How to Stop Playing Small: Diminishment and the Imposter Complex
It’s a funny thing.
When people are faced with the different behavioural traits of the Imposter Complex (P.S. this is why I use “Imposter Complex” instead of “Imposter Syndrome”) — that is to say: people-pleasing, procrastination, perfectionism, leaky boundaries, comparison, and diminishment — it’s DIMINISHMENT, the fact that they’re playing small, that most people come around to eventually.
It’s a one-two punch. They may initially identify as a people-pleaser or a perfectionist, but upon further digging, what tends to often be in the way of getting their great work out in the world is the fact that they keep playing small and diminishing themselves. (If you haven’t ID’d what might be in your way yet, check out the Imposter Complex quiz here.)
Diminishment is about hiding out — playing small, dimming your light — to make others feel comfortable, and in doing so, convincing yourself that you’re not actually worthy of shining anyway.
Diminishment is the way in which we dial our brilliance and our message down. Take up less space. Avoid displaying actual confidence at all costs.
I suppose this should come as no surprise to me given the evocative language I use in and around “Stepping into your Starring Role” and creating “Your Impeccable Impact;” it’s INTENDED to be a calling forth of those hiding ever so slightly in the shadows off-stage.
Which is to say…YOU.
Diminishment is a nice and safe way to avoid feeling like an Imposter. No one can call us fraud, charlatan or cast us aside if they can’t see us, right?
To be certain.
And of course, it doesn’t just look like staying off the metaphorical stage.
When you tell me that you were so ‘lucky that the universe sent you the perfect designer,’ I will remind you that YOU made it happen. YOU took the chance and went on a coffee date and were open and willing and transparent. That YOU have built up a reputable business through tenacity and with excellence that anyone would be thrilled to be a part of. That YOU did your due diligence and knew what the market would bear and made the ask, even as you feared rejection. But yeah. Sure. It was the ‘universe.’
When you tell me that you are having a hard time filling up your Yum and Yay folder because “they’re just being nice” with their praise, I will remind you that nobody has time to just be nice like that and if they sent you a lovely thank you card because you helped them find a new way forward with the problem that they have been grappling with that MAYBE, JUST MAYBE you ought to dare to believe them when they tell you how truly remarkable you really are. In fact, MAYBE, JUST MAYBE you ought to take their words and add them to your testimonials page for the world to see the truth.
Diminishment looks like playing small.
Diminishment looks like discounting others’ praise.
Diminishment looks like downplaying our successful decisions and wins.
Diminishment looks like handing over credit where credit isn’t due.
Diminishment looks like hiding behind our clients.
Diminishment looks like minimizing our extraordinary work… because it’s “just what we do… it’s not special.”
Diminishment looks like a crisis of presence.
Diminishment looks like the opposite of sovereignty.
Now, you have good reasons for hiding your glory from us. Of that I am certain.
Maybe you have been burned by loving yourself out loud. (This is particularly acute for folx who are marginalized by the dominant culture.)
Maybe you have seen, far too often, the “good” person corrupted by the limelight.
Maybe you have seen… or have even inadvertently participated in the canonization to demonization of someone.
Maybe you have experienced the pain of the Tall Poppy Syndrome.
Maybe you have experienced the sting of haters and trolls.
Maybe you have committed the Sin of (Out)Shining.
Maybe your strong and glorious value of humility fears getting it wrong and having to eat humble pie.
And, speaking of pies, maybe you’ve been told you’ve already had too much pie. “Be satisfied with what you have, Sugar. It’s greedy to want more.”
There is no quick and easy hack to any of this. Trust me. I know.
But if you want to — really and truly want to — stop playing small and take the stage with your message, your vocation, your calling, I’m certain it will be worth every moment of tension.
It will involve you being brave enough to confront the reasons you stay out of action and the resistance that is keeping you from what you say you want.
It will require you to look at all you have done, without the red pen of editorializing and discounting the efforts you’ve made and the outcomes you’ve created.
It will demand that you not go this alone. It will mean you will gather your people, assemble your cast, bring your fans in close and trust in them. But above all, it will demand that YOU trust in YOU.
It’s time to step up.
More pie, please.
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