Practice Creative Spontaneity for 100 Days
Envision being able to access creative, indexed methods of spontaneous and creative self-healing - whenever you need them - for years to come.
If you’re a creative person, and are tired of feeling emotionally overwhelmed, spiritually heavy or mentally blocked, you can now purchase 100 Days of Art and Writing Journal Therapy Prompts for less than the fee of one Art Psychotherapy Therapy Session HERE!
Art Journal Therapy Activity #1 - Write Your Emotional Pain a Letter
This art journal directive offers a safe way to honor your "immature" emotions. By paying attention to the emotions that we are ashamed of and afraid of - we "grow ourselves up" into emotional maturity.
- Art journal and pen
- Magazines, scissors and a glue stick
Growing up Your Emotions
“Don't be scared of scars. They just tell stories that are hard to hear.”
~ Ashly Lorenzana
Voicing our raw, immature emotions can be destructive if we act them out in front of other people, and so they need to be expressed in a safe place, such as within a private journal writing process. Our negative emotions are always younger than our current age, formed at a time when we did not rationally understand the truth of life.
It is common to try to force ourselves to feel and act more mature than we actually are. Because most of us are scared of the wild irrationality of our emotional life, we do not not ever let our emotions "grow up." Emotional growing pains are just as necessary as physical or mental growing pains. We experience emotional growing pains when we honestly admit to our immature emotions.
We can learn how to release negative emotions in ways that are not destructive to self and others by privately admitting to where we "play small" without shame. Good, warm, healthy emotions always come after we allow the painful release of negative emotions. Listening to and remembering the times and places where we "arrested" our emotional release due to family and societal disapproval, can free us enough to begin the emotional maturation process.
4 Steps to Writing Your Pain a Letter
In your art journal invite your emotional pain to write you a letter....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #2 - Define Your Core Values
This art journaling directive will help you consciously choose and define your top 10 core values and offers a list of nearly 400 values to choose from. This journal exercise will also help you discover your hidden, subconscious values.
- Art journal
- Glue stick
“Your beliefs become your thoughts,
Your thoughts become your words,
Your words become your actions,
Your actions become your habits,
Your habits become your values,
Your values become your destiny.”
~ Mahatma Gandhi
Defining our values helps us to organize our mind around our higher purposes and will help us make the best decisions in our life. If we do not define our highest core values we will stay stuck living from our habitual self-defeating thinking and our negative emotional patterns.
Once you define your highest core values, you can begin to make all of your life decisions in alignment with what is most important to you. As you know what you stand for in every situation, your guiding principles will align and shape your higher vision for your life.
1. To discover the values that you feel connected to on an subconscious level, randomly clip out images and words that inspire you. Put your collage together quickly and without much thought. Do not worry if your collage does not make immediate sense.
2. After you finish your spontaneous collage contemplate it for five minutes and write down the feelings that come up when you look at it. What surprises you when you look at your collage? Is there anything that you did not expect? Is there any hidden value that you want to change?
Conscious Discovery of Your Values
Now consider the 377 values listed below. Choose the top 25 values that you most want to live your life by. Then narrow your list down to your top ten values. Do they relate to your spontaneous collage or are they different? Post your list of values in a visible place and contemplate them daily.
Conscious Discovery of Your Values
Now consider the 377 values listed below...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 3 - Collage Your Appreciation
This art journal directive will support you to lift up" your life energy into a better feeling appreciative state when
you are struggling with heavier emotions.
- 1 magazine - and only one - chosen randomly from a pile
- Art journal
- Scissors and glue stick
Seeing Through Higher Eyes
“Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”
~ Marcus Aurelius
To see through "higher eyes" takes persistence and dedication. We do not even have to create elaborate changes when we intensely appreciate our life as it is now. So much of our
life creation unfolds from simply making each now moment rich with attention and appreciation for what is currently happening.
Life lays itself out at our feet, waiting to be noticed and appreciated. Even negative circumstances can be appreciated for inciting need growth, change and movement. Embracing the present moment intensely through appreciation is a healing process that does not involve having to change your outer life.
Three States of Awareness
There are only three states of being we can choose to express ourselves in "Victim Mode, Flat-lining Mode, or Appreciation Mode" as informed and inspired by spiritual teacher Lynn Grabhorn.
In Victim Mode we actively see old negative emotional patterns repeatedly arising in our current life. When we focus on what is negative, we will feel helpless instead of creatively willing to handle our life.
In the Flat-Lining Mode, we're neither down nor up, we are just accepting the erratic life energy around us. We do not consider that we can actively choose or create anything different than the state that we are in now. This is what most of us unconsciously do most of the time.
Appreciation is not denial. The high energy of appreciation activates our awareness to a healing level where old mental patterns that hold negative emotions in place can release more effortlessly....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 4 - Draw and Collage Your Inner Critic
This art journal exercise will support you to examine how your inner ways of hurting yourself correlates with the unreasonable fear of outer criticism.
- Art journal
- Felt markers and pencil crayons
- Magazines to cut up, glue stick, scissors
The Fear of "Not Good Enough"
We criticize ourselves in ways that we fear others will criticize us, and most often we are defending ourselves unnecessarily.
When we limit our thinking to repetitive self-critical thoughts, our thinking will stay immature and fearful, we leave no room for the growth of love, creativity, and inspiration. And, while we may need to defend ourselves from harsh outer criticism once in a while, when we keep ourselves in a vigilant self-critical state, we harm ourselves with unnecessary stress. When we learn how to soften our defense system, and stop protecting when there is no need to do so, we can relax and heal our inner critic.
Part of eliminating unnecessary inner criticism is examining whether the outer danger you fear is true. Most of what our inner critic is trying to protect us from is hurt, rejection, frustration, and outer criticism. Since we are only in emotional "danger" and not in mortal danger, we can consider the possibility of withstanding any outer attack with inner peace, self-love, and strength of character. It is helpful to imagine your worst fear of being criticized by others and envision yourself handling the situation from your mature, adult strength, using all of the accumulated resources and life experience that you did not have as a child.
Collage and Draw what you Fear...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 5 - Growing Through Problems
This journal directive will support you to find your next positive growth steps by sensing into your body for fresh information.
- A small journal
- A ballpoint pen
"Most traditional methods of working on oneself are mostly pain-centered. People get to repeat over and over their painful emotions without knowing how to use the body's own inherently positive direction and force." - Eugene Gendlin
Understanding Your Problems
If you have trouble identifying the more subtle cues and signs of your uncomfortable problem states, I share psychologist Eugene Gendlin's focusing process below to support you address the "stuck feelings" in your body. This process will help you to sense into the growth step that is trying to emerge from within your current problem.
In your journal write down each of the following headings and jot down your inner inklings underneath each heading.
1.) Clearing a Space
On any given day we are likely to have half a dozen problems that keep us stuck inside. Ask yourself. "What is bugging me? Why don't I feel wonderful right now? How is my life going? What is the main thing for me right now?"
Problems: Stay quiet and let what comes come. Remove your problems out your body and put them in front of you by listing them in your journal. Do not try to list every problem you can think of but only the main problems that have you feeling tense right now. Let all these problems come up and out onto your journal page so you can see them in front of you. Or alternately, use your imagination to place them in front of you. Survey them from a distance with an objective eye.
Background Feeling: There will also be an ever present background feeling that always you carry within your body. Describe this ongoing background feeling in your body. Place your background feeling next to the visual image of problems in front of you.
Stay cheerfully detached from them as much as you can. "Well, except for all of these, I am fine."
All Fine: We all have a deep sense of well-being running at all times, but most often it covered with the static of problems and anxieties. Sense into, or remember how you feel when everything is all fine. Invite a word or phrase or image to come forward to describe this familiar feeling of wellbeing that peeks through your problems at different times. Place this feeling of "all fine" next to your problems and your background feeling.
2.) Choosing a Problem to Work Through
"A problem is a missing of something needed." Ann Weiser Cornell
Art Journal Therapy Activity #6 - Journal Meditation for Increasing Self-Love
This daily journal exercise will support you to love the pain, loneliness, abandonment that you feel in your heart by daily nurturing your own feelings of inner fulfillment. This prompt includes 13 "Good Mother Messages."
When we do not have the feeling tone of self-love within, we endlessly look outside of ourselves for love. Since no human mother can be perfectly unconditionally loving, it is our own responsibility to embed feelings of warmth, nurture, safety and love into our body on a regular basis in order to heal from past fears and emotional traumas.
Jack Lee Rosenberg, psychologist and author of "Body, Self and Soul" delineates of all the inner feeling tones that we need to feel complete self-love through a series of messages that we would receive from a mother who was able to be unconditionally loving. He calls them "Good Mother Messages". Read them over and see which ones you believe in and which messages feel unfamiliar.
As you meditate daily on the unique feeling tone of each Good Mother Message you will likely notice a considerable decline in the need for outside love and approval. Practiced on a daily dedicated basis, this meditation has the potential to soothe the various hurt and split-off inner child parts of self, inviting lost aspects of yourself back into a feeling of safety, wholeness and unconditional love.
Our emotionality can be personified as inner child parts of self. Slowly write out the list below with deeply meditative mind in a small, dedicated journal every morning, or every night before going to sleep. Imagine your higher mind as the mother unconditionally loving your inner child fears and emotionality. Practice regularly soothing yourself as you do this daily healing meditation for yourself.
Try to set a goal of speaking out loud or writing this list everyday for three months so that these messages of unconditional love can become more deeply embedded in your body and mind. If you feel inspired by imagery, collect draw images that amplify your feelings of self-love, care and nurture. Include them in your daily self-love meditation journal.
As you say or write these good mother messages it is often helpful to touch your body in some nurturing way, so that when difficult feelings do come up, you can anchor into your internal "good mother." You might try holding your heart while you meditate on each phrase, or you might stroke your other hand or arm, or touch your face or hair much in the way a good mother would love her own child.
13 Good Mother Messages....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #7 - Collage Your Emotional Set-Point
This art journal directive invites you to reflect upon your current emotional set-point, and using the principles of positive psychology, expand your feelings of well-being.
- Colored papers
- Magazine clippings
- Glue Stick
Our emotional set-point is the habitual background feeling that we carry all through our lives, often without really recognizing that it is there. We all have varying degrees of happiness and self-love that is our "normal." Until we become aware of it, our "normal" is usually similar to the emotional climate that we grew up in.
Take five minutes to close your eyes and go within. Our "normal" is often a hum of anxiety that covers up a predominant feelings of fear, anger, or sadness. Feel into the emotional state that is your unquestioned "normal." What is the ever-present emotional hum that runs under your days?
What colors and images would represent your "normal"? Many years ago, for example, when I made the art journal page illustrated above, I found myself collaging many bright colors around a partial head. My imagination was rich, but my "normal" emotional set-point was a general feeling of being withdrawn from a full engagement with life. I feared being fully honest and expressive.
Creating Your Collage
1. Tune into the background hum of you emotional life. What does it feel like experientially? Put together images and colors that represents the textures and colors of your "normal" emotional set-point.
2. Allow yourself to "not know" as you choose your imagery. Feel your body's emotional state and create a collage using imagery that your "normal" wants to choose.
3. Be careful not to collage what you wish you would feel like. Sense into your habitual emotional state without words or labels and let the images reveal your ever-present "normal" to yourself.
How to Change Your Emotional Set-Point
It is challenging yet possible to upgrade our emotional set point. It begins with noticing how much love and support you let in on a daily basis. Is love peeking out into your life, or is it living through you at full throttle?
Love and well-being is always available but we have to open up to receive it with determination. We will not invite love into our life unless we both ask for it and intensify our efforts to move beyond our regular ways of resisting it....
ARt Journal Therapy Activity # 8 - Dialogue Balloon Collage
This journal exercise will support you to explore your inner cast of characters in a form of visual dialogue.This directive describes 19 different aspects of self that most of us carry inside.
- Pictures of people from magazines
- Paper for dialogue balloons
- Glue stick and scissors
When an submerged energy pattern arises to be integrated it will often conflict with our "primary" social self. It will often show up in our dreams and spontaneous artwork first. Witnessing the energy patterns within ourselves without judging them is a key to inner peace and reconciliation.
This collage journal exercise offers a way to visually see your inner energy patterns in visual form. You may know some parts of yourself and be identified with them and you may not know other parts. This directive provides an opportunity to look at the inner parts of yourself that are struggling against each other, and support you to come to a new levels of integration.
1. Choose 4-6 images of people that have invoke an emotional response and spontaneously glue them in your journal.
2. Make sure that you leave room for comic strip "dialogue balloons."
3. Ask yourself, "Are they family members? Strangers? Friends? Inner children? Inner teens?
4. Create an improvisational dialogue in your mind. What would your characters be saying to each other? Contemplate each person in your collage and intuit what each person is thinking or saying, almost as you would witness characters interacting in a dream. Let the dialogue come to your spontaneously. Use markers to record each person's words in the "dialogue balloons."
Intuitively choose characters that represent different parts of your psyche. We each have many inner children, teen, and adult parts of our psyche that represent where we have our stored our emotions and non-integrated life experiences. Allow your inner voices to spontaneously be chosen and engage together.
19 Different Aspects of Self
Psychologists Hal and Sidra Stone, authors of "Embracing our Selves" share some of the many combinations of inner energies that could be having a voice dialogue. I share my understanding of how the various parts of the inner self could relate to the collage process:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 9 - Heal Your Blocks to Success
This journal directive invites you to explore the hidden parts of your mind to discover your limiting beliefs about achieving success. This exercise will also offers a six step art journal process for releasing negative beliefs.
- Markers and pencil crayons for drawing
To be successful in any area such as work, relationships, abundance, we need to want our goal with all of our heart, free of inner conflict and contrary beliefs. If you are not successful in some area of your life, be it in your love relationships, your creativity, your career, or your family connections, this journal directive will explore why you do not want your success with all of your heart.
When you feel like you are on a treadmill that is getting no results, you can explore your inner conflicts and hidden beliefs to see what is holding you back from happiness, love, and abundance. This journal exercise is designed to give all parts of your mind and heart a voice, and is informed by transpersonal therapist Chuck Spezzano. It involves simply and honestly asking yourself the same question over and over again, to more deeply discover the hidden parts of your mind that do not want success...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 10 - Gestural Pastel
This art journal directive will support you to explore non-objective spontaneous mark making as a path to insight.
- Paper or journal page
- Oil pastels
Mark Making for Insight
Drawing non-objectively can express inner energy and emotions in vivid and surprising ways. Accessing inner wisdom through spontaneous mark making can invite deeper feelings and insights to arise that we do not normally allow through our habitual thought system.
"It wasn't long before I fell in love with the improvisation process, spontaneous expression, and the strange and graceful phenomena when the mind surprises itself."
~ Ruth Zapora
6 Step Method for Gestural Drawing:
1. Settle into Stillness - Take five minutes to quiet your mind. Settle into a wordless place inside.
2. Intuitively Choose Colors - Pick up the color of pastel that you feel most attracted to and make loose marks on your page at your whim....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #11 - Found Poetry Collage
This art journal directive will support you to explore your creative imagination by seeing and playing with imagery and words in fresh ways.
- Vintage thrift store books and discarded library books
- Glue Stick
Choosing Your Imagery
Unusual imagery can spark poetic collages. Imagery and words from books are often much richer than what can be found in magazines.
Buying image rich books for collage making is worth the small investment. I often buy old art and nature books from libraries and thrift shops. I also search new book stores for bargain picture books to cut up.
Five Steps to Choosing Your Poetry and Imagery
1. Put together a quick spontaneous collage using imagery that intrigues you. Explore free form juxtapositions that make no logical sense to spark your poetry.
2. Randomly open a page in a book, soften you eyes, and pick words that stand out. The words that are most important to your unconscious mind might even seem to glow....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 12 - Collage Who You Admire
This journal directive invites you to explore the qualities that you admire and idealize in other people, in order to consider how you could incorporate similar higher possibilities into your daily life.
- Magazines/old books/internet access/printer
- Glue stick
- Art journal
Negative and Positive Projection
“You will be a beautiful person, as long as you see the beauty in others.”
~ Bryant McGill
We personalize our perceptions based on our past experiences. In order to survive in our ego world, and to avoid feeling our emotional pain, our nervous system generalizes our positive and negative beliefs.
We all have unclaimed positive qualities hidden within that are longing to emerge into our life, and they are often revealed through our positive projection onto other people. It is interesting to find an image of someone you admire and deeply contemplate why.
Exploring Positive Projection
This collage exercise is an exploration of positive projection. You may have someone that you admire already in mind. You can search for and print an image off of the internet. Alternately, you can allow yourself to "positively project" onto a more unknown image in a magazine.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 13 - Word Collage
This exercise will help you find visual clues about emotions that are below your normal awareness. This prompt offers three journal explorations for understanding your word collage.
- Pastels or watercolor paint
- Scissors and glue stick
- Old magazines and books
The next layer of our repressed emotional life can be revealed by randomly choosing words and phrases and assembling them into a spontaneous collage.
1. Prepare a free-form colored background for your word collage using pastels or watercolor paint.
2. Open up a magazine and look at it with relaxed eyes. Soften your focus and breathe deeply until certain words stand out for you on the page. Without questioning your choices, cut your words out and glue them onto your background.
3. Allow yourself to choose words that have an emotional charge, either positive or negative. Do not be surprised if your words do not match your current mood. For example, when you feel positive, a more negative message might come up to indicate the next layer of your psyche that is coming up for healing.
Not Knowing Why
Our minds will always reveal the next layer of our unconscious mind that is wanting to be seen, acknowledged, accepted and healed. Spontaneous word collages often reflect the opposite of what we are consciously thinking and feeling. When you might choose positive words, for example, when you are struggling in your daily life. When you feel positive in your daily life your word collage may seem negative, indicating the next layer of repressed emotionality that needs to clear....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 14 - Expressive Still Life Drawing
This art journal directive will support you to draw quickly and instinctively, so that your drawings become more alive, dynamic and expressive. This exercise supports the practice of seeing the essence inside of form.
- Still life - your choice of fruit, vegetables and/or flowers
- Oil pastels
- Art journal page
Each thing is unique - animal, vegetable, or mineral. Each thing is precious, irreplaceable, fragile, mortal. Each thing has a personality - try to find what that distinction is and express it. Not its outward appearance - but its internal meaning." ~ Nancy Doyle
When I was a gallery artist in my twenties it took me at least a month to complete one painting. In my early years I was extremely self-conscious as an artist. I fretted about perfection. Each art piece was rationally thought out, patiently designed, and painstakingly composed.
