I’ll be the first to admit that self-expression can be scary, especially when survival instincts warn us to play it safe. Since it often feels easier to repress self-expression than risk judgment, humiliation, and even rejection, many of us conveniently hide behind masks.
However, there is an unseen price for suppressing our Real Selves and this price is paid with our precious lives, and, in fact, we might never know what we could have created if we fearlessly lived out-loud!
Rather than just ‘telling’ you how to overcome the fear of self-expression and live as your Real Self, I’m going to share my personal story. This is how I personally faced my worst fears and came out the other side—and how you can too.
Like so many, my fear of self-expression began in childhood; in fact, early life experiences often set the stage for adult inhibition.
It All Began in Third Grade…
Honestly, I absolutely hated elementary school, and with no A’s, praise, or golden stars, I was just barely skimming by and to make matters worse, I was ridiculed by teachers and bullied by classmates.
However, when I was assigned the ‘favorite teacher’ in third grade, I thought my fate had changed; tall, blonde, and beautiful, Ms. Horvath, looked like an angel and I instantly loved her. Unfortunately, I soon discovered that the feeling was not mutual.
One day, Ms. Horvath’s assistant graded essays for a creative writing assignment and hung the best ones on the wall and, to my surprise, my paper was displayed smack dab in the middle. For the first time in my young life I felt proud and worthy, but as fast as it came, it was taken away.
Just two days later, Ms. Horvath singled out my paper, and with her bright red magic marker, circled and corrected every mistake she could find, and then drawing attention to my terrible essay, she loudly scolded her assistant who marked it improperly.
Within minutes, my beautiful work of art was tainted with bright red scars, and worst of all, Ms. Horvath left it hanging in full view for all to see. Shamefully, amongst the best and brightest, my failure stood out as an atrocity and for weeks my classmates took pleasure in my humiliation.
Later that year, Ms. Horvath assigned a special project where we each had to invent a game at home and then present it to the class.
Diligently working on my invention for weeks, I created a fun and unique game that involved moving pieces, lots of interesting details, written instructions, and a scoring system. Although I was really proud of my creation and excited to share it, the night before my presentation, I panicked.
You see, most of my classmates had already presented their inventions and because my invention was radically different, I feared judgment. Needless to say, I was terrified of humiliation once again. So, to protect myself from shame, I decided to leave my unique project safely at home. Instead, I quickly cut small pieces of colorful paper into strips and glued them together to create a long chain. Although it didn’t really do anything, it fulfilled the assignment requirements and there would be minimal risk of judgment and ridicule.
However, while presenting my invention to the class the next day, Ms. Horvath went into a controlled rage. She declared, “This project shows absolutely no creativity, and since it’s completely worthless, it should be thrown away!”
Dripping with shame and wanting to disappear, I stood there helplessly as everyone laughed at me. Judging myself mercilessly, I thought about the awesome invention I left home, and how it was far superior to anything created by my classmates. “Why did I lack the courage to be bold and take a chance?” I said silently to myself.
This childhood trauma undoubtedly left a deep scar, and from that point on I became even more introverted because I was petrified of being seen. I hid my Real Self in a cocoon of disempowerment.
The Beauty of Hindsight
At such a young age, I could not comprehend why my adored teacher would hurt me in such a cruel way. However, as years turned into decades and experience transformed into wisdom, the beauty of hindsight has revealed a higher truth.
You see, years later as a young adult, I was faced with an important choice where I could either play it safe and hide self-expression or take a chance and boldly express my Real Self. Although the fear of shame and humiliation begged me to play it safe, my mind flashed back to Ms. Horvath’s class….
Remembering how the ‘safe choice’ ended in dreaded humiliation and a lifetime of lingering regret, I knew that I could no longer avoid my fears by playing it safe. Therefore, I thought, “Why not take a chance? After all, if the ‘safe choice’ can result in the worst outcome, what’s to lose?”
So, after analyzing the past and carefully weighing all options, I was left with only one choice. Rather than inhibiting self-expression and abandoning myself once again, I chose to take a risk. Even though fear and anxiety still rose up to keep me down, I intentionally ignored the instinct to run and hide.
