• Danielle Cotter

In a Nutshell

Updated: May 12

Recently, a dear friend made a seemingly benign comment during an outpouring of her heart wounds. At first, the comment ducked under the radar, barely scraping my awareness. Semi-quickly, however, the illimitable power of this euphemism began to make a home in my heart.

With a deep sigh, she uttered, “that’s me, in a nutshell.”

We say this sentiment commonly when summarizing a point or getting at the root of a story. In that moment of hearing it come from her, though, I was struck by how it dimmed the light she was shining on her beautifully vulnerable experience. The comment unraveled the richness of her words and I could see the brightness in her eyes collapse as she tried to fit her labyrinthine journey into the smallest of spaces...a nutshell.

We have this habit of trying to make others comfortable by limiting our expression or censoring our story so that others will feel a certain way about us. This isn’t pathological, it is primitive. We crave connection at our most essential core. When we are in connection with others, we feel belonging and therefore, safety. At a primitive level, if we are disconnected from our pack (other people), we famish and cease to exist. It is a survival strategy to connect in the ways we do. Through people pleasing and minimizing our capacious self, we arrive in a place of comfortable discomfort. We have ensured connection, but at the expense of our originality and personal integrity.

My reaction was both physiological and energetic. I felt a spherical howl rise from my root to my throat, where it got lodged tight in the space between knowing the power of what you feel, and finding the courage to express it. I paused. In fact, I was speechless. I thought, in a nutshell? My dear sister friend, you can’t possibly fit your enormous spirit into the rigid and meager space a nutshell allows, yet you try.

But this is what we do. I do it, too. Make ourselves small and digestible. Never giving people a reason to think you are too much. I realized that what my friend was showing me was a glimpse, a one in one million examples, of what it means to shrink back into the script of, “I am too much, I’m sorry, I will make myself smaller now.”

It has been a stretching of all social, emotional, and physiological muscles to allow myself to expand past the tight boundaries of what I think others want from me. As a human living in our modern world, I have internalized the shame that comes in the form of being my truest self. Just allowing myself to take up space in a room without feeling like I must immediately retract, is a victory in itself. I wonder how many people feel this way? I would imagine there are parts of everyone that never get to see the light of day for fear they will have to run deeper and further back into the closet.

My heart breaks knowing that many of us live in the cramped confines of a nutshell. Constantly forcing a better fit, letting parts of us that are creative and vital suffocate simply because there is not enough room. The stifled potential of what we could do in this world to make it a better place. The stories we could tell to inspire or mentor others along their path. What if we busted out of the nutshell? What if we smashed it to dust? What if we allowed the greatness of ourselves to be seen? What if we were honest, truly truly honest? The kind of honesty that does not require a filter. What if we liberated ourselves from the contrived scripts and robotic boundaries of social expectation? What if we all committed to meet in the place of raw and real humanness?

What a beautiful world we could have if we smashed what was small and confining, and made ample, porous space for the bigness of ourselves to shine and exist together.