A new report has revealed that 65% of UK adults find it hard to express themselves fully – with almost half saying they don’t feel comfortable being their true selves. But why is this? And what can we do about it? Stylist finds out.
Knowing yourself and what you like is one thing, but being able to express that – both to the people closest to you and the wider world – can be tricky. There are a number of reasons why that might be the case – not only is there the fear of judgement and rejection to consider, but you’ve also got to find a method of self-expression which works for you.
All in all, then, it’s no surprise that so many people find it so hard to show their true selves. According to a new report from Scottish Brewer Innis & Gunn, almost two-thirds (65%) of UK adults feel unable to express themselves fully – with over a third (38%) saying they struggle to be themselves around their partners and three-quarters (76%) saying the same about their colleagues.
While your ability to express yourself might not be something you think about that often, it can have a big impact on your overall wellbeing. It might not feel like that big a deal to hide parts of yourself from your colleagues, mates or even your partner, but over time, it can certainly take its toll – leaving you feeling stressed, trapped and disconnected.
As consultant psychologist Honey Langcaster-James explains, learning how to express yourself doesn’t just help you to feel less restricted – it can help you to feel happier, too.
“It can really be very exhausting to hide who you are, and so I would say the biggest benefit of self-expression is that when you finally tell someone the truth, let your true nature show or express your true preferences, thoughts or feelings, you often feel like a weight has been lifted from your chest,” she explains.
“In society, there can be a lot of pressure that gets put on us and we put on ourselves, so we think we have to be a certain way to be our ‘best’. But actually, when we’re being truly authentic that is our best self, because we’re able to liberate ourselves from that pressure.”
For Langcaster-James, the first step towards harnessing the benefits of self-expression is simply taking some time to understand yourself better and work towards a place of greater acceptance. To do that, you’ll first need to find out more about what works for you.
“A really good first step is to try and understand yourself and who you are – what you stand for, what you like, what you don’t like and what you think about the world,” she says. “And you can do that in a number of ways – some people like journaling, some people may want to be creative and draw or write about how they feel, and some people may fancy engaging in certain hobbies or interests that fascinate you, no matter how geeky they are.”
Next, Langcaster-James suggests you’ll want to start finding ways to bring those different parts of your personality into your everyday life.
“Gradually start to find ways of expressing yourself and being your authentic self with other people,” she explains. “That might mean initially telling people something that they don’t know about you, or start a conversation with someone about their plans for the weekend and sharing what you like to get up to.”
She continues: “I think what can happen is with gradual self-disclosure other people will start to open up to you as well, and you can get to this place where you have more authentic relationships and connections because you don’t just feel like you’re saying something because you feel like that’s what you should be saying – you’re saying it because it reflects a part of you.”
However, while knowing how to develop your self-expression ability is one thing, overcoming the fear of doing so isn’t so easy. According to Innis & Gunn’s report, 30% of UK adults say they’re unable to express themselves because of a fear of rejection – so what’s the best way to overcome this fear?
“I’d recommend starting by disclosing something small about yourself,” Langcaster-Jones says. “Don’t step too far outside of your comfort zone initially – you don’t have to make some big revelation, just pick something small like how you feel about something at work or something you like and tell someone you trust about it.”
She continues: “If there’s something that’s been weighing on your mind that you’ve been hiding about yourself, also try to think about the benefits that sharing that is going to have for you, so that you’ll feel more motivated to get over that initial discomfort.
“See it as an act of self-care. If you’re authentically you and you’re honest to yourself, then you’re looking after you – and at the end of the day, that’s your main job.”
Honey Langcaster-James was commenting on the launch of Being You: The Index, supporting Innis & Gunn’s ‘Be You, Stay Original’ movement to encourage originality, creativity, passion and purpose – a mission the brewer has been on since day one.