“Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” ~ Marianne Williamson
Years ago, at a family wedding, I was navigating a reception full of people.
As everyone was milling around trying to access the refreshments, I commented, bumping into people, “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to be in the way.” One person responded to that comment by saying, “You’re not in the way,” and it jolted me. I had a sudden awareness, just then, of those three little words, which seemed to govern much of my life: “in the way.”
Yes, those three little words seem to have been there from the start and, perhaps, explain some of my descent into disordered eating. I had been through therapy and had even written a book about my experiences, including this excerpted poem:
“…I must be as small as dust…
just take up
Just be small,
I thought I had thoroughly dealt with things.
I thought I had dealt with the insidious triggers and issues that had plagued me throughout my childhood and young adulthood.
But, come on, it’s never that tidy, is it?
No, rather, this wedding moment showed me how “in the way” was still a roadblock I encountered daily. But now, in more recent days, it had less to do with food or body issues and more to do with feeling inherently worthy.
I know. Cliché much?
Yet, at this wedding, I was confronted by my negative associations regarding taking up space.
(Subtext: taking up too much space.)
The oppressive judgment here was palpable—screaming that I’m “too much, never enough, too much, never enough.” It went beyond food, weight, and body issues. We’re talking soul level here; my mind, will, and emotions were constantly hounded by self-rejection. I held myself to impossible standards, always condemning myself for coming up short.
I could not occupy my place on this planet the “right” way; I was not taking up the “right” amount of valuable space; I was, essentially, “in the way.”
So, what are some of the things we tell ourselves, convincing ourselves of this harmful perspective in the first place?
1. Our mere existence is blocking something better.
Right away, we are confronted by the lie we tell ourselves: we are inherently unworthy and valueless. The good old “not good enough” argument encroaches on us, insisting that someone or something is always “better” than us. No matter what we do or do not do, it doesn’t seem to matter. We are not as good as X (insert that someone or something).
It is simply inconceivable to believe that we, all by ourselves, are enough. We don’t need to prove anything. There is no bar we need to reach. And we are certainly not a “placeholder” until that “something better” comes along.
You and I are “it,” right now. Let’s remember to act like it.
2. We are unwanted by everyone—all the time.
This is an old classic.
For those who’ve survived any kind of abuse, especially from our family of origin, we have often internalized the harmful message of “I am not wanted.” Maybe we were literally told that day in, day out, by our parents, partners, or spouses. And no matter how much therapy, positive affirmation, and healthier choices we may make in life, we still grapple with an embedded sense of unworthiness, don’t we?
Everyone wants to feel chosen. Yet how many of us experience that state of being regularly? Life is grueling enough, filled with rejection at every turn.
And, for those of us who have endured abuse, that “chosen” or “wanted” status is the elusive carrot. It’s something constantly dangled before us, promising us the world—a life free of fear, pain, and unhappiness, only “if” we perform according to specification.
So, we chase the carrot, hoping this time it will work. “This time, the lie will be the truth.”
But it doesn’t quite work out that way. It’s just more chasing.
And, all the while, we are in the barren land of feeling “in the way.” After all, what else are we to think? We’re not chosen. We are tolerated, at best.
This is often the mistaken, toxic belief of some other person, forced on us, mainly because, many times, this person was an adult, a parent, an authority figure who supposedly “knew better.”
But, oftentimes, at best, they were products of abusive dynamics themselves. Whether it’s a pattern, a generational curse, or a cycle, the same toxic message gets passed down from generation to generation.
Left unchallenged, it continues to proliferate.
But we can interrupt and intercept that harmful message.
We can, after all, want and choose ourselves.
Eye roll all you want, but having survived our traumas of childhood, destructive relationships, and unhealthy coping strategies, you and I are now better positioned to make another choice—a better choice. (And, if you are reading these words, yes, indeed, you have survived your circumstances.)
Small choice by small choice. Line by line. Precept by precept.
What teeny choice can we make right now?
3. We don’t deserve to have wants and needs.
This old chestnut. The deserving of it all.
Oh, where to start, where to start?
Unworthiness messages, again, often start being received in our childhood experiences. Parents, peers, teachers, and other influential adults are just some of the usual suspects. We are told and taught that we inherently don’t deserve love, peace, and autonomy. Abuse steals those things from us by denying our very right to experience them, downplaying why we should seek them out, and by shaming us for desiring them in the first place.
But living with those things in our lives is vital, just, and warranted. We are not wrong for having needs and wants, especially for love, security, safety, and dignity. And if we are told otherwise, if we are told we are “in the way,” for hungering for those basic human rights, that is simply a destructive lie, based nowhere in fact. It’s only a harmful agenda to control, manipulate, and abuse.
Remove the Stone.
Life can start out by piling on the avalanche of “in the way” rocks. But, eventually, we can become our own boulder. We can become our own abuser if we’re not careful and mindful. We can stand as an obstacle to our ultimate purpose and happiness, and we can crush anyone and anything that comes across our path, trying to love and bless us.
We, all by ourselves, can do this; we can get in our own way.
But we can make another choice. We can accept we have the inherent right to take up space, exist, be loved, and be treated well.
Is it easy? No. Is it a one-time thing? No. But is it meant for each one of us, no matter what? Yes.
You and I have the right to exist, thrive, live, love, and be loved, respected, and appreciated by others. We’re not second-class citizens—we’re not scraps, leftovers, or damaged goods.
You and I are not “in the way.” We belong in this life for powerful, meaningful reasons. Let’s find our way with that.