To express yourself creatively means manifesting all that you are —your talent and spirit — just as powerfully and authentically as you can.

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Many folks assume that they have to be a genius writer in order to write or a powerhouse singer in order to sing. Otherwise, why do it, right?

This kind of thinking leads many people to shut down their self-expression. But it can help to reframe this thinking — to think of true self-expression as less about a masterful performance, and more about the feelings that you get when you express yourself.

Healthy self-expression can make your life more fulfilling, allowing you to tap into your own, unique creativity, desires, and passions.

It’s not uncommon for people to hide their true feelings, because truly expressing yourself can be a very vulnerable act. Some people find themselves avoiding self-expression even in their most intimate relationships for fear of being dismissed or shamed.

When someone is actively suppressing their feelings or going out of their way to not discuss certain topics, it’s called avoidance. This kind of behavior creates communication problems that can also put a strain on personal relationships.

But avoidance doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s a learned behavior that comes as a reaction to the negative responses that someone has received. Some reasons for avoidant behavior can include:

  • fearing that your emotions will be hurtful
  • believing that your self-expression will be shamed or ridiculed
  • avoiding situations that cause emotional stress
  • worrying that your partner won’t approve of the person you really are

However, If avoidance is learned, better self-expression can be learned, too.

Here are a few tips you may want to keep in mind when learning to better express yourself in your relationship:

  • Identify what makes you uncomfortable, and define your boundaries.
  • Be compassionate about your sense of risk and anxieties over rejection.
  • Accept that people express themselves differently and may not immediately accept you.
  • Give yourself permission not to speak your piece on every issue, and choose when to speak up.

Authentic self-expression in one area of your life can also help you in other areas of your life too. Like cross-training in sports, you can become stronger, more flexible, and more intuitive when it comes to expressing yourself when new situations arise.

Physical self-expression

Creative movement

Dance, martial arts, even yoga are all ways that can help you express your feelings and reduce stress. Learning a new sport or movement style can also be a great opportunity for personal growth as you figure out your own physical strengths and weaknesses.

Consider trying something new as you explore your interests. Over time, you’ll likely find a rewarding style of movement that aligns more closely with how you like to express yourself.

Sexual expression

Laura Zam, a Washington, D.C.-based sexual health coach and author of “The Pleasure Plan: One Woman’s Search for Sexual Healing,” stresses that sexual self-expression can take many forms:

  • conveying (and performing) our gender
  • dressing in a sexual manner
  • showing others our beauty
  • understanding and communicating our erotic desires

People are often closed off in at least some of these areas, Zam says, because of shame and fear of the consequences.

In her coaching, Zam focuses on three ways to practice and encourage healthy sexual self-expression:

  1. Take a pleasure hour. Set aside solo time each week to connect with your erotic self. Zam recommends toys or dress up and finding pleasure, free from outside judgment.
  2. Finding a sex-positive community. Zam suggests exploring sex positive affinity groups and support groups that will validate your sexual self-expression.
  3. Talking to your partner — for real — about your needs. A strong relationship is built on truth and honesty. Hiding a part of yourself from your partner and not being your true self is a way of not being fully honest with them.

Intellectual self-expression

Satisfying intellectual self-expression can be shown in the professional workplace, in creative writings, and even on social media. Expressing yourself in these large social settings allows for a larger group to experience the person that you are.

But it’s important to stay true to yourself and not present someone that you think that other people want to see, instead of who you authentically are.

In fact, a recent study found that people who posted their authentic thoughts on Facebook, as opposed to misrepresenting themselves for popularity, reported higher life satisfaction.

Active self-expression rather than passively sharing other people’s ideas contributed to greater self-satisfaction.

Using your words

Expressing yourself through your words can be very rewarding. These questions can help guide your verbal self-expression:

  • What am I feeling?
  • What is my meaning?
  • What are my options if the other person responds to me in a difficult manner?

If you focus on your own honest feelings, you may find it easier to speak expressively.

Getting creative

Writing in a journal, painting, or other creative activities that engage and stimulate your mind may have psychological benefits, too, regardless of the resulting product.

The positive effects of art therapy are so well known that this recent study aimed to create a scale to measure just how effective art therapy outcomes were.

Self-expression through art correlates strongly to emotional regulation strategies, including:

  • acceptance
  • release
  • problem-solving
  • agency

If you’re worried that self-expression makes you selfish or puts too much focus back onto yourself, it’s worth considering what’s motivating your need to express yourself in the first place.

Self-expression is not:

  • manipulative
  • controlling
  • a bid for popularity

If any of these are at the core of your expression, you likely aren’t being true to yourself and are being influenced by other motivating factors. Honest self-expression isn’t meant to change or persuade others. It connects folks with their tribe.

If you’re feeling stuck and want to improve your self-expression, you might want to consider:

  • expressing your style in everything you do — your dress, cooking, or the way you wear your hair
  • incorporating your unique tastes in your home and yard through art, gardening, and color schemes
  • manifesting your feelings through creative mediums, like journaling, painting, or singing
  • sharing your intellectual ideas on social media and in meetings
  • finding like-minded communities where your ideas are valued and encouraged
  • engaging in physical self-expression through body language, sex, dance, and other forms of movement
  • communicating your feelings directly and honestly with partners and friends

Wondering when to fit self-expression into your life? Try expressing yourself through:

  • daily routines, such as journaling, photography, painting, or movement sessions
  • weekly self-dates to enjoy a museum, hike, or coffee shop
  • everyday communications with your partner, workmates, and friends
  • going online or engaging with social media
  • making your needs and desires known during sex or when discussing sex with your partner
  • scheduling free time for music and play

Honest self-expression is a bold and brave act and learning how to truly express yourself can take some time. But if it feels risky to be that vulnerable with others, it may help to remember the benefits, like increased self-esteem, better communication, and more authentic relationships.

The most rewarding relationships are the ones that let you be yourself without judgment and through self-expression, you can share your gifts with others.