Becoming More Restrained or Expressive

Should you, and how?

Posted Jan 15, 2020

pxhere, public domain
Source: pxhere, public domain

I grew up in the Jewish tradition, in which expressiveness was encouraged. In contrast, this year, I’ve read three books presenting the opposite. In A Man Named Ove, a Swede so prized keeping his feelings to himself that no one had an inkling that he was planning to commit suicide. The books 1Q84 and Geisha show the Japanese culture's veneration of restraint.

Some of expressiveness or restraint may be genetic and cultural and thus resistant to dramatic change but doubtless, some volition remains. So, in the service of your considering whether to become more or less expressive, perhaps it’s useful to see a list of restraint’s and expressiveness’s advantages and then tips for how you might go about changing.

Restraint

  • If people don’t know what emotionally triggers you, positive or negative, they can’t use that information to influence you. For example, if you've passionately expressed your political views, people can pander to that thereby manipulating you to do their bidding. Conversely, let's say you make clear that you care a lot about your appearance. Someone could use that knowledge to hurt you, even if subtly, for example, “You’re looking good today.” (The “today” implies that you usually don't look good.)
  • Restraint is likely healthy. True, some people believe that bottling up feelings is unhealthy, but expressiveness, certainly of anger, can be dangerous.  
  • Restraint creates mystery. If you’re quick to express what you’re thinking and feeling, it’s easy to be taken for granted—it’s all out there. But if you’re restrained, you’re more likely to evoke reactions such as, “I wonder what s/he’s thinking?” and even, “I'd better try harder to please the person because I can’t tell what s/he's feeling.”

Expressiveness

  • Expressiveness is more authentic—you’re revealing the real you, not just the veneer. 
  • It tends to be fun. It’s freeing to let ‘er rip. That can evoke similar behavior in others, thereby stimulating a vigorous exchange.
  • You’re more likely to get feedback. Saying what you think and feel, even when potentially risky, allows you to get reactions that you may find helpful or at least more interesting than if you limit your statements to the tepid and your facial expression to the neutral.
  • You may make a bigger difference. Sharing your opinions may educate and even enlighten.

Tips for becoming more restrained

  • Recall at least one instance in which you paid a price for "letting 'er rip." Write it/them down and, at least for one day, each time you're about to be expressive, first paraphrase aloud what you've written.
  • Picture a benefit of restraint that's compelling to you, perhaps one that's listed above.
  • With a friend, role-play a restrained person that you know personally or admire in a book, TV show, or movie.
  • When feeling the urgency to blurt, make yourself take a deep breath and then, if you think you should restrain yourself, try to do so. It's just an experiment—you can always revert to your more expressive self.

Tips for becoming more expressive

  • Recall at least one instance in which you paid a price for being too restrained. Write it down and, at least for one day, each time you're about to restrain yourself, first paraphrase aloud what you've written.
  • Picture a benefit of expressiveness that's compelling to you, perhaps one that's listed above.
  • With a friend, role-play an expressive person that you know personally or who you admire in a book, TV show, or movie.
  • When feeling you should be more expressive, make yourself take a deep breath and, if you still think you should say it, do it. It's just an experiment—you can always revert to your more restrained self.

The takeaway

So, would you like to try being more expressive? More restrained? If so, are any of the aforementioned tips worth a try?

I read this aloud on YouTube.