“I’m fine.” Two simple words that can have thousands of different meanings when uttered in certain tones and situations. We often try to mask anger, frustration, or pain with these two words because we can’t or won’t tell the truth.
Expressing emotions and feelings is a fundamental social skill, but many of us struggle to do it. Maybe you need to get in touch with your true self. Perhaps you struggle to explain yourself in some situations. Either way, learning how to express yourself could change your life.
What is Self-Expression, and Why Does it Matter?
In the most basic sense, self-expression is how we share personal thoughts, feelings, and preferences with those around us. Usually, people view self-expression as a creative outlet, like dance, drawing, or writing. However, people express themselves in many ways, including hairstyles, clothing, and body language.
Self-expression is your opportunity to show the world your power, uniqueness, and spirit. It takes time to discover who you are as a person. Once you do, you also need to decide how to convey your discovery to the world. There is something powerful about sharing your truth with another person.
The idea of self-expression sounds simple enough, right? However, you first have to find your authentic self through all the noise and input around you. It can be difficult and lead to push back from family and friends if they don’t approve.
Finding your authentic self and embracing your true beliefs, values, and preferences are your best opportunity to grow and find happiness.
Who Are You?
Every day you are bombarded with messages about how you should look, think, feel, and act. Magazines, television, and even the people around you can influence your self-expression. The prevailing culture at school or work affects your appearance and behavior.
With so much input, it’s no wonder we struggle to express ourselves. How do we even know who we really are?
The Case for Authenticity
Authenticity speaks to people from all walks of life and applies to any situation. We continuously watch people for cues about who they are and their intentions to determine how we feel about them.
People generally recognize when somebody is faking their way through a situation. It happens when somebody tries to project an image that is inconsistent with who they are inside. Something about that person feels wrong and untrustworthy.
On the other side of the spectrum, an authentic person remains consistent no matter where they are or what they are doing. Everything about them feels genuine, which encourages trust.
Finding Your Authentic Self
Discovering your authentic self is the first step to expressing yourself. You need to know who you are and what you like before you can share it with the world. It’s not easy, but it is necessary.
Shed your self-consciousness and embrace authenticity. Take this journey of self-discovery, especially if you lost touch with your true self.
Exercise 1: What Do You Like?
Have you ever seen the move about the runaway bride who always adopted her fiance’s preferences? She always ran from her weddings because they were never right. It turned out that a lot of her problems stemmed from not knowing herself. In fact, the bride didn’t even know how she liked her eggs!
Much like the bride, it’s easy to adopt preferences from those around us. From food to clothes to values, we tend to pull our likes and dislikes from family and friends. Children may dress like their parents when young and then evolve to mimic friends as they enter school.
Sit down and reflect on your beliefs, values, desires, and, yes, style preferences. Ignore all external influences and ask yourself what you truly believe. If it helps, write out your choices.
Exercise 2: Compare Your Preferences with Your Life Choices
Consider your major life choices to this point. Look at your options in terms of the preferences you described in the first exercise. Are your choices and preferences consistent or at odds with each other?
When our life choices are inconsistent with our authentic selves, we feel the stress of the conflict on a deep level. To find happiness in life, our life choices need to reflect who we are inside.
Connect with Your True Self
Reconnecting our true selves with our day to day life can be scary, especially if it requires massive change. In the case of the runaway bride, she devoted time to discovering herself again and managed to find her happily ever after. You can do the same with a little effort.
Understand that some of the people close to you may push back on your new choices. You may have to give up some safety nets, jobs, or money to realign with your true self. However, when you embrace authenticity, you open more doors and opportunities to grow.
How to Be Authentic Consistently
Finding your authentic self is only half the battle. You need to share your authentic self with the world, a feat that’s often easier said than done. Remember, other people can tell when you’re fake, so part of authenticity is consistently portraying your true self to the world around you.
It feels good when somebody compliments our outfit or agrees with an idea we present. When other people validate our choices publicly, we feel seen and included in something larger than ourselves. What happens when nobody agrees with you, or worse when they openly disagree with you?
