Have you ever shared parts of your real, wonderful self with others, only to feel unsupported by them?
You’re definitely not alone.
For instance, were you shunned in school by peers, or even by other family members, because you were “smart?”
Or “sensitive?” Or “quiet?”
Or for any other reason?
Or...did you ever try to make a diet, lifestyle, or perception change, only to have people in your family or your close friends make jokes at you about your efforts or changes? Did they even try, seemingly almost purposely, perhaps, to surround you with the very temptations you were trying to release?
Have you worked really, really hard on a particular skill during your life, only to find that close friends or even family became jealous of your abilities and hard work?
Have you ever tried a brand-new thing in your life, but yet, those people who you really can’t wait to share it with just seem to ignore you or almost seem uncomfortable when you share your good news?
Did you ever seem to have a natural talent for something, only to find that others seemed unsupportive or upset with you when you shared your talent?
Have you been told things like “it’s not good to brag,”
.....or “don’t get too big for your britches,”
.....or “who do you think you are?”
.....or “you need to be more humble,”
.....or “you think you’re better than us, don’t you?”
.....or “it’s not spiritual to have such big aspirations or desires?”
Have you even thought those things about yourself because of who you are and the gifts you have to offer?
Or have you been told or shown, directly or in other ways, that there’s something wrong with you for being who you are?
You can probably guess that by the plethora of examples I’ve given here, I’m well familiar with these experiences.
You’d be right. ;)
This is actually a well-documented phenomenon throughout the world and throughout time. In Australia and New Zealand, it’s called “tall-poppy syndrome.”
The analogy is that there is one poppy in the whole poppy field that grows taller than all of the others. So in order to keep all the poppies an equal size, the tall poppy is chopped down.
This can also be applied to groups of people as well as individuals. Imagine a group of people, maybe a group who dares to act as whistleblowers for others in society. Maybe this group dares to tell what they believe is some honest but difficult truth that society may not want to hear but may do well to listen to. This kind of group can also be shut down in certain ways.
We’ve all heard stories of whistleblowers in corporate companies losing their jobs for exposing painful, dysfunctional, yet very real truths about what is happening inside of their workplaces.
We’ve heard stories of very powerful females in times past, who society was so afraid of that they were called “witches” and sent to be burned.
We’ve heard stories of minority groups of any kind, who get shut down, shunned, or hated by others because they dare to be who they are. Especially if who they are is not accepted by society or others around them.
We’ve heard of brilliant inventors, artists, and scientists who have changed the face of the world as we know it today, but who in their time were completely shunned, torn down, and even put to death for daring to assert something other than what the majority of society was comfortable with.
Remember Galileo, that amazing scientist who discovered that the Earth revolved around the sun, which was opposite of the common knowledge at the time, that the sun revolved around the earth? Galileo was doubted by other contemporary astronomers. He even found himself in the middle of a battle with the Pope at the time, and he was called a “heretic” and sentenced to live out his days under house arrest!
Just for realizing what we now know to be completely true—that the Earth does indeed revolve around the sun!
There’s no doubt that when we think of stories such as this, or if we ourselves have experienced feeling shame or jealousy from others for supposedly being too different or “too big for our britches,” we can be scared into thinking we should just be quiet, not stir the pot, and blend in with the rest of society, just like so many people do.
Yet, what good does holding in our authentic selves, gifts, or hard-earned skills really do society as a whole?
What if Galileo had never published his findings? Yes, someone else along the way may have made the same conclusion about the Earth and sun. But what if that person never shared their work due to fears of how others would react?
It takes a lot of courage to seemingly stand out and to share our gifts, especially in the face of adversity. These days, it is even easier to be able to compare our lives to the lives we think others are living. It’s so easy to think that everyone else has it better than us somehow. It can be easy to think that we really don’t have very much to offer, or that our one voice or way of living or being can’t make too much of a difference.
But there are still very few truth tellers in this world, in proportion to those who are okay staying silent or blending in. And just to clarify here, when I say “truth tellers,” I am referring to those who, through words or actions, bravely share their own truths with the world, so that others have a chance to learn and grow from them. Not everyone will resonate equally with all truths, and that’s okay. That’s part of what makes our world so interesting. :)
The thing is, if you ever have had any of these “tall-poppy” experiences, it can feel very alienating and even surprising, especially if the dissent comes from those people who you have learned you can trust. If you get shamed by your loved ones or your “tribe” just because you are being yourself, or just because you are growing into newer and even more expansive, wonderful versions of yourself, you may feel like you just want to throw in the towel and just stop sharing or growing!
Shame is a very powerful tactic. That’s why it works so well.
Renowned social scientist Brené Brown says that “shame needs three things to survive: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
So if you hold in how awful you feel that others may be trying to shame you for growing or for being who you feel you truly are, you will experience shame.
You’ll experience even more shame if you judge yourself as “bad,” “wrong,” “unworthy,” or in any other number of harsh ways because of your experience.
