It is often difficult to feel that our words and thoughts have value. We live in an age where the internet is saturated with carefully curated and likely dishonest self-expression. Sometimes, the idea of sharing ourselves online seems opportunistic, superficial, and vain. So, I decided to reflect and discover the effects of sharing ourselves online. Mostly to investigate my motivations for starting this blog, but also to give insight to readers looking for the same answers.
Let’s start with the individual. As someone who is pursuing psychology, I have an unfortunate and unquenchable desire to rationalize emotions. This, of course, is an oxymoron. Emotions are not necessarily rational. No matter how many times we tell ourselves we “should” or “shouldn’t” feel them, irrational emotions still seem to manifest. Knowing this, we may as well accept these feelings. Acceptance can be reached using many different strategies, from mindful distraction, meditation, or even convincing ourselves that “bad” emotions are “good”. But before we can even accept an emotion, we have to recognize it. Sometimes the way we do this is simply by naming the emotion, but other times it isn’t enough. We have to express it.
Emotions will show themselves whether we control their expression or not. They manifest in a smile, a laugh, a shout, violence, even addiction. Emotions manifest in the physical body as butterflies in the stomach, pain, high blood pressure, etc. So how do we control the way emotions are expressed? Through coping skills. In the case of self-expression, sublimation. We turn our emotions into socially acceptable expressions such as art, career pursuits, or sports.
For me, that sublimation is writing and photography. Journaling or blogging and art are often recommended in psychological practices such as art therapy and even psychoanalysis. These avenues are used to channel emotions in a positive way and prevent this damaging festering that happens to unprocessed emotions. For me, writing helps me organize the jumbled thoughts in my head. Getting them onto paper and out into the physical dimension feels like a huge weight off of my shoulders.
Self-expression can also help the individual feel empowered. I have been writing my entire life, but I have almost never shared one of my personal pieces with anyone! I have always feared what others would think of my content and motives. During my early stages of development, I felt that my self-expression was not validated. I was told that I was oversensitive, a cry-baby, selfish and weak. This made me feel rejected and then caused me to retreat inward, leading to a trap of isolation. Instead of expressing myself I put on a front that I was strong and unbothered. I convinced myself that my own thoughts and emotions were wrong.
I feel that the way to overcome this isolating trap is through authenticity. Writing can help us develop inner clarity to reach our authentic state of self. For me, having since processed the feelings that my natural state was unacceptable, I have come to the point where I need to try expressing myself authentically again.
Sometimes I have to remind myself that my authentic self is good enough. One way I do this is by thinking about the Buddhist idea of the self. Buddhists believe that everyone has the same inner Buddha nature. There is no self. Our thoughts and experiences are part of something bigger, almost a collective conscious. Thinking about it this way, self-expression isn’t really self-expression at all. It is a description of a universal truth. That being said, sharing our thoughts and experiences can help others to feel understood, validated, and connected. More importantly, this authentic self-expression will help to understand and connect to our higher self and see who we truly are.
But how does self-expression affect the individual within society? In the 70’s, a self-expression movement started that tried to shake the political climate by taking a stand against the norm. Self-expression became the new politics. Hippies took to the streets with their peace signs and anti-war symbols, body hair and tie-dye. To this day, us young revolutionaries love to express ourselves based on our values. We use our social media posts and style as a form of protest. Whether it’s a graphic tee we wear or a vegan lunch we post on Instagram.
Self-expression is the new way of challenging the bad things in the world. But it can’t, because the whole world is actually based upon self-expression….We may look back at self-expression as the terrible deadening conformity of our time.
Let’s take for example the “Green” movement. Tree-huggers take to Facebook and Instagram to share post after post on how they are using less plastic, taking shorter showers, and eating less meat. While important, ultimately climate change reversal is in the hands of policymakers and corporations. Between the mass destruction of natural resources, and mass-production of wasteful materials combined with their failure to properly dispose of them, turning off the faucet while we brush our teeth seems futile. These are things that require policy shifts to create real change. These are not responsibilities that should be placed on the shoulders of the consumers. The “voting with your dollar” principle is a good one, but it is based on the capitalist system and therefore in no way a form of radical resistance.
We have been blessed and cursed to be living in a time where self-expression is always at our fingertips. We have somehow been tricked into thinking we have power in just expressing ourselves, but Curtis is right, it is not enough. I understand that making political change in other avenues seems risky and time-consuming. Maybe I am a hypocrite for writing this. I am stuck in this trap too. It is difficult and uncomfortable to get out of our routines. We need to take real steps if we want to see real change. How do we change policy? Through collective action and mass protest.
I do think that political and social change can begin with self-expression. In Adam Curtis’s documentary, The Century of the Self, he claims that powerful leaders feared Freud’s ideas of psychoanalysis. The fear was that citizens would begin to reflect on their own feelings and gain personal power. When we reflect on our thoughts and feelings we are forced to investigate the environmental and social conditions which we are experiencing. Leaders feared that the public would start to share their feelings, realize that they were experiencing the same injustices and therefore form groups of resistance. As a result of this fear, they began to repurpose psychoanalysis in order to manipulate citizens to maintain power relations and further exploit them. Repression has become a weapon for social control, so the weapon for the resistance is authentic self- expression.
On that note. Welcome to my Blog.
I have decided to start this blog to engage in more self-expression. While its effects on society as a whole are questionable, the psychological effects it has on individuals are irrefutable. As society is made up of individuals, I think our world would greatly benefit if everyone starting to be more authentic with themselves and others.
As someone living in today’s economic and social climate, art is a low cost, potentially profitable avenue. Although it isn’t going to propel the type of social change that I ultimately hope to create. It will serve as a platform and foundation for me to reach these goals. As I suffer from nearsightedness, my future plans are quite blurry at the moment. But, I am hoping that this blog will allow me to do research and reflection that will ultimately teach me about my path. The blog will contain think pieces like this one, photography, personal writing, and guided meditations.