The phrase “taking up space” has been a big topic of conversation in my coaching practice. In sessions, I often ask clients to consider questions like: “What part of you do you want to be seen today?” or “Is there a part of you that needs to be heard today?” Sometimes, I ask, “How can you let yourself know that you belong anywhere you are?”
I have turned to Google to find resources or articles about this topic, and, honestly, I could only find one resource that resonated, and even then, it was geared specifically towards adult women. Furthermore, I was looking for an article that I could share with teen clients or their parents. Thus, I am creating the article that I wanted to find and share.
Today we will consider what it means to take up space and how to do it in your own unique ways. First, I’ll remind you of a few truths:
You are a unique, amazing, incredible human.
You have a right to exist exactly as you are.
You deserve to be seen and heard.
Why Do We Play Small Sometimes?
There are a lot of reasons that we make ourselves small or wish to be invisible in certain situations or environments. Sometimes we feel small because we’ve been told lies about our worth, by others, the media, and even ourselves. (There’s so much to say about the ways our consumer culture teaches us that we are not enough. And we literally buy it!) Other times, we’ve faced trauma and life circumstances which have left us feeling unsafe or unwelcome.
Overall, our tendencies towards being small or quiet or staying “out of the way” come from a place of self-preservation and protection. AND this is only so effective.
When we hide our truest selves, we are also diminishing our gifts and powers in the world. Moreover, we might never actually find or experience the sensations of safety, belonging, and fulfillment that we desire when we are not allowing our truest selves to take up space.
I am speaking as a college-educated, white, cisgender, hetero-presenting, able-bodied young woman. In this society, these labels give me privilege and power that other folks don’t have. Systems of oppression, including but not limited to racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, classism, and ageism, harm large groups of people in this country and may manifest as trauma.
This blog is intended to help a wide range of people, especially teens and young adults, in naming and claiming their value. However, some readers may not find the ideas relevant given their unique personal history with trauma and/or systemic oppression. Youth of all backgrounds may experience oppression and abuse that makes taking up space challenging, painful, or threatening. If this describes you, please reach out to a trusted adult– a teacher, counselor, or relative. Trauma-informed care can support you in finding safer ways to express yourself and begin the healing journey.
20 Ways to Take Up Space
- Identify and name 1-3 spaces where you feel most YOU. Then, give yourself time in these spaces on the regular. For example, you might love spending time in your bedroom, the dance studio, your backyard, a park, on Snapchat, your English classroom, etc.
- Speak up and share your opinions and desires. If or when someone asks for your input or preference, consider how it would feel to share honestly. When a friend asks, “Where do you want to go to dinner?” Share the name of the restaurant that came to mine! Alternately, if someone isn’t asking and you’re feeling invisible or excluded, I invite you to speak up when it feels true. You can try phrases like, “I prefer …” and “I really love…” or “I need…” (See #8 for more about needs.)
- Find a small variety of outlets for your voice. You might consider journaling, singing, playing music, coloring, time with pets, sports, etc. You don’t need to do all the things; however, finding a few outlets offers you diverse opportunities to BE yourself. For instance, I love sharing images on IG and journaling each morning.
- Try standing or sitting in power poses or doing other movements that feel empowering. Consider movements that feel safe and powerful in your body; ideas include dancing, yoga, tai chi, and boxing.
- Practice mirror work. This practice from Louise Hay allows you to spend time with yourself, offering yourself kind word and affirmations. Notice what it feels like to really see yourself.
- When you have a thought to contribute to a conversation, share it aloud. Invite yourself to share in conversations at school, home, and out in the world. You have incredible thoughts to add to any conversation! Sharing can happen verbally or through writing, art, or another medium.
- Dress in ways that make you feel happy and connected to yourself. Specifically, dress how you want to dress, not how others or society tells you how to dress.
- Practice using Nonviolent Communication to share your feelings and needs. Communicating your feelings and needs to your family and friends will offer you a sense of peace and freedom.
- Advocate for yourself when you have learning needs or accommodations. At school or work, you have a right to the supports that help you succeed. I invite you to speak up for yourself and/or ask a trusted adult to help you engage in these conversations.
- Limit the automatic use ‘of “I’m sorry.” Notice your tendency to say “sorry” for things that are completely out of your control, and, then, invite yourself to slow down and identify what you really mean to say. Find some examples in this article.
- Engage in conversations IRL and online that matter to you. If and when you see or hear something problematic or harmful happening, speak up and speak out. You don’t have to take on every conversation, and you can always ask an adult or friend for help. Most importantly, notice when you feel passionate and ready to step up and allow yourself the opportunity.
- Adorn or decorate your physical spaces in ways that make you smile. You might put photos in your locker or paint a wall in your room or collect concert tickets in a special box, for example. Even if the space is small, find a way to bring yourself into it!
- Receive compliments with a “thank you.” Many of us struggle to receive kind words, and yet, it is our right to take up space and be seen. If you feel safe around the person who complimented you, I invite you to respond with the two simple words “Thank you.” (If the compliment is non-consensual or harassment, reach out to an adult you trust immediately.)
- When you feel sick or unwell, allow yourself to rest. Honoring your body is part of honoring your truest self. Sometimes we need to take up space by resting, napping, or going to the doctor.
- Ask for help when you need and/or want it. We need the support of others regularly, and each time we ask for help, we are allowing ourselves to find the comfort, safety, and connection we deserve. This can include asking for tutoring in math class, showing up for coaching or therapy, or asking a parent to make breakfast when you’re running late.
- Eat foods that nourish you and bring you joy. When you acknowledge that you are hungry or have a craving, you allow your physical body to exist as it is, and you have an opportunity to listen to and take care of this part of yourself.
- Greet people in ways that feel safe for you. Sometimes this is a smile, other times a hug or handshake. You don’t owe ANYONE affection, so I invite you to honor your own preferences when it comes to engaging with people, both familiar and unfamiliar.
- Allow yourself to feel your feelings. Sometimes culture and society teach us to hide or suppress our feelings. However, these sensations are an important and crucial part of the human experience. Indeed, some feelings are more pleasurable, while others are quite uncomfortable. And that’s all okay.
- Practice affirmations that help you develop your sense of belonging. Give yourself and your mind supportive, affirming truths to think about. This mindset work supports you in realizing that you BELONG in the places and spaces you occupy.
- Celebrate yourself! Give yourself credit for the work you are putting in, the successes you are having, and the awesome things you are doing in the world. Specifically, you might celebrate by calling a friend, posting on social media, journaling about fun experiences, or sharing good news at dinner.
Be, Feel, and See Your Truest Self Today and Beyond
There isn’t a right or wrong way to go about taking up space. You will need to explore, experiment, and notice the ways of being YOU that feel the best.
Sometimes taking up space will be uncomfortable. This may be a new way of BEing for you. And that’s okay and normal. At times, being seen or heard feels like pressure, and in these moments, I invite you to recall the 3 truths I named at the beginning:
You are unique, amazing, incredible human.
You have a right to exist exactly as you are.
You deserve to be seen and heard.
As you practice taking up space, always return to your heart. Slow down and breathe. And notice what’s true to you; YOU and your truth deserve to take up space. Finally, as you take up space, you may enjoy documenting your go-to supports using this support system map.