I’ve been squashed before. And, even worse, I’ve squashed myself.
You know when you’re shining bright, holding forth, and then you catch yourself. Apologise for your enthusiasm. Or someone talks over you, puts you down, rolls their eyes at you. That’s squashing.
Giving up on your dreams, either because someone told you that they were ridiculous, or because you don’t believe that you could ever do it, be good enough. That’s squashing.
Changing the kind of person you are to be more acceptable to others, for whatever reason. That’s squashing.
When we’re children we dream big, we imagine big, we trust big. That is, if we’ve been fortunate enough to have been raised in a home that has nurtured those dreams, given us reason to trust, encouraged our flights of fancy. In the same way, when we as adults are around people who put us down, or drain us of energy, of emotion, we lose our dreams, our sparkle, ourselves.
Watch for the people whose eyes light up when you talk about your dream. Those are the people you keep.
– Elizabeth Gilbert
We are mean enough to ourselves anyway without surrounding ourselves with people who do it for us.
We’ve all heard the stories, or have told the stories, of the kid who cherished a dream of one day being a doctor, or an astronaut, or an artist, and having a teacher or parent laugh or look pityingly and say ‘that’s never going to happen’. I see the impact on students of believing that they aren’t as smart as others, or as talented, and the way that shrivels something inside them. They stop trying. They become other very sad or very angry – and the anger is usually covering up the sadness. They get squashed.
One of the things that makes me feel most proud, most satisfied, is knowing how I came back from being squashed, and from squashing myself. It took time, but having that moment where I had risen like a phoenix from ash (a lengthy rise, to be fair, it took some time to repair) and realise just how far I had squashed my real self down, and how far I had pushed back against the squash to become myself again, was the best feeling in the world. It’s about taking ownership.
Never shrink your heart for someone. Not everyone can handle the love that you give.
I admit, I’d never thought I was easily squashed and, despite ongoing self esteem issues I’ve always liked myself. Turns out you can value yourself pretty highly and still allow your dreams, your sparkle, your shine, your you, to disappear.
How do we guard against it?
Step one – make sure the people you surround yourself with are encouragers and cheerleaders. Don’t settle for anything else.
Step two – be kind to yourself. Encourage and support yourself like you would a friend
Step three – don’t buy into self-deprecation. Putting yourself down, even if for a ‘joke’, can enhance and turn to concert a narrative of ‘you’re rubbish’, both for you and for others. Putting yourself down gives others permission to do so. I’m not really talking about the kind of banter you might have with friends (although sometimes that goes too far), but the ‘Oh, I’m really bad at that’, which allows others to say ‘She’s really bad at that’.
Step four – realise that even if your dreams are coming slowly, they can still happen. My grandmother is about to turn 98. She began painting when she was in her 70s. She is having her second ever art exhibition this month. But also – all those years she was painting and not exhibiting, she was still getting pleasure and joy from the act of creating. Evaluate what succeeding in your dream really means for you.
Lastly, inspiration from Dylan Thomas – “Rage, Rage against the dying of the light’. Light is not just life, but your spark, your hopes, your essence. Fight to look after the things that are precious to you. And the most precious of all those things, well, that’s you yourself.