No More Shrinking

Last week I talked about the occurrence of having your energy go out in front of you and inhabit the space in between you and another person.

This typically happens when we want to avoid feeling something by using the means of trying to control or change the external situation or person. 

Another common pattern is shrinking your energy. You’ll recognize it because suddenly you feel tight all over, and have the sensation of huddling up toward the back of your body and trying to become as small as you can.

For example, a client recently told me about an exchange with her boss in which she felt shamed and belittled by the wordless but demonstrably moody way he was hounding her to rush on a project. 

“What happened in your body?” I asked.

“I got really tight all over, I wanted to hide, and I started speeding up and feeling clumsy,” she replied.

“Did you say anything to him?”

“Nope. I just wanted him to leave me alone,” she said quietly.

“Are you willing to play with this a bit?” I questioned her. 

“Sure,” she said. 

I asked her to imagine herself back in the situation and to look for the moment right before she felt herself energetically shrink.

After a few moments with her eyes closed, she opened her eyes quickly and shared, “I’m really hot.”

“Ok, so see if you can stay with the heat and see if, this time, you can resist shrinking. Take up the space you inhabit. Notice how you feel.”

I watched her face get a little flushed and her energy rise. 

“If you weren’t censoring yourself, what would you say from this feeling in your body?”  I asked her.

She opened her eyes and said, “I felt pissed, and what I would have said from that energy if I wasn’t censoring myself was ‘Fuck off!’”

Bingo.

And so it is when we shrink. It’s what we do when we’re trying to control our own response to something so we don’t feel what we actually feel.

This is particularly true in the case of anger. Someone says or does something we don’t like for some reason and then there’s a white hot flare up inside that we almost instantaneously shut down into feeling tight and disempowered. The flare up can be so short—milliseconds—that we don’t ever notice it happened. Instead, we only notice the next phase, the one where we feel weak and trapped. If we do this enough, we begin to feel like we’ve lost touch with our power
and agency in our life altogether.

Though it would have been in no way appropriate for my client to tell her boss to fuck off in that moment (Oh! But would that it were sometimes!), it doesn’t mean that she didn’t have a real experience of feeling that she wanted to. And that experience leaves an energetic residue in the body if it isn’t acknowledged.

This is the important part. We’ve learned, whether from parents, spiritual teachers, cultural norms or by our own experience of someone else’s explosive or potentially abusive anger, that it’s not ok to have anger. Or—that it’s only ok to have anger if it’s righteous—if everyone else in your life would agree that yes, you indeed had every right to be angry because he/she/that situation was wrong/mean/totally screwed up. (I know this is true because I do this—frame it all up with a story of how righteous I was in the situation so I can win getting to be pissed without people thinking I'm a bitch.)

This is a trap, though, because everyone gets angry. And to not allow yourself anger is to deny yourself of a part of your strength, your power and your energy to act on what is meaningful to you. 

What matters is that you know how to be with your anger when it comes up without flying off the handle or shrinking.

This is where your body comes back into it. Think of a time when you were angry—not the angriest you’ve ever been, but some mild level of anger like if someone nabbed the parking spot you’d been waiting for or that your kid didn’t do the dishes again.

Close your eyes and see if you can feel in your body as the energy or heat rises. Resist the urge to yell or act out, and also resist the urge to get small and feel like a victim. Just be in it. Breathe. Feel your feet on the floor. Notice what happens.

Most people describe feeling like they got bigger, warmer and have a lot more energy coursing through their body, especially their arms and hands. The best way I’ve found to describe the feeling is that it’s like going from a 60 watt bulb to a 120 watt bulb.

Not many of us can hold this for very long. It literally feels like our circuitry will blow (i.e. that we’ll blow up and unconsciously release our anger on someone) because we’re not used to holding that kind of energy. But it won’t. It just takes practice.

It’s hard to practice it in the heat of the moment at first, so you might still find yourself getting tight and shrinking. That’s ok. Just make sure that if you can’t do this in the moment, go back to it when you have some time to yourself to process.

Here’s the practice:

  1. Give yourself permission to feel angry even if it’s not righteous.

  2. When you feel the energy and heat of anger swell in your body, don’t try to shut it down. Ground it by grounding your body—feel your feet under you, feel your breath, feel the part of you who is the witness to your own experience.

  3. Give yourself enough time to feel your anger until it simmers down. If it’s after the fact, you might express it by saying everything you wish you would have said, or punching a pillow or stomping.

  4. When the energy of anger has cleared, discern if there is something that you need to say or do to make things clear with the other person or people involved.

This is big stuff. It’s rewiring what is potentially for some of us a whole lifetime of the habit of not allowing ourselves anger. But if you practice this when you need it, I promise you will feel more connected to yourself, to your power and to your ability to act on what is true for you.

Jay Fields