People are more apt to express themselves when they know others agree. We can see this concept at a very early age in classrooms and on playgrounds. We want to fit with a group, to belong. Unfortunately, the need to fit in can stifle our authenticity and self-expression.
Be patient with yourself; it’s easy to backslide in certain situations because we want to save face and not make waves. However, if making waves is part of your authentic self, then you need to find a way to embrace that part of you.
Fortunately, you can learn to be authentic in any situation with a little practice. Try working this five-step program to maximize your authenticity.
- Practice people-watching. No matter where you are, pay attention to how people dress, behave, and interact with each other.
- Be kind to everybody. Learning to make eye contact and smile at people in every walk of life will prepare you to be authentic with everybody in any situation.
- Show genuine interest in those around you. Be attentive to your family, friends, and colleagues without interjecting your experiences to make them feel valued and respected.
- Acknowledge your feelings when somebody powerful is present. Do you feel “less than” when somebody nearby has a higher status than you? Work on eradicating that feeling and learn to be more comfortable with yourself.
- Journal your findings. Detail situations where you struggle to be authentic, so you can identify patterns and make changes.
How to Express Your Authentic Self
You did the work and connected with your true self. Now, you need to decide how to express your truth. There are thousands of ways to express yourself, but if you’re having trouble figuring out the best way for you, try one of these.
Dress to Impress
One of the best ways to show the world who you are is through your personal style. Developing your style is a fundamental part of who you are as a person.
Keep in mind, there is a difference between fashion and style. Fashion is fickle, and trends change so fast it can make your head spin. Style is different because it’s static and linked to individual preferences. For some people, fashion is their style, but in many cases, the two are not synonymous.
When crafting your style, be sure to include your hairstyle and accessories. Some people always wear hats, while others love to adorn their outfits with different scarves. You could even mark your style with a signature color instead of a specific type of clothing or look.
Paint a Picture
Visual arts are excellent forms of self-expression. Drawing, painting, and photography are just a few options. You don’t have to be the next Van Gogh to express yourself on paper or canvas. If you feel it, explore it.
Remember, visual art can be abstract and still hold deep meaning. Play with colors and grayscale. You can adjust your point of view to grasp a different side of something. There’s truly no limit to what you can accomplish.
Make it Musical
From dancing to playing an instrument, there are plenty of options for musically inspired individuals. Music is one of the oldest forms of storytelling and also one of the most accessible.
Most people experience music in some form at an early age. With so many variations and classifications, music is truly a universal method of expression that breaks through language barriers.
Write it Out
Short stories, novels, screenplays, and even blogs allow people to express themselves to the world. You don’t need an extensive vocabulary or specialized degree to write. The words are merely an extension of your thoughts, beliefs, and feelings.
The power of writing is that nobody shares the same life experiences. Authentic truths translate to the pages of a work and can trigger strong emotions in the audience.
Remember, you don’t have to share your work publicly, you can keep a private journal. Eventually, you may wish to disclose some (or all) of your musings with others. Of course, you don’t have to share it at all.
Legos, recycled goods, and scrap wood could be your playground if your truth is construction-oriented. Building projects often solve problems or add beauty to an area that means something to the builder.
Consider parks, neighborhood entrances, or empty courtyards for inspiration. Restoration projects are excellent opportunities for builders to express themselves.
Mix It Up
Culinary arts are beautiful and delicious. Do you dream about how ingredients fit together or hope to change how people view food? Express your truths through food by bringing your ideas to life in the kitchen.
Film Your Passion
Today’s technology allows anybody to be a filmmaker or actor. Hit the streets with your phone and film your passions in life. You can interview others, film yourself, or chronicle an adventure.
Start talking and see what happens. If you have a lot to say or want to make a difference in the world, start spreading the word. Seek out opportunities to publicly speak about your cause, start an organization, or run for public office.