Yet, because we are such social creatures and want to feel included by others around us, judging ourselves so harshly is all too easy to do when we feel shamed by others. And even one shame experience is often unfortunately enough for many of us to just throw in the towel and let ourselves be “cut down to size.”
But here’s a truth I’ve found about tall-poppy syndrome that you may haven’t considered before.
We are all actually very tall poppies.
Even if it seems like you’re one of the tall ones in the field because you’ve been cut down a lot, stay with me. If you live at a very healthy space in life, you will likely be able to see the truth in this statement.
We are all very tall poppies.
Your tallness is no taller than mine. We may shine in completely different ways. And shine we definitely should, in our own brilliant ways! No matter if others seemingly try to cut us down.
But we all have equal capabilities to shine, and to shine so brightly that our light and our gifts are used in amazing ways to bring greater life, healing, and goodness into this world.
The reason I believe others may try to cut us down is because they have not yet fully acknowledged their own greatness.
Let’s face it. We all battle with this to some extent. We all get jealous of others at times. We can all think we’re “less than” for certain reasons. I am no exception to this. I still feel that way at times.
But when we really take a moment and look deeper within this jealousy, this contempt, or this disgust at someone who seems to be more gifted than we are, we will likely find that we simply aren’t allowing ourselves to be okay with exactly who we are and acknowledging exactly what our own brilliant gifts are.
If I’m jealous of someone who gets to travel the world, for instance, it’s likely because I think I’ll never have that opportunity, an opportunity which I truly do desire to have happen someday. But the truth is that I have my own set of amazing gifts to share with others, and if it is meant to be, when the timing is right, I will indeed be able to realize my traveling dreams.
Once I make this realization, I no longer have any need to be jealous of the world traveler’s opportunities. I am content in my own gifts and skills, so that I can truly be happy for them and what they’re experiencing and enjoying.
So the truth I feel about tall-poppy syndrome is this:
Even though the social phenomenon can unfortunately be very real, the idea of the tall poppy itself is really an illusion.
The only people who believe in the illusion of others being the tall poppies who are threatening are those who likely feel the most insecure with their own gifts, or with their own selves. And those are often the people who try to shame others who they might feel are taller in some way than they are.
We may think others are more gifted than we are. And in certain ways, they may be. But that doesn’t at all negate or lessen any ways which we ourselves are gifted or authentically us. And no one else can be exactly like us. So truly, we can’t compare. It’s like comparing an apple to an orange. Both fruits are great, yet both have very different flavors.
As I said earlier, I’ve personally experienced the pain of the social phenomenon many times in my life. As I’ve grown into, among, and out of many groups of people, I’ve experienced many attempts at direct and indirect shaming for being who I am or becoming who I am growing into.
Over time, different people have criticized my looks or my ways of putting my voice out there. They've ostracized me from "in-groups" by planning events without me. They've totally ignored me or have directly asked me to change. They've told me that they and others had been talking about me and were worried about me and that I should seek therapy, instead of talking to me directly and trying to understand me better. And they've asked me not to share my work with them, sometimes directly.
I’ve experienced shaming from family as well, such as when I shared with my mother the news of my engagement years ago, and, maybe due to her own discomfort over her own failed marriage, she proclaimed about my husband and our future, “He’s not (the same religion as she was.) It will never last.”
Yet, as painful as this shaming has been at times, it will not stop me from sharing my voice and my truths in this world. I owe it to myself, and to others who may benefit from what I share, to continue to do so.
Shame can be very silencing at first. Sometimes others don’t even realize they’re shaming us. Other times, they definitely have the motive to do so, because it helps them try to offload their own pain onto us.
But deep, deep down in our beings, we do indeed have the courage to live an authentic life. Our lives can be truthful to us, ever changing, ever expanding and growing throughout our years on this planet.
And when we own our brightness and shine our light, we are doing the greatest service to the world that we can do. We are living out the miracle of the one unique existence that we are. And there is nothing braver and more amazing than to do just that.
The more we take time to get to know ourselves, the more we can understand what our gifts really are. And our gifts don’t have to be limited to just one passion. We can have so many areas of our lives in which we can shine and be open to growing to becoming ever brighter.
And for those who try to shame us, who may be jealous of us, who may indirectly or directly voice their displeasure at us or try to cut us down in any number of ways—we can come to forgive those people over time and know in our hearts that their light is just as bright as ours is. No more, no less. Even if they’re not able to see it that way.
We do the world a great service when we let our lights shine.
Let’s keep committing to do so. And, with healthy boundaries in place, let’s keep finding compassion and forgiveness, and sending love to those who try to cut us down. Because believing in their own love and light is what they really need the most. We may never be able to convince them to do so. But we can still shine our lights so that all can see the miracle of who we truly are.
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I’d love to hear from you! Shoot me a personal note through my Contact page, or leave a comment below. Have you experienced others who have tried to cut you down? Can you see how we are all such “tall poppies” in our own right?
Would you like to learn even more about the unique qualities you have to offer yourself and others? Check out my first book here.
No matter what, always remember this: You are deserving, you are worthy, and you are good enough. Keep being you, keep shining, and keep growing!
With great love,