The Curious Case of Self-Expression
For the longest time, I considered expressionlessness a sign of strength.
I wanted to learn how people did it. If I could mask my emotions, others wouldn’t be able to take advantage of me.
But as I dived deeper into the art, it became clear that being expressionless is not healthy. In fact, it’s often a result of some form of trauma. Yes, showing our emotions could leave us prone to getting exploited. But that’s not the same as self-expression.
Self-expression is about giving your feelings a healthy outlet and understanding your thoughts and emotions instead of trying to cancel them. It enables you to harness your strengths, connect with yourself, and take decisions that sync with who you are and who you want to be. This means self-expression is actually healthy.
At an abstract level, we all understand this. But we struggle to practice it. In a world dominated by consumerism, we prefer suppressing who we truly are in favor of impressing others. We stuff our work emails with heavy words to appear impressive and keep our backsides safe. We post status updates that are more likely to impress our existing followers and get us new ones. In public, we feign enthusiasm like contestants on a reality show.
Such a scripted life eventually turns as exhausting as a reality show. We always live in fear—of being trolled, of missing out, and of losing what we have. We can’t differentiate between our on- and off-camera personas. We become strangers to the one person whom we perpetually hang out with—ourselves.
But no matter how hard we try, society is never happy. The worst part? Neither are we. We feel miserable all the time. No matter how hard we try, the suffering is always there, staring us in the face, laughing like a monster.
The truth is, we’ve got it upside down.
Life is not a math problem that we must solve on the blackboard because the teacher told us to. It’s a wonderful journey, one where we get to pose questions to ourselves and find our own answers, one where we’re free to express ourselves if we choose to.
I express myself through writing. It forces me to face the person in the mirror. The more I do it, the better I understand myself. And you always become friends with someone whom you understand.
But self-expression doesn’t need a literal voice. It doesn’t need to be in words or be out in the open either. You can express yourself through any form—journaling, painting, music, or martial arts.
The Power of Self-Expression
Each time you express yourself, you create something. And creativity dissolves misery. Good and bad become irrelevant when the focus isn’t “What can I enjoy?” But, rather, “What can I create?”
Self-expression enables you to tap into higher cognitive abilities and capacities, like how to handle the gap between reality and expectations, how to structure your thinking, and how to empathize with others.
Your mind opens to new possibilities and ideas. You become more open to taking risks and increase your resilience.
The more you express yourself, the better you get at figuring out what you really want and what you’re afraid of. You learn to speak up and have your opinions valued without the fear of feeling judged. And you learn to welcome others’ freedom of expression.
“Life expands or shrinks in proportion to our courage.” — Anaïs Nin
Spend an hour on a creative activity, Shreya Dalela suggests. Let your thoughts express themselves through your mouth, hands, feet, or any part of your body without judgment. These moments center you and keep you flowing at the same time.
Expressing yourself is incredibly hard. It demands constant training. To strike a balance, to let your thoughts flow like spring water instead of turning them into stagnant water at the bottom of a vase. To develop the self-awareness that helps you differentiate between whether you’re expressing yourself or merely impressing others. To encounter questions that you might feel you were better off without asking.
When I began writing, my mind felt messier than an adolescent’s room. Each writing exercise led to more questions than answers. But those questions were integral to the process. The longer I stuck to them, the more I let curiosity pervade me, the more precise my answers became.
You don’t need permission to ask a question or search for answers. You don’t need permission to contribute meaningfully or feel enough by yourself. You don’t have to feel marginalized or canceled.
You simply need to discover the ‘why’ behind your existence and build a life around its answers.
And it all starts with embracing self-expression.
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