A dear friend’s recent words echoed in my bones: “Since he was a kid, he’s always had trouble expressing himself”. The person he was talking about had just tried to commit suicide and was lying in a hospital bed, a long road to recovery ahead of him.
The cost of not expressing the real him had led him to want to take his life.
Somehow that really hammered home everything I’ve come to believe about how critical it is for all of us to express the real us. And I mean the deep, sometimes-painful feelings of hurt and shame and anger most of us carry inside at one time or another during this journey we call life.
Quite simply, expressing the real us is what makes us feel whole; it’s what makes us feel seen and loved.
The man I mention is not alone in feeling the cost of not expressing the real him.
There’s a mother out there who doesn’t feel supported in raising her kids and has stopped asking her husband to help after years of disappointment.
There’s a woman out there who swallows her opinions at work because no one listens to her when she gathers her courage to speak.
There’s a wife who’s stopped sharing her fears with her husband about their financial future when he habitually runs up the credit card as a way of keeping the peace between them after past arguments.
The cost of these people not expressing the real them is high, perhaps higher than some of us can see on the outside.
Were these people told not to express themselves when they were kids? Were they told to stop crying or sent to the corner for getting angry? Did the people around them not care to ask why they were upset or attempt to draw it out of them?
When we’re kids, some of our personal freedom and expression depends on those around us: our parents, our teachers, older siblings if we have them, and even our friends. If we’re punished for expressing ourselves, we quickly come to believe that the cost of our personal expression is high.
Expressing our true feelings may seem less possible in the face of a spanking or a lengthy time-out. If the cost of expressing ourselves is punishment or abandonment, any child facing those propositions is caught between a rock and a hard place.
By the time we move into adulthood, those self-censorship programs are firmly in place. We hope it doesn’t take a wake-up call like a suicide attempt to make a change. We hope it doesn’t take a divorce to spark the desire for a different way of life. Often times it does though, and when it does there is a lot of help to be found if we want it.
How do we start? How do we begin expressing ourselves when we have so many fears around it, when we don’t even know what to say? My experience is that we have to start by doing what I call reclaiming exercises. In them, we identify the fears we have around expressing ourselves. A few simple questions will elicit amazing personal insight if we are honest with ourselves.
Let’s take an example from above about the wife concerned about their financial future. How about we call her Mary? She might be thinking:
If I tell Bob how I feel about his habit of overspending, Bob will tell me not to worry like always. If I push him on the subject and try to talk about it again, maybe he’ll yell at me. Maybe he’ll stop loving me. Maybe he’ll leave me.
These are real concerns. No one minimises that. With emotion, especially repressed emotion, there is a lot of bottled-up energy. In the reclaiming practices, Mary can use repetition to start to shrink the power fear has over her by expressing the fears she has and deleting the accompanying energy. She can use affirmations like the following:
Everywhere I believe Bob is going to yell at me, I transmute, clear, and delete it.
All of the times Bob has told me not to worry, I transmute, clear, and delete them.
Why is this a critical place to start? In voicing these affirmations, Mary is expressing her deepest feelings to herself—something she likely hasn’t been doing before. Internal expression is as powerful as outward expression. She’s also deleting the energy associated with these fears through the reclaiming exercises. Then she can think back to what stopped her from feeling she could express herself in the first place and use the reclaiming exercises to edit her story, so to speak.
By doing this, Mary is reclaiming her goddess nature bit by bit—her divine self—the one she was born with. Like a woman putting together a jigsaw puzzle, she’s started connecting to her wholeness. In doing so, she’s not only going to face her fears and start to feel she can overcome them but she’s also going to start to heal the parts of her that are hurt and broken by not expressing her truest self, her deepest feelings.
Will it take courage to talk to Bob about how she really feels, for example? You bet. But what is the cost to her continuing the status quo?
I imagine the man lying in the hospital bed knows. Mary doesn’t have to.