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  • Writer's picture Zalman Nelson - Therapist

3 Signs You Are Self-Expression Challenged

Many of us struggle as adults because of what hasn’t happened for us in life, more than what did happen. We all have our bumps and bruises from childhood, some more than others, but we’re also deeply impacted by things that didn’t happen, needs that went unmet, and emotions that went unexpressed.

(Reminder: we’re not exploring our pasts and childhoods in order to become a “blame thrower” and duck out of working on ourselves. Rather, the very opposite: we want insight into who we are right now, how it came to be, and what is and what isn’t true for us. The untrue stuff we’ve picked up over time, can be identified, challenged, pushed aside, and replaced with the real us that we discover.)

Grew up in an environment that encouraged self-expression? If you did, exploring and discovering your preferences and natural interests was cheered. Think: toddler crawling on the floor putting everything in its mouth. It’s all exciting, and what ever grabs her interest, she’s going for. Decisions made took your needs and wants into account. Expressing your emotions and feeling whatever you felt was encouraged. Free play was supported, a balance of play and work promoted, and standard were reasonable and doable.

Other homes discouraged self-expression. When you expressed your needs, wants, preferences, or feelings, you were punished, or made to feel guilty. Your parents’ needs and feelings always came before yours. There were lots of feelings of powerlessness, and you were shamed if you acted light and playful. Work and achievement always came before, and often instead of, enjoyment. Parental approval? Only if you performed perfectly.

Here’s how you can tell if restricted, repressed, or ignored self-expression is an issue of yours: Accommodating, Inhibited, or Angry.

Accommodating You’re extremely accommodating to others, always pleasing and taking care of everyone, constantly “taking one for the team.” You’re a martyr. But your own needs get mentioned. You can’t stand seeing others in pain, and you’ll always sacrifice your needs to help. In fact, you may do so much for others that they feel guilty. On the outside, you look great, but inside you feel weak and passive, even resentful if your efforts on unappreciated. Other’s needs control your life.