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Do You Let Yourself Take Up Space?

Taking up space is an essential skill for a fulfilling life.

Key points

  • Some people may believe that taking up space is "selfish," but it can be a sign of healthy strength and self-assurance.
  • Children of narcissistic parents may have difficulty asserting their own needs and desires.
  • It can be challenging to unlearn what you have been taught about your presence and potential, but with effort, it is possible.

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

There may be several reasons why: Perhaps they grew up in a home where they were frequently shut down. Maybe 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 post will discuss how this psychological barrier develops and how to overcome it.

Do You Take Up Space?

  • Do you feel anxious when there is silence in the room?
  • Do you avoid talking about yourself by focusing on others?
  • Do you feel guilty and selfish when discussing your problems?
  • Can you show anger or sadness?
  • Can you say no to others without feeling too guilty?
  • Do you fill your life with work, social obligations, and activities?
  • Do you question your identity, feelings, and likes and dislikes?
  • Do you apologize when you're not wrong?
  • Do you feel disconnected from your emotions?
  • Do you ignore stress until you're completely burnt out?
  • Do you think therapy or counselling is useless because "talking about yourself" does not have value?
  • Do you always feel the need to be "productive"?
  • Do you find it challenging to promote yourself in situations where it is appropriate, such as a job interview?
  • Do you find making time for "free play" difficult?

Why You May Have Difficulty Taking Up Space

Narcissistic parents. Children of narcissistic parents may have difficulty asserting their own needs and desires because they were never the focus of their parent's attention while growing up. Each time they express a need, they are punished. Thus, even as adults they feel compelled to cater to others constantly.

Emotionally unstable parents. When a parent is emotionally volatile, they inevitably consume all of the emotional space in the home. They constantly have dramatic ups and downs, intense conflicts, and drama that demand attention, leaving no room for their child. If your parents are or were emotionally volatile, violent, or abusive, your nervous system will be on high alert. Growing up in such an environment, you may 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 may experience extreme anxiety.

Parentification. Some parents do not abuse their children but are so emotionally fragile that they rely on their children for support. These parents are said to have "parentified" their children. Your parent may view you as a counsellor, mediator, or friend. If such vulnerable and needy parents raised you, you might have subconsciously internalized the belief that you are loved not for who you are but for what you can do for others. Thus, you will feel that you must constantly do something to avoid rejection and abandonment by the world. This may mean you find it challenging to sit in silence. You would not know how to be helpful when there is no structure or direction. You feel lost and are confronted by profound emptiness.

Emotionally absent parents. 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 behaviour by assuming it was your fault. These beliefs 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 occupy space. This frequently occurs among children with exceptional intelligence, intuition, and intensity. Your parents may have silenced you to protect your siblings or because they felt threatened. As a result, 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 labelling you as "arrogant" or "showing off." 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?

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

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, or of shame. But ultimately, the risk of dulled or lost potential can be much more painful than the temporary discomfort of change.

Try not to view taking up space 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.

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 that you can never control how others perceive you, you may feel free to follow your heart and express yourself regardless.

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

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

It can be challenging to unlearn what you have been taught about your presence and potential, but with time and effort, it is possible to find your voice and assert your place.

References

Castro, D. M., Jones, R. A., & Mirsalimi, H. (2004). Parentification and the impostor phenomenon: An empirical investigation. The American Journal of Family Therapy, 32(3), 205-216.

Fields, J., & Payne, E. (2016). Editorial introduction: Gender and sexuality taking up space in schooling. Sex education, 16(1), 1-7.

Wells, M., & Jones, R. (2000). Childhood parentification and shame-proneness: A preliminary study. American Journal of Family Therapy, 28(1), 19-27.

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