Martial art legend Bruce Lee has said it, rappers such as Binary Star and N.W.A have rapped it, and writers such as Oscar Wilde have talked about honest self-expression endlessly throughout time. All the people who have been inspiring, leading, unique, or influential in any way have both advocated for honest self expression as well as embodied it themselves. Let’s take a look on what honest self expression is, what it’s good for, and how you can practice doing it yourself.
What is self expression?
In a way, every human act is a form of self-expression. Anything that expresses one’s personality can be seen as self expression.
Examples of self expression
- Clothing, hairstyle and makeup you wear
- Sharing details about one’s day and what we thought and felt about it
- Anything we say, write, or create
What is self expression good for?
Self expression is good for many things, for example:
- Healthy emotional release
- Allows us to connect and relate to the people around us
- Makes the world a more interesting and diverse place
- Fulfilling and pleasing
- Showing individuality and uniqueness before impending death
But there is a true difference between authentic and honest self expression, compared to a false or pretense self-expression. So, let’s examine what honest self expression means and how you can practice doing it yourself.
What does honest self expression mean?
Being honest means expressing what one actually thinks and feels; not glossing things over to fit in, conform, be accepted or to sound good or cool. Honesty takes courage because being honest makes you vulnerable; it opens up the possibility for others to attack the real you.
If you avoid expressing your honest self (your views, thoughts, feelings, wants, and insecurities), then even if people were to attack you, they can never attack the real you. They could try to attack the avatar of you; the persona or image that you have chosen to portray to the world. But that wouldn’t hurt you, because they haven’t seen the real you.
Now, living like that may be necessary in some circumstances, but for most, existing like this will make it hard for you to connect with others, get emotional release, or live a truly harmonious and tranquil inner life. If you never show who you really are, then no one around you will truly be able to connect with you.
For me, I wonder: what is important in life if not the connection we have to others? We are living in conjunction, simultaneously, as all the other humans around us; which is amazing. Imagine if I had been born 5000 years in the past? Or 5000 years in the future? My entire existence would be entirely different and I would never have the chance to get to know and connect with the people who are alive today.
So, every chance meeting we have with someone, every relationship, every time we relate and connect to one another, is us appreciating and honoring what special thing we have here together.
How to express yourself honestly and authentically
Now when we know what honest self expression is and why it’s important, let’s move on to how we can actually practice becoming more honest in our self expression.
Step 1: Know yourself
It is impossible to express oneself honestly, authentically, and effectively to others if we do not first know ourselves well enough to do so. Here are some of the methods I use to get to know myself better:
- Journaling. Write about feelings, emotions, events, thoughts. Writing things out solidifies things, and makes it more manageable to handle. Our minds can only hold so many thoughts simultaneously, that just using thinking hinders how much we can actually process.
- Talking. Conversational therapy can be really helpful to figure things out. The other person can act as a helpful guide, asking leading questions and perhaps help you gain objective insights.
- Reading. One way of gaining more emotional intelligence and the ability to understand human emotions on a higher level is to learn more about human behavior. This can be done by studying psychology, sociology, philosophy, or just reading a bunch of authors that write about true and hard topics. Once you have more general knowledge of common human emotions, experiences, feelings, and how the brain deals with them, you may use that to analyze yourself better as well.
- Experiment! Try new things! If you cannot come up with things right away, try throwing things out there. You don’t need to get things right the first time, you can assume something about yourself, and express that, and then change it mid-sentence or explain directly after “Hm, wait, no, that wasn’t quite right”.
Once you express something, you can feel for yourself during or after if it felt authentic or not in your stomach and intuition. It is okay to express yourself by trying new clothing styles which you later give you, or to say things that you take back, and to state opinions and feelings that you later correct. Let loose a bit and allow yourself to make mistakes and backtrack when necessary.
Also, related, practice not holding others or yourself to what one has expressed before. We humans are fluid, we change, our brain has neuroplasticity, and every experience changes us forever. It is normal and should be fully allowed to change our opinions, self expressions, and wants and needs. We’re not stones.
Step 2: Practice sharing what you’ve discovered about yourself
Once you have a grip on who you are, what you feel, what you want and so on, it’s time to start expressing that to other people.
You can start small. Start by sharing something small about your day to your partner, best friend, or family member. Share what happened and how that makes you feel and think. You can even share it via text, you don’t have to sit down with someone to share something. Doing things digitally can also feel easier because it puts a screen between you and the other person.
If you want, you can also of course share big meaning; share on social media, write a book, compose a song, or create a huge art piece that expresses pure and raw emotion or feeling. Either way, it’s up to you what you feel comfortable with!
Other examples of things you can do to practice honest self expression
- Wear a piece of clothing, accessory, or do your makeup and hair in a way that expresses the mood that you are feeling that day
- Share music to others that expresses your feelings, or thoughts, or something that you relate to
- Paint or draw something that touches on what’s going on in your mind
- Dance and move your body in a way that expresses you
Sharing honestly will attract others to you who relate and who can connect with what you are sharing. No one wants to be alone, and everyone likes people who are like them (don’t quote me on this).
Step 3: Get thicker skin
As mentioned earlier, sharing authentic and honest things is a vulnerable act to do. So, it may be good to also simultaneously grow a thicker layer of skin. If someone doesn’t understand your self expression (your fashion, art, writing, music, film etc), then try to not let that get you down. Perhaps you have not mastered the way of expressing that thing quite fully yet, or that person just doesn’t “get you”. It’s okay either way.
In general, just live life as you want to! I just think that living authentically and honestly helps with that, and that it’s beautiful when humans get to be humans, with imperfections and all. I’d just love a more unprestigious, honest, open, and accepting world for anyone where support and love is the center, rather than comparison, threats and dragging each other down. And we can start building a world like that by showing up honestly and authentically ourselves. If we start sharing our insecurities, flaws, and true emotions, than we are showing those around us that they can do the same to us; and it will bring us up towards a positive spiral.