When I was in my 30's, I started facilitating expressive art groups for seniors and I was able to work with a passionate artist, who long after her death, still inspires me today. In her early 90's, she had dementia, and had long forgotten that she was an accomplished artist and sculptor.
Yet, when I gave my client a box of fresh pastels and an inspiring still life to look at, she would begin to draw quickly and passionately with her whole body arching over the paper. I was in inspired by how she seemed to quickly "digest" the essential nature of her subject matter and move it through her hands onto the paper.
I worked both in group settings and one-to-one with my client. I did the above drawing alongside of her in one of our private art sessions. When I look at my drawing today, I still feel the gestural expression that she inspired in me.
Three Steps to Fast Expressive Drawings
1. I invite you to set a timer for five minutes for this exercise so that you will not get caught up in the details. Before you begin drawing take five minutes to soften your eyes and see the "whole picture" of your still-life. Try to read all of the different elements as one whole piece, as if your subject matter has a unique essence or soul of its own....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 15 - Collage a Mandala
This art journal activity offers a contemplative way to consider what would support you to feel more whole.
- Circle template made from card stock
- Glue stick
- Magazines and books to cut up
“ The mandala signifies the wholeness of the Self. This circular image represents the wholeness of the psychic ground."
~ Carl Jung
Four Step Method for Creating a Collage Mandala:
1. Use a circular object to trace a circle onto your card stock, and cut out your circle.
2. Because mandalas are a contemplation on wholeness, ask yourself a question or set an intention before you make your collaged mandala. A good question to ask before beginning is, "What do I most need in order to feel whole?"
Art Journal Therapy Activity #16 - Intuitive Doodling
This art journal exercise will support you find your unique drawing style in order to allow a release of emotional "pressure" from within.
- Ballpoint pen
- Felt Pens
- Journal Page
I learned how to draw from being bored in school. I would doodle on the margins of my paper.
~ Kevin Nealon
Intuitive drawing offers a way to make the unconscious - conscious. Many of us doodle randomly and aimlessly when we are bored, when on the telephone, in school, or in a meeting - and yet the act of doodling can be done as an intentional self-expression practice everyday. Intuitive doodling only asks only for a simple ballpoint pen and some colored markers. Doodle when you want to visually strengthen your intuitive connection to yourself.
Doodled shapes, pictures, and symbols can often encompass a feeling more completely than words. Doodling can be taken to an eloquent level of personal expression, and is a good symbolic release of bottled up energy when you feel emotions that you cannot put words to.
Three Steps - Intuitive Doodling
1. Put your pen to paper and start making marks and shapes automatically and quickly and without thought....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 17 - Expressive Self-Portrait
This art journal directive will support you to visually understand how you see yourself on the inside, and offers five steps to creating an inner self-portrait.
- Acrylic paint
- Collage papers and magazine clippings
- White glue and sponge brush
- Journal page
It is interesting to create an expressive self-portrait that focuses more on your inner state than your outer appearance. This expressive art journal therapy exercise is helpful when you feel like one stage of your life is ending, and you do not yet know where you are going. You might reflect on the question. "Who am I right now?" Or you might ask, "Who am I becoming?"
Allowing What Is
Allow your expressive self-portrait to be "negative" or "ugly" if it needs to be. We often need to clear what we have hidden or rejected about ourselves first before we can truly celebrate and own our beautiful qualities.
If you feel uncomfortable with what you have created, consider this quote by psychologist Eugene Gendlin, "What is split off, not felt, remains the same. When it is felt, it changes....if there is in you something bad, sick, or unsound, let it inwardly be and breathe. That's the only way it can evolve and change into the form it needs."
Giving Emotional Pain a Face
When a negative emotion is trapped in your body, give it a face and a voice. Allowing it to be seen and heard - helps it to clear. If we do not make strong efforts to see our emotional pain, and listen to what it has to say, it will continue to make its presence known in distorted and destructive ways.
Five Steps to Creating an Inner Self-Portrait....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 18 - Intuitive Watercolor Painting
This intuitive painting exercise will support you to see your emotional patterns in visual form so that you can more easily identify how you feel.
- Watercolor paints, brushes
- Watercolour paper or journal page
“I believe in intuitions and inspirations...I sometimes FEEL that I am right. I do not KNOW that I am.”
~ Albert Einstein
The medium of watercolor is spontaneous by nature, and is well suited for the intuitive painting process. Watercolour behaves in a fresh and translucent way that is more "committed to the moment" than other paint mediums that can be changed or painted over and over again.
Seeing Inner Patterns in Your Paintings
Each day we will always get at least one inkling about how we need to evolve forward in our life but often we ignore it. It is easy to "paint over" the still, small voice of intuition. Watercolor, by the nature of the medium, allows what needs to happen in the intuitive painting process - the first time around.
Looking for connections between your daily life and your intuitive paintings will illustrate how your inner life is supporting you to grow into more integrity. Look for pattens in your art and life. If you are drawn to the color green for example, you might notice the inner urge to grow forward in a particular way.
You might notice conversations that are about gardens or hear a song that gives you a message about how you need to grow. Try painting one intuitive watercolor painting every day for a month and note how the connections between your art and life are confirming how you need to move forward.
Self-Image vs. Intuition - Five Tips for Intuitive Watercolor Painting
Any judgment that you feel while painting will indicate a conflict between a part of your psyche that needs to express itself vs. your preferred self-image. Intuitive water-colour painting requires total self-acceptance as it's transparent nature cannot be painted over.
1. Before you begin to paint....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 19 - Collage Your Stillness
This art journal exercise will support you to self-regulate your emotions by calming your mind and body.
- Scissors and glue stick
- Journal Page
“All artists, whether they know it or not create from a place of inner stillness, a place of no mind.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
"The ego and our higher mind share events, but they accord them different meanings. The ego has a strategy of taking, attacking and building itself up; it wants to be separate. The higher mind wants to heal, give and share; it is always moving us toward greater unity. They have different goals and, thus, they lead us down different paths.
We can follow either guide, but we cannot choose both at the same time. In any situation we get to choose whose guidance we follow, and which path we take. It is the outcome of any situation that reveals whom we listened to. Our ego will bring about separation and ‘righteousness,’ while our higher mind will bring about creativity and dynamic solutions."
What Emotional Needs Arise in Your Stillness?
Expressive Art Activity #20 - Fabric Assemblage
Meditational sewing invites you to attend to small, detailed, spontaneous tasks to "narrow your focus" for inner
- Fabric scraps
- Ribbon, cord, wire and string
- Small ephemera such as feathers, buttons, beads and small objects
- Pinking shears, scissors
- White glue
- Needle and thread
Creating a Fabric Assemblage for Relaxation
In our frenzied modern life, it is rare that we take the time to spend a few quiet hours to sew, and play with color, pattern and texture with no pre-designed end-product in mind. Focusing on a simple, spontaneous fabric assemblage can invite relaxed mental awareness, and the emotional comfort of working with soft, tactile materials.
Deep attention upon the small, simple tasks of arranging intuitive compositions, working with color, juxtaposing textures, playing with interesting objects, and sewing with a needle and thread, intensely focuses awareness on one task at a time.
If you suffer from anxiety, this art activity can be approached as soft, tactile creative meditation to quiet your mind and to condition yourself into feelings of calm. Whenever we intensely concentrate on a small task - such as sewing or beading - our attention intensifies. Worries and uncomfortable emotions quell for the duration of the activity.
6 Tips for Creating a Fabric Assemblage...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 21 - Paint a Tree Spontaneously
This art journal directive offers a familiar starting point to support you to begin the spontaneous painting process.
- Watercolor paper or journal page
- Watercolor, acrylic or tempura paint
- Brushes, water
A Starting Motif
"I want to own a motif so that it flows from my hands effortlessly. That way, it's still spontaneous; I just know where I'm going."
~ Peter Fiore
Painting spontaneously without external references or preconceived notions about how your painting will turn out can be a challenge at first. When I first started facilitating spontaneous painting classes, I was surprised to find that most people found it difficult to access their intuitive imagery.
A blank page can be daunting for most people. Often at the beginning of a class I will offer a starting motif. You could start with a simple shape such as circle, or sense within for a figurative image that wants to be painted. If nothing arises from your imagination, intuitively painting a tree can be a good place to begin
Four Tips for Intuitively Choosing Colors and Shapes....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #22 - Warm Up: Paint Spontaneous Circles
This art journal exercise will support you to loosen up before a spontaneous painting session.
- Watercolor paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper, or journal page
Creativity Overrides Conformity
Most of us were conditioned out of our creativity early when we were taught that if we could not make "good art" as children we should not bother at all. Expressive Art therapist Natalie Rogers shares how creativity overrides the conformity of what we were taught:
"The creative process involves intuition, mystery, delving into the unknown, messing around with ideas, shapes, and colors; being willing to play and experiment. And part of the process is to allow feelings to be expressed through all media: the written word, speech, color, line, form, drama, music. Through this whole process, we find our individuality, self-esteem, and ability to act consciously."
Start Painting with Spontaneous Simple Shapes
The urge to express ourselves underpins our human life from birth to death, yet our creativity can be easily discouraged in childhood. In my experience, many adults that I meet feel reluctant to try creating again, and most will remember the exact point where they shut down their creativity as children.....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 23 - Resolving Fear Through Collage
This collage reflection exercise supports you to look at the beliefs that underpin your fears, and to change your withdrawal patterns into confidence.
- Old magazines and picture books
- Glue stick and scissors
- Card stock or journal page
The Gift of Fear
Psychologist Chuck Spezzano says, "Fear comes about from resisting our own energy. It is an attempt to block the energy that wants to fountain up inside of us and make life thrilling."
Whenever you feel fear notice where you are holding back your energy from fully expressing itself right now. Fear reflects a dread of the future based on what you have not learned from or let go of from the past. When you feel fear you may be scared of a change that you need to make in your life.
We forget when we are caught in habitual fear that we have many more resources than when when we were younger. With adult strength it is possible to "lean into" fear until it dissipates. When lean into fear we usually find an old mistaken belief about the lack of safety in life will pop to the surface of our consciousness for mature understanding.
Once we can face and feel our fear all the way, we will no longer be emotionally arrested in the past because we have found the strength to finally turn towards what we habitually avoid. Fears can be felt fully until they are gone and only good feelings remain.
Fear embeds itself in our nervous system as sweepingly generalizing beliefs. Old over-generalizing fears sound like, "Life is hard. People always hurt me. I never get anywhere." Rationally questioning over-generalizations and finding positive antidote statements that feel encouraging to the the body is one key to releasing fear....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 24 - Spontaneous Painting
This art activity encourages you to find your innate painting style and includes 19 intuitive painting tips.
- Acrylic or tempura paint, brushes
- Heavy paper, stretched canvas, or a journal page
Spontaneous painting is not a technique that you learn with your mind so that the result will be "art" but more of a joyful process of exploration of your inner world through intuitive art making.
Spontaneous painting requires no special talent, skill or inspiration. Because your natural, original style is already within, you are already good enough to begin painting at any point in your life.
Talent Arises Out of Self-Love and Acceptance
Our creativity is available at all times and needs only an invitation to reawaken. "Talent" as an artist comes from taking risks and allowing everything to emerge from under the brush. A willingness to be completely honest is the key to spontaneous painting.
In authentic art we do not pre-plan anything during the art making process. We shut off our thinking mind and paint with our heart. As we learn to embrace whatever needs to be expressed in the moment without judgement, we learn to love ourselves just as we are - without shame or embarrassment.
Two Ways To Create
As a former gallery artist I have both a "cultivated style" and a "natural intuitive style" of creating. I once visited an artist's studio and she also had two distinct styles of painting as as well. Her one style was realistic with a heavy emphasis on trying out new techniques.
She told me that she liked to challenge her mind to stretch in new artistic ways and that she often copied other artist's styles and techniques. "I work very hard on these paintings!" she told me. This is what I would call her cultivated style which mostly involved copying other artists and methods. She painted her cultivated body of work for the end-product.
When I pointed out several of her almost primitive, tribal paintings on the wall, she laughed, "Oh those are easy!" She exclaimed, "I do those just for myself - for relaxation. I have been drawing like that since I was a child."
She told me that her intuitive paintings just poured out of her effortlessly but that she thought they were strange and not very marketable. To me they were beautiful in their vividness, full of risk and adventure. These paintings were the outpouring of her natural, intuitive style. She painted her intuitive body of work for the innate flow and enjoyment of her unique creative process.
19 Spontaneous Painting Tips
My inspiration to begin paint intuitively came from within almost 20 years ago when I went through a period of great grief and loss. I was already secretly painting and drawing in "strange" and intuitive ways that were vastly different than my paintings for gallery sale...
Art journal Therapy Activity # 25 - Paint Abstract Shapes
This journal exercise invites you to explore the emotionality behind abstract shapes.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Ten Quick Abstract Paintings
Sometimes less is more. Simple abstract shapes can express the purity of a singular feeling that might get lost in a more detailed painting. If you are used to adding a great deal of detail into your paintings you might like to experiment with painting ten fast, simple abstract paintings. When you are finished, place your ten abstract paintings down on the floor side-by-side to contemplate your progression of emotional expression.
Looking Without Thinking
Artist Ellsworth Kelly devoted his entire life to exploring the simple relationship between abstract shapes. As a painter, he looks at his external world without thought and conception. As Kelly says, "If you can turn off the mind and look at things with only your eyes, ultimately everything becomes abstract." Consider looking at the world without thought, and simply gazing upon plants, buildings, shadows and reflections without labelling and categorizing.
Practicing Open Vision
When you look at your experience from this kind of open vision...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 26 - Collage Together Past Paintings and Drawings
This art journal activity invites you to collage together fragments of past paintings and drawings to support the integration of who you are today.
- Several old paintings and drawings that you are not quite happy with.
- Glue Stick
~ Art journal
"I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could."
~ Georgia O'Keeffe
Gathering Together What Feels Meaningful From the Past
Usually when we express an inner truth through art-making we get a sense of inner "rightness." When a painting or drawing feels right, there is a feeling of completeness, as if something has become clear and honest inside....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 27 - Fine Art Collage
This art journal exercise invites you to explore fine art imagery to deepen your emotional experience of
- Fine art magazines
- Card stock or journal page
"All my life, my heart has yearned for a thing I cannot name."
~ Andre Breton
Surrealism - the juxtaposition of unlikely symbols to convey unknown feelings can capture the unknown edges of what we do not know about ourselves akin to a waking dream. Fine art magazines provide emotionally stimulating imagery for surrealist collages.
Art magazines offer a rich resource of soulful and surprising subject matter for surrealist collage. Fine art imagery inherently invites us to stretch the limits of our imagination, and provides colourful, evocative, and sometimes discomforting imagery to express the depth of our inner life.
How to Make a Fine Art Re-Assemblage:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 28 - Draw Your Spiritual Essence
This expressive art journal activity invites you to meditate into and draw how your soul needs to develop.
- Ballpoint pen or waterproof fine marker
- Watercolor paint
- Art journal
What Does your Unique Spiritual Strength Feel Like?
“Bring your Essence Self into your present expression. Aliveness is derived from essence."
~ Ariel Spilsbury & Michael Bryner
It is easy to forget who we are in our spiritual essence, and to be out of touch with who we came to develop in our lifetime. We are born into a world where people live primarily from their limited egos, and only develop the aspects of self needed to survive practically. For this reason, many of us shut down our spiritual essence early, in order to fit into our family of origin, and to belong to the society and culture that we live in.
Discovering how our soul feels called to develop can be something that we habitually avoid looking at because it often differentiates us from our loved ones. We can all too easily default to what "works" with our family and social groups. Yet, when we do not develop our soul, we can drown in the well-practiced emotions of limitation, lack, emotional need and loneliness. When we are cut off from our spiritual essence, our emotional and psychological problems loom large.
When we meditate on what our spiritual essence feels like, we can practice making our soul qualities larger than our problems. We heal by bringing our spiritual self into our human existence. This drawing exercise invites you to meditate on how you are meant to develop your soul in the world. After sitting for a few moments with the feeling-tone of your soul, loosely sketch a free-form intuitive drawing to express what your soul essence feels like in color, line and shape...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 29 - Meditate on Color
This art journal exercise invites you to explore a spontaneous, emotional response to color, and it offers 11 steps to developing a personal relationship with color.
- Watercolor paint
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Exploring Spontaneous Color Choices
"Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions."
~ Pablo Picasso
Emotionally sensing what colors you are drawn to is the first step towards creating a spontaneous painting. Intuitively choosing colors is an emotional releasing exercise in itself. This simple structured exercise supports you to explore which colors emotionally call to you, and encourages the process of intuitive color choice-making.
This meditation is the simple practice of sensing into what color you want to use next, and where you will place it on a grid. Draw a simple line grid with pencil on your watercolor paper or art journal page, and prepare to take time to meditate on and feel each color choice. You might want to put on relaxing music and light a candle as you paint.
11 Steps to Developing a Personal Relationship with Color
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 30 - Collage Cards for Self-Discovery
This expressive art exercise invites you to create visual representations of different parts of yourself so that you can better understand your inner landscape.
- Old magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- Matte board/cardboard cut to size for your cards such as 5x7 inches or 6x6 inches if you prefer working in a square format
- Photocopies of your collage cards so that you can write and reflect upon them in your art journal.
Mapping Out Your Inner World
We each have a treasure trove of sub-personalities that live below our conscious awareness. Each personality part has its own goals and dreams for our happiness. This often sets up inner conflicts within. We can preoccupy much of our life with inner struggles between opposing parts of self, not really understanding why we want something and then sabotage having it.
Our various parts of self can drive us crazy in their disparity. As we collage all of the various parts of self, we will find many polarities in our thinking that need to be sorted out and reconciled. To sort our our inner conflicts is helpful to map out our inner world into "parts," so that we can start to recognize what aspects of our psyche are dominating our awareness at any given moment.
Recognizing our different parts of self is exciting work because it helps our incongruities to make rational sense. It can even be fun to find our destructive parts of self because it dissipates their power. It is helpful to understand that even our "negative" parts of self are trying to get us to happiness, even if their methods are misaligned. Seeing our inner conflicts in visual form can be an enlightening way to reconcile, direct, and integrate our different drives, fears, needs, and desires.
