“Rachel, what’s going on?”
“…Rachel, clearly something is on your mind….just say it.”
I am silent: my oceanic feelings are contained behind the steel-trap of my teeth. I feel, I feel, I feel, and I have no words for my feelings, because I’m desperately afraid that if I say them, the person in front of me won’t love me anymore.
Daring to say how I feel is terrifying. When I was growing up, certain emotions were acceptable (joy, curiosity, humor, even sadness), while others were met with disapproval (anger, hurt, vulnerability). I learned to edit my self-expression in order to feel safe.
As an adult, I was adept at easily (and unconsciously) avoiding emotional conflict. Rather than communicate my hurts or concerns, I ferreted away my feelings as burdens to be privately dissected and endured. I held imaginary conversations with my partner in my head, rather than aloud. The open space of real conversation was so scary that I ended relationships rather than talk through its problems.
And oh the irony: because I was smart and didn’t yell or storm out of the room, I thought I was an excellent communicator.
Self-expression – real, vulnerable self-expression (not the reactive, unaccountable kind) – requires bravery because we never know how someone else is going to react. And we certainly can’t control it. When opportunities arise for us to really be seen and heard, it’s often more comfortable to retreat rather than be exposed.
For me, I falter in the emotional landscape. For some of us though, the vulnerability of self-expression emerges when we’re asked to share our intellectual opinion or reveal ourselves creatively:
- “I don’t sing,” we declare. “Trust me, you don’t want to hear it. It’s like a cat dying.”
- “I hate public speaking! get so nervous. No,” we demur, “I’d rather listen.”
- “Dancing? In public?? Maybe after about five drinks.”
Whatever the venue, these peremptory, self-imposed shackles limit us. Scared of being rejected or judged, we allow our fear to box in our full range of expressive possibilities. We become smaller, quieter, more muted.
Rather than running away, can we lean into the discomfort? The more we lean in, the more we learn to trust that the feeling is temporary, illusory, and ultimately benign. Beyond that temporary feeling of discomfort lies freedom: the self-expression that is purely and gloriously yours.
Wouldn’t all of our lives be richer, more colorful, and more empowered if we dared to reveal more of ourselves?
Let’s put our voices into the world.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people will not feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone and as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give others permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.” – Marianne Williamson