Choosing Self-expression in a Time of Isolation
Updated: Jun 14, 2020
Self-expression can be seen as one of the key pieces of holistic health, and it's one that people have a tendency to put on the back-burner.
And yet, what is self-expression?
When I think of self-expression, I think of it as our ability to be truthful with others... and truthful with ourselves. Staying unapologetically true to who you are deep inside.
When working on self-expression, it is necessary to work on deeper levels of identity and being. I conceptualize this process into three layers. A surface layer (self-expression), a middle layer (self-identification), and an inner layer (true self).
On the surface level, self-expression can be seen in your conversations with others (or yourself), activities you choose, and the hobbies you pursue; or you might see it in the shirt you decide to wear, the car that you like best, or the tattoos with which you've adorned (or not adorned) yourself. Even our jobs become sources of self-expression, showing glimpses of who we are deep inside. This surface level is the very essence of self-expression: it's the outward expression of who we are internally.
Going slightly deeper into the middle layer, you transition from self-expression into self-identification. This is the layer of identity, recognized through ideas and labels. This layer is made of "I am" statements. This looks like identifying yourself, such as claiming that you are "a cat person," "a people person," "a Buddhist," "a gardener," "a dreamer," etc. Archetypes also hang out in this layer.
And going deeper still, you find self-identification turns into a pre-verbal feeling of who you truly are. This is the deepest layer of self-expression, and it is ultimately the layer of true self and being. A feeling deep within that positions you and guides you to be the person you know yourself to be. It doesn't have labels. It doesn't have preferences. It simply knows. It simply is.
What's interesting about self-expression is that oftentimes we try to experience it through the eyes of others. Maybe you've asked yourself "What will people think of me if I pick up that hobby?" or "What do people think of me if I wear this article of clothing?" or "What if people see me hanging out at that place?" This territory is not innately bad. It helps us fit into our fellow species, make socially acceptable choices, and grow in the realms of social skills. A necessary part of life and development is being beckoned into the realm of "What will others think if..."
Yet these instances also speak to the fact that we often view our own self-expression through the eyes of others. We can get derailed from self-expression if we begin staying too long in that "what will others think if..." territory. But that's just social awareness. It's not deep. And it's not self-expression.
When you get trapped here, you are far more likely to bend or force who are to fit those around you. And then, there becomes a discrepancy between who you are internally and who you are externally. And that discrepancy will plague your holistic health and leave you feeling less than yourself.
Why? What just happened? Your self-expression just got shoved into a box and placed on the back-burner of your mind. Out of sight. Out of mind. And with it, went any hopes of holistic health.
And furthermore, there is another danger in this. If we place all of self-expression energy into those around us and their perspective, what do we become?
We become unfocused. We become disconnected with ourselves. We become lost. We become empty.
And then what happens when a pandemic occurs and you are practicing social distancing? What happens when you are rarely leaving your house? What happens when you have to make a decision for yourself with no one else around? What happens when the very people upon which your self-expression is based are no longer around?
Well, then you realize just how unfocused you are. Then you realize just how disconnected you are from self. Then you realize just how lost you feel in life. Then you realize just how empty you feel.
But awareness brings change. And for many people, this virus is translating to exactly that: awareness and change. On surface levels and deeper levels.
Multiple times this week, I've run into The Creator archetype. Last week, I talked a lot about bringing archetypes into your life. If you're curious about archetypes, click here to read up on them! But why is it significant that The Creator archetype has been coming up? Because at all of our cores, we have that creator energy. That ability to make something out of nothing. That ability to give life to an idea or a dream. That ability to self-express amidst emptiness. Out of the lost and the empty comes the blossom of self-expression.
The very essence of self-expression is creating self out of nothingness and emptiness.
Let's say you are feeling empty right now. You're lacking that connection with others, and (no longer distracted) you are wondering who you are. And maybe you're also wondering "But how do I tap into self-expression? How do I change this?"
Simple. You don't rely on the expression you get from others (because, hey--we're all isolated at this point!). You stay out of the "what will people think if..." territory for a bit. Instead, you turn inward. You tap into The Creator archetype. You turn towards your intuition. You turn towards your inner compass.
And you can do this one of two ways:
--Start with that surface layer of self-expression and work your way down to that inner feeling of being.
--Start with that inner feeling of self and work your way up to your surface level layer of self-expression.
For people without a strong sense of self or who have been disconnected from self for a bit, it might be easer to start at the surface layer first. For people with a strong idea of who they are at their core, they might find benefit with starting at that inner layer and working outwards. There's a time and place for both approaches, so play around with it to see what works best for you on any given day.
If you decide to start with the surface layer and work your way down deeper, then purposefully engage your outward self-expression. Use that inner compass and start with some of these questions:
What hobby do I want to do today?
How can I make my appearance feel like me today?
Who can I talk with while maintaining who I truly am?
Then set to work doing that. If you need to change your hairstyle, go for it. If you need to pick up baking, have at it. If you need to talk to a friend and tell them the truth about who you are, do it. And notice the process along the way. Because it's not the end result that is the answer: it's the journey.
Those things you chose to do? They give you a glimpse at that middle layer of self-expression. They give you a glimpse of the "Punk-rock person" or "The Baker" or The Artist archetype. Spend some time looking at those activities you chose to do, and decide what they say about you. Who are you because of those activities/choices? What archetype is activated when you do engage in this form of self-expression?
Once you know those pieces of self-expression, focus on those, and notice what it feels like to be that person. Notice where you feel that expression in your body. Maybe you feel yourself as "An Artist" in your hands. Go with that. Just feel it, experience it. Because it's larger than words. It's larger than a label. It's that inner core. It's that true self. This is core identity at its finest. To engage in an action that aligns with your core and allows you to tap into the feeling of identity and self-- this is self-expression.
If you decide to start this process of self-expression by beginning at the deepest layer of inner feelings of self, allow yourself to sit quietly, either through meditation or general relaxation. Focus in on that inner identity core, that true self. Sit with it for a bit, exploring it. Just noticing how it feels to be.
Then ask yourself "Who am I?" or "What archetype fits best with this sense of self?" See what intuitively comes up for you. Trust that intuition. Maybe The Healer archetype is grabbing your attention. Maybe you say "I am a wood-worker," "I am a giver," or "I am a baseball player." Trust that, no matter how complex or how simple that is.
Then ask yourself "What form of self-expression is in alignment with that piece of my identity?" Follow that. Pursue that activity. Pursue that form of self-expression. To feed your holistic health. To honor who you are at your core. Maybe you set to work on a new woodcraft. Maybe you find a way to give of yourself or time to help others. Maybe you go outside and do baseball-y things (I won't even pretend I am a sports person... it's not in alignment with my true self [haha]). Maybe you explore how to express the archetype of The Healer.
Self-expression dictates so much of our holistic health. If we aren't honoring who we are, then it will show. We will feel lost and empty. But if you honor that self, you'll find that you bloom. Even in social isolation. Especially in social isolation.