Madonna already sang it years ago: “Express yourself don’t repress yourself”. And the queen of pop was so right.
Then why do we often hide, or why do we pretend to be what we’re not, why do we copy others?
Instead of living our uniqueness and expressing it, we try to be like others, to blend in. We don’t want to stand out. Be seen as weird. We just want to be normal. Accepted. Because we’re social animals and it can feel very unsafe to be on your own. We fear that we will be all alone. But is that true? Does unapologetically being yourself mean you won’t have friends, that people won’t like you? Just think about the people around you. The very authentic ones. Are they alone, outcasts? Or do they have friends who support them? Don’t we usually like them for that very authenticity (Hello Madonna!)? Don’t we admire that they don’t compromise their personality?
I do. I notice that I am drawn to authentic people. That I resent fakeness. Yet I have often been afraid of showing and expressing myself fully. I don’t become a different person and I’m not fake but people in the office saw a different side of me than my acting school classmates. Is that a bad thing? Or is it inevitable? This ability to adapt to different environments, which a HSP characteristic by the way, is part of what defines me. So not doing it would mean compromising myself as well ;-).
Maybe the key is to honor our adaptability and our need to belong, but at the same time not ignore those other, more creative, unique sides that make us stand out. Express those sides. Because hiding leads to bad sad places. Hiding the parts you may be ashamed of, that you think don’t deserve to be brought into the light, will make you feel worse and spiral further away from self-acceptance. In order to be a balanced person, we need it all, the dark and the light. I know it’s much easier said than done. It takes a lot of courage and work, and maybe therapy or counseling, to accept and express ‘your darker side’. But I think it is a journey worth traveling; one that leads to harmony. I’m still on it ;-).
I’ve found that the best way for feeling real, like my true whole self, and let out the darker stuff as well, is by expressing myself in different creative ways. The years that I didn’t do this, I was basically in hiding. In a shell. I was omitting very big and important parts of myself. Vital parts I know now. As vital as my heart and lungs but in a different way, on a soul level.
I finally started breaking through this hiding-shell when I finally dared to take up acting when I was around 24 and feeling miserable and unfulfilled in my Phd position. First I started taking courses, and enjoyed those so much that I went on to doing acting school later on (but that’s a whole story in itself ;-)).
I used to play the guitar when I was a kid, but quit when I was 16. Puberty and losing connection with it I guess. I did miss it later on, but the threshold for starting again became higher and higher, because I was afraid of how bad I had become at it. During acting school I finally picked up the guitar for an idea I had for an acting assignment, looked up a simple three-chord song and clumsily tried to play it. It was hard. During one of the lessons I explained to the class what it felt like to not have played in so long. It made me very emotional. I guess I never fully realized how important it had been to me. After acting school I was busy in a job that didn’t suit me and I almost never picked up the guitar. Then I went backpacking in 2016-2017 and there was one thing I knew for sure I wanted to do when I came back: take guitar lessons and play again. And sing more. But I still didn’t.
Instead, I was busy getting adjusted to being back home and working a fulltime job. It took me another dark phase in my life to really start expressing myself in every way again. A phase filled with back-to-back migraine attacks; constant headaches and feeling deeply depressed. One of the things I realized when I came out of it was this: I have to express myself, creatively. I can no longer ignore certain parts of myself just because ‘it is more convenient for the time being’. So that I can dedicate more energy to my job or fit into that job or a certain lifestyle better, or because I am afraid to. I can’t. Not even temporarily. Because when I do that, when I refrain from creative expression, there is no energy left for that job or anything else. It isn’t worth it, it never was and it never will be.
My coach (who basically saved my life) helped me with this realization as well. Back in the fall, during that terrible phase, during one of our sessions, she encouraged me to start drawing. As a kid I had loved to draw and during my school and university years the drawing turned into doodling. I never made real drawings anymore. After I became an aunt I sometimes drew with my niece and nephew, but I noticed that I felt a resistance to it, a pressure I put on myself. The drawings had to meet a certain self-imposed standard.
Reading a book, a manual, for creative multi-passionate sensitive souls like myself gave me the last nudge to end all this hiding and holding back. It explained why, especially when you’re multi-passionate and sensitive, you have to create art. Not high-quality high-brow art. Just self-expression, just put on paper whatever comes up, let the creativity flow, art as an outlet.
I finally started drawing again and put my drawings on this website too. To show that it is okay, even necessary, to have that kind of outlet, to just create stuff. To show that it doesn’t need to meet a standard, or be perfect, but that it just needs to be. And if you hate drawing, create something else that soothes your soul, makes you come alive. Writing, singing, dancing, acting, crochet, sculpting, anything with which you can express yourself. And put it out there. Showcase it. So that even more people get inspired to express themselves.
I am happy (and proud :)) to write that I started taking guitar lessons again and now play every day. And I sing a lot too. It still makes me emotional when I tell people that I didn’t play for so long and it makes me tear up when writing this. Currently I am still not doing any acting, which I miss a lot as well, but with the guitar playing, singing, drawing and not to forget the writing and videos I do for this website, I feel much more fulfilled. And I will find a way to integrate acting and theatre making into what I do.
So please don’t be like me and quit your creative endeavors or don’t do them at all until you feel rock-bottom. If you’re highly sensitive, you may feel like the odd one out, and may be more inclined to try to blend in, not rock the boat. But you may also need the creative outlet even more, an outlet for your sensitivity in an often non-sensitive world. Honor that. Respect that. Fulfill that.
There may be people who wonder: “but I hate all these creative activities, drawing or singing are not for me, what do I do?” Find another outlet, one that works for you. However, don’t assume too quickly that you are not creative. We are all creative in some way or another. There is often a fear underlying our thinking we are not creative. A fear of not being good enough, of being judged. Try different ways of expressing yourself creatively, just try them out and see how you feel. You don’t have to be good at any of them, it is just about the self-expression. Find the outlet that works for you, so you have a way to express your deepest feelings.
“Express yourself, don’t repress yourself
And I’m not sorry (I’m not sorry)
It’s human nature (It’s human nature)”
(From ‘Human Nature’, by Madonna)
P.S. If you’re interested :), the lifecoach I mentioned is Chungmei Cheng, orchidoflife.nl, the manual I referred to is ‘The Wonderfully Weird Woman’s Manual’, by Esther de Charon de Saint Germain, estherdecharon.com