How I Stopped Shrinking to Please People and Started Reclaiming My Space

“A woman in harmony with her spirit is like a river flowing. She goes where she will without pretense and arrives at her destination prepared to be herself and herself only.” ~Maya Angelou

As long as I can recall, I struggled to feel insufficient and worthless. I’ve grappled with the unshakable feeling that I am not enough no matter what I do.

As a child, I was labeled by my family as being “too much.” Too bossy, too selfish, too energetic, too emotional. Faced with these messages as a child, I chose to do what most little girls do: I tried not to take up too much space.

I started by taking up more space in my mind. When I was disagreeing with somebody, I stayed silent and did not ask any questions. A good girl behaves, after all.

As a middle-schooler, my emotional footprint began to shrink. My mother compared herself to a “basket case” when she cried, so I learned not to cry. My father told me to “change my environment” to change my mood.

I began to compartmentalize my feelings and avoid feeling “bad emotions.” To escape those uncomfortable feelings that I had labeled as bad, I would eat junk food and watch television. Above all else, I avoided being angry, because nice girls don’t get angry.

My last step to shrinking my size was when I started taking up more space. For most of my adult life, I was overweight. In fact, it is the third grade that made me feel self-conscious. My mental energy grew as I got older and I found it harder to make more space in order to have room for others.

In order to make it easier for others, I’d squeeze my elbows between my knees on planes and buses. My stomach would be squashed against the table in high school and college to make it easier for others behind me. I was conscious of my desire to make myself smaller so others would have more oxygen.

It continued until I reached the age of 27. When the South Dakota pandemic started picking up, I graduated medical school and began training to be a general surgeon resident in California. This training program led me to the tipping point, unbeknownst.

The gossip was rampant at the surgery program. Criticism of the status-quo was dealt with severely and everyone expected to be calm. Two months into my training I was called into the program director’s office without warning.

I was given a verbal warning not to “go over people’s heads” because of an occasion in which I asked the on-call physician a question related to a patient’s care plan to clarify my safety concerns for that patient. In the program’s eyes, it was not appropriate for a new resident to question the decisions of a more senior resident, for any reason.

In those 30 minutes, I felt belittled. It didn’t matter that I had been working eighty hours per week with minimal supervision and dangerously high patient-loads. Nor did it matter that I had lost ten pounds in my first month of residency because I didn’t have the time to eat or drink or use the bathroom.

I couldn’t believe how much I had tried to be small. It was hard to believe that I could lose my entire life if I gave up so much for others’ sake.

This was when something changed inside me. My brain felt like it had flipped a switch. I had a profound sense of clarity that I couldn’t continue down the path I had been taking.

Since then, I have been reclaiming my space. Following my year as an intern, I left the program. After that year, however was able to move to the East Coast and begin training at the most highly regarded psychiatry residencies here in the U.S.

After three months of psychiatry residency, it was clear that I wanted more space. In order to make money I quit my job and purchased a shuttle bus for seventeen people to be my living room.

Now I have my office in a coworking space and am creating my life. That’s not to say that my life is all rainbows all the time. There is $200,000 of student debt that I have to repay. It takes a lot more work to build my company, transform my bus into an skoolie and grow personally.

For the first time in my life, I enjoy waking up every morning. I’m beginning to dress my body in clothes I enjoy, to express all my emotions (including anger), and to reclaim my space as a human on this planet.

Even if we feel ashamed, guilt, or afraid, God calls us to live authentically, and without a second thought.

Being too small is detrimental to others. If we are able to claim what space we require to grow, then we make it easier for others.

Consider whether you are giving yourself enough space for growth. Is it possible to give yourself the time you need to be able to fully experience emotions and your body, as well as to communicate your ideas and opinions? Are you limiting your ability to feel and express yourself?

I still struggle with feelings of inadequacy at times, but I hope you’ll join me in reclaiming the space we need to embody who we were meant to be.

About Dr. Jess

Dr. Jess works as a blogger and artist. She also teaches art classes. Lola, her three-year-old canine companion, lives with Dr. Jess in Norwich. Dr. Jess writes about how to design your life well and offers expert advice for students and premeds who are trying to enter medical school or residency. Click here to get in touch Dr. Jess.

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Tiny Buddha published the post How I Quit Shrinking To Please People, and Reclaimed My Space.

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