There are facets of my being that love to stretch out and take up space. It feels real and raw. It feels free—I can be me. For most of my life, the bliss of this hasn’t lasted very long. Oftentimes, opportunities to stretch out to my full stature provoke internal conflict in the depth of my soul. It’s as though I have two perspectives inside of me that don’t see eye to eye and have different reactions when thinking about taking up space.
On the one hand, it’s all too easy to remember every implicit and explicit variation of messages that have told me, Stay small, stay quiet, don’t be too loud, don’t be too much. Wounded and scared parts of me can carry these messages on like a refrain, trying to protect me from possibly feeling their sting again. It’s almost as though, without my consent or knowledge, parts of me conspire and decide: If I can keep myself from taking up too much space, I can protect myself from others making me feel small or unwanted. So here’s the plan—shrink back and play it safe.
If this hesitancy wins out, I find myself feeling stuck, like I’ve been packed in a cross-country road trip, crammed into a tiny seat with suitcases pressing in on me. In this stuckness, the desire to stretch out will long to jump out and be free. Feeling stuck while shrinking back can also lead to me resenting the wounded and scared facets of my soul, judging them as cowardly and burdensome. If this perspective wins out, I often push on ahead, trying to shove down or ignore the fears that want to keep me hidden. In this headspace, I only bring some facets with me as I take up space. Rather than stretching out wholeheartedly, I do so in part, viewing other parts of me as problems that get in the way.
A compassionate and wise spiritual director who has walked alongside me for several years has encouraged me to understand conflictual reactions like this as parts of me. When I consider the state of my soul using this framework, it helps me identify and connect with the most vulnerable parts of me that tend to stay hidden behind protective reactions or modes. Slowing down to understand the perspective that each part holds has opened up new possibilities for how I view my reactions, and how I view taking up space. Rather than jumping to frustration with myself, she has helped me consider the pain behind protective impulses that try to make me small before others can make me feel small.
These categories have helped me understand why I sometimes do things that seem counterproductive. Rather than harshly saying to myself, Why do I do that?, she has helped me instead imagine my reactions as embodied perspectives, parts of me that operate in specific ways for specific reasons. More than gaining clarity about what’s happening inside of me, the sweetest thing in these spaces has been inviting Christ to enter in and be present with every facet of me. Apart from Him, the landscape of my soul can run rampant with refrains that tell me to shrink back and not take up space:
An anxious part of me worries about feeling exposed, saying, “They’ll see more of me. What if they don’t like what they see?”
Tired facets of my soul that are just too weary to go against the current sigh, Why bother?
A critical voice that’s been evicted, but still knocks at the door of my mind laughs, Good luck with that, you’ll fail and make a fool of yourself.
And the most wounded depths of me that stay as hidden and protected as can be protest, We’re not taking up space. If it goes sideways, it’ll confirm our worst fears, our deepest pains. It’s too much to risk being ignored or unwanted, so here we’ll stay, tucked away.
It’s with these parts of me that my spiritual director has guided me to invite Christ to draw near. His presence has shifted the ways in which taking up space can feel like a liability. His nearness instead helps me see the wounds behind the fear, the spaces that are in need of His care.
Engaging in this slow and steady work with my spiritual director has opened me up to a different way to take up space, both in and outside of me. As God draws near to my wounds, I see His tender mercy and compassion soothe the fear and frustration that can fester inside, creating space for a wholehearted shalom that rests in Him. And it’s in the rest of His constant embrace that I have a steadfast security to anchor in as I stretch all facets of me to my fullest stature.
Anna Christine is a trauma-informed therapist, passionate about cultivating healing spaces, exploring the intersections of pain, stuckness, and wrestling through faith journeys that are not linear paths. Her work draws from interpersonal neurobiology, polyvagal theory, and parts work, alongside thoughtful theological reflection and contemplative practices from her second master’s degree in Biblical Studies and her time spent in a spiritual formation fellowship. Her writing, along with free integrative resources, can be found on groundingmist.com.