Watch out: I’m feeling small today.

What is dangerous?

At first pass, the word makes me think of attractive anti-heroes, speeding down the 101, swallowing fish bones, using a squirrel suit with minimal training and walking through LA in high heels, at night.

But there are other things, more indistinct things, that warrant the word, “dangerous.” That moment before you post your first picture on Instagram. The agonizing seconds after a heartfelt status on Facebook. The infinite heartbeat before being told bad news, and the excruciating vulnerability of hoping for good news. The dance of relationships, which demand repeated leaps into uncertainty. These are perhaps the truest form of danger—things that are dangerous to the soul.

Other people can be dangerous to our souls, and we can be dangerous to theirs. If you’ve lived into your teens, you most certainly know this is the case, and I haven’t met anyone who says that this risk suddenly tapers off after adulthood, college, your first job, the wedding or having kids. And it doesn’t always care about holidays.

With Thanksgiving just over and Christmas (incredibly) around the corner, I calculate the odds of us butting heads with someone (or everyone) during the next holiday dinner, at approximately 97%—making this is as good a time as any to know when we are at our most damaging to those around us.

You know what they say about a dog that feels threatened or helpless? Well, it’s the same with people. It’s the same with me.

The most unkind, crushing, unhelpful, discouraging and regrettable things come bubbling out of my mouth and heart when I am feeling small. I have found that the moments most deadly to trusting relationships are those seconds just after we’ve been made to feel unimportant, when we are looking for anywhere-but-inside-us to put that awful feeling. It’s going to happen—someone, someday, somewhere will say something that makes you feel like you’re seven years old again, hoping that you get picked for a team or wishing you could disappear; it will make you wish you could crawl out of your own skin. It may be tomorrow, next week, a couple hours away, but it will happen. Emerging from these skirmishes of the heart, without becoming someone you don’t like, is vital to staying the character course you’ve chosen for yourself.

Also, also: You avoid nights spent kicking yourself for not keeping your mouth shut! #yayforsleep #addedbonus

But it’s difficult. As Brene Brown has said, blame is a way to discharge discomfort and pain. Seems pretty simple—someone hurts you or makes you feel uncomfortable, and half of the ingredients for a 2-ton word-nuke are already there. But how do we avoid being the one who makes others feel uncomfortable, small or insignificant? How do we avoid becoming the dangerous one in our circle?

  1. Preparation, preparation, preparation. Be aware that you may will encounter situations and people that make you feel small. Know that it’s coming and accept it. The faster you embrace this as a neutral part of life, the less shocking it is when it happens, and the more thoughtful you can be about dealing with it.
  2. Visualize. Picture yourself retaining every ounce of your dignity and grace, while extending that ol’ olive branch called The Benefit of the Doubt. Who do you want to be in that moment? What could you say that would let you walk away feeling at peace? What action won’t come back to haunt you at 2am tonight? Mull over it, imagine it, visualize. Seriously!
  3. Create a releasing ritual. Now, this might will sound hokey or kumbaya to some of you, but I discovered this a few years ago and keep coming back to it. After a situation breaks me down or widens an emotional fissure, on my drive home, I picture all the ickiness funneling out of my heart, down my arm and into my hand. Sometimes (and this will sound very odd, indeed), I pretend to scoop it out of my chest. Then, I open my car window and flip my hand over, like all the grossness is dribbling out onto the street. Sometimes, it takes more than one try, but I always feel lighter. It’s a physical externalization of the emotional choice to let things go.

I guess what I want to say is that feeling small is unavoidable, but letting it change your actions for the worse is. You don’t have to become the dangerous one to survive the necessary danger of others and of life. With Christmas and promised family encounters coming up, every little bit helps, so I hope that this little-bit helps you. 🙂

Yours, An Introvert At Large

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