How to Express Yourself Better
The above methods of expression are fun and exciting ways to share your truth with the world or simply explore your authentic self. However, they don’t exactly translate to every life situation.
Imagine this. You have an issue with your boss. You’re a painter, so you spend hours creating a lovely painting to convey your frustration. The next day, you walk into your boss’s office and present her with the painting, then walk out without a word. Did you effectively communicate your issue? It’s highly unlikely.
Painting and other methods of expression are excellent tools for processing emotions and conveying messages. However, they need additional context to be effective. For this reason, we need to develop verbal communication skills to express our emotions, thoughts, and ideas in healthy ways.
If you have an issue with your boss, by all means, paint it out, but you also need to address your concerns with her. Since you already embraced your true self and expressed your feelings with paint, you should be ready to have that conversation.
Let’s try this again. Now, you walk into your boss’s office, stand there, stumble of your words, feel the heat rising to your cheeks, and fall apart. Maybe you cry, or perhaps you yell, but you can’t seem to get your point across.
That’s an entirely different struggle with expressing yourself. You were authentic in your anger and frustration, but your boss probably didn’t respond well to your outburst. Never fear, you can learn to express yourself better.
Tips to Communicate Better with Anybody
Before we jump into better ways to address your boss, some tips apply to nearly any situation. Once you grasp the basics of expressing emotions, even intense ones, you can fit them to specific circumstances.
Attend to Your Emotions
When you’re feeling angry or hurt, it’s difficult to express what you need from another person. The intense emotions stifle your ability to reason. Before you can express yourself effectively, you need to calm yourself.
- Take a deep breath and focus on controlling your breathing patterns at the moment.
- Recognize and name the strong emotion.
- Identify the cause of the emotion and how it affects you.
- Determine if you want to address the situation causing the emotion by evaluating the pros and cons, including potential outcomes.
Prepare for the Encounter
Once you decide to express your emotions to another person or people, it’s in your best interest to prepare ahead of time. You need to determine what you want to say and what you hope to achieve with the discussion. Your response should accomplish four things to be effective.
- Be empathetic and understand what the other person is saying. Try to reflect their point of view to ensure they feel heard.
- Take responsibility for your thoughts and feelings.
- Express the outcome you desire to achieve.
- Reframe your ideas and deliver them in a clear, direct way.
Respectfully Express Yourself
When you’re ready, arrange a time and place to speak with the other person. Set clear boundaries at the beginning. You may want to avoid certain topics, phrases, and rehashing the past. The goal should be to find a compromise that satisfies all parties involved.
Tips for Expressing Yourself Better at Work
Now, back to that work situation and expressing frustration to your boss. You still want to be authentic and candid, but it’s difficult in a situation where the other person has power over you.
When it comes to the workplace, there socially acceptable ways to communicate emotions, even anger or frustration. Submitting a painting and yelling at your boss generally don’t fit in the socially acceptable category, but some of the tactics above could help resolve that issue.
Frustration or anger with your boss is not the only situation you can face in the workplace. Learning to express yourself better at work provides an opportunity to grow personally and professionally. If you’re looking to advance in your career, master ways to express other common emotions.
Making a mistake on the job can be embarrassing and terrifying. However, you’re more apt to gain the respect of your colleagues if you admit your screw-ups and insecurities. Don’t undermine your leadership skills, but be honest.
Take this as an example. You’ve been asked to submit a blog post for your company’s blog, but you’re not confident in your writing skills. It’s okay to admit to a colleague that you’re feeling insecure about it and ask for help. They will likely respect your humility.
A Little Empathy Goes a Long Way
Connecting to colleagues is a critical step in professional development. Show empathy when somebody is struggling or dealing with a difficult personal situation, but be careful not to take it too far.
If the individual’s difficulties persist with no change on their part, then you need to attempt an alternate response. As a colleague, you may need to loop in a supervisor to handle the individual’s continuing crisis. When you’re in a leadership role, you may need to reprimand or fire the person.
