Responding to "Big Personalities"
If you get overwhelmed in the presence of someone whose energy, body, and voice is coming your direction in a way that doesn't work for you, you might hear yourself describe that person as someone with a "big personality". Whether the world agrees with your description or not, the fact of your reactivity around this person remains. You find yourself withdrawing, getting smaller, and looking for a way to get away so you can relax and be yourself again.
The person who seems to be coming toward you in a big, forceful, or loud way is likely looking for you to meet them. As you withdraw, s/he comes forward and you withdraw more and s/he comes forward more, and so the cycle goes.
If this person is your partner or a family member, withdrawing and avoiding is costing lots needs for you and others. Here are three things to consider that can help you change this cycle.
1. Take up space. One way to stay connected to yourself in the face of big energy coming toward you is to get big yourself. This doesn't mean yelling or stomping about. It could be as simple as keeping yourself talking. Tell a silly story or joke, share the mundane details your dental care, anything that equalizes the expression between the two of you. You may have to stretch yourself by giving up your usual subtle and quiet way of sharing.
2. Set Boundaries Moment by Moment. As your partner is talking and you go fuzzy, lean forward and touch her on the arm and say something like, "I want to be connected and I am losing you. Can I tell you what I heard so far?"
Or perhaps your aunt is visiting and comes in the bedroom and starts talking to you as you are dressing the kids. You might say, "Aunt Vivian, I would like to talk with you after I get the kids ready. Can you give us a few minutes?"
3. See Needs rather than a threat. If you find yourself overwhelmed and withdrawing, then some part of you is perceiving a threat. In actuality this person is likely just trying to meet a need for acceptance, love, belonging, connection, etc. When you can remind yourself of this, you are less likely to become reactive. Of course guessing someone's needs doesn't mean you are the one that is supposed to meet them. From a centered place you can decide if you have the energy to contribute or if you need to take care of yourself and set a boundary.
Take a moment now to reflect on any relationships in your life in which you find yourself, overwhelmed, backing down, or shutting down. Make a plan about what you would like to do to shift this dynamic the next time you are with this person.