Conform or Be Cast Out

What is expression?

WARNING: There will be some curse words within this blogpost. If four-letter, less “professional” words offend you deeply, you may want to stop here.

Jesse Williams, MS, LPCMHSP, NCC, CCH

As I laid in the tattoo shop, I thought to myself: “Why would I pay money to have someone draw on me in a permanent fashion that will, when I die, simply return into the earth, forever gone?”

Interesting concept, right?  To have someone inject ink into your physical body. Placing artwork literally into your skin.

But for what? Expression? Is expression even worth it? Worth the money? The time? The pain? The plasma? The societal looks/judgment?

But what even is expression?

It was an interesting day. I’d been personally stuck for months, trapped in a vortex of transition and survival, brought on by moving to a new city and home.  Moving always had a way of blocking me and pushing me into a more survival-based approach to life. “Just get stuff unpacked.”  “Just settle in.” “Just get into a new routine, then you’ll be able to grow in a deeper way.” And that was the place I had been stuck in.

For months.

But not this day: this day, the energy of my life was shifting. I felt some of The Tower card energy building. It had been building for months. Building to bring me face to face with the idea, with the question:

But what even is expression?

It really started the first time I went into that tattoo shop to have work done. I had a blast talking with the tattoo artist who was working with me. I enjoyed hearing his stories and sharing my own. I enjoyed experiencing the connection in the moment. I enjoyed watching the personalities within the shop, seeing the friendships and the family, experiencing the passion and the creativity, and feeling the spirit and the environment of the place. Breathing in the atmosphere, soaking in the air of acceptance and warmth. Invoking deep laughter and equally deep conversation. It felt like connection. It felt like freedom. It felt like acceptance. It felt like a Bohemia of East Tennessee. Where art exists, free of judgment. It felt like place. A reserved and revered place of art. And peace. Love. Acceptance. Connection. Spirituality. Growth. Expression.

But what even is expression?

But on this day, I finished up my tattoo, and I walked outside. I felt the sunlight on my freshly sensitive skin. I felt the light and warmth– reminding me of the tattooing process itself. A reminder of my decision. My permanent decision of expression. A reminder that my Tower was cracking.

As I drove home, I thought about my work. My work as a therapist. My work as a healer within my community. And I searched frantically within myself to figure out what was going on within me, within my psyche, within my identity. Within my expression. There was a shift.  There was a crack within The Tower of myself. Something had shifted. Something had changed. I masked frantically to put it all back in place. Trying desperately to stabilize the shifting blocks that were slowly cracking more and more and more.

My mind swirled with thoughts:

“You are a professional.  You should not have tattoos. You should not have piercings. You must be professional. You must be socially acceptable. You should not have a septum piercing. This makes everyone question who you even are as a therapist? Who is this person that you are becoming? Who is this person that you are? How can you be a healer? Are you even a healer? Oh, but you can express yourself.”

But what even is expression?

I put the mask back on:

I am Jesse.

I am a therapist by day, and a person by night.

Sometimes those intersect.  Sometimes they don’t.

But one way or the other, I have other things to do:

the rest of my day to contend with.

So, I put on the mask of “everything is okay, there is nothing to grow here.”

I am stable.

I am calm.

I am resolved.

I am at peace.

I am a professional.

I can handle the rest of my day.

No emotion to see here.

There are no cracks in The Tower.

“But you aren’t at peace.  And are you even a professional? Because you have a new tattoo. Your clients can’t know who you are. You are a professional. And professionals must put on professional masks. Can you even do that? With a tattoo? A tattoo shows them blatantly who you are. You can mask you, but can you mask a tattoo? No. You must fit into a box. Can you even fit into the box? All for the sake of expression.”

But what even is expression?

I went on about my day. With my mask on. Sunshine on my shoulder, but not within my soul. Because I knew the crack was there. The crack that widening, little by little. My Tower was crumbling.

Funny thing about The Tower tarot card: it’s about what we think we know suddenly crashing down around us. Sometimes it’s our strength. Sometimes it’s our stability. Sometimes it’s our friendship or family or relationship. Our resolutions. Our goals. Our dreams.  Our jobs.

And sometimes, like this time, it can be our very sense of self.

Drawing forth, from the depths, the very question of “Who am I?”

I felt the crack. Deeply I felt it. Widening and widening. Expressing itself through this feeling of internal contradiction.

But what even is expression?

Little did I know within my subconscious, I had a close friend going through the same process. I watched as she, the same day (and the same professional field) got her septum pierced. I encouraged her. I told her to honor herself. I told her to embrace and to love herself who she is. And when faced with the worry of “what would someone within our field think?” I told her “F* ’em– you do you.”

I wore my mask of confidence. I know who I am. I know who I am as a professional. I am grounded. I am strong.

“But what have you done? What is this mess you have made? Good for your friend, they are coming to terms with themselves. But not you. Because you know that once others find out what you have done to your body, you will be ostracized. You will become a social pariah. You will conform, or you will be cast out. And here you are sacrificing it all for the sake of expression.

But what even is expression?

I watched as my friend processed out her piercing. And I woke up the next day to her proclaiming her piercing on social media, embracing her true self. Claiming her place as a professional who is expressing herself. And I applauded. And I rallied around her with other professionals, telling her that her value was truly in being herself.