Joy is a strong emotion that we often neglect or completely ignore in the workplace. However, expressing joy, even in small amounts, can alter an entire workday.
Happiness spreads fast in an office, so learning to infuse the appropriate amount of joy can have a massive impact on your team. If your team is loaded with extroverts, you may need to be more strategic than with an office of introverts. You don’t want things to get out of control and stop productivity.
Fear is Real
Tension is palpable when a deadline is close, and completion of the project is uncertain. That tension is fear-based and a pervasive feeling in many workplaces. The fear, usually accompanied by anxiety, can be paralyzing. Like other emotions, it doesn’t have to derail you.
Learn to identify what drives your fear and talk yourself down. If you’re afraid to ask for a raise, figure out why. Address your boss with confidence and remember that you have facts to back your request.
Communicating Better in a Relationship
Building personal relationships with other people takes time and effort. It’s easy to silence or subdue our feelings to preserve relationships, but that leads to conflict with our authenticity.
Familial, platonic, and romantic relationships are different from professional ones because they usually involve deeper connections. We typically share more profound parts of ourselves with those closest to us. Consequently, we stand to lose more with personal relationships.
Successful personal relationships should be built between people who share their authentic selves with each other. If you are not comfortable communicating your thoughts, feelings, and ideas with another person, then your relationship will probably not amount to much.
Developing a personal relationship takes time and some vulnerability from both parties involved. You need to be able to speak openly, even if the emotions are negative. If you’re struggling to connect with a friend or lover, it’s important to communicate those feelings.
- Express your emotions in a clear, direct way without accusations. State how you feel and give specific examples when possible. Use “I feel” statements instead of telling somebody how they make you feel.
- Don’t lie about how you feel. The other person will pick up on it and feel uncomfortable. Lying also erodes any trust built up between you.
- Maintain self-control, even about things that make you angry. When you say something out of anger, you’re more apt to regret them. Be sure to watch your tone of voice, too.
- Break down your emotions and attach them to specific events or situations. Prepare to discuss them calmly and openly.
- Avoid accusations. Instead, try something like, “When you came home late, I felt scared. I was concerned that something bad happened to you.”
Never be afraid to seek help in relationships that matter. Counseling sessions can create safe spaces and teach you both new ways to communicate better with each other. Further, counselors may be able to give insight into particularly challenging emotions.
What to Do When Somebody Doesn’t Accept Your Truth
Sometimes people refuse to hear us when we express ourselves. Whether it’s a family member, coworker, or friend, we need to be prepared to handle somebody who rejects our truth.
Some people just need time to accept the truth, especially if it’s new to them. This common for parents who are accustomed to their kids looking or behaving a certain way as children only to change in their teen or young adult years.
A parent may not be pleased that their child planned to be a lawyer then switched to creative writing with designs on being an author. However, over time the parent may accept the career change and support the new avenue.
For some truths, there are resources available for loved ones to educate themselves and find support. With the internet, there are many opportunities to teach loved ones about our truths. Providing them with resources allows our loved ones to explore and learn in their own ways.
Block Bad Behavior
Just because somebody doesn’t agree with you or your authentic self doesn’t mean they can abuse you. If your loved one cannot have a polite, considerate discussion with you, it is okay to walk away. Let them know you will return to the conversation when they can be respectful.
Keep Your Cool
It hurts when somebody you care about rejects your authentic self. As much as it’s okay for you to embrace your truth, you need to remember that it’s okay from them to hold onto theirs. Even if it makes you angry, you need to stay calm and handle the situation respectful and with a cool head.
You may not have expected an adverse reaction from your loved one. That’s okay. You are not wrong, and it’s not your fault. Hold onto your truth, and take care of yourself. Surround yourself with loved ones who support your authentic self.
Remember, expressing your authentic self is not about showing off or impressing other people. When you genuinely embrace yourself, you crush your insecurities and need for validation because you are comfortable in your own skin.
Learn to express yourself with honesty and authenticity to earn respect from those around you and boost your self-confidence. You never how far you can go by living your truth.