Self-Expression & Identity
A few weeks ago I sent a gem on being yourself in your relationship. Self-expression is often linked to sense of whether you can be yourself or not.
Self-expression and the strategies you use to meet that need can be some of the most difficult to disentangle. Often you may imagine that your true self is inextricably linked to how you express your aliveness.
Perhaps you identify as an "external processor" and so, when irritated, find yourself expressing to your partner all the judgments and complaints you have about a particular situation. Perhaps you identify as a "creative" or "idea person" and when you get excited you have a wash of ideas that you share one after the other with your partner.
In both of these examples, the irritation and the excitement and the needs connected to each make up the precious aliveness you want to express in the moment. Every moment new feelings and needs are arising in you in response to your perceptions and the environment. When you cling to an identity made up of how you do things, you limit your own aliveness and how you can express it.
Ideally the strategy you choose to express your aliveness is a creative present moment response to the needs of your listener and the circumstance.
Often times you don't choose your strategy for expression, habit chooses for you. That habit seems so much a part of you, that when your partner says that the way you're expressing isn't working for him or her, you perceive a personal rejection of who you are.
Regardless of the identities you cling to, if you don't know another way to express your aliveness, you will likely get hopeless and give up or get angry and fight. Here is where you can ask for help and also let your listener take responsibility for providing clarity about what works for her or him. You might ask something like, "What is it about how I am expressing that is difficult for you?" or "What would make it easier for you to hear me?" or "Could you help me understand the feelings and needs that come up for you when you ask me to express differently?"
When you remember that your behavior, in this case the how of self-expression, isn't the who of you, you have space to respond with creativity and curiosity when someone asks you to behave differently. You will find that you can be authentic and fluid in your ability to meet others in a variety of circumstances.
Take a moment now to reflect on any feedback your partner has given you about how you express yourself. Choose a situation you remember well and revisit it with your partner using one or more of the questions I listed above.