Many of us struggle as adults because of what hasn’t happened for us in life, more than what did happen. We all have our bumps and bruises from childhood, some more than others, but we’re also deeply impacted by things that didn’t happen, needs that went unmet, and emotions that went unexpressed.
(Reminder: we’re not exploring our pasts and childhoods in order to become a “blame thrower” and duck out of working on ourselves. Rather, the very opposite: we want insight into who we are right now, how it came to be, and what is and what isn’t true for us. The untrue stuff we’ve picked up over time can be identified, challenged, pushed aside, and replaced with the real us that we discover.)
Did you grow up in an environment that encouraged self-expression? If you did, exploring and discovering your preferences and natural interests was cheered. Think: toddler crawling on the floor putting everything in its mouth. It’s all exciting, and what ever grabs her interest, she’s going for. Decisions made took your needs and wants into account. Expressing your emotions and feeling – whatever you felt was accepted. Free play was supported, a balance of play and work promoted, and standard was reasonable and doable.
Other homes discouraged self-expression. When you expressed your needs, wants, preferences, or feelings, you were punished, or made to feel guilty. Your parents’ needs and feelings always came before yours. There were lots of feelings of powerlessness, and you were shamed if you acted light and playful. Work and achievement always came before, and often instead of, enjoyment. Parental approval? Only if you performed perfectly.
Here’s how you can tell if restricted, repressed, or ignored self-expression is an issue of yours: Accommodating, Inhibited, or Angry.
You’re extremely accommodating to others, always pleasing and taking care of everyone, constantly “taking one for the team.” You’re a martyr, but your own needs get mentioned. You can’t stand seeing others in pain, and you’ll always sacrifice your needs to help. In fact, you may do so much for others that they feel guilty. On the outside, you look great, but inside you feel weak and passive, even resentful if your efforts are unappreciated.
Another way to tell you struggle in the self-expression department, is that you’re extremely repressed, reserved, inhibited, and controlled. You may be a workaholic whose entire life revolves around work. Maybe it’s something besides work to which you pledge allegiance. You work overtime and super hard to make sure that you look perfect to others, or that your things are in perfect order, or that everything is done in the precise and perfect order. Or, you’re emotionally flat, lack spontaneity, and tightly control your natural reaction to things. This could be due to the fact that you feel you have to do what everyone else wants of you to (Subjugation Life Pattern). Perhaps it’s because you insist on living up to an impossibly high standard (Unrelenting Standards Life Pattern). One thing’s for sure: life’s no fun.
The third possible sign of self-expression issues is a large reserve of unexpressed anger. The resentment is always there, boiling just under the surface, occasionally erupting. It may even explode wildly out of control. You feel heavy, down, and depressed, trapped in behaviour patterns that never pay off. And though you do everything you think you should, life lacks pleasure and feels empty.
Got one of the three? Let’s get to work on it. Self-expression is crucial to your happiness and growth. You need to feel free to express your needs, wants, feelings, and instincts, because it demonstrates a belief that your needs count and matter as much as any one else’s. Imagine feeling free and able to pursue things you need and that make you – not others – happy?