The Ease of Spontaneous Collage
Making spontaneous collage cards can help you to map out your subconscious belief patterns so that you can work with them in a constructive way. Seena B. Frost who is the originator of the method called "Soul Collage" has written two informative books on the process of intuitive collage that divides the cards into structured suits if your prefer specific instructions.
For myself, I was not drawn to create suits when I made my own deck of cards. I simply felt called to sit down, when I noticed an emotional pattern dominating my psychology, and make a spontaneous collage card with imagery that felt strong in the moment.
Mind Mapping with Collage....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #31 - Spontaneous Watercolor Drops
This simple art exercise will support you to let go of control in your painting process. This painting warm-up
exercise is a good way invite a feeling of flow to open up creative blocks.
Watercolor paper, or art journal page
Watercolor paint and brushes
Water spray bottle or an eye dropper
"Because watercolor actually moves on the paper, it is the most active of all mediums, almost a performance art."
~ Nita Engle
Watercolor paint is a free flowing medium that is fun to splash around in. Painting free-form watercolor drops will support you in the art of allowing anything to happen in your creative practice.
For this spontaneous painting process, the watercolor medium does all of the work. This painting warm-up exercise is a good way to invite a feeling of flow, and open up creative blocks.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 32 - Freeform Watercolor
This art exercise will support you to play and surrender to how color wants to flow for you.
- Watercolor paper soaked for 5 minutes in a tray of water, or a journal page sprayed with water.
- Watercolor paint
The Wordless Feeling of Color
Color is prior to the birth of imagery. Our minds cannot really think about color. We can only feel color. In color we can steep in the mystery of our feelings. And, in spontaneous creativity, as in feeling, we must learn to surrender control.
Each painting, each feeling has a life of its own. Painting wet on wet gives birth to the spontaneous flow of color and can visually express your emotional movements. To reflect on inner movements of feeling, wet your watercolor paper, and let your paint diffuse in the way it wants to.
Feeling and Painting
Often we try too hard in our life. So, to "not try" invites fresh new movements within our being. Practicing surrender in one or more freeform watercolor paintings is a good way to process unknown feelings. When we become present to what we are feeling, we can begin moving in color. We can allow each successive painting to move as it needs to move until we feel complete.
Painting the Beginning, Middle and End....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 33 - Mandala Coloring Therapy
This coloring exercise will support you to relax, and will show you how you can intentionally color in order to quiet your emotions or expand your horizons.
- Pencil Crayons
- Mandala coloring book page
Calming Emotional Distress
Coloring pre-drawn mandala patterns can be surprisingly soothing especially during times of emotional distress. Psychotherapist Rudiger Dahlke, the "father" of the the mandala coloring epidemic, found that creating within a predetermined framework promoted a sense of peace and inner order.
As children we often color before we begin to draw. Coloring within a "perfect, rotating geometric figure" is a way to induct emotional and mental harmony. Concentrated focus on geometric patterns can bring the mind into a state of peaceful order.
Mandalas as a Pattern of Creation
Coloring within established structures is similiar to being creative within the limits and structures of everyday human life. Dahlke says, "Working with coloring books is equally as important for children and for adults. When small and big children practice adhering to predetermined structures, they symbolically learn to show humility towards creation. We can easily see that people who show humility towards creation accept the greater framework of their lives."
Human life requires living creatively within rules. To be creative within the structures and limits of human life is to live with possibility. We all live within the sometimes confining structures of work, family, and practical responsibilities. Being "spontaneous within structure" brings vitality into the daily rules of human life.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 34 - Exploring Difficult Emotions Through Intuitive Painting
This art journal prompt offers ten tips to support you to symbolically express
- Tempura paint
~ Journal page
- Brushes, water
Exploring Emotional Pain
"Sometimes you will go through deep experiences that bring up intense pain inside of you. If it is in there, it is going to come up. If you have any wisdom, you will leave it alone and not try to change your life to avoid it.
You will just relax and give it the space to burn through you. You do not want this stuff inside your heart. To feel love and freedom, to find the presence of God within you, all of this stored pain must go. It is in this inner work that spirituality becomes a reality. Spiritual growth exists in that moment when you are consciously willing to pay the price of freedom. You must be willing at all times, in all circumstances, to remain conscious in the face of pain and work with your heart by relaxing and remaining open." ~ Michael Singer
When we feel emotional pain we generally want to do everything we can to avoid, change or distract away from our discomfort. It often does not occur to us that we can create, learn, and grow, and even delve right into the center of our most challenging emotions.
Our emotional discomforts drive all of our addictive behaviors. At times of intense emotional pain it can seem easier turn to our favorite ways of numbing or sedating our emotional pain, whether it be through overeating, grabbing a glass of wine, spending money, or any other favorite distracting or destructive behaviors
Yet, when we ignore what we feel, we tend to "wear" our repressed emotions in our body. Wherever you feel tight, sore, or cannot take a deep breath into any part of your body, you will likely find something painful that is longing to be expressed. Turning and facing difficult emotions through intuitive painting can provide a healthy release....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 35 - Visual Journaling
This art journal exercise will support you to express your feelings through simple lines, symbols and colors.
- Assorted colored markers, oil and/or chalk pastels.
- Journal page
The simplest of imagery can express the inner workings of the psyche and soul. We can all make signs, symbols, and marks on paper that express our inner feeling states. In fact with visual journaling - the simpler the better.
Pioneered by Barbara Ganim and Susan Fox, this visual journaling process is a wonderful and simple form of self-expression for people who do not feel like they can draw.
The Conflict Between Thinking and Feeling
The fundamental cause of all stress is the conflict between thinking and feeling. Whenever we feel anxiety or stress, we can be sure that we are thinking one thing and feeling something else.
Our thinking mind is more concerned about who we "should" be - based on our early family training and cultural conditioning. Our feelings express who we authentically are. This conflict between thoughts and feelings creates anxiety.
When our mind has other plans and goals that are not in alignment with our feeling/intuitive nature, we can feel anxious, irritated, conflicted, and tired.
Intuition is Symbolic
What we think we feel is not always what we really feel. Our words interpret our feelings - they rarely fully express them. We commonly try to fit every feeling into our belief system. Our mind wants to hold on tight to the familiar belief systems that we decided upon in childhood.
Imagery expresses the intuitive, feeling, right side of our brain. If we can express imagery before the mind identifies, labels, judges and represses it, we will be able find more insightful words for how we feel afterwards.
Recognizing Emotions Provides Relief
Recognizing an emotion is all that is required to feel relief from anxiety. Feelings do not even have to be changed or resolved. They just need to be seen and acknowledged for what they truthfully are....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 36 - Active Imagination Journaling
This written journal prompt will support you to meet your inner imaginal figures and find out what their emotional needs are. This process "invites the creatures of the unconscious to come up to the surface and make contact with us."
- Journal page and pen
Active Imagination as psychologist Robert Johnson explains is "to invite the creatures of the unconscious to come up to the surface and make contact with us." As we make contact with the characters in our unconscious mind through our imagination, we can journal and dialogue with what wants to make itself known to our conscious awareness.
Waiting for an Image
Our spontaneous imagination happens when we sleep and dream at night, but it is possible to access our dream imagery during our daily journaling process while we are awake. Usually, if we wait in stillness long enough, an inner image will want to come forward and speak to us.
With regular active imagination journaling, we can set up a dialogue between our conscious mind, and our more submerged and rejected unconscious aspects of self. This symbolic arising of imagery can be considered a visual representation of our unconscious mind coming up into our awareness to communicate with our everyday consciousness.
The Four Steps of Active Imagination
1. Inviting our unconscious mind to speak.
2. Dialoguing with our unconscious mind.
3. Expressing higher values to resolve inner conflict.
4. Making our new insights concrete and active in everyday life.
Inviting Our Unconscious Mind to Speak...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 37 - Draw and Journal Your Anger
This art and writing journal prompt will support you to process anger on a very deep level by owning it, expressing it honestly, processing it through your body, disassembling your story, and turning your hardships into a gift.
- Felt pens
- Journal page
Draw Your Anger
Anger holds tremendous energy. The aim of processing anger is not to get rid of anger, but to get stagnant and depressed energy moving again.
When we feel anger, we can be sure that a change needs to happen. Anger that is safely expressed and mobilized can invoke the passion and power to grow. In order to process anger it is helpful to begin by expressing the energy of anger physically in a drawing, a painting, in a dance, or through your voice.
Keeping a Dedicated Anger Processing Journal
Instead of letting anger eat away at you, you can express your anger by vigorously scribbling and swearing in your journal or by drawing a vivid portrait of your anger. If you are going through a challenging time or have a great deal of anger to process, it is helpful to start a journal that is entirely dedicated to expressing and releasing your anger. Our anger is not all of who we are, but we can practice allowing our anger to move out of suppression into change. We can create change by keeping an anger processing journal.
Telling Your Anger Story Fully
Write out your "anger story." Without censure, write about how you have been wronged in vivid and furious detail. At this stage of the anger release process it is important to express how you feel victimized. Feel free to write about how you despise certain parts of your life. Who irritates and angers you and why? Who has hurt you terribly? You also may be angry at yourself and will need to fully express your upset about your own actions or inactions in the past.
It is important not to get stuck in resentment, but to get your anger story out of your body and onto your journal page so that you can begin to witness your anger-thinking process. You should feel released when you tell yourself your anger story for the first few times. If your story starts to repeat itself inordinately, you may be stuck at the level of resentment because you are afraid to feel deeper feelings that underpin anger - grief, loss, and/or the heartbreak of self-betrayal...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 38 - Color Body Mapping
This art journal prompt will support you to offer kind attention to where you feel sore in your body, and to heal the split between your thinking and feeling nature.
- Watercolor, tempura, or acrylic paint, or colored pencils and markers
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Bodily Truth vs. Outward Appearances
Our bodies symptomatically mirror what we are thinking about. And, most of us think way more than we feel. To become exquisitely aware of our body is to become aware of our intuitive nature. Yet, we most often ignore our bodies until they hurt.
Most of us spend most of our lives with our attention directed towards the outer world and away from our bodily feelings. But, as much as we try to ignore all that is uncomfortable deep down inside, our body faithfully and accurately records and express all of our thoughts somatically.
The Pain of Extrinsic Motivation
Our bodies begin to hurt when we make the "outside" more important than our "inside." What percentage of your attention is focused inward towards how you feel in your body on a daily basis? What percentage of your attention is directed outside of yourself towards what other people think?
When we live mainly in the world of appearances - in the outer ego world - we put on a "social mask" to navigate our life's practicalities. We then lose touch with our intuition, our breath, and the authentic present-moment feelings that exist within our body.
We think we are our thoughts, but our body does not think. It knows who we really are. The discrepancy between the thoughts that fuel our social mask, and the feelings that express our authentic truth creates pain, soreness, extra weight, and illness in our body.
Our body does not lie. Our body is incapable of being inauthentic. When we think one thing, and feel another, the body will communicate somatically through uncomfortable symptoms.
How to Color Map Your Body....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 39 - Body Stories with Collage
This art journal prompt will support you to dialogue with the parts of your body that you like and the parts of your body that you dislike, with the aim of unconditional self-love.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint
- Colored markers
- Magazines and books
- Scissors and glue stick
- Journal page
Our bodies are a living metaphor of what we feel and think on subconscious and unconscious levels. Whatever we are unwilling to acknowledge within will be held in the "story" of our body.
Our bodies hold many stories, dreams, memories and purposes. Using collage to tell the story of our body, either in part or in whole, reveals what is hidden from our everyday mind.
Our body is our most reliable and truthful source of information. We can choose to see our body stories by focusing on the individual body parts that need attention. Alternatively, we can do a collage "body scan" of our entire body to see what areas of our body want to speak first.
We all have parts of our body that we love, and parts of our body that we dislike, ignore, and even hate. A simple way to look at what you celebrate and what you denigrate about your body can be contemplated in two collages. We can enter each collage through the breath. The breath faithfully connects us to our body sensations and allows us to choose accurate imagery to reflect what our body is holding.
What Do You Love About Your Body?
Wherever we feel loose, free, accomplished and alive is where we celebrate ourselves, and allow the life force to live through our body. It is encouraging to do a "body love" collage first to celebrate that there is hope for total self-love and aliveness. Most of us have some part of our body that we nurture and use well on a regular basis.
You may not cognitively know what part of your body that you love the most. Perhaps it works so well, you do not even notice it. Allow yourself to rest in your breathing and listen to your sensations. What body part would like to speak to you, and thank-you for something that you do?
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 40 - Painting with Music
This journal exercise aims to give a passionate boost to your creative process and uplift your mood.
- Watercolor or acrylic paint, brushes
- Watercolor paper or journal page
Inciting Creative Passion
We all need a passionate boost in our creative process once in a while. Creative writer Julia Cameron makes the point, "When I am afraid of my own creativity (which may be to say I am afraid of my own passion), I turn to passion and creativity of others whose hearts have burst into music and I let them light the way for me."
Moving from mundane states of consciousness such as dissipation, boredom and negativity into inspiration and creative expansion sometimes requires music. One way to intensify and shift surface attention into a more expanded state is to paint spontaneously to music.
Seeing Music as Color
The link between visual and musical expression was explored in depth by abstract artist Wassily Kandinsky who spiritually connected musical notes with specific colors. Kandinsky was a synaesthete.
He could actually spiritually see sounds as colors. Kandinsky loved classical music. He would play music and paint how it made him feel. He painted what the notes looked like in colors, and how musical compositions in appeared visually in lines and shapes.
How to Paint to Music...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 41 - Self-Reflective Writing
This journal prompt will support you to understand the deeper patterns and meanings of your thoughts. It includes the three rules of reflective writing and four final questions to reflect upon.
- Pen and journal
- Meditative music
Expressing vs. Understanding
When we self-express without deeper reflection, we release our emotional accumulations without understanding them. Free-form automatic writing, as in the Artist's Way morning pages support an emotional release or a "brain drain" but unless we examine the deeper meaning of our thoughts and feelings, we will continue to repeat the same patterns of self-expression without knowing why.
If we really listened to what we think about in a day, a month, a year, we would discover that our seemingly random thoughts cyclically communicate our challenging and inspiring life themes. Our written thoughts reflect our emotional patterns, and the repetitive struggles of our life perfectly.
To understand the way our thinking operates more profoundly, we can set aside time each day to quietly and curiously listen to our mind unfold. To do this requires a set amount of time, a private place, and some simple quieting rituals that will provide an inviting space to listen to, write down, and reflect upon our thinking process.
Awareness of Your Thinking
Our unaware thinking triggers our emotional reactions. If you have ever had the experience of becoming emotionally flooded, seemingly out of nowhere, it is helpful to remember back to what you were thinking about before you became overwhelmed. Meditatively writing and reflecting upon your thinking process helps to catch the "roots" of your belief systems before they turn into full-fledged emotional reactions.
We often miss out on understanding our reactions to our outer life as they are being revealed to us. We usually do not listen very deeply to how we think. The aim of meditative writing is to hold your thoughts still long enough to reflect on them as you write them down.
An insightful book on meditative writing called "Writing the Mind Alive" by Linda Trichter Metcalf and Tobin Simon offers up a detailed structure for a meditative writing practice. I will simplify and share how I have personally practiced this method for you below.
Setting Up Your Meditative Writing Space
1. Set up a prayerful space with a candle, your journal, and 25 minutes of meditative music, with the intention that you will be delving into the deeper meanings of your thoughts. This differs from traditional meditation where you would dismiss your thoughts as distractions.
2. Write for 25 minutes at least 5 times a week in order to deepen into knowing yourself more profoundly through this reflective writing process. Light the candle before you start, and blow it out after your finish. Write on unlined paper in case your words want to change size. Do not write beyond the 25 minutes, as inner focus is strongest during this time frame.
The Three Rules of Reflective Writing....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #42 - Scribble Drawing
This art journal prompt will support you to loosen up and draw spontaneously. It will also help you to see your unconscious thought processes in your scribbles.
- Black or multicolored markers
- Watercolor paint
- Journal page
Spontaneous Art as a Route to the Unconscious Mind
Scribble drawing is a tried and true art therapy exercise that works well as a visual starter or warm up for spontaneous drawing or painting. Scribble drawing was developed by art educator Florence Cane. Her sister, art therapist Margaret Naumburg started a progressive school for children in 1914 that encouraged spontaneous creative expression and self-motivated learning. Naumburg was a visionary in children's education in her time. She was influenced by Jungian psychology, parapsychology, and surrealistic and primitive art.
In 1930 Naumburg left progressive education and began to devote her life to the development of art therapy. Having undergone Jungian therapy herself, she felt that art therapy was a more effective route to the unconscious than verbal therapy. Her sister Florence Cane, a teacher at her school, was a pioneer in facilitating art for children that emphasized the expression of feelings, and she searched for ways to stimulate the creative process. One creative method she developed was the scribble drawing.
Spontaneous Drawing and Spiritual Essence
Cane used drawing and painting to help people find their essence. She was influenced by the metaphysical teacher George Gurdjieff, who coined the world “essence” as a term for the intrinsic, unchanging authentic soul within each person.
She felt that spontaneous art could take people beyond their “driven” compensatory behaviors. Both sister’s worked with the intuitive, creative and nonverbal process of accessing the unconscious through intuitive art - all throughout their lives. Their discoveries underpin the current practices of art therapy today.
7 Steps to Create a Scribble Drawing
1. With your choice of black or colored pen, create a quick and spontaneous scribble, or as Cane put it, "a kind of play with flowing, continuous line” on your page - with your eyes open or closed.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 43 - Healing Grief Through Art and Journaling
This art and written journal process will support your to heal your grief through "dual consciousness." This process will teach you how to "unblend" from your grief and witness it from your authentic strength. This prompt offers 8 ways to express and release your pain.
- Pen and paper or journal page
- Colored pencils, markers, and watercolor paint
At some point in our growing up years, we experience our first loss of love and belonging, and in our grief we shut down emotionally. When we store away our grief, we arrest ourselves at the age when our feelings become too overwhelming to process.
Grief is often difficult to heal because it holds a complex set of "younger" belief systems that continue to compound and gather speed throughout our lives with each subsequent loss and heartbreak. Grief also holds broken dreams of what we wish our past could have been, that continue to exacerbate and gather evidence as we age.
As we continue to verify and affirm our childhood and teenage belief systems surrounding unprocessed grief, we see through the eyes of sadness and hopelessness, and will perpetuate the feeling that we have lost something essential about ourselves that cannot be recovered.
