The Power of Expression
Recently I went to a workshop where we were asked to share a story from the awkward teen years of 16-18 years old. I chose a story about my first break-up, that I initially felt was not particularly exciting or interesting; the audience would hear it and think ‘that could have happened to anyone’- which of course it does all the time. I often feel a sense of dread when people ask me to talk about my experiences because (and this is probably from working in a theatrical profession) I fear that what I’m going to say isn’t really worth listening to. Even writing that I realise how ridiculous it sounds and not just because I’m a very talkative person, but also because it doesn’t matter what your perspective is on the world- what you have to share really does hold value. Telling stories brings us closer together and it ignites a trail of experiences being shared amongst friends, families or even strangers. Stories educate us and connect us on a deeper more socially conscious level. I like to think everyone has had an opportunity to be heard, even if it whispering the account into a friends ear as opposed to pronouncing it to a great crowd. In the telling of my story, my fellow workshop attendees where struck by the hilarity of the strange and gory details, connected with the images I conjured, squirmed at the tragic awkwardness of it and sighed at the moments that depicted the sadness I felt (at the time). These were all iterations of understanding; responding to something you hear and recognising how it reflects your own experiences.
I chose this tucked away and seemingly insignificant memory because recently I’ve been reflecting on the way I express myself to others; or how we all choose to express ourselves. This conundrum over my self-expression is based on still being unable to fully and effectively convey anger and frustration as a set of emotions. In this memory I described the feeling of being disempowered by the action of suppressing my anger to suit another person. The only part of the ‘break-up’ moment that remains relevant to me now is this memory of this ‘suppressing’ because it was a learned habit to control ‘the beast’ of anger and not let it out to leer on others and cause inconvenience.
The angry me is quite small and not very powerful but she has always existed. I say ‘not powerful’ because I have learned as I’ve grown up that leading with this part of me doesn’t usually make me feel very empowered in the end. In fact, I find I am more powerful when I turn the other cheek and focus my energy away from negative people or situations.
Having said this, it hasn’t always been this way. As I child I raged with fits of wild aggression just at the mere feeling of being alive. My mother says I was born angry and so the ball of emotional vomit reared its ugly head on multiple occasions throughout my childhood. I would scream and scream until I had forgotten what I was screaming about, and by the end of the earthquake of a tantrum, I was shaking and exhausted and even ‘sorry’ for losing control. It sounds pretty intense but really I suppose it was just a more extreme case of the ‘terrible twos’ that lasted a little longer than the toddler years. If you met me now you wouldn’t see the same temperament reflected in the woman I am today (although I can get a little fiery at times). I write this now not to apologise for the angry child I was and not to squash her until she doesn’t exist. I sometimes want to go back and tell her it is okay to feel the way she felt; to learn from the experience of being the grumpy one at the dinner table- but I do feel that all too often girls and women are shunned for showing their darker sides; shunned for taking up space with their anger. When I was speaking with my mum about my childhood recently, I found myself feeling the quake somewhere in the bottom of my stomach; I have a physical memory of it as well as a mental one. I could see my mum remembering it similarly, the understanding she seemed to have for this part of who I am, that sits in the cracks amongst all my ‘happy’ (and please don’t let this blog make you think I didn’t have a deeply happy upbringing – because I did). It is strange because the sensation bubbles inside me again, now, not as this purple-faced frustration, but as an ardent protectiveness over the more vulnerable child and teenager inside me. I suppose this is why I told the story of my first break up at that workshop- because now as near 25-year-old woman, I feel protective over the 18-year-old I once was. I feel, as adults, we are expected to pass over a threshold and never return to our more innocent states of being- but we carry it all with us and more often than not if we do not honour our past experiences, then we risk ignoring significant parts of our lives that shape our current identity.
So, I’ve decided to try to be less ashamed of the angry, grumpy, surly parts of me- I don’t care if the world doesn’t think it is attractive- because I spend most of my time trying to give the best of myself and on the whole I think I’m doing a pretty good job. If there was one thing I learnt from my chosen story, it was that we must not always feel the need to accommodate what others want from us. We must sometimes have the courage to honour our true selves. In sharing my very normal experience, I affected those around me- people connected with it and I’m sure it sparked something in them too. The power of story telling both heals and enlightens parts of us that we usually hide away so society cannot see. I hope we all can feel empowered to share and give voice to our inner worlds, and in turn help others see the value of their perspectives too.