I grew up with two older step-brothers, and was fairly close with the younger one. He was in high school when I was in kindergarten, but that didn’t stop us from acting like typical siblings – him demanding I do stuff for him like get snacks, having wrestling matches, him teasing me mercilessly. Y’know, normal stuff.
Usually falling under that category of him pushing my buttons just because he could, many of the times when he was around, I would end up super riled up. He’d tease me about a boyfriend, or about school, or some such nonsense that would really get under my skin, and I’d inevitably get loud and animated. And he’d always do this thing as soon as he got me to that point where I rolled over the edge of a controlled response – he’d shush me.
Ssshhhhhh, calm down, Kourtney. Jeeeeeez.
Like it was my fault that I had an emotional or a heated or a defensive response, after he deliberately provoked me into it. Honestly, I have no idea why I wished so hard for actual siblings. I never would have survived.
(Childhood trauma is the best!)
Anyway, that happened so often, it’s never left me. Between him and my step-dad and sometimes my uncle, the memories of getting shushed are so ingrained, I’ve internalized a fear of getting too loud, and suppressed my inherent tendency to be lively.
Too bad, really, because though I often come off as real serious, I’m actually pretty fun most of the time.
The other day, I went to lunch with a new friend and we hit it off instantly. Naturally, because people I meet on the internet are awesome and like-minded, we got right into to talking about life and people and politics, and you guessed it – I started to get riled up. Not in a fighting siblings kind of way, but we were both getting loud and laughing and generally being rowdy in this bougie hippie restaurant in the fancy dancy part of town. (Yes, I realize bougie hippie is kind of an oxymoron, but it’s also kind of a thing these days. What can I say, the bougie hippies make good eats.)
I got to telling a story and, of course, reeeeeeally got into the telling of it. She was cracking up and nodding, so I kept going, but halfway through I started to notice the world beyond our hilariously entertaining table for two.
A couple of glances my way from staff passing by. A quick look from people in line ordering. A table full of bougie hippie moms looking at me pointedly. And then glaring at me blatantly, daggers of “don’t you understand how to be polite and have manners?” blazing in their eyes.
I registered the glares. I knew what they were about. I recognized that I was getting spirited, talking wildly with my hands, voice maybe a notch (or two) above “appropriate” restaurant volume. And I also didn’t change a thing about my behavior because, I’m sorry, why would I do that again?
OK, here’s the funny thing about it though, full transparency – I thought about it and felt kind of awkward for, like, three hours afterward. It felt so much like all the times I got shushed by my step-brother.
Ssshhhhhh, calm down, Kourtney. Jeeeeeez.
You’re being too loud. Overreacting. Stepping out of line. Stop being a too much woman.
The difference between this encounter, though, and all those experiences of my younger days is, well, I’m not thirteen and trying desperately to fit in and be liked by everyone, including my terrible family and complete strangers. Like, I register that you apparently consider me obnoxious, but frankly I just don’t care.
Because why are you judging me in the first place? And who are you to tell me exactly how much joy and excitement and emotion I can put into my interactions? Are we still bound to the exact same social conventions of the freaking Victorian age? I mean, really. What is this all about? Why do we all have to be quiet and in doing so, steal each other’s joy?
Why is any kind of enthusiasm for life so frowned upon?
Here’s the thing about it – this goes full circle for me. I like to be freely allowed to be exuberant, and I appreciate it in others as well. I LOVE when I’m out somewhere public and someone laughs loudly. I especially love a super-loud cackle in the middle of a fancy restaurant, way above the generally accepted subdued murmur. I love watching an animated storyteller going to town in a crowded room. My husband will corroborate my claim – if ever a person is shushed or side-eyed, I always defend them, and it puts a smile on my face every single time, because here is a person being joyful and vigorous and living life.
I guess I just feel a personal connection to anyone out there willing to be their whole self everywhere, because that’s a difficult thing to do in this world.
It may seem a small thing, to shush someone, even a child. But consider what we’re really teaching when do it – to another, and to ourselves. What message does it send that such expressions of personality should be stifled? And to what end? Exactly what are we afraid of?
Ultimately, it conditions us to believe the vibrant parts of ourselves are the parts that are wrong.
Too loud. Too naked. Too weird. Too sexy. Too political. Too queer. Too confident. Too ethnic. Too compassionate. Too different. Too free.
And are we sure that’s true, or what we want to be true anymore? That the vibrant parts, the authentic parts, are the wrong parts?
I know it’s not for me, and no, I will not calm down. I know it’s why being shushed (literally or figuratively) makes my skin crawl. And also why I’m so conscious of applying any version of shushing to anyone else. To me, that’s the part that feels wrong anymore. I am completely uninterested in either explicitly or tacitly telling anyone it’s not OK to be exactly who they are, anytime, anyplace.
So hey, no part of you is wrong. It’s OK to allow, even intensify, the parts of yourself that feel like you. And it’s more lovely than you’d ever imagine to encourage the same in others.
May we smile upon enthusiasm for life in ourselves and in others, because the world, the future, is so much more vibrant when it’s full of winks instead of shushes.
If you find you’re struggling to find the confidence to be your whole self, let’s figure that out. Schedule a call below or email me to chat about coaching. And for more weekly winks in your inbox, sign up for emails here.