When we chronically repress grief, we will feel like there is a missing piece in our lives. We will feel less alive. When we believe that this "hole" of loss is a permanent part of our psyche, we solidify the original places of loss where we believed that we could not be loved, and we can sink into depression.
Stored Grief Runs Our Life
Consider your grief from this perspective by Michael Singer:
"What happens to that experience that didn't make it through? What you don't realize is that that your entire experience of life is about to change because of what didn't make it through you. Life must now compete with this blocked event for your attention, and the impression does not just sit there quietly. You will see that your tendency is to think about it constantly.
"This is all an attempt to process it through your mind. All of that inner noise is an attempt to process the blocked energy and get it out of the way. Long term, the energy patterns that cannot make it through you are pushed out to the forefront of the mind and held until you are prepared to release them.
These energy patterns hold a tremendous detail about the events associated with them. As you willfully struggle to keep these events from passing through your consciousness, the energy first tries to release by manifesting through the mind. This is why the mind becomes so active."
When the energy cannot make it through the mind because of conflicts with other thoughts and mental concepts, it then tries to release through the heart. When you resist even that release, the energy gets packed up and forced into deep storage within the heart. In the yogic tradition, that unfinished energy pattern is called a Samskara. It's an unfinished energy pattern that ends up running your life."
Clearing Unfinished Grief
We can develop elaborate compensatory behavior patterns to avoid feeling our raw, deep-seated grief. When we have unfinished grief taking up the seat of our consciousness it can run our entire life. Unhealed grief is a major cause of depression. Psychologist Jay Early describes how a hurting part of ourselves can run our life - additions in brackets - specifically about grief are my own:
"We each have a place in our psyche that determines our identity, choices, feelings, and perceptions. This seat can be occupied by the Self (the authentic self) or by a part (run by unfinished grief). Whoever resided in the seat of consciousness at any given moment is in charge of our psyche at that time. Whether it is a part or the Self, the occupant of the seat determines how we feel, what our intentions are, how we perceive other people, how we relate to them, and what our choices and actions will be."
We cannot heal grief when we are inside of the emotional patterning of the child, teen, or younger adult that experienced loss. Mature witnessing presence is necessary to clear old grief patterns. When our unfinished grief is in the primary seat, and is running our consciousness, we see through the eyes of the age that we were when we stopped up our emotional release of sadness.
Witnessing Old Grief
Most of us see ourselves as one united personality, but in truth we are often blended with "energy patterns" that create separate "personality parts" that each have their own feelings, beliefs, plans and goals. Underneath old unprocessed grief is a "aspect" of self that will not be able to change until our mature presence is strong enough to witness it. Usually, we wholly become and think we are our grief, sadness, anger, and depression.
Accumulated grief can be powerfully strong and it has a way of entirely occupying the entire seat of our consciousness. However, it is possible to "unblend" with the parts of ourselves that grieve, and allow the energy patterns of our grief to move all the way though us, and finish for good. It is possible to both feel the raw aching of loss, and witness our younger grieving parts with the compassion of our True Self - at the same time.
Blending and Seeing Through the Eyes of Grief
Because accumulated grief is so all encompassing we tend to immerse our entire being inside of it. According to Jay Earley, author of "Self Therapy," we can know when we are blended with a personality part that is grieving:
1.) We are flooded with the part's emotions to such a degree that we are not grounded. We become lost in our feelings of grief.
2.) We get so caught up in the hopeless beliefs of the part, we lose perspective on our lives. We see our life through the distorted perceptions of the grieving part of self that lives in the past. We see the wounded perspective of past grief as the truth.
3.) We do not feel enough of our Authentic Self. We are ungrounded/uncentered and we have no access to the witnessing part of our consciousness....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 44 - Map of Consciousness Collage
This collage exercise will support you to discover your inner relationships, and identify the different parts of your psyche that are in conflict.
- Collage papers, old magazines
- Pastels, markers
- Journal page or card stock
Symbolizing Your Current State of Mind
Most of us experience inner conflict as a feeling of unnameable free-floating anxiety. In a single day, we can feel conflicted in our consciousness in several different ways, and not even realize that it is the root of our anxiety.
Because different hurting aspects of ourselves can take the leading seat in our consciousness throughout the day, it is helpful to explore our sub-personality dynamics by mapping them out visually with spontaneous collage and drawing.
Inner Conflict Resolution
Sorting ourselves out on the inside can be a confusing task at first. Inner conflict arises initially as anxiety, and often, without the aid of visual imagery, it can be difficult to identify what our inner struggles are about.
The Social Mask: Our primary personality/survival self sits out front of our consciousness. Our compensating mask hides all that is repressed and disowned in our psyche. Our survival self works hard to create the image that we believe we must present to world in order to feel safe, loved and accepted. Our outer referenced survival mask is often the main personality self that we can live the majority of our life from. And, when we do not know any better, we can mistakenly think that our compensating and defended mask is our True Self.
Guard/Protector/Inner Critic: Underneath our primary survival personality self is a guard, or several guards, that protect us from all of the hurt that remains undigested from our past. Our protective guards can often be harsh, critical or angry. They will often caution us away from any area of life where we could fail, be embarrassed or be hurt as we were in the past. The protector suppresses our hurt and traumatized selves.
Hurt and Traumatized Selves: Most of us have traumatized/hurt parts of self that have remained suppressed, exiled away, and remained stuck at the various ages where we lost our sense of love and belonging...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 45 - Healing Traumatic Memories with Embodied Writing
This journal process offers eight in-depth embodied writing techniques that will support you to gently process and release emotional pain and unhelpful beliefs. This prompt includes 8 methods for embodied writing.
- Journal and a pen
The Guardian of Difficult Memories
In the interest of continuing to function in our daily lives, our protective parts of self will likely be cognitively weary of revisiting painful memories, yet in truth we may have never truly felt or released the painful emotions embedded within our body.
What we remember from the past - especially if the memory is re-occurring - indicates a place we have not emotionally healed from yet. We can relive past traumas over and over in our mind intellectually, yet the past will not heal unless we are willing to face, and be lovingly present for the original stored emotions in our body.
We all have one or more inner "guards" that protect us from emotionally charged memories - which may include memories laden with fear, loneliness, overwhelm, powerlessness, lack of hope and perspective, fury, shame, disgust, or guilt.
It is common to mentally process past traumas in a detached, intellectual way. This can trick us into thinking that we fully understand what happened in the past. From our mind, we think we should have moved on by now. Yet, our body biologically remembers everything that has ever happened to us, and its emotions may seem irrational.
As we mature into our capacity to become more strongly present and unconditionally self-loving, we can tenderly ask the inner guardians of our past memories to allow our body recollections to arise. Emotions that we were too fragile to process in the past, can be met with increased maturity of presence when the timing is right, and when we have a safe space to do so.
We can record our embodied memories in written journal form with the intention of connecting our body's stories from the past. Each embodied emotion courageously felt and withstood without dissociating, distracting, or numbing - increases presence and builds psychological strength, self-respect and self-love.
Untangling Emotional Pain
When we are psychologically strong enough to feel stored emotional pain we can unravel it right down to its roots. From our higher witnessing mind, we ask the protective parts of ourselves that have kept our difficult emotions hidden away to allow whatever needs to be loved to come up to the surface.
With exquisitely deep and loving attention on the body, emotional pain can be untangled with gentle and poignant self-care. By allowing ourselves to revisit past shame, hurt, loss, or abuse through embodied, descriptive writing, we can emotionally connect, as a witnessing adult, to what was once too painful to feel and understand when we were younger.
After the emotional connection to the past is sustained, digested and integrated, we can reexamine the validity of the perceptions that we formed about life in the midst of difficult and traumatic experiences, and claim previously numbed resources inherent within extreme circumstances.
The key to emotional healing is to avoid becoming cognitively trapped in our past negative stories as if they are the entire truth. Memories may seem true for the age that we were when we experienced our hardships, but as adults we have the power to re-percieve what happened through our objective, reasoning mind.
Our protective/survival selves are not all of who we are but when we are compensating for unintegrated painful experiences, our protective self has a full-time exhausting job to do. Protective strategies are explained by psychotherapist Franz Rupert. I encapsulate them for you here:
Avoidance: The protective self will go to great lengths to create emotional safely zones to the point of making life our very small and narrow. One's entire life can become a series of avoidance strategies to avoid people and situations that could trigger emotional memories.
Control: The protective self will impose inner control on the strict avoidance of feelings. Our protector will also impose outer control, manipulating and censoring people about what they can and cannot say. This most often keeps interactions on the surface. Non-threatening topics avoid deep intimacy in relationships.
Compensation: Because avoidance and control makes life feel arduous - and lacking in connection - emotional substitutes for warmth, intimacy, and happiness must be found. Overeating, drugs, alcohol, overwork and unhealthy sexual relationships can be used to try to fulfill an intimate connection that is missing inside of the self.
Illusions: Making up fantasies about a better life in the future is a survival aid when there is a lack of connection to the present moment. Not to be confused with healthy optimism, idealizing life creates a sense of false hope that is destined to crumble and disappoint.
Further Splitting: If the above strategies no longer work, it is possible that the protective self, can split further and determinedly push the emotional truth further into the unconscious mind. While there is a surface relief - for a while - the protective survival self loses further contact with authentic reality, as well as warm intimate contact with life and other people.
Emotionally Connecting to Memory
As we become determined and willing to intimately feel our way through stored body emotions, we come to see how we keep our past traumas locked in place through body armoring, illness, protective behaviors, and mistaken belief systems.
After we sustain presence towards our disowned body feelings, our lives will begin to change. When we risk painful intimacy with ourselves, our lives will open up to more freely and deeply connect with other people. We will start to feel better emotionally, physically, and mentally, and our excessive thinking will quiet down.
Once we revisit original emotions poignantly and completely, we can discontinue living our lives as an elaborate compensating defense system. We will no longer need our defensive structures, and all of the elaborated effort it takes to maintain them.
Allowing Difficult Memories
As children we were poignantly sensitive to our surroundings, and tended to take disproportionate responsibility for what went wrong in our family. When our writing comes from a child part of self that is stuck in the past, our writing voice may sometimes appear immature and irrational...
Art Journal Therapy Activity #46 - Portal into Possibility with Collage
This art journal directive will support you to open up the frame of your limited thinking and creatively vision into your higher possibilities, and to ask
"the big questions."
- Watercolor paints
- Collage materials: magazines, scissors, glue stick
- Watercolor paper or journal page
"Each person comes into this world with a specific destiny. We each have something to fulfill, some message to be delivered, some work to be completed.
You are not here accidentally. You are here meaningfully. There is a purpose behind you. The whole intends to do something through you."
Making Room for Higher Possibilities
When we struggle with emotional flooding, and the jumbled up thinking that results from inner conflict, we cannot see beyond our personal life to understand what we want to give to life. The emerging symbols and signs for our higher potentials are around us all of the time yet we disassociate from seeing them clearly when we are in emotional pain.
As we heal ourselves emotionally and psychologically, we become clear enough to intuit and connect to the realm of larger possibilities, and we can begin to consider creating new life-enhancing forms in the world.
Inherent in our traumas, heartbreaks, and challenging life circumstances are the strengths that we need to develop in order to birth our specific gifts into the world. As old traumas are courageously digested and released, and our life lessons are learned, we will discover that we have built the needed strength to offer our unique spiritual and creative gifts to life.
Creating a Portal
Creating a collage of possibilities is especially encouraging if you have been doing a great deal of heavy emotional inner work. Creating a portal into possibility is akin to seeing a crack in the door, and peeking into what is beyond the emotional and psychological conflicts that we struggle with.....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 47 - Transforming Your Inner Brat
This inner child art journal exercise looks more deeply at the emotionally hurting part of your psyche that seeks to take from life instead of contribute.
- Crayons or pastels
- Paper or journal page
Creating Separately from Others
When we are non-integrated within, we operate from different part of our psyche. Our "inner brat" is the part of our mind that compensates for unmet emotional needs by taking. From our "inner brat" we consume life from a state of emotional neediness. We try to feel good in ways that do not contribute to the whole.
Driven by emotional lack, our inner brat creates separately from the whole - to the point of extreme selfishness. Taken too far, the inner brat can choose to descend into the extreme self-focus on personal happiness to the detriment of other people.
Our inner brat can be exceedingly creative but in a narcissistic way - to the point of creating beyond what is needed or necessary. When we create a life that suits us alone, to the detriment of those we love, care for and work with, we create dissonance in relationship to the larger creativity that wants to evolve.
As our false entitlement continues through our life, we will remain immature and increasingly dissatisfied. We will expect to have our practical and emotional needs to be met by others - as a substitution for what needs to looked at and healed within...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 48 - Free Association Pastel Drawings
This art journal exercise will support you to explore your unconscious thoughts and to discover your non-rational creative mind. This drawing practice will support the development of your authentic creative nature.
- Oil pastels
- White or colored pastel paper
Leaping Beyond Reason
"The years that I was pursuing my inner images were the most important in my life - in them everything essential was decided." ~ Carl Jung
Drawing can be a form of meditation where you can choose to allow your inner imagery to emerge spontaneously from your unconscious mind. Since our reasoning, judging mind guards against deeper self-knowledge, free association pastel drawings can be used to access the "energy patterns" of hidden aspects of self.
Free association was used by Sigmund Freud to access subconscious and unconscious levels of the mind. Emptying the mind of its conscious agenda invites the subconscious to take intuitive leaps to new levels of personal meaning. Symbols come through our authentic self, and they effort to communicate our higher potentials to our conscious, rational mind.
Free association helps to surprise us out of our familiar preference for maintaining the status quo. Freud wrote, "Where there is a creative mind - reason - so it seems to me - relaxes its watch upon the gates, and the ideas rush in pell-mell." In free association drawings the rational left-brained mind can surrender control, and another way of right-brained intuitive knowing can come through.....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 49 - Meditate on an Intuitive Zendoodle
This doodling directive will support you to calm your anxiety and increase your mental focus.
- Black permanent markers - various sizes
- Journal page
Single Focus Visual Meditation
Most of us multitask and continually scatter and dissipate our energies. Singularly attending to a deliberate, detailed visual task can be astoundingly centering. Focusing intently on small, repetitive creative tasks integrates the mind and gathers energy.
Intense concentration can invoke the deep pleasure of a still and integrated mind, where all conflicts, worries and inner struggles disappear for a time. Zendoodling could be considered a form of concentration meditation akin to formal sitting meditation in the Zen Buddhist tradition. You can even set up your drawing table as meditation space with a lit candle, and drawing tools ceremoniously at hand.
An Intuitive Approach to Zendoodling
In this art journal activity, I suggest using an intuitive drawing that is intrinsically meaningful to you instead of a pre-set pattern as in the patented method of Zentangling. If you do not feel like using your own drawing, there are many good books on the market that provide structured drawings to doodle within.
Patterning within a spontaneous drawing gives pause to contemplate as we meditatively draw small patterns. Spending time meditating on a drawing that arises from your intuition allows you to contemplate the more hidden parts of your mind while you doodle.
How to Create an Intuitive Zendoodle...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 50 - Unburdening Past PAin
This expressive exercise will support you to release emotional pain out of your body.
- Old magazines, scissors, glue stick
- Pen and Journal
Clearing Emotional Burdens to Make Way for a New Life
"We are not unified. We often feel that we are, because we do not have many bodies and many limbs, and because one hand does not fight with the other.
But, metaphorically that is exactly what does happen within us. Several sub-personalities are continually scuffing with each other; impulses, desires, principles, aspirations are engaged in an unceasing struggle."
- Susan Bello
Our entire psychology is built on defending away from emotional pain. Some parts of our psyche defend against feeling unprocessed emotional hurt. These defensive parts of self live stuck in the past, and they have fears about moving out of our "safety" zone of emotional "comfort" and into new growth.
Growth always means a facing an old loss and starting again - fresh, innocent and ready to give to life. Our core conflict in life is essentially whether we will stay withdrawn in the emotional conditioning of our past, or move forward to extend into who we are meant to become.
The Pull Between Holding Back and Moving Forward
At the root of all conflicts is the desire to grow forward into who we are meant to be, and the need to avoid the potential for hurt and rejection similar to the past. Our hurting parts of self have an intense need to belong, and to feel love and safety. Often we will not grow forward for years, if we perceive we will not be loved in our authentic truth.
Every place where we do not move forward into our authentic truth creates a place of binding in our body that diminishes our ability to breathe, move, and express freely. Because we must feel solidly whole in order to steadily give our gifts to life, it is wise to choose to spend time learning about what parts of ourselves are withdrawn in hurt.
Unburdening the Past
The need for change brings up the core conflict between our defended mind and our spontaneous soul. To recover our spontaneity, we must unburden our emotional pain. Richard Schwartz, creator of Inner Family Systems Therapy writes, "Child-like parts of self are often stuck when the person was scared, rejected, humiliated, abandoned, or traumatized, or experienced a loss.
That part feels as if it lives in that time period, which accounts for the fact that no matter how much attention it receives from the Self or from external people, it remains extreme. Only after such a part can be retrieved from the past and can be nurtured in the present, can it let go of its extreme feelings or beliefs."
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 51 - Journal Process for Healing Your "Inner Demons"
This creative journal exercise will support you to understand that whatever is most unwelcome in your consciousness - whether it be shame, anger, fear, prejudice, hidden urges or instincts - can be accessed and healed in a friendly, creative way.
- Journal page
- Pens, pastels, pencil crayons
Many of us do not want to admit that we struggle silently with "inner demons." Our demons are any negative thought, belief system or emotion that we fear looking at. Yet, when we give our denied aspects of self what they need, they change into allies, gifts, and strengths.
We treat what is uncomfortable within as the enemy to be kept at bay at all costs, but what if we befriended our shadow parts of self instead of distorting them into more darkness? Whatever is most unwelcome in our consciousness - whether it be shame, anger, fear, prejudice, hidden urges or instincts can be accessed in a friendly, creative way.
Our inner demons are any part of our psyche that hinder the realization of our essence Self. When we personify and give our inner demons form, we give voice to the parts of ourselves that attack and persecute us, and we discover what our denied aspects really need. In this way, we can look for the emotional needs below our desires, obsessions, distractions, and cravings to understand the root of what disturbs us.
