Self-expression is a deceptively simple concept. And incredibly powerful.
To express oneself is one of the greatest joys of life. Self-expression empowers and opens doors for further growth. It is the key to confidence and the key element in beauty, healthy attraction, individual self-actualization, and relationship fulfillment.
And there have never been so many for self-expression! We have not only our voices and bodies—which are the most important self-expression tools of all—but also an incredible modern height of access to artistic materials, music, physical and virtual venues, fashion, and so much more!
To deeply understand and fully benefit from self-expression, we must also understand the spectrum on which it works—from pure, natural instinctual self-expression to mighty and glorious intentional self-expression. And the greatest power is found in balancing ourselves between the two!
We all express ourselves. Constantly. We can’t help it. From our very first motions and cries as infants to our dying breaths, whether we mean to or not, in everything we do and don’t do, we express our feelings, our fears and desires, and our unique personalities!
Instinctual self-expression is constant, fascinating, and (if we are willing to stop and study it) able to teach us a great deal about ourselves and the world!
There are those who live purely off of instinctual self-expression, who, in their own beautiful or disastrous way, paint their personality into their lives without even realizing what they are doing. And we all need times when we let our guards down and live vibrantly on pure unstudied instinct—times to dance, speak, feel, create, and love with no inhibitions.
The risk, of course, with only living off of instinctual self-expression is that certain parts of yourself may remain hidden and undeveloped! Fear, habit, or other intervening factors, may cause your instinct to constantly put some parts of your personality forward and hide others.
Perhaps by instinctually always letting your serious side lead, your playful side has dwindled. Perhaps by always being a good listener, you forgot to learn to speak up for yourself! Or perhaps by always speaking up, you never developed your quiet, thoughtful side.
Living instinctually can be a beautiful thing. But a lack of self-curiosity may leave beautiful parts of your personality undeveloped, unseen, unappreciated, and unlived! And ultimately this can lead to a lopsided, stagnant, and unsatisfying life!
Self-Awareness & Intentional Self-Expression
There are those who strive, in some measure, for self-awareness.
They study themselves and gain insight into their feelings and how those feelings drive their instinctual behavior. They observe and become more aware of the impression they make on others and the world. And by doing so they come to see their own strengths and flaws, desire growth, and discover secret, hidden parts of themselves that long for development and expression as part of a healthy, growing, evolving, and authentic person.
Vitally, they come to understand that merely acknowledging their strengths, flaws, and hidden parts isn’t enough! To improve, they must take intentional action—perhaps even action against their instincts.
To exercise, manifest, grow, and express a hidden, weaker part of themselves, they may have to summon a great deal of self-discipline to get the default, instinctual sides of their personality to temporarily “step off stage” so the hidden parts can shine.
They may also need great courage! Showing new sides to ourselves, through action, word, dress, or art, risks rocking the boat! And his new side may bring new difficulties, criticisms, questions, and opposition. But it may also bring new gifts, discoveries, abilities, and ultimately a greater sense of internal balance and self-fulfillment!
True intentional self-expression is an art! It’s courage, integrity, and self-determination! And it may be the key to many of your personal breakthroughs as it has been, historically, the key to many of humanity’s finest moral and artistic achievements!
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Apart from fear (the greatest obstacle of all to self–expression) there are a few other obstacles and pitfalls to be aware of.
Environment: This self-exploration side self-expression may be made more easy by a kind and supportive environment or made more difficult by a stringent or hostile one. But either way, this intentional self-expression teaches us to overcome fear, accept ourselves, and claim our right to be, decide for ourselves, and take up space.
Inauthenticity: Another risk is slipping into inauthenticity. True self-expression is vulnerable, it reaches for personal growth, truth, and genuine connection! But if our primary and singular goal is to influence others through our expression—we may start to “express ourselves” inauthentically to gain acceptance, to draw the attention we desire, control our relationships, etc.
There is nothing inherently wrong with wanting to influence, be seen, connect, and have your social needs met. That is much of what relationships are for! But make sure you are approaching them and your self-expression honestly, within the bounds of your personal values and authenticity.
Over-identification and stagnation: Even as we explore new sides of ourselves, we must not get too attached to them, lest we fall into instinctual patterns and become stagnated—just in a new way.
Once you’ve got a grasp on a part of your personality, express it! But don’t imagine that you are done evolving. Selectively expressing parts of our personality in order to nurture them prepares us for ultimate self-expression: the expression of all your parts and strengths together, confidently unified into a whole. Together on the stage they will create the grand overall picture that is you.
Balance between Instinctual & Intentional Self-Expression
Try to think of instinctual self-expression as blossoming and intentional self-expression as growing. The more you grow, the more (and more fully) you are capable of blossoming. And, as blossoming includes satisfaction, rejuvenation, and new experiences that you can learn from, the more you blossom, the more fuel you have to put toward your growth!
Take time to be instinctual. Learn to “get out of your head”, enjoy life, and “be yourself” without thinking about it! Wear what you feel like wearing, speak your mind (or don’t if you don’t feel like it), and follow your gut instincts. At first, this is most easily done among friends, but as you grow in confidence you can do it anywhere!
Eventually, when prompted by circumstance or feelings of stagnation, take time to self-reflect! How did “being yourself” go? As you look back, what stands out? What unresolved feelings, personal surprises, questions, or new desires come up for you? Is there a “something” in you that needs exploration and development?
Whatever you find to be “intentional” and “growth-oriented” about, go for it! Don’t be afraid to ask others for help. Your friends, faith, therapist, or other sources may have great insights to help you.
Most of all—be brave! And put in the elbow grease to explore, express, and develop yourself.
Be diligent, but remember to take a load off and be instinctual every once in a while! You may be surprised to discover, after putting in the work to grow, how your instincts have changed! Enjoy the cycle of expressing, discovering, and improving yourself! It’s a wonderful journey!
And in Part 3, tune back in to learn how to reach for self-expression through your fashion choices!