Instead, I made a commitment that no matter the outcome, I would not abandon myself, and this meant that even if I totally flopped and the result was failure, I would love myself no less.
In that moment of clarity and commitment, I broke free from the cocoon of disempowerment.
Since then, I have experienced a lifetime of authentic self-expression, and while some bold choices have ended poorly, many more have flowered into amazing opportunities. Nonetheless, whether I reap the seeds of courage or end up licking my own wounds, at least I have no regrets for trying, and whether I emerge with battle scars or victory, I am no less empowered.
Re-interpreting the Past
Under careful examination, and through the eyes of non-biased observation, we can begin to see that without challenges to overcome, there’s no way to discover our intrinsic power. Therefore, life is designed this way.
Although it’s often difficult to see at the time, every challenge and trauma presents extraordinary gifts and these gifts are designed to support an extraordinary life. However, unlike natural gifts, these gifts are rarely in plain sight. Therefore, as curators of our own lives, it’s up to us to uncover and cultivate the gifts we were meant to reap through the challenges we faced.
So, as it turns out, by fulfilling the role my Higher Self asked her to play, Ms. Horvath was my angel after all!
However, although every traumatic experience is an opportunity for self-empowerment, if we don’t consciously choose the path of empowerment, the path of disempowerment is chosen by default–but remember, it’s never too late to choose again.
Take a Chance On You
There is a valuable pay-off for being your Real Self. Not only does it result in joy and fulfillment, and deeper connections, it’s immensely easier to be your Real Self than pretend to be someone you’re not.
Do you have any idea how much energy is wasted by repressing authenticity? In fact, the consequences of suppressing your Real Self often include hopelessness, purposelessness, loneliness, anxiety, depression, and even illness.
But before you can overcome the fear of judgment and rejection and express your Real Self, you might need to:
- Challenge deeply ingrained beliefs.
- Break traditions held by your family or culture.
- Release the need for permission, approval, acceptance, validation, etc…
- Own your unconditional worth (not contingent on outcomes).
- Disregard disempowering opinions of others.
And, last but not least, whatever you do, don’t abandon yourself!
Make Sure You’ve Got Your Back
Despite how it might seem or feel, no one can ever hurt you as deeply as you hurt yourself. In fact, abandoning oneself is immeasurably worse than being rejected by the whole world.
In hindsight, the trauma that I experienced in Ms. Horvath’s class was not the result of her judgment or rejection or that of my classmates, but rather due to the fact that I judged and rejected myself. You see, by doing so, I abandoned myself.
In fact, whenever we subject ourselves to self-suppression and self-judgment, we inadvertently abandon our Real Selves—and this is the core-cause of all emotional wounds.
Therefore, before you can express your Real Self, you have to know that you are not going to abandon yourself at the first sign of failure. Regardless of circumstances or consequences, you must make the commitment to never impose judgment or shame upon yourself, and you must also release unrealistic ideals of perfection. Furthermore, do your very best to cultivate self-love and acceptance and, most of all, support yourself as you’d want others to support you–especially, throughout periods of doubt and uncertainty.
Either you can play it safe and risk a lifetime of regret, or you can choose self-expression and be free!
The Starring Role of Your Life
Although we can never know the outcome of our choices, be assured that there’s always a hidden cost for playing it safe. By missing an opportunity, you’ve gained nothing in return and who knows what you might have lost?
In fact, if you don’t choose yourself for the starring role of your life, no one else will!
Of all the billions of people who’ve ever lived or will ever live, there’s only one you, therefore, your only job is to be you. After all, if you’re not going to be you, then who will?
Yes, it can be scary to expose yourself to the world, and yes, others will likely judge you, but those same people will judge you anyway. Since there is no way to avoid judgment, why not live the life you want to live? In fact, anything less is too big a price to pay, and believe it or not, what other’s think about you is none of your business anyway.
So, whether you reap the seeds of courage or end up licking your own wounds, never regret trying, and whether you emerge with battle scars or victory, remember that your life is no less extraordinary.