We can learn to be a nurturer to our shadow parts of self. Instead of trying to get away from our discomforting feelings, we can explore a relationship with them. Below is a close approximation to the Buddhist practice by Tsultrim Allione, as I have used in my own journaling practice:
The Five Steps to Feeding Your Demons - Nourishing Your Disowned Parts
1. Prepare your dedicated demon/shadow journal and all of your art supplies. Close your eyes, and keep them closed through as much of this process as possible to attune to your inner state. You will need to open your eyes to journal and draw, but other than that, stay within.
Take nine relaxing breaths:
For the first three breaths travel through your physical body and breathe into the area of physical tension that is most acute. Release this tension with your out-breaths.
For the second three breaths, breathe into your emotional tension, and release your tension on your out-breaths.
For the final three breaths, breathe into your mental tension, and release your tension on your out-breaths.
Motivation: Dedicate your inner nurturing process for the benefit of yourself and all people.
Step 1: Find the Demon in Your Body
Each aspect of our shadow resides in a particular place of tension in our body. Each "inner demon" becomes more twisted away from life and love - the longer it is suppressed. Become aware of the specific sensory qualities of the tension in your body and journal your questions and answers.....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #52 - Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm
This written journal exercise will teach you how to become intensely present, open, and aware during periods of extreme emotional overwhelm. This journal prompt supports you to be present for emotions such as fear, grief, and anger.
- Journal and a pen
- A timer or a clock
Typically when we feel emotional pain our life force energy fragments and dissipates. This journal method offers a way to unify emotional energy during times of emotional overwhelm. This writing exercise is inspired by Richard Moss MD, who has developed many methods of opening up the emotional fieId.
I share my use and interpretation of his methods for stream of consciousness writing below:
Heavy Emotions Shrink Awareness
When we are overwhelmed with emotional pain we tend to close down into a state of extreme self-focus. Our world becomes very small. In emotional overwhelm we cannot envision our possibilities very far beyond the perimeter of our own body.
We all can become dominated by the lower energies of consciousness such as fear, anger, hopelessness, and despair. When we do, we become self-absorbed and unaware of our surroundings. We shut down our present moment awareness when we are in emotional pain.
Strengthening Awareness During Intense Emotional States
We gain authority over our internal world by interrupting the "belly mind" - the closed circle between the negative thoughts that generate our negative emotions - and the negative emotions that generate our negative thoughts....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 53 - Exploring Inner Conflict Through Storytelling
This expressive journal exercise will support you to find the the still, silent "middle point" of your inner conflict. Only by being present for our ambiguity do we open up to a "third" possibility that we likely have not considered before.
- Journal and a pen
"Ambiguity has a destabilizing effect.
Very few have the courage or the strength to hold the tension between opposites until a completely new standpoint emerges.
This is because in acknowledging contradictory truths, one has to create an inner equilibrium to keep from being torn in two."
- Aldo Corotenuto
Mixed feelings can be exhausting. Because our psyche functions in pairs of opposites, it is no surprise that we tend to get caught in inner conflict and polarization much of the time. When we are struggling with an inner conflict, we cannot move forward when both sides have strong viewpoints that do not want to waver.
Sitting in the middle of an inner conflict, and listening to both sides equally reveals new creative solutions. This writing/speaking/storytelling exercise offers a way to hold opposing parts of your consciousness in your awareness at the same time, to see what new options arise.
In Focusing psychotherapy, teachers Ann Weiser Cornell and Barbara McGavin, authors of the book "The Radical Acceptance of Everything" call staying in the middle of opposite feelings, "Standing In." I have applied their methods of standing in the middle of opposing parts to an speaking and writing exercise. I detail the teachings as I apply them to expressive art here:
Finding the Different Stories in our Body
"Whenever you mentally oppose what is, you’re going to experience sadness and apparent separation." - Byron Katie
It is self-honoring to witness all of the stories that we store within our body/mind. Each story has a particular place inside of our body, and when it is active we can feel it - usually through discomfort, pain, or illness. When we then find the opposing part, we can begin the process of sitting in the middle, listening to both sides, and writing or speaking the opposing stories out loud.
Most often we choose sides and become identified with only one side of the story. When we are only aware of fear, for example, our whole self feels afraid. Fear is everywhere in our body. In Focusing Psychotherapy terms, we no longer keep the opposite feeling of excitement "company" with our awareness. We have disowned excitement and have fallen into fear. We are all fear....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 54 - Healing Negative Core Beliefs
This journal prompt illustrates how we create our emotional pain by resisting our core negative beliefs. This exercise will support you to face and transform the limiting beliefs you inherited in childhood.
- Journal and pen
In so many ways we arrive into adulthood mystified and hypnotized by what what our parents taught us when we were little.
Psychologist Stephen Wolinsky describes how we arrive into adulthood carrying varying amounts of post-hypnotic baggage. This baggage contains the negative core beliefs that color our life experiences:
"A developing child is deluged with hundreds of post-hypnotic suggestions that form the filters that we see the world though, delivered by well-meaning, as well as abusive parents. Not all of these are internalized."
The Mother and Father Lineage
Our core negative beliefs are the lineage that we inherit from our mother and father or primary caregivers. We absorb our limited negative core beliefs from our parents in order to connect to them. As we find and understand our negative core beliefs we can return them to the lineage transformed. Evolution invites us to heal what our parents could not heal.
The purpose of our negative core beliefs is survival based - we take them on to get the love and attention that we needed as children. As we come to understand our deepest, darkest negative beliefs about ourselves we can "unfuse" from them in our thoughts, emotions, biology, and external world.
Wolinsky offers the factors that determine our negative conditioned core beliefs which I have interpreted as follows. Note that it can be just as difficult to be overpraised, as being negatively reflected. In both situations we can remain hypnotized by outer-imposed mental and emotional habits that can be difficult to let go of.
1. A negative experience once resisted, persists until we are willing to "experience" the experience.
In essence, all of the negative voices that plague us are underpinned by resisted past emotional experiences. Negative core beliefs gain their foothold through our resistance of them. When we internalize negative suggestions or interpret events negatively as children, we spend most of our life energy constantly working against them, or trying to compensate for them through opposite behaviors.
It can be helpful to simply write out your negative core beliefs - once you discover what they are - in your journal, over and over, until they no longer trigger an emotional need to resist. When negative beliefs begin to feel neutral it is possible to eventually notice self-judgement without emotional upset.
2. A positive experience consistently followed with overpraising becomes an obsessive part of our belief system.
Few of us think of approval as driving our behaviours inauthentically, but repetitively seeking the approval that we have won in the past can become obsessive and all-consuming. We can be forever seeking to change ourselves to win love, and never know who we really are.
We can spend our life energy, for example, trying to be good, beautiful, or helpful in order to gain the approval we crave. It is healing, if you feel dependent on outer praise and validation to write out what you need to be praised for, over and over again, until the emotional charge of the neediness for outer validation dissipates.
The Trance of Negative Core Beliefs
While we think of our negative core beliefs as words, they also hold the perceived energy of experience through our personal view of reality when we were children. If our parent was introverted and withdrawn, for example, they may not have communicated anything verbally abusive, but in our young mind, we may have adopted a world view of feeling unimportant or unloved in some essential way.
In this case, if we see through the world view of feeling unimportant, we would be in an "I am not important" trance, sometimes all through adulthood, and sometimes, if left unexamined, well into old age....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 55- Understanding Physical Illness
This art journal exercise will support you to understand how younger emotionally upset parts of your psyche create illness in your body.
- Felt pens in various colors
Most people believe that disease is due to outer factors, yet when our emotions remain agitated, upset and irritated, we are more likely to get physically ill. When our scattered emotional and mental energy is fully integrated, good health builds and self-understanding increases.
Younger parts of self will express the feelings that we could not bear to process in childhood through illness and bodily discomfort. Dialoguing with both hands in this journaling process can deepen our understanding of the thought and emotional systems of younger parts of self which are influencing our direction away from good health.
Art therapist Lucia Capacchione offers guidance in her book the "Power of Your Other Hand" in an exercise called "Body Talk". I share my adaptions, recommendations, and contemplative perspective with you here:
Paying Attention to "Younger" Emotional Needs
Illness can be seen as a call for help from a younger part of ourselves to our adult, witnessing consciousness. The compassionate adult witness, in this exercise, is expressed by our dominant hand. And, with our non-dominant hand our hurting inner child will ask for help in some way.
Parts of self that do not want to move in a forward life direction can hold tremendous amounts of emotional pain that our illness expresses metaphorically in the body - in exact location, scope, and intensity.
Some parts of our younger self may be in so much emotional distress that without our conscious understanding, they unconsciously have us pointed in an extreme physical withdrawal pattern or a death direction, to help us ultimately "get rid" of the unbearable pain.
Drawing and Listening to your Body
1. Sit quietly and focus within. Get in touch with a body part that is painful or diseased. It is helpful to move into heart-filled compassion with your dominant hand as you ask - in written form - for your distressed parts of self to express honestly....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 56 - An Emotional Approach to Healing Illness
This in-depth painting and art journaling meditation will challenge your conventional beliefs about illness and offer ways to tap into your deeper emotions and beliefs.
- Journal page
- Paint and brushes
An Emotional Approach
The emotional struggles that we cannot work out consciously, will often try to work their way through the body in the form of an illness. The emotional component of illness can be explored symbolically through spontaneous painting, followed by sensing into the body, and meditating on direct questions in a journal writing process.
Spiritually speaking, the separate ego self uses illness to express emotional problems. It expresses emotional wounds that have not healed yet. This is not to say that as we grow older we do not decline physically.
Indeed, many of us have an "illness journey" as part of our life path, but what has astounded me most profoundly about working at the end of life, is that illness and death are not always as predictable as we think.
Old age does not always imply a straight downhill decline. There is an emotional quality of life that can be uplifted at any age despite physical or cognitive limitations. We are not just our bodies that sometimes hurt and suffer.
Over a period of nine years, working in an art therapy capacity with hundreds of older adults in their eighties and nineties, I witnessed several emotional and physical "healings" with my own eyes. I observed older adults fall into deep depressions, have long bed-ridden illnesses and hospitalization, with the end of life seeming near.
Then, on several marked occasions, I was surprised to see those same people back in the art studio again, ready to create for another period of their life. I have observed elderly people in a long death direction, reverse it quite spontaneously and become robust, cheerful, and full of life again.
When they come back to life, my direct sense was that they feel emotionally lighter. I saw them laugh and smile more. They started to paint and weave again. They connected, joined in, and loved more. They exclaimed joy. And, I always intuitively felt that something emotionally heavy had cleared away to make room for a fresh experience of life.
A Journal Meditation on Illness...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 57 - Create a Mandala for Healing
This mandala exercise offers 11 steps to generate symbols of healing for your body, mind, and soul.
- Black paper
- White and colored pencils
- Oil or watercolor pastels
When we are feeling imbalanced emotionally, mentally, or physically, we can be sure that we are operating from negative mental patterns from the past. Drawing healing light as it emerges from the darkness of your unconscious mind, can support you to discover how to heal your emotional, mental, or physical imbalances.
Because it takes great effort to change the habitual, constriction of thought and emotions, it is helpful to set a firm intention to heal. Intending to heal draws forth the insights and resources needed to make deep change. Drawing patterns of light emerging from black paper in a mandala format offers a process of discovering the inherent patterns of light that are trying to come up into your conscious awareness right now.
Creating Newer, Healthier Patterns
Mandalas have long been used to heal psychological fragmentation. Drawing in a sacred circle format helps to make the invisible world of intuition visible, and can support us to express larger patterns of reality that we might not be able to see in other ways.
We can approach the mandala making process to activate the latent healing powers of our mind to generate symbols for healing. As we allow our inner healing symbols to emerge from our unconscious mind into tangible form we can strengthen our will to heal.
The inner symbols that we spontaneously create become more real to our conscious mind when we draw them and study them in tangible, visual form. This outer representation of our inner world helps to amplify our focus in a healing direction.
Mandalas for healing can give form to intuitive insight and spiritual truths that we could not be able to see otherwise. Drawing a mandala with a healing intention helps to reveal the unity between our human selves and the cosmos. It supports us to understand how our life is connected to the whole.
Blessing the Materials....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 58 - Create a Higher Intention Journal
This exercise will support you to set higher intentions and help you to identify your conflicting "lower intentions." This prompt include six steps to creating effective higher intentions.
- A dedicated intention journal
- Pen and assorted art supplies
"A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step," says a well known Chinese proverb. Nowhere is that statement more pertinent than in our urge to transform our consciousness. Despite grand schemes and noble ideas, transformation boils down to how we use the sixty-five thousand seconds that make up the average working day.
We know how difficult it is to break a habit that commits us to a negative pattern of behavior once it is acquired. What may not be so obvious is the ease with which how good habits also gain momentum and perpetuate themselves. The same habit forming consciousness that commits us to destructive behavior routines also allows us to cultivate constructive behaviors."
-F. Aster Barnwell
Setting Firm and Constant Intentions
We each have great freedom to use the power of our minds to choose our own thoughts. Yet, most often we live in habitual ways, even if they are not life-affirming because they seem to feel "natural, familiar, and safe." The word intention in Latin means "to stretch towards." Forming intentions is a spiritual practice that helps us to clarify which higher qualities of being we are stretching towards, yearning for, and longing to grow into.
We would permanently live in a higher, happier state if all parts of ourselves where aligned towards the same higher intention. But, we each have many parts of self that have contrasting goals and ideas for our happiness. So, intention setting also becomes a practice in healing all of our unconscious "counter-intentions" so that all parts of ourselves can align towards one higher goal.
Overcoming the Doubt of "How?"
To create something wholly different from the past brings up fear. The movement away from entrenched self-defeating habits from the past requires a determined practice in affirming new mental and emotional habits. Yet, anything is possible if we desire change deeply enough, and are willing to take daily determined steps towards that change.
To diffuse doubt, it is helpful to know your intention as a passionate declaration of what you envision for your life. The "how" of your intention must left up to the larger creative forces of life. It is helpful to set your higher intention every day in a small dedicated journal to carry throughout your day, always reminding yourself, "The 'how' is not up to me."
Repeating the same intention, without worrying about the "how," is the key to living towards your higher ideals. Intending something new until it becomes a full embodied reality can time. When we are finally willing to change a negative life pattern into something new, it can take a months or years of daily repetition - in order to richly embody a needed higher shift.
With daily devotion to change, anything becomes possible, but initially it requires great repetition, and a dedication to feel better mentally, emotionally, and physically in order to become determined enough to "hold" and embody higher ideals.
Even though thoughts seem to come automatically each thought represents a choice....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 59 - How to Create an Altered Book
This expressive art activity offers an in-depth art-making process for emotional healing.
- A suitable book to alter
- White glue
- Matte acrylic medium
- Acrylic or latex paints
- Pencil crayons, pastels, markers, and pens to doodle with
- Collage materials, glue stick, scissors, pictures from used books and magazines.
An altered book is an artist-made book recycled into something new in appearance and meaning. An altered book, used in an art therapy context offers an in-depth art-making process for healing. Altered books can be used to work through long standing emotional issues, to find and cultivate new strengths, or to process and accurately remember the past. Altered books can be joyfully made to help climb out of depressive cycles and to cultivate inspiration.
Literally and metaphorically, altered books can be closed when emotions or memories feel too intense, and opened and worked upon at a later time when the timing is right for healing. When working through long standing psychological patterns, altered books can be shelved and restarted weeks, months, and even years later. Altered books can express the "book of our life" illustrating the many facets of self, integrating the fragments of mind and body back into the soul, one page at a time.
Six Steps to Creating an Altered Book
1. Choose a strong and durable book to alter. Hardcover books work the best, especially those with pages sewn rather than glued. If you are using an old book check the pages to see that they are strong enough to withstand layers of paint and glue. If the pages are thin, yellow and brittle they likely will not hold up under layers of paint and drawing.
Children's board books can work well for altered books, but they take a good bit of preparation to lay the ground for your page spreads. Because the pages are glossy, they need to sanded and gessoed first.
Choose a book that inspires you, especially if you are planning to leave words peeking through your backgrounds and want to spontaneously underline passages. If you are planning to cover all of the pages up with paint it will not matter what kind of book you choose - as long as it is sturdy....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 60 - Processing Trauma Through Altered Book-Making
This art journal prompt offers 10 methods to process trauma through altered book making, including understanding, disidentifying from, and creatively changing your trauma patterning.
- An old book to alter
- Paints, collage items, old magazines, markers, pastels, pencil crayons
- Acrylic medium, diluted white glue, or Mod Podge
For this expressive art activity I reference the excellent book, "Healing from Trauma" by Jasmin Lee Cori and abbreviate her ten points about trauma as follows:
1. Our bodies don't lie. Trauma leaves "footprints" on the body as well as in every other part of our lives.
2. A high level of trauma leaves people feeling overly sensitive to just about everything. We will be particularly sensitive to anything that reminds us of the trauma.
3. When things are too much for us to stay present, we find a way to leave, even if only psychologically. Dissociation is a pattern of splitting off some part of yourself when you are uncomfortable.
4. Another defense is simply to numb yourself so that you don't feel.
5. Often there are cognitive losses that accompany trauma, and you may wonder what is wrong with your brain.
6. Memories of traumatic events are often like shards that have shattered everywhere. Our memories come in bits and pieces and are often far too intense.
7. Very rarely could we have done something to prevent our trauma. Yet, the helplessness of the situation is hard to bear, and we often blame ourselves and feel guilt rather than feel at the mercy of forces we can't control.
8. We contract in trauma to become a smaller target, and tragically, we often stay contracted, in very small lives, in an unconscious attempt to feel safe.
9. Often we feel vulnerable and unprotected because our energetic boundaries are in some way still broken.
10. Trauma rocks your world. It can be hard to imagine how others go along so blithely, creating their futures, as if one could control that. Those who have experienced a lot of trauma don't have this basic confidence in things working out.
Creating an Altered Point of View
Our subconscious beliefs about ourselves keep traumatic holding patterns in place. Jasmin Lee Cori writes, "With trauma, parts of us are blocked, and parts of us are flooded. Our life energy is disturbed, and we do not have the supports to thrive and be healthy. When we are blocked in this way, our energy gets congested and our consciousness becomes muddied. If we can clear the obstacles and let our life force flow more freely again, we can recover our aliveness. This recovery of aliveness and free flow is what resilience is all about."
When we are emotionally flooded or emotionally blocked, we hold our body trauma patterns in place by subconscious beliefs. Our body, emotions and beliefs form an interlocking "trauma pattern" that unconsciously repeats through our life, unless it can be consciously interrupted and recreated into more life-affiming patterns of living.
