelligent, talented, and pretty much wonderful. Yet my belief is very real, and very powerful. 

No one in my family ever asked me to be silent about my gifts and achievements. No one asked me to play small. Yet I feel a knot in my stomach as I type, and feel anxiety rise because I’m getting too close to this belief: Be Silent, Be Small, Don’t Make Anyone Feel Bad.

Silence as part of mindfulness is a very blessed gift, and it was nice of me as a young girl to be silent and wait my turn in the shoe-tying arena, but believing that I must play small is madness. Yet that’s the thing about beliefs – they operate in the recesses of our psyche, have tremendous impact on how we live our lives and relate to others, and all the while make no sense whatsoever.

I am a work in process, and I have more work to do on this issue.  Not by bullying myself into being different (as I used to do), but by compassionately looking within, processing what is at the heart of this belief, and releasing falsehoods.

That’s on my agenda today because I don’t want to be silent or play small anymore.


This was part of the Weekly Writing Challenge: The Sound of Silence.  Here are related posts that I hope you’ll check out:

Feeling Silence

An Open Letter to Grace

Sweet Sound of Silence





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17 responses to Silence and Playing Small

  1. OMG! This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. Even though I have a strong bravado (I think that is what I would call it) I live very small. I always felt like I had to be the best so Mom wouldn’t be anymore stressed than she already was. I became aware of this at a very young age. Be good and it will be easier for Mom. Then as an adult I find that I fear the vulnerability of “not” living small. If I….then I might not be hired or If I…people will think I am bragging. Wow, this post really hit a nerve in a good way. I am very interested in this process of the weekly writing challenges and how one gets involved. Really finding your posts cathartic. Hopefully we women can pull a gathering together soon. Thank you.

    • Oh, Lori, I love you. We’re all such tangled knots of conflicting beliefs, aren’t we? What’s really crazy is we don’t know so much of them, until they pop out, one by one, and they come as quite a shock. But they also explain things and allow us to heal and rise. So cool!

      I’m glad you like the weekly writing challenges – I do too, even though I haven’t participated in many yet. To learn more about them, click on the link above. I think you can follow them and get their weekly emails from that page; at least, that’s what I did. Now when I go to their page, it simply says I’m following them, rather than showing me how I could follow them, so I’m not sure what it looks like for others. It’s the same for the weekly photo challenges. So many people participate, and it’s fun to see how many different ways there are to meet the challenges. And, of course, you can always start blogging and join the fun – I’d follow you!

      Maybe this summer we can get together. I would love that so much.

  2. I’ve been the same ind of person. I use to make strides when I worked. I often let others take credit for things I did. I felt like if I said I did such and such I would be boasting. Eventually i was noticed and got credit for the things I did. I think it’s okay to be thoughtful, that’s who you are. You will be seen for the person you are and you know in your heart who you are.

    • I started quoting your comment to show specifically what I totally relate to, but then realized I’d have to quote it all. Boy, do I relate! I also played small by not sharing my opinions on what could be done to avoid or fix a problem – at work or at home – but then the problems occurred or stayed longer than they needed to. But, like you, I didn’t want to be appear to be boasting. Didn’t want to make others think I think I’m better than them.

      That’s crazy, though. We all have gifts to bring to the table. We all have moments of seeing more clearly than others – just as we have moments of not seeing as clearly as someone else. It’s an uphill climb, but we need to be authentic, and that includes letting our lights shine.

      Thanks so much for your comments!

  3. What a brilliant and kind post and what wonderful insights, including commenters. I have had the opposite experience. growing up with a mood disorder I spoke unabashedly without thinking and even craved attention – or at the opposite end tended to isolate and withdraw – never a happy medium!! lol. Most of us fear not being good enough, wanting acceptance etc. Now I am learning ( lifetime process) to keep quiet and listen, to let others bask in the glory which is always fleeting at the best of times, and to enjoy their joyful moments and to speak up in positive ways to add that drop of light to the pond (community) of light . We are all still those little children learning to tie our shoelaces or ride a bike.

    • “Never a happy medium” reminds me of what a sponsor used to say: “Balance is something I wave at as I run from one extreme to another.” Indeed!

      Your comment is lovely, and I love the metaphor of adding a drop of light to the community pond of light. Thank you for that!

  4. This is such a sweet story of your youthful humbleness, though your little light was silenced more than it ought to have been. I think I understand where we get these notions to play small. Sometimes it takes some time for our little lights to shine as brightly as they should. Thanks for this response to the sound of silence.

  5. Such sweet, tender instincts in one way and such a hidden light on the flip side. I just finished writing that and saw what eM wrote above and realized it is the same response. I just want to squeeze that precious girl who was giving space to her brother – what a heart! and also do a Big and Bold dance with you now! xo! marga

  6. I wonder if empaths are naturally quiet, withdrawn and play small whenever possible because we sense and feel other people’s emotions or potential emotions and since we try to avoid hurt or potential anger, we become this way to not make any waves and to keep the peace. However, we end up sometimes feeling not aggressive enough or bold enough. I don’t know. I will say I can definitely relate to your post and I wish you well on your journey. I’m on a similar one myself when it comes to that.

    • I know what you say, what you’re wondering. Yet for years I was told I was very confident and assertive. I felt it in some ways – safe ways – but I held back so much. Like you said, to keep the peace. But I suppose almost everyone has felt they need to be someone or something that wasn’t quite right for them in order to keep the peace or gain approval or one of many other reasons. I’m glad we’re on the journey together.

      • I have always been told that I’m quiet, shy, not confident enough or assertive enough. I bet if I met you before we met “bloggily” (made it up, feel free to use it lol), I probably would have no clue you have similar issues than me. Interesting.

        • Interesting indeed! You’ve given me pause, reminding me how easy it is to judge other books by their covers. :) That’s one way the internet’s anonymity is a blessing – we can connect without prejudging since we don’t see each other first. Love your made up word, even if I can’t repeat it. My spell checker refuses to allow it!

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