Whatever happened to those days of being completely self-expressed? You know what I am talking about…. when we were little and ran around doing really weird things like jumping over imaginary animals, laughing out loud, making ridiculous faces and screaming at the top of our lungs? Maybe we were alone, maybe with some friends. It really didn't matter, we just didn't care what others thought of us. To me, that was total freedom.

This is something that has been particularly enjoyable (and sometimes crazy-making) as a parent; watching my son and my step-son be fully self-expressed in the way they played and dressed, even in the way my step-son would periodically throw tantrums. There was no care about the world around them, no concern about what people were thinking, no holding back, no playing it safe or acting different than how they felt in every moment. Kids are so incredibly present and expressive. It is beautiful to witness.

The boys in the parking lot at Whole Foods in Venice

Recently though, I have been watching the transition of my son as he has become a teen. He is suddenly more melancholy, more concerned about his appearance, more calculated in his mannerisms, less expressive, less joyful really. I have felt quite heartbroken at times knowing this is how it goes. We come into this world so full of life, so open; then, through the process of "growing up" our lights dim, we hold back, we withdraw. We create all kinds of strategies and defenses to hide behind, and yet all we really want is to be seen and known for who we truly are.

Over time we get so identified with those strategies we forget that playful, joyful being who was so self-expressed. We end up thinking we are just the Controlling One or the Funny One or the Wallflower or the Perfect One or the One the Will Do Anything to Get Love and Affection. I often hear people share in the workshops that I facilitate, "I don't even know who I am anymore."

That little one, the one so full of life and presence and joy, becomes a distant memory. We become so identified with the strategies that we start to forget all about that joyous being inside of us and start to think the strategies are who we truly are. This leads to depression, anxiety, and anger, which comes out unconsciously in destructive ways. We take it out on others as we drive in traffic, on our spouses, on our children, and we especially take it out on ourselves. We beat ourselves up, telling ourselves how much we suck, how ugly and fat we are, how dumb we are, how unlovable we are.

It deeply saddens me to think that my son is embarking on his journey of becoming identified with these kinds of strategies. It keeps me up at night to think that the boy who was so stoked on life, who would run everywhere we went solely because of how excited he was just to be alive, is now becoming a young man who will feel the weight of the world on his shoulders. It is his journey, just as it was mine.

As a child I was often told to calm down, be quiet, don't do this, do that- so on and so forth. I learned at a young age I was better off if I kept quiet, didn't speak up for myself, and contained my joy and excitement. It has been quite a journey over the last decade or so realizing that holding back wasn't serving me, and it wasn't serving the world. I had to re-learn what we already know as children, how to open up, share myself, use my voice and experience joy, curiosity, wonder, and the lightness of life again.

Recently, I was at an Advanced Leadership and Facilitation Training for 9 days in the beautiful countryside of western Virginia. The first few days had been really intense. I was feeling so incredibly tired- I could barely keep myself sitting upright. I had been going so hard in all areas of my life while struggling with some persistent health challenges as well. I felt as if I just couldn't keep going.

Then, on the fourth or fifth day, a miracle happened. In the middle of a process, feeling a lot of pain and sadness around my body, I started touching my legs, sending them love, silently telling them they are beautiful and I love them and I was so sorry for any times I judged them as disgusting or ugly. Then I started moving up my body, loving all parts of my body, apologizing for the horrible ways I had been treating myself.

An intense sense of freedom suddenly occurred, and next thing I knew I started taking off some of my clothes, stripping down to the basics as I jumped up on joy. I pulled my friend up with me and we ran outside where it was drizzling rain. I spun round and round, completely in the moment, in my JOY. I felt like the bag of heavy boulders I had been carrying around on my back for decades was lifted. I felt so fully self-expressed! I felt like a child who didn't care what anyone thought of her, who could just BE whoever and however she was. I found myself in that moment to be totally lost in bliss, in pure presence such that even the light around me had a particular stunning clarity to it.

AND THEN …..I STEPPED IN A HUGE PILE OF DOG SHIT. I am not kidding, that happened. And guess what? I didn't care!! I DID NOT CARE. I was unapologetically me. I was free, and not even that was going to take the moment away from me.

A clown I met on the street in Venice who invited me to pretend I was a bird with her

When was the last time you felt the joy of full self-expression? What holds you back from being fully self-expressed? Are you ready to break free from those old stories you tell yourself about how you're not good enough or undeserving of love? Are you ready to claim who you are in the world, to take up space, to be heard?

Jessica Vignolle is a relationship and parenting mentor. She particularly loves mentoring moms with toddlers who are trying to navigate the ins and outs of remembering who they are as individuals, as well as supporting them in this major transitional time in their relationship. Jessica uses the tools and techniques she has learned over many years to support others in becoming more in tune, aligned and in harmony in their life and with their loved ones. She cares deeply about helping others create intimate and loving relationships that center around clear communication and authentic connection. Jessica has gone through a Masters Program in Spiritual Psychology and is a lead facilitator for COR, an organization that brings deep healing and transformation to many. Schedule a free Discovery Session to talk about mentorship with her.