Talking yourself small. We all do it. I think perhaps I made up the phrase (because that’s how I think of it in my head) but you know already what I mean. It’s the little jokes, the responses to compliments, the things that say “I’m not really very good” or “I don’t really deserve that (nice thing you said)”. It’s about taking up a bit less space and not standing out. It’s not the same as criticising yourself. Not exactly. Close but not quite. It’s subtler than that. Like when someone says “Wow, you did that*!” and you say “Oh, well, I didn’t do this**”

*e.g. travelled to a far-flung place, bought a house, had a baby, wrote a book

** e.g. scaled Everest, bought a super-dooper, fancy house, had twins, wrote more than one book / had book published

It’s when you laugh off a compliment or make a joke about something that is important or special, to make it a lot less important and special. You’re thinking about it, aren’t you? Remembering those moments you felt awkward, somehow a little too rewarded or spotlighted, and so you reined it in, back to a point of comfort. You made yourself…smaller.

Why, oh why, do we do it? I guess we feel uncomfortable. Underneath it all, we think we aren’t good enough, that we’re undeserving of whatever is shiny and important and special in our lives, or that we might be okay at something but we’re not perfect and we shouldn’t get any praise till we’re perfect, right?

I talk myself small on a pretty regular basis. It’s interesting to note about what and when. I talk myself small about my writing and my parenting, mainly. Perhaps because I am new at both or perhaps because they are both crazy-wonderful aspects of my life and I don’t believe I deserve them. I talk myself small about my body and appearance, because the topic makes me cringe and I’m a woman (’nuff said?). I talk myself small in New Zealand, more often than when I’m overseas, because it’s kind of a national trait and here I am just little old me, the memories and insecurities of high school never far from the surface. I talk myself small when talking to other women. I talk myself small in the company of those I admire. I talk myself small because it just feels more comfortable that way.




So, why shouldn’t you talk yourself small? Well, because I found myself doing it the other day and I came up with a pretty good and striking reason. It got me really thinking. And making a list. So here it is, My Top 5 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Talk Yourself Small.


Number 5: It’s not nice. 

Talking yourself small is just not nice. At best it’s a bit unkind, at worst it’s downright mean. Imagine if someone else said those same things, to your face – “Hmmm, it’s a nice house, but it’s got a lot of work to be done on it.”, “You should be eating better but you’ve really got no self control.”, “You think parenting two kids is busy, you should have twins, you’ve really got it pretty easy.” Woah! I wouldn’t be friends with that person. Oh, hang on, it’s me.


Number 4: Special and important is special and important.

People tell me my kids are cute (They are, by the way, freakin’ cute) I often respond like this: “Your kids are gorgeous!” – “Oh, they’re ratbags really.” What?! Sure, they regularly are little ratbags, but they’re also amazing and yes, cute. Both of my girls are special and important and being their Mum is special and important. Why is it, when we get a compliment about something that is special and important to us, or about us, do we deflect it by negating it? It does it a huge disservice. We should let it be special and important; by honouring it properly. Let’s change it up. Like this: “You wrote a book! That’s amazing!” – “Oh, well, I had the time, at the time, to write it and it was beginner’s luck getting it published really and it’s not everyone’s cup of tea…” – “Thank you.” See? Not so hard.


Number 3: You deserve it. No really, you do.

The thing about talking yourself small is that it’s all about thinking that you don’t deserve something great. A family. A nice house. Having nice hair or good skin. Getting your work published. When it comes down to brass tacks, you sometimes just feel like a fraud. Am I right? That somehow you haven’t earned the good stuff, that you’re not pretty / smart / talented enough for it. Perhaps it might all disappear one day and you shouldn’t get too attached to it. There’s probably someone else out there who deserves it more…  Nuh uh. You deserve it. Instead of thinking – why me? – how about thinking – why not me? First of all, you probably did something right. But even if you didn’t or don’t think that you did (the latter is more probable) – there’s a whole lot of awful in the world, dished out seemingly willy-nilly, so why not enjoy the good stuff? Great people have awful things happen to them, and vice versa. You deserve it just because. Soak that up for a moment.


Number 2: You don’t have to be perfect (Actually, {revelation}, it’s impossible).

People ask me this question: “What do you write?” and I answer “Novels.”. Cool. But then I say, hurriedly, not meeting their gaze “Well, one novel. I’ve had one novel published and I’m writing some new work at the moment.” Why can’t I just say “novels” and accept the plural?!? Because I don’t think I am a “real writer” until I’ve written and published more than one book. It’s crazy. I get all flushed and embarrassed, like I can’t own being a writer until I’ve reached that bar. And guess what? The bar will move once I’ve published that next book. Do you do the same thing with compliments? Not accept it until it’s all perfect? “Nice house!” “Yeah, but the bathroom and decking need fixing” or “You have such great legs.” “Ha! Pity about the huge bum.” And when the bathroom and decking is done, or if the bum looked like Pippa Middleton’s?….Then there’d be something else needing work. Stop. Good is good enough. Perfection is an illusion; a receding, untouchable horizon.


Number 1: Someone is watching. And learning.

This was my aha moment: I was busy talking myself small when I caught my daughter watching me. She was listening to me make my achievements less bright, my specialness less special. She was learning from me. I thought about her trying out this habit of mine, the way she tries on my clothes, my hats, my shoes. Oh. The words got stuck in my throat.

I don’t want my girls learning that you shouldn’t be proud, that you need to be perfect in order to accept a compliment, that you don’t deserve the good stuff in your life or that things that matter to you should be downplayed. And I don’t want them, or anyone else, to learn that I’m okay with being talked about in that manner. I mean, if I do it to myself, why shouldn’t someone else? Of course I don’t want them to be arrogant or self-righteous either, it’s not about that; this is about cultivating grace and self-respect. I want my girls to speak respectfully and kindly. Not just about others, but about themselves too.

Which all starts with me. I’m the one they watch and believe me, there will be someone watching you too. This is what got me thinking and committing to making some changes to the way I speak about myself. It’s so habitual I am probably going to feel like a “smug, self-satisfied so-and-so” (we just go right ahead and say “wanker” in this part of the world) for a while and the discomfort levels are going to be high. But, in the end, I might achieve some grace and self-respect, with a side dish of pride and comfort. A little something for my girls and me, to move forward with.


Do you “talk yourself small”? Will you join me in this challenge to change the habit?

HUGS, Hannah x