And I felt my own cracks.

“But what will they think of you? You need black/white. Good/Bad. You need it to fit into a category. Categories makes sense. And this.  THIS should get placed into a category of BAD. Good for your friend for expressing herself. But not you. You should be cast out. What will people think?

But what even is expression?

As I talked to my friend about her own experience, I began realizing that the cracks I felt were identical to her own. Questions of professionalism. Questions of motive. Questions of expression. Questions of self.

And the cracks widened. Irreparably widened. The Tower moaned. The Tower shook. And The Tower crumbled to the ground.

Who I thought I was needed to break. Who I knew myself to be needed to rise.

Kim Krans put it best, in her description of The Self archetype: “The Self is the prism that allows the spectrum of our personalities to radiate. It does not judge, prohibit, suppress, or oppress any of its parts, as it lovingly knows that all aspects have a time and a place, and leads us to experience the full breadth of life’s offerings.”

And in this conversation with my friend, I felt deeply what expression is. Expression is the outer display of inner self. Expression guides us towards inner truth. Expression is the necessary physical West of the Medicine Wheel. Expression holds our narrative and carries our emotion; it weaves us through the ritualistic movement of emotional processing. Expression moves us towards our spiritual selves.  Expression connects us to those around us. It connects us to who we are. It connects us to time and place and experience and memory and acceptance and love. Expression is art. Expression is life itself.

And yeah, you don’t have to get a septum piercing to express. You don’t have to go get a tattooed sleeve or a new tank top or drive your dream car or paint your house the perfect color. For some people, expression will look more like a dedication to running a marathon. Or going to church every Sunday. For others, it might look like choosing to wear more clothing of a certain color or design. Or choosing a haircut that befits them.

And sure, all of that can be expression. But it isn’t necessary for expression.

What is necessary for expression is connection of your external to your internal. What is necessary is being true to yourself. Listening to your intuition. Trusting your inner truth and your high self. Trusting your connection to the divine. And letting that expression occur. Not fighting the expression. Not forcing on a certain mask or a certain box or a certain look.

And remember that Tower that I had? That self that I felt confident I knew? That was old and outdated. That Tower was built, as often our Towers of Self often are, by being given stones and bricks from people in our pasts. Bricks of “Not Good Enough.” Bricks of “Fit into the Box.” Bricks of self-judgement and self-hatred. Bricks that tell us who we should be.

And those bricks come from everywhere. They come from Hollywood and church. From politicians and political groups. From culture.  From trauma. From experience. From shame. From joy. From geographic location. From gender expectations. From societal expectations. They come from our parents. Our teachers. Our friends. Our classmates. Sometimes, we even add those bricks to our Towers ourselves. Placing them confidently, believing them to be strong and durable and true. And slowly, we build a safe, secure stronghold: a Tower of Self. And we think that we know who we are. And we are confident that we know what to expect from ourselves.  And we know how we will always choose to express ourselves.

Until we realize that that Tower does not honor who we are. Until we realized that the Tower we so confidently built no longer represents who we truly are. Until we realize that some of those bricks we placed are pure bullshit. Until we realize that we have forced ourselves into a box that does not honor ourselves. Until we realize that our external expression is suddenly not lining up with our internal Tower of Self.

And then those Towers must crash. Those cracks have to happen. Those bricks must crumble. That is necessary in order for us to become the glowing/inspired/connected/enlightened/empowered individuals of light that we are meant to be.

For me, that looked like abandoning supposed judgments and letting go of bricks that no longer honor who I am. And in doing so, I was able to rebuild my Tower of Self in a way that honors me. For me, that looked like accepting myself. Embracing my professional identity and my healer identity and my tattoo expression and my artist self (imagine that…all of it can exist at once). Telling myself, “Come what may: this is who I am. I am a bohemian. I am a healer. Cast me out. Burn me at the stake. I will honor my path. I will trust my intuition.”

And if someone judges you or condescends you or causes you to second guess your intuition or to doubt your healing or to hate your true self. If someone belittles you or hurts you or makes you feel lesser, repeat after me:


Because. You. Were. Meant. To. Be. You.

And sometimes we are dominos for each other. The knocking down of our own blocks and Towers goes on to knock down the blocks and Towers of those around us. Reminding us of our connection to each other. Beckoning us to honor the fact that we heal each other.  That paths cross for a reason. That our growth sometimes cannot happen without the aid of our fellow human.

I challenge you, today, to take a moment to really look at your Tower. Have you noticed any bricks that are out of place? Any bricks that don’t belong? Any internal conflicts where you feel that you are not honoring yourself? That you are not expressing yourself to your truest extent?

Challenge yourself to honor you. To follow your path. To trust yourself. To trust your people. To trust your intuition. To always honor YOU in the healing that you do. In the building that you do. In the Tower that you create.

May the Towers of Self that we make honor who we are. May we always strive to replace bricks of bullshit with bricks of truth.

And let us show our truth through uninhibited expression.

And so it is.


For more information and personal counseling, contact Jesse Williams here: Trauma & Anxiety Therapy | Maryville | Trauma and Anxiety Center, LLC (


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