Cori explains, "Trauma shows up as chronically constricted tissue, a shrinking and bracing of the overall structure, a tight diaphragm and shallow breathing, cold hands and feet (because energy is withdrawn from extremities) and a strong tension at the base of the skull and the bottom of the spine. In essence the body feels like a too tight package. It is tight because it is caught in a pattern of alarm and self-protection. These characteristics lead to postural problems, unhealthy, achy tissues, headaches and backaches, and circulatory and mobility problems."
The aim of all therapies is essentially to interrupt unhealthy patterns that have been operating on automatic for years and often decades. To heal trauma we need to work on many levels of body, psyche and soul. Bodywork is essential to help interrupt the body holding patterns of trauma, but if the same belief patterns continue to feed into creating the same distressing emotions, the body will constrict back into its contracted emergency state once again.
Ten Methods of Interrupting Negative Belief In Your Altered Book....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 61 - The Art of Setting Boundaries
This in-depth painting and journaling exercise will support you to give to others from inspiration instead of sacrifice, and to set healthy boundaries even when it upsets other people's ego expectations.
- Journal and Pen
- Watercolor paints, brushes, water
"For millennia, we women have been taught to be energetically open to the world, to be personal and accepting. We have been trained to move through life with an open energy field, to blend with the people in our lives who are important to us.
Everyone "knows" that it is feminine to be receptive and available, to be able to interact smoothly and pleasantly with other people and to blend our energies with theirs."
- Sidra Stone
A Period of Independent Self-Reflection
As psychologist Sidra Stone explains in her book "The Shadow King," men have been trained to set boundaries, to be objective, and to be self-contained. For women it is often a challenge to learn when to make the inner choice to have an open energy field, and when it is necessary to close our energy field for self-regenerating purposes.
Because women are not supported to keep other people's energies out, our self-actualizing journey involves getting to know our personal energy clearly so that we know what feels right and what does not. As we separate from our feminine societal conditioning of always having to remain soft and accommodating, we can learn how express our "yes's and no's" without guilt.
This self-definition requires a period of independent self-exploration, free from outside pressures to conform to others expectations. Once we learn how to set our own boundaries, we can deepen our relationships authentically - or not. Authentic connection is not fusion, care-taking, co-dependency, or confusion about where we end and others begin.
Without healthy boundaries we will likely be giving to relationships that drain our personal will towards our unique positive life direction. In order to actualize our personal goals and purposes it is imperative to learn how to protect our time and energy from unnecessary outer demands, and to sort out which relationships are reciprocal, and which relationships are draining our life energy.
Unhealthy and Unnecessary Giving...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 62 - Healing Grief with Expressive Drawing
This expressive drawing exercise will support you to understand where you are not learning the life lessons inherent in your losses, and will show you how to find the wisdom to heal.
- Art journal
- Black marker, ballpoint pen, felt pens, pencil crayons, pastels
Finding New Life in Loss
When we are grieving, we can "cathart" sadness, only to have it return, and cycle back again and again. When grief cycles without end, we can know that we are not seeing and learning the life lessons inherent in our losses.
Expressing our emotions helps to release grief but it does it not always heal the beliefs that feed into grief. Life affirming decisions about how to grow, like any other time in life, need to be made amidst feelings of grief. When we experience loss, some new life direction must eventually take the place of the feelings of loss and devastation.
Moving through layers of old loss and grief can be addressed through a step-by-step process developed by expressive art therapist Barbara Ganim. I simplify her process on how to deal with feelings of loss into an abbreviated two week process. I recommend the book "Drawing from the Heart" for a more comprehensive seven week process on how to heal grief and loss with expressive drawing.
Grieving loss in a structured and creative way provides time to take action on the intuitive messages that come through your art. To anchor into the wisdom that comes through your drawings, it is helpful to spend time meditating on your drawing and writing everyday.
Accessing, Releasing and Transforming Grief
Barbara Ganim offers the acronym ART to point the way on how to heal through expressive art.
- Access the painful emotion
- Release the emotion through expressive drawing
- Transform the painful image and discover new positive ways to respond to the beliefs that are causing you pain.
Healing Comes from the Heart
Life as it continually moves forward does not allow us to stop growing. This expressive drawing process will help you to understand how you feel about your loss and grief. These drawing processes alternate between:
1. What your mind understands about your grief, and how negative thoughts cycle into upset emotions - and prolong your thoughts about grief.
2. And, what your heart knows about your grief. What we think we need to do to heal our grief is very different from how our heart can inform us about what our grief is meant to teach us.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 63 - Exploring Age Regression
This directive offers 16 different art journal and writing explorations that will support you to "grow up" the aspects of yourself that are frozen in the past.
- Art journal
- Pens, pencils, markers, pencil crayons, old magazines, glue stick and scissors
Resisting Past Emotions
When we live wholly in the present moment, we are living in our authentic self. Whenever we are not fully experiencing the present moment, we are most often caught in some form of age regression.
Worrying about how we will survive takes us back to the helplessness of childhood when we were dependent on others to meet our physical and emotional needs. We all age regress, especially when our physical survival feels threatened. We are also more likely to age regress when we are tired, hungry, are stressed about work, or are fretting about money worries.
Becoming aware of when we are age-regressing (defending against feeling unfinished emotional pain from the past) is a process that can be visually and verbally explored through the art journaling process. Most of us experience age-regression on an almost continuous basis - until we have processed a considerable amount of past pain.
All unfinished business from the past holds our younger selves frozen in time. In order to resist traumatic experiences, the child freezes the body by tightening the muscles and holding the breath. After much repetition, our patterns of contraction become an automatic response that can carry on for decades until they are seen, understood, interrupted, and changed.
There are several ways to differentiate from, interrupt, and "grow up" age-regressed states. Following are art therapy exercises I have created and adapted - inspired by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky from his book, "The Trances People Live."
16 Directives for Exploring Age-Regression
Self-Observe: Become aware of your emotional and behavioral symptoms when you go into a younger self. Come to know the distinct energy of this child self - which may be one of many.
Witness and Write Down the Details: As you explore how you constrict your awareness to a past time, you will be able to observe that there is a particular "recipe" for the way that you close down. There will be a distinct and familiar way of thinking, feeling and tensing your body when you age-regress.
There will be a particular "younger" thought patterns and frozen beliefs from an earlier time that goes along with your body tension or constricting symptoms such as acute body pain, a blurring of vision, particular ways of thinking, younger voice inflections, and more irrational and overwhelming emotional states.
As you write about how you constrict into a younger part of yourself, honor that you are a masterful creator of your own emotional survival, and now it may be time to finally release the constricting patterns that once kept you safe.
In your journal....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 64 - Self-Soothing for Emotional Overwhelm
This art journal directive provides soothing tools to calm, regulate and slow down the overwhelm of painful emotions.
- Art Journal
- Magazines, glue stick, scissors
- Calming music
Pacing Your Healing
We must again and again face fear until we can do so without being thrown back into lower self functioning." - Richard Moss
Why Process Emotional Pain?
Some trauma therapists believe that if you are feeling overwhelmed, you are going too fast with emotional processing. Yet, spiritual teacher Richard Moss writes, "We are rightfully afraid of pain, but when pain - especially emotional pain - is what is, then to continue to rely on a self-avoidance survival structure created in childhood is to remain barren of potential."
Paradoxically we become more alive when we turn and face our emotional pain,. We can develop a conscious relationship to our own suffering. By compassionately respecting our internal timing and pace, and by taking breaks when the emotional pain and intensity feels overwhelming, we can face what we habitually avoid. Wiith great love and gentleness, we open up to our authentic potential.
Following are some calming, grounding, slowing, and self-soothing tools inspired and informed by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori, author of "Healing from Trauma." You can use these directives - adapted to include expressive art practices, whenever your emotions feel too difficult to manage.
Get Present: When we are holding emotional pain, a good portion of our awareness is caught in past time. Our agitated nervous system generalizes the present moment as being the same as the traumas of past. Observant attention to the here-and-now stops the past process of generalization.
When you are going into emotional overwhelm, divert as much of your attention away from the traumatic material that is coming up from the past, and place your attention on the acute details of the present moment. Now is not the past. It is different. Observe the differences. Breathe. Look around and see colors and details. Breathe again.
1. Breathe deeply. Gratefully and lovingly take in your immediate surroundings in present time.
2. Create a calming collage to meditate on and use as a resource when you are emotionally flooded. Choose imagery that evokes a feeling safety, beauty and calm for yourself. Connect to each image as a calming resource that helps you to self-regulate.
Change Channels: There are several different channels for our life experience. Thoughts are one channel, emotions another, and body sensations a third. If one channel is overwhelming you, switch to another channel.
1. If your are thinking dark thoughts repeatedly or are emotionally flooded and cannot seem to stop the discomfort, it is helpful to move your body.
2. Go for a walk in nature, or put on some soothing music and dance slowly. Amplify your attention towards how your body moves moment-by-moment.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 65 - Processing Difficult Emotions
This journal exercise includes a daily 5 step journal process, and an in-depth journal guide to inner body listening to help you better understand your emotions.
- Journal and a pen
Daily Journaling from the Body
Emotional overwhelm often begins with an inkling or a slight discomfort. A part of your body, for example, may feel particularly uncomfortable. If so, direct all of your witnessing attention to that spot.
Sit patiently with your uncomfortable place, say "hello" and wait. Body listening involves sitting with your journal, getting still, closing your eyes, and waiting quietly for your body to share its messages.
Welcoming what is Difficult
Spiritual teacher Robert Masters speaks eloquently about turning towards our darkest and most difficult emotions:
"Stop pathologizing your negativity, stop relegating it to a lower status, stop keeping it in the dark. Go to it, open its doors and windows, take it by the hand. Meet its gaze. Feel its woundedness, feel into it, feel for it, feel it without any buffers. Soon you will start to sense that its gaze is none other than your own, perhaps from an earlier time, but yours nonetheless, containing so much of you. Humanize it fully. Keep something in the dark long enough and it will probably behave badly.
Turn on the lights, slowly but surely. Your simple presence is enough. Let your heart soften. Breathe a little more deeply, bringing what you call your negativity closer to you, opening at a fitting pace. No rush. Let it shift, however slowly, from a distant foreign object to a reclaimed part of your being. Let its pain and longing break your heart.
Your ambition to transcend your negativity is now all but gone, as you realize right to your core that your real work is to reclaim and reembody it. You are with yourself more deeply, your initial aversion all but gone, and now hold what you previously termed your negativity in the way that loving parents hold their distressed child, bringing it into your heart, feeling a rising desire and power to protect that little one. No negativity now. Just love, ease, recognition, presence, effortless wholeness. This is life in the raw, too real to be reduced to positive and negative, too alive to be shut down."
Daily Five Step Journal Process...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 66 - Create an Experimental Art Journal
This prompt will support you to loosen up and find emotional freedom in your art journaling process.
- 8x10 inch spiral bound sketchbook
- Acrylic and watercolor paints
- Papers to paint and draw on
- Printed and colored tissue papers
- Collage materials, magazines, glue stick, and scissors
- Drawing pens, markers, pastels
Art Journaling for New Awareness
Most of us repeatedly perpetuate the same emotional reactions and mental patterns until they are interrupted with new information and fresh understanding. Regular art journaling can support you to develop unconditional empathy for your emotional healing process.
Art journaling invites new possibilities and nurtures new awareness. Playing with odd combinations of words, metaphors and imagery allows contact with something unknown to emerge. By experimenting creatively in your art journal, without judging or evaluating what emerges, new information will infuse old repeating patterns with fresh possibilities.
1. Create a Painted Background - Create the backgrounds in your journal with the aim of loosening up. Experiment painting quickly and vigorously without thinking. The aim of an experiment art journal is to practice being expressively loose and free. Set aside your normal self-control and practice your spontaneity.
Paint one page at a time, or paint several at a time if you wish. Acrylic paint, gessoes, and gel mediums sometimes can be sticky, especially if you store your art journal in a warm room. With acrylic mediums, you may need to place wax paper between your journal pages until the paint is completely cured.
2. Gestural Mark Making - Use pastels, markers, pens and pencils to make gestural marks. Aim to free your yourself, with random fast marks, scribbles, and intuitive marks.
3. Stamping, Printing and Stencilling - To create richer, more multi-layered backgrounds, consider ink stamping, paint stamping, or painting through stencils.
4. Transparent Elements - To further build up your background, experiment veiling your backgrounds with colored and printed tissue papers. You can add transparent elements as the end of your art journaling session as well.
5. Doodling and Drawing - Draw and doodle on your background in any way you feel called to with gel pens, markers, and pencil crayons. Feel free to collage old or new drawings and paintings onto your journal page as well.
6. Writing and Words - To express feelings, thoughts, ideas, inspirations, allow words to come spontaneously to your mind, or explore a persistent line of thinking that is running through your head. Sometimes a spontaneous journal spread will simply show you what you are presently thinking and creating in your life right now.
Some days, you may feel called to add a long written entry onto your journal page. You can letter with colored gel pens on top of your painted background, or write on a separate piece of paper, and collage onto your journal page.
If you do not feel like writing, open up an old magazine and tear or cut out words to create spontaneous poetry. Words chosen spontaneously will often show you intriguing things that you do not yet know about yourself.
9 Ways to Cultivate Emotional Freedom in Your Art Journal:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 67 - Art Journaling for Healing Trauma
Art journaling allows memories that are intruding into the present moment to be seen, understood and cared for. This art journal prompt also offers many creative exercises to support you to tend to the "10 Healing Tasks of Trauma."
When we experience trauma we feel unprotected and alone. Psychotherapist Belleruth Naparstek writes:
"Without belief in a fair and moral universe, a sense of control of one's fate, a coherent sense of self, and a continuous personal narrative, life makes no sense.
Living becomes a pointless exercise of getting through the day. People reeling from trauma are thrown into a crisis of meaning that goes far beyond disillusionment; they are plunged into and abyss of despair."
Creating a Self-Caring World - One Page at a Time
To re-condition a safe, and caring world within we can dedicate our art journal to self-care. To create a caring world for ourselves, we can daily process and unravel disturbing thoughts and emotions gently as they naturally arise.
Digging for memories is not required to heal. There is a right timing to healing. Art journaling is a way to understand and release the remnants of trauma regularly and slowly as it arises - one page at a time - in a format that can be closed and put away if emotions become overwhelming.
The aim of processing memories through art journaling is not to revisit traumatic emotions over and over again, but to recognize where we have stopped moving forward. When we discover where we are stuck, we can begin the process of re-conditioning stressful biological, mental and emotional holding patterns into more self-nurturing states that will carry our life forward.
Negative Memories Point to What we Need to Heal
There is no need to dig for memories or to rush trauma work. What needs to be healed comes up in layers and in its own unique timing. Whatever emotional, physical or emotional state is being triggered now is the only thing that you need to process in your art journal. Our negative memories indicate what we have not yet healed.
Art journaling allows memories that are intruding into the present moment to be seen, understood and cared for. Keeping an art journal allows what is hidden within to come forward in the form of words and imagery so that you can visually see the emotions that are pressing for completion.
Vivid negative memories that perpetuate negative thoughts, emotions and behaviors in a static, repetitive and ongoing way can be the focus in your art journal. As you create a visual story of your memories with spontaneous marks, and color, line, textures and words, you can choose to creatively change them.
Containing Past Experiences in an Art Journal
Counsellor Jasmin Cori explains the difference between catharsis and containment:
"With containment, instead of just spitting out a feeling (and perhaps getting high off the rush`associated with that), we learn to turn it over in our mouths and taste it. We learn to discriminate how much we can handle at any given moment without overload. We understand that the point is to keep the feelings from getting so intense that they burn us. We learn to contain a feeling so that it doesn't run roughshod over us but instead is given a place to be listened to."
Art Journal Exercises for Healing Trauma
Following are list of ten tasks by trauma counsellor Jasmin Lee Cori from her book "Healing Trauma" adapted to include expressive art jounaling processes.
1. Resetting your Nervous System - Cori writes: "The one fact of trauma cannot be emphasized enough: trauma changes your nervous system; therefore, a full recovery from trauma requires resetting the nervous system." This means managing anxiety, fear and arousal and finding ways to self-soothe. One way to calm your mind and nervous system is to draw and color intricate patterns. This activity narrows your focus so that your mind can quiet down and your body can relax.
2. Freeing Your Body from Holding Patterns - Our bodies hold memories of trauma in the tissues. The defensive contractions and the aches and pains that result from withholding energy away from fully engaged living will stay in place if you do not work on all levels - mental, emotional, and physical change - in tandem.
Yoga, vigorous physical exercise, expressive movement and bodywork can further open up the emotional and mental changes that you make in your art journal. You can use your art journal to write about and identify where you feel contracted. with the intention of opening up your body and your life. Expressive dance is another way to loosen up your holding patterns. Even 5 minutes of freeform dancing a day will help you to release an old layer of pain.
3. Expanding Your Capacity to Stay Present - The intensity of traumatic memories freezes past pain in place. Cori offers the following five directives for developing presence to interrupt the magnetic pull of trauma patterning:
Practice Grounding - The past is not here now. Connect to the details of your current life. Find your feet on the ground. Breathe. Look around you and journal with gratitude about the concrete details of the good that surround you in this moment. In your art journal, draw what you see in your immediate environment, tending to each detail with care and concentration.
Defuse Triggers and Self-Regulate - Keep a detailed account of the places, people, words, smells, and associations that trigger your fears. Learn to calm yourself when you are triggered and have tools to remind you how to stay open when you would normally close. Explore prompt #64 - Self-Soothing with Collage.
Remind yourself that the past is not here in the present. Write in your journal about how your present life is different from the past. Remind yourself in your journal of all of the strengths and resources you have gathered over your life that you did not have when you were younger. Explore prompt #72 to Learn Mindfulness Meditation.
Learn to Recognize Dissociation - When you "leave" your body and your mind during periods of overwhelm, practice bringing yourself back to your current reality by identifying what is happening in the present moment by prompt #52 - Journaling Through Emotional Overwhelm.
Develop a Sense of Safety - As you learn to trust your ability to set healthy boundaries, and speak up for yourself in ways that you could not when you were younger, you will feel the safety of your own strength. Explore prompt # 61 - The Art of Setting Boundaries in your art journal.
Cultivate Witness Consciousness - Art activities that require focused detailing and concentration help quiet the mind. To center deeper than your trauma patterning and develop your witnessing consciousness try prompt #49 - Intuitive Zendoodling in your art journal.
4. Mastering Your Trauma Symptoms - You can defuse your trauma symptoms through prompt #50 - Unburdening the Past
5. Feel Your Emotions without being Controlled by Them - With traumatic patterning you can explore the negative belief system that cements your emotional pain in place through prompt #77- Healing Negative Core Beliefs.
6. Managing Memories and Finding Peace with What Happened - We experience traumatic memories through the eyes of younger parts of self. To defuse the past explore prompt #63 - Age-Regression - An Integrative Journaling Exercise.
7. Coming to Terms with What Happened - Learning and eventually seeing how your trauma has made you into a stronger person involves grieving what you never had, and moving forward into life with the gifts and strengths that you developed through your hardships. Explore prompt # 62 - Healing Grief with Expressive Drawing as well as prompt #43 - Healing Grief Through Art Journaling Therapy so that you can move on. Explore prompt #58 - Creating Intentions in your art journal to clarify how you will move forward with your life.
8. Making up for What You Missed - As you reclaim aspects of yourself that were frozen in the past, you can move forward into a fresh, more vibrant life. This involves making up for developmental needs that were not met in the past, and entails exploring possibilities that you might not have considered before now. Explore prompt #46 Portals into Possibilities with Collage in your art journal.
9. Integrating - Finding wholeness begins now. As you reclaim and integrate all the pieces of yourself that have been "missing" from the past you form the new identity of who you were always meant to be in your essence. To recover your wholeness explore prompt #57 - Creating a Mandala for Healing.
10. Giving Back - We are wired to give our gifts to life. Giving what we most long for - to others - helps us heal. To amplify our own growth we can practice giving what we did not get in our childhood - sometimes even before we feel quite ready. We amplify our understanding of how to receive what we need by giving it to others.
It is helpful to give others what we most have longed to have for from our primary caregivers, be it time, attention, kindness, respect or love. Since we each have an area of "expertise" born from the challenges we have triumphed over in life, we can help others do the same.
Assessing Your Healing Process
Take time now in your journal to look over the list above and assess where you are in your healing journey. Look at each healing task, and give it a number that represents where you are - with one being you have not started the healing, and ten being the task of healing is complete. Pick one or more tasks, and create an action plan to support the aspect of your healing that is calling for your attention right now.
Expressive Art Therapy Activity #68 - Restoring Passion Through Expressive Movement
This expressive movement exercise will support you to practice ways of speaking and moving that you normally do not allow.
- Loose, comfortable clothes
- A private room to self-express
We do not need to go into memory to heal the past. With Gestalt therapy our "unfinished business" from the past can always be discovered in the here-and-now, and expressively worked through with body movement and emotional and vocal expression.
The more we honestly express ourselves, the more passion we will feel. In Gestalt therapy, our disturbing experiences, needs, blocks, fixations, emotional blind spots and unconscious split-off aspects of our personality can be dialogued with our own higher witnessing consciousness.
Exploring Passion and Withdrawal
In any moment, we are either extending towards or withdrawing away from other people. Most of us stop extending our authentic truth early in life. Passion is the charismatic giving forth of our truthful expression. To restore passion, we can learn what causes us to withdraw our truth, and what inspires us to extend it.
We all get caught in our patterns of withdrawal from childhood and our muscle of extending love can become atrophied. Our withdrawal pattens keeps us stuck in our problems. Yet, we can only understand who we authentically are by extending love.
As an experiment, see how you feel in both postures of extending and withdrawing. Constellations therapist Bert Hellinger explains, "When the reaching out movement is interrupted (rejected) the body pulls back." This creates withdrawal.
Alternate moving out and in. "Sculpt" your body into the shape of withdrawal so that you can gesturally feel how you close down. In contrast, move your body forward and feel the expansion as you extend your energy outwards.
Exploring Contrasts and Opposites
Gestalt therapy encourages that we express feelings through the body and voice instead of just thinking about them. With Gestalt therapy we can practice actions, movements, expressions, vocal declarations, and emotional gestures that might have been unthinkable in the past. Through expressive Gestalt movement, you can try on new possible selves, explore opposites and forbidden aspects of self. You are invited to express strong emotions, and play passionately with all sides of yourself.
Exploring the polarities of our character invites change. Once we understand how we close down, we can practice the opposite gestures of openness. If, for example, your movements of hurt have you closing your arms over your chest and pulling back your energy, the opposite movement might be opening up the arms and moving forward with your energy. These "opening up" body gestures, repeated over time, will help you to change your biology. As you practice the new neural pathways of openness in your brain - you begin to sculpt a new you.
Ten Experiments in Expressive Movement and Vocal Expression
Following are ten ways to use expressive movement and vocal expression to restore passion as inspired by Gestalt therapy. This series of exercises can be worked through alone or with a trusted, witnessing other....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 69 - Healing Post-Traumatic Stress
This art journal directive supports you to heal past trauma through loving self-connection, creating safety, and making art that represents a feeling of "all-healed."
- Art journal or paper
- Collage materials
- Paint, pencil crayons, felt markers, pastels
For those of us who struggle with post-traumatic stress, enduring high levels of anxiety is a daily, biological reality. Living in crisis mode even when life is uneventful takes its toll on body, mind, and spirit. However, it is possible to recover from distressing traumatic events with presence, attention, and love.
Love Heals Trauma
"The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind."
- Caroline Myss
Without proper support and love right after a traumatic event, the effects of harm are more long lasting and continue to cause emotional pain, fear, panic and confusion long after the event has passed. If you did not receive the love and support you needed when you experienced trauma, you can give yourself loving support now.
To restore self-love you can choose to become profoundly present to the intensity of your emotions instead of reflexively resisting and avoiding them. Unconditional acceptance and presence to your own feelings is the highest form of self-love. When you process emotions on your own, it is possible to "ride the waves" of your trauma symptoms with witnessing, loving presence.
Riding the Waves of Uncomfortable Emotions
Counsellor Anastasia Pollock explain how to "ride the waves" of intense emotions:
"Imagine you are out in the ocean, far from shore. Giant waves are coming - very intimidating and scary. The first instinct is to fight, to swim as hard as you can back to shore. However, unless you are a physical anomaly, you only end up exhausting yourself and don’t get closer to your goal of safety. When exhausted, you are at higher risk of drowning.
Thus, survival experts advise that the best thing you can do in this type of situation is to allow your body to relax to conserve energy, floating instead of fighting. This gives you a better chance of getting through the ordeal and allows time to calm yourself so you can think clearly about what to do to in order to survive."
Relaxing into the waves of disturbing emotion takes a new kind of willingness that you may have never cultivated before. This strength of witnessing presence and self-compassion can be built up gradually over time just like a muscle in the body.
Surviving a Panic Attack
Chronic anxiety can indicate a resistance to feeling emotions from the past that are trying to come up for presence, acceptance and love. The insistent avoidance of an emotion that is trying to come up to the surface for healing can result in a full-blown panic attack.
Many of us have at least one panic attack in our life. Panic attacks manifest as a racing heartbeat, difficulty breathing and an overwhelming sense of dread. It brings up feelings of annihilation - like death is imminent. Panic can be so overwhelmingly chaotic it is common to shut down and freeze, or conversely do anything to attempt to douse, sedate, or distract away from the intensity....
Art Journal Therapy Exercise # 70 - Exposure Therapy to Reduce Fear and Anxiety
This in-depth collage journaling directive and written exercise will support you to face your anxiety avoidance tactics and will support
you to gradually move through your fears one-by-one.
- Journal and a pen
- Collage materials
What We Avoid Weakens Us
"Do I prefer to grow up and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"
- Pema Chödrön
When we repeatedly shy away from what we fear, our ability to cope with life decreases. While avoidance tactics might provide a brief respite from anxiety, prolonged exposure therapy is a "fear toleration" or "fear presence" practice that delves past avoidance patterns, so that fear can be faced and overcome.
What we fear will continue to plague us until we turn and face it. Exposure therapy journaling is a mental and emotional process of writing out fears in a detailed way. Through a process of repeated exposure to what causes us anxiety, we can learn how to prolong and strengthen our presence in the face of fear.
Many years ago, during a particularly stressful time in my life, I was plagued with intense fear dreams. In my dreams each night, I was being chased by an army of dark and dangerous beings who were trying to kill me, and a dream figure provided a metaphor for how I could face fear in my daily life.
The turning point in my dream series was when a figure came up to me and told me, "They are only chasing you because they can smell your fear." In my dream I stopped running and found the power inside myself to turn and face my adversaries, and as I did, they disappeared along with my fear.
Before beginning your journaling process, it is helpful to have a plan for how you will intend to find your power in the midst of your fear. Practicing scenarios of courage in your mind will immediately start to inform your actions. Imagining yourself facing your fears successfully will gradually translate into more strength in your daily life.
Create a List of What Distresses You
We can only heal what we can clearly see...
Art Journal Therapy Activity #71 - Understanding Transpersonal Therapy
This exploratory journal exercise will help you understand where you are in your growth journey so that you will know how to focus your inner work. This prompt includes three journal explorations of your Mask, Lower and Higher Self.
- Journal and a pen
Understanding the Three Layers of Yourself
1. The Mask: We create an idealized defensive mask to protect ourselves from hurt and rejection. We hide our emotional pain - even from ourselves. This mask or false self dampens down the vibrancy of love of our core truth.
2. The Wounded Child/Ego/Lower Self: The next layer of our being is the wounded child/ego/shadow or lower self of our human nature. Our ego self is comprised of separated off, rejected parts of self that keep love and connection out. This self-protection causes great pain and isolation. Our lower self does not trust in love.
When we repress and reject our emotions, and do not look at the beliefs that create our emotional pain, our life energy becomes stagnant and hardens into defensive physical armouring in our heart and body. Our armour keeps love out. Our disturbing emotions and untrue negative beliefs cover up the love that is always there.
3. The Core/Higher Self: We are, at our center, a pulsating core that is love that knows our pure goodness and unconditional lovability. This energetic core self seeks to grow and expand. When we are in touch with our core self we love ourselves and our fellow creatures unconditionally. We give and receive joyously. We live in alignment with our intuition, and we find great joy in making a meaningful contribution to life. We must look honestly at our mask self, and heal the emotional pain that lives below it before we can embody our authentic self on an ongoing basis.
The process of authentic self-actualization involves unblocking psychological and emotional defenses, moving stuck energy in the body to create healthy flow, and transforming negative, distorted beliefs so that our being can rest more continually in our core authentic self.
Reflect in your journal about where you are in your growth process:
1. Mask (surface) self - Do you live mainly in your social self, careful to fit in, and concerned about what other people think of you?
2. Lower (limited) self - Do you have trouble feeling, expressing or understanding the root of your emotional pain? Do you have challenges giving and receiving love?
3.) Higher (unlimited) self - Are you living mainly from your spontaneous, spiritual, loving, truthful core self? Is giving to others a joy? Are you open to receiving love and abundance?
Transpersonal therapy aims to unblock emotional energies that keep us from connecting to our core authentic self. In order to live from our authentic core we must find:
1. Cognitive Understanding: We must find and identify our false social self and understand who we pretend to be to "get" love from the outside.
2. Emotional Expression: We must express our woundedness by feeling and expressing all our emotions, including fear, sadness, hate, grief and pain. We must see where we feed into our difficult emotions with negative, untrue beliefs. Feeling our feelings fully with love and acceptance, we must see how we perpetuate them with our untrue throughs, and transform them into love.
3, Physical Movement: We must physically work on opening up our bodily defenses, moving through the stagnation, stiffness, soreness and the physical weaknesses that keeps us rigidly stuck within our negative emotional and psychological patterns.
4. Life Purpose: We must find beauty, meaning, vision and creativity in our life and express these higher qualities through our positive actions. We must discover our purpose in life and our unique reason for being here.
Self-Development Action Plan:
1. Looking at the various ways of unblocking your energy above and assess what kind of inner work you need to do at this point in your life?
2. Write down the numbers 1-4 along with the headings above and write honestly about what areas you have mastered and what areas you most need to work on.
3. Write out an action plan to work on the areas of self-development that you most neglect.
Three Journal Explorations of Your Mask, Lower, and Higher Self....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 72 - Mindfulness for Obsessive Compulsive Tendencies
This mindfulness exercise offers a way to decrease anxiety through repetitive focus on the breath, and/or focused creative activity.
Increasing Concentration and Calm
Many of us have some perfectionist or obsessive tendencies that intensify during times of emotional distress. The acronym OCD has become a stock term, often used in a casual way to describe someone who is excessively meticulous, perfectionistic, absorbed, or otherwise fixated.
Whenever we have mild or extremely exacting fixating tendencies, we can use the gift of our meticulous mind to concentrate on the positive practice of concentrated breathing, and mind training to increase inner peace and emotional healing.
Anything done repetitively increases concentration and calm. In the case of obsessive, compulsive tendencies, repetitive and ritualistic behaviors that seem to have no apparent meaning are in effect creating calm, and they could be channeled into a form of life-enhancing meditation or a focused, repetitive creative activity.
Repetition creates a feeling of safety, and is a way to dissipate the charge of disturbing emotions, uncomfortable thoughts, and feelings of inner chaos and incompletion. Ritualistic behavior such as counting, ordering, checking, touching and arranging, washing, hoarding and doubting can be seen as an attempt to relieve the stress and anxiety of uncomfortable emotions that are flooding up to surface for recognition and healing.
Compulsive rituals can be elaborate and incredibly time consuming. Bernice Sorge author of "Repetition in Art Therapy writes, "The compulsion is considered a disorder in that it interferes with the individual's daily life partly by taking up a lot of time for non-productive activity." The need for structure and control are at the core of obsessions and compulsions. In the repeated practice of compulsion, mastery over inner chaos is achieved.
Translating Compulsion into Concentration in Art
For those who struggle with obsessive compulsive tendencies and behaviors, the downside of consistent concentration on daily rituals is that it keeps the mind in the same unchanged state without allowing the opposite movement of inconsistency, spontaneity and the creative unknown to bring deep emotional healing.
When we limit the range of our expression we stay in our conscious defensive mind, and cut off the unconscious creative part of our being that helps us to heal. Creativity - spontaneity within the structure of disciplined creative tasks - allows for the unconscious, emotional realm to calm so that healing can occur.
Organizing Chaotic Thought and Emotion
In the art therapy studio that I worked in for nine years, I witnessed obsessive compulsive behaviors productively channeled into small, repetitive and detailed creative tasks such stitching and needlework, weaving, and in the painting of intricate and repetitive patterns.
I coined the term, "spontaneity within structure" to explain the necessity of offering detailed, structured art to people who suffer from a high degree of anxiety. Repetitive and structured art work is being creative within containment. All repetitive creative tasks still offer the spontaneous choice of color, texture and placement within the structure, but contain the calming container of orderly tasks.
Nine Stages of Training the Mind
Another way to allow both sides of our nature - the spontaneous and the structured - is to practice meditative mind training. Practicing precision, dedication and discipline provides a safe container for the chaos of the unknown to calm and heal within a stabilized mind.
My experience in facilitating art for people with obsessive compulsive tendencies in my studio work is that they demonstrated highly detailed precision in their creative work. They were able to concentrate for long hours, and were considerably calmed by the intense focus. This particular gift and tenacity for extended period of concentration in people who have obsessive, compulsive tendencies can contribute to a successful meditative practice.
Left to our own devices, our thoughts can easily wander out of control, and we can resort to outside rituals and compulsions to try to order ourself. A long lineage of Buddhist meditators have seen the same unfolding healing process from obtaining a still and stable mind through meditation practice. For those of us who struggle with unhelpful obsessive, compulsive tendencies, meditation can cultivate a true and productive use of the mind.
Training the mind can employ perfectionist tendencies in a positive and helpful way. Buddhist teacher Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche illustrates a map of the meditative process to train our wild and busy minds into perfect peaceful equanimity.
Following is my encapsulation of Sakkyong Mipham Rinpoche's precice description of the nine stages of meditation.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 73 - Healing Perfectionism
This art journal prompt explains the 3 types of masks that we can wear in social situations and how the false self creates painful perfectionism. This activity will guide you to transform your mask through 3 simple steps and 6 journal questions.
- Journal and pen
- Collage materials, magazines that you regularly enjoy, scissors and glue stick
The Mask and Childhood Hurts
Each of us has a protective mask self, and until we heal the wounds from our childhood by re-visiting and releasing them, we will continue to present an overly protective idealized self to the world. Our mask keeps our hurt frozen within our personality structure. And, this frozen way of seeing the world continues to attract the same childhood hurts into our current reality.
Because our mask is inauthentic, we will experience continual rejection when we are in our mask. People often avoid inauthenticity, and so this starts the struggle for perfection to create an even more infallible mask, so that the emotional pain of rejection can be avoided.
In the quest for further phoniness, the inner critic steps in and chastises our inner child who cannot seem to "win" love no matter what we do. Our idealized mask self is doomed to failure, disappointment, loss of self-esteem and painful rejection. As we continue to inwardly berate ourselves, we raise the stakes of perfection after every inevitable failure.
Counsellor and Pathwork teacher Susan Thesenga writes about the Three Types of Masks in her book "The Undefended Self ." I encapsulate her wise words for you here:
The Three Types of Mask - The Attempt to Appear Perfect
The pseudo-solution of the mask is usually based on a distortion of one of the three divine principles of love, power, or serenity. In a unified state, these principles operate in harmony. In our dualistic state of being we unconsciously and predominantly choose one of these divine attributes to emulate in an attempt to appear perfect. However, because we are attempting to create an invulnerable perfection, these divine attributes turn into their distortions:
Love becomes dependency and submission
Power becomes control and aggression
Serenity becomes withdrawal
1. The Mask of Love...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 74 - Physical Repetition to Calm Anxiety
This art journal and physical expression exercise will support you to discharge intense levels of anxiety when emotions run high.
Repetitive Action to Relieve Anxiety Induced Restlessness
Inner work is often intensely uncomfortable. Any emotionally charged memory that is difficult to look at will have intense anxiety "sitting on top" of it.
Holding strong presence in the face of extreme anxious restlessness is nearly impossible for most. When anxiety arises, it is often essential to work it through the body before the underlying emotions can be seen.
Since our body is the home to all of our emotional history, our tension and emotionally induced anxiety often needs to be cleared through vigorous physical action before we can feel strong enough to quietly witness, and release past emotional pain.
When anxiety feels so great that we cannot sit still, the solution is to take physical action in order to calm the nervous system enough to become aware of what we are feeling. When anxiety feels explosive and powerfully agitating, and you cannot soothe and calm yourself, it is helpful to find a vigorous, repetitive physical or creative activity to discharge it.
Repetitive Action to Regain Presence
Repetitive activities do not require much thought, yet they offer physical movements upon which to concentrate when anxiety overwhelms. In this way, the mind can let go of its anxieties and worries - or at least decrease their intensity of discomfort - as it loses itself in the sheer, soothing repetition of the action.
The physical concentration on "something but nothing" is a form of moving meditation that dissipates the uncomfortable charge of anxiety, so that underlying emotions can be more clearly seen, felt and released. As our physical tension dissipates, our mental and emotional agitation calms as well, and we can more easily discern the source of our discomfort.
Physical movement is often crucial in reducing anxiety. The following activities provide an outlet for the intensity of anxiety that makes us want to crawl out of our skins. Repetitive physical actions discharge the uncomfortable energies in our bodies until we can feel calm and clear enough to do our inner-feeling work.
17 Ways to Translate Anxious Restlessness into Calming Action....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 75 - Spontaneous Collage Scrap Journal
This collage journal exercise will support you to play freely, using whatever you have on hand, without worrying about results. This prompt also provides a written journal review process to support you to see the unconscious patterns in your creativity.
- Old drawings and paintings, rubbings, colored papers
- Magazine collage scraps, tissue paper
- Scissors and a glue stick
Loosening up Your Creativity
Collages that take very little thought, time or effort can evoke an unknown feeling, a new idea, or a fresh longing. Leftover collage scraps - colorful papers, magazine clippings, rubbings, words, old drawings and paintings - can be created into quick, experimental collages.
Be Happy, Truthful and Free
A spontaneous collage journal is a visual form of play. As writer Brenda Ueland advises, "Create every day, as fast and carelessly, or as often as you possibly can."
Don't be afraid to make as many, awkward or "un-eloquent "collages as you can. Allow yourself to create anything - startling, remarkable, ordinary or ugly collages. Do not concern yourself with composition or aesthetics. Glue scraps down quickly without thought. Listen to your instincts. Play completely.
The Fast Creation Process...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 76 - Freedom From Shame
This written journal exercise will support you to understand the beliefs at the root of your shame, and to dispel feelings of embarrassment through honest writing.
- Journal and a pen
The False Conclusions of Childhood
* As children, when we experience emotional shocks or traumas, we generalize the shortcomings of ourselves, our parents, and the world.
These emotional shocks form static conclusions and vast generalizations about life, and while they defy rational logic, they are held and hidden within our body in a dark, emotionally charged container of shame.
As children, we innocently think that everyone else has a perfect family and ideal home conditions but ourselves. Shame arises when we believe that our challenging life situation is unique, and that our entire thought and emotional process around shame has to be hidden away from others.
Whenever our emotional or thought processes remain hidden, we stop growing. We literally freeze ourselves in time, and a part of our psyche internally stays at the age where we have hidden our "shameful" life assumptions away from others.
Our false conclusions about why we should feel shame forms patterns of behavior and trigger emotional reactions, that in our adult minds, we often cannot understand. While our outer personality may grow and learn as we mature, we may still hold aspects of ourselves in a state of immaturity that keeps us stuck repeating certain faulty behaviors that cycle around shame, no matter how hard we try to change them.
Our false conclusions about why we should feel ashamed also seem to attract outer circumstances without our seeming to do anything to produce them. This is why when we deeply desire to consciously grow in a certain way, the opposite of what we want comes to pass instead. This is because our unconscious minds are stronger than our conscious minds. Whatever is hidden holds tremendous energy, and always has more power to create our life.
Discovering Repeating Shame Patterns - A Journal Process
This journal process (inspired and informed by the spiritual and psychological Pathwork of Eva Pierrakos) involves thinking back to find all of the problems that you have had in your life. This includes problems of all sorts - big small, and even nonsensical. It is important to concisely write down each problem that comes to mind so that you can have an overall view that will be necessary for uncovering the one common denominator.
This journal process does not have to be done all in one day and may need to be done over a period of a few months. Once you have an extensive list of your life's challenges, search for the existence of one common denominator in your beliefs. Our common denominator may not be easy to find at first but is worth taking good bit of time to quietly meditate on finding it over a period of days, weeks or months.
The answer may be slow in coming but after a long and arduous search, you will likely discover one negative common denominator even though initially all of your problems seem unrelated. Upon deeper looking, there is usually one negative emotional imprint or signature - one false limited conclusion that undermines all of your conscious wishes to grow forward, and do well in your life.
This one false conclusion that has unconsciously governed your life forms a pocket of shame within, that when discovered, can be examined and let go of. Once your false conclusion is known, you become equipped to eliminate the source of your shame and unhappiness....
Art Journal Therapy Activity #77 - Heal Your Core Wound
This written journal prompt will help you to uncover your core wound and dismantle its untrue belief system.
- Journal and a pen
What is the Primary Core Wound that Drives Your Negative Behaviors?
When we act from our core pain we will sense our energy extending forward out of our center in a way that is willing to compromise our authenticity. This gesture is lacking, needy, anxious, and overly effortful to please other people and "win love."
When we excessively "do" positive-seeming things to avoid feeling our core wound, we will feel hollow and drained. Negative core beliefs are hard to find because we cover them up with virtuous-seeming opposite behaviors.
Following is a list of common core wounds that drive the personality to act "as if" it is the "positive" opposite. The following journal activity is inspired and informed by the work of psychologist Stephen Wolinsky, and his book, "The Way of the Human - Part II."
1. There must be something wrong with me - acting "as if" I am perfect, and everything is perfect.
2. I am unworthy - Acting "as if" I have extraordinary value.
3. Inability to do - Acting "as if" I can do anything and every action is significant.
4. Inadequate - "unappreciated" - Acting "as if" I have everything figured out.
5. I don't exist - "unseen" - Acting "as if" I exist because I know a lot.
6. I am alone - Acting "as if" I have connection to everyone.
7. I am incomplete - Acting "as if" I am happy and enjoy having a wide variety of experiences.
8. I am powerless - Acting "as if" I have incredible power.
9. I am loveless - Acting "as if" I am lovable and loving.
10. I am crazy - Acting "as if" I am clear, healthy, sane and appropriate.
11. I am unsafe - Acting "as if" I am safe and can make others safe.
12. I am out of control - Acting "as if" I am in control.
Write out your specific, common inner message in your journal. If you do not see it here, make up your own. Some other fearful core wound statements might be: "I am not ok. I am stupid. I am unwanted. I am ugly. I am incompetent. I am different. Find your own words for how you feel.
Follow Your Emotions to Your Core Wound....
Art Journal therapy Activity # 78 - 100 Faces Journal Project
This art journal project will support you to loosen up and practice spontaneously expressing your many aspects of self.
Illustrating Our Different Selves
"We are not just one person. A trained individual can learn to listen to the voice quality of others and hear them shifting between several levels of their consciousness even within a single sentence. We are capable of very different perspectives and behaviors depending on which facet of consciousness is dominant at a given moment."
- Richard Moss MD
It seems strange that we would have to "practice" being spontaneous but most of us were encultured early on to become rigidly self-conscious about about art-making. Many of us were bound by rules about what "good art" was in elementary school. So, it can be interesting to draw or paint on one theme, or to practice using one subject, size or media, for a hundred days in a row to watch yourself progressively loosen up over time.
A Book of Spontaneous Faces
This project is inspired by artist Carla Sonheim's book "Drawing Lab for Mixed Media Artists" - which I apply to an art therapy/spontaneity practice for you here:
1. Begin a dedicated journal - Keep a daily journal for the next 100 days or longer in which you draw one or more spontaneous faces each day. Your journal may be large and colorful if you have time to be elaborate on the details or want to make large colorful strokes. Or, your journal might be very small, simple, and in black and white if you do not have much time to draw.
2. Gather your materials - You may want to focus on only one art medium to really get to know what you can do with it. You might, for example, want to simply want to explore spontaneous line though using a thick or thin black permanent marker each day. I personally love working with a simple black ballpoint pen. I find it to be very fast and expressive - in a way that allows a wide range of gesture and scribbles. Alternatively, you might want to draw your faces in elaborate color or pattern, using pencil crayons, felt markers, watercolor, pastels ect.
3. Experiment - When you first begin creating spontaneously, your drawings might feel stiff and forced. Sometimes our "original" drawing style is quite childlike at first. When we allow our natural drawing style to emerge, we will often go back to drawing like we did when we were children - when we stopped developing our intuitive drawing style to adapt to external standards and expectations.
You might even notice yourself revisiting feelings of awkwardness and self-consciousness when you draw. This inherited inhibition is why drawing 100 faces over a period of 100 days is useful. Do not worry if your drawings look or feel awkward and uncomfortable at first. Spontaneity can be regained with daily experimentation. An eloquence of natural self-expression can be developed with practice, over time.
Ways to loosen up drawing inhibitions are:
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 79 - Intuitive Found Poetry
This poetry journal directive offers an easy spontaneous way to tap into your unconscious mind to discover what you are feeling.
- Printed material such as newspapers, novels, old books, magazines, recipe books, fortunes, horoscopes, textbooks or dictionaries.
- Black and colored markers, pencil crayons, collage items, watercolor or acrylic paint.
"Poetic language expresses what plain language cannot, and thus helps us heal in a very unique way."
- Jon Fox
If you find it challenging to surrender to the spontaneous creative process, found poetry is good way to warm up your willingness to create from intuitive awareness. Found poetry taps into the words that feel the strongest to our unconscious mind. Found poetry can reveal hidden emotionality, visionary possibilities, or unknown beliefs in a mysterious and intriguing way.
Your spontaneously found poetry may not make rational sense, yet on a deeper level, it will make intuitive and emotional sense. Allowing yourself to embrace many seemingly contradictory ideas at once within the wide field of poetic expression provides a link to a larger reality. By embracing the paradoxes that arise out of spontaneous poetry you can open your mind to new possibilities for growth.
How to Create Found Poetry
1. Soften your eyes and scan your printed page for words that stand out...
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 80 - Express your Vulnerable Inner Child
This journal prompt will support you to see where you are still operating from a childlike perspective in your adult life. This activity offers 10 in-depth journal activities to support you to grow up emotionally.
- Journal and a pen
Growing Up Our Emotions
“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”
~ e.e cummings
Spiritual teacher Eva Pierrakos - the inspiration for this journal exercise - states: "The repression of feelings does not alleviate suffering; on the contrary it increases the pain. Feelings need room to grow, just as our minds and bodies do."
Many people believe, "I will not suffer if do not allow myself to feel." Yet, allowing our feelings to come to the surface enables them to grow up and mature.
It might seem strange to consider that our emotions need to grow up, yet mental and physical development without the full mature embodiment of all of our emotions leaves us feeling one-dimensional - like something is missing. To fully function and thrive in our life we need to develop the physical, mental and emotional sides of our nature.
Deeply knowing ourselves on an emotional level involves allowing all of our most uncomfortable feelings to reach the surface of our awareness to be seen, experienced and digested consciously - so that we can grow them up into present time.
Suppressed Emotions Repress Creativity
"To the degree that you close yourself off from your emotional experience, to that very degree the full potential of your creative ability is hindered in manifesting itself. " - Eva Pierrakos
In our world today, we are taught to develop our physical body and our thinking capacities but our emotional life remains unsupported and undeveloped. Because we are not taught how to grow up emotionally, many of us unconsciously remain as little children inside, not understanding that feeling all of our immature emotions with presence and love is the key to developing our maturity.
Many of us do not realize that we need to allow the expression of our negative, immature emotions in order to give them the opportunity to grow up, and become more constructive, creative and intuitive. From an unconscious, childlike place we believe, "If I do not feel, then I will not be unhappy." So in this way, our more irrational emotions stay suppressed, often for most of our lifetimes.
When we repress our emotions, we function at a fraction of our creative potential. When we withdraw from our emotional pain we numb the possibility to deeply experience happiness, creativity, passion and love. When we are unwilling to experience our pain, our intuitive abilities are dulled along with our creative faculties. ....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 81- Healing Negative Intentions
This journal contemplation will support you to uncover your hurt inner child's negative intentions.
"Those parts of ourselves which we reject exist in the unconscious, as separated aspects.
They are the lost sheep of our psyches and we must become the good shephard that welcomes them home."
- Susan Thesenga
Journal and a pen
Our Pleasure Seeking Negative Self
Because our hidden negativity lives in our unconscious mind, it can easily thwart our good intentions despite our best efforts to improve and progress. Our unconscious lower self has a life of its own with hidden negative agendas for finding negative pleasure. When we ignore our negative tendencies, they will seek to fulfill a destructive pattern in our lives that will keep us trapped in emotional pain and lower-self functioning.
Our lower self aspects will fight to maintain the aim of separation through the mechanisms of denial, self-justification, confusion, and dishonesty. To uncover your own confusion it is helpful to get to know your lower tendencies with a loving level of attention that is free of judgment and shame.
This journaling exercise is based on the inspired work of transpersonal counsellor Susan Thesenga, author of "The Undefended Self". This exercise is inspired by her deeper insights from Chapter 9 on "Releasing Lower Self Attachments."
Thesenga points out that our lower (inner child) self aims to convince us that the best way to be safe and powerful, and to have pleasure is to follow the path of egocentricity and negativity. Until we uncover and fully admit to the true intentions of our lower self, we will be caught in our negative patterns of seeking negative and destructive pleasures to the detriment of our own psychological health and emotional well-being.
Discovering Negative Intent
Richard Rohr, Franciscan friar, writer and contemplative teacher, speaks about shadow work in this way: "If you are really aware of what your shadow is up to, you'll be humiliated by yourself at least once a day."
We can uncover our negative intentions by examining where we feel unfulfilled in our lives. Even though we might think we want love, happiness, a better work situation, or creative fulfillment we may be unconsciously punishing ourselves or others, or we may refuse to embrace happiness because it threatens our ego control.
It is often shocking to understand that we each make the deeper choice to resist life and stay split off from our divine core by making negative choices for self-serving pleasures. However, to recognize the hidden "no's" that we have to our own love, truth, purpose, and healthy pleasure is liberating.
Our lower self deliberately chooses negativity, denial, spite and hate when we avoid mentally processing our own hurt from the past. Owning up to our worst - our most destructive and cruel attitudes exposes the truth that we actually choose to participate in the negativity in our life, and we are not the helpless victims that we pretend to be. When we finally discover our negative intentionality, we can assume full responsibility for the positive creation of our lives and flourish in joy and purpose.
Becoming Conscious of Negative Intentions
Until we deeply examine our destructive inclinations, we will choose to ignore our hidden choices to perpetuate the negativity in our life. As we learn to remove our false mask self, and expose and accept that we have a lower self that distrusts life, we will learn how to ground ourselves in our higher intuitive self who understands how to positively create our life....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 82 - Healing Sexual Distortions
This journal exercise will support you to understand how the roots of your sexual fantasies trace back to childhood emotional pain, and how childhood hurt connects to sexual arousal.
- Journal and a pen
- Collage materials - old magazines, scissors and a glue stick
Understanding Sexual Fantasies
One of the best ways to understand our unconscious mind and our lower self is to take a deep look at our sexual behavior and our sexual fantasies. As transpersonal counsellor Susan Thesenga writes,
"Almost everyone has some sexual fantasy in which sexuality is divorced from love, involving degrading or forcing oneself or others, or being degraded and forced."
Our sexual fantasies - when they are divorced from love - are a strong indication of where our sexual energies became distorted by emotional pain in childhood. When we deeply examine our sexual fantasies we will come to understand our areas of inner child unfulfillment in profound ways.
Moving Past Shame
If we can look past the guilt and shame imposed by parental, religious, and societal injunctions onto our sexuality, we can start to sense more deeply into the emotional needs that our sexual fantasies are hiding. Getting honest about what we fantasize about will reveal layers of emotional meaning that relieves the shame and self-rejection within our sexual desires.
Our distortions related to intimacy begin in childhood. And, strangely enough, if left unhealed, we crave the same familiar feelings of rejection, perpetration, abandonment, enmeshment or isolation within our sexual life as adults.
The unhealed emotional patterns from childhood are hidden within our sexual behaviors and thoughts. When we gradually learn how to separate our childhood emotional pain from our sexual pleasure, we can enjoy the free flowing pleasure of mature positive sexuality, often for the first time in our adult life.
This journal exercise by counsellor Susan Thesenga is adapted to address how adult sexuality becomes distorted by unhealed childhood need:
A Five Part Journal Exercise for Healing Distorted Sexuality....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 83 - Cultivate Concentration with Zen Painting
This expressive art prompt supports the practice of deeply concentrated engagement in the creative process as way to profound peace and integration.
- A wide soft brush - or three brushes - one for each color
- Three different colors of fluid acrylic paint
- 20 or more sheets of 8x10 or 11x14 cardstock or heavy paper
The Way of the Brush
Zen painting is a very simple spontaneous painting exercise, yet it takes great unselfconscious concentration to execute. It loosely involves the spiritual practice of painting one, two or three uninhibited brushstrokes - to express a moment when the mind is set free to allow the body create.
In this exercise, I invite you to progressively practice letting go of your normal self-conscious ways of being in the world by engaging in painting 20 or more loose, swift, minimalist paintings in one session. Practice until your mind goes completely still.
The aim of Zen painting is to practice single-pointed concentration so that the totality of your mind is so completely engaged - it disappears.
John Daido Loori, author of "The Zen of Creativity" writes, "When the totality of our mind is focused on a single point, its power becomes staggering. Building concentration is like any other kind of discipline. If we want to build muscles we lift weights. Soon our muscles respond. To play the piano, we repeat the same exercises over and over. Eventually our fingers fly over the keys. It's the same with movement, and with art. Repetitive practice builds our ability and skill."
Because our normal state of mind is one of distraction, it is helpful to experience and remember a state of integration. Unselfconsciusness is a state of psychological and emotional integration. To achieve integration through art, we can paint until we are no longer thinking.
Typically, meditation usually involves engaging two parts of ourselves. The witness usually observes the part of our personality that is emotionally or mentally activated. For visual people, engagement in meditative painting is often preferable to sitting still.
Deep and wholehearted, concentrated creative engagement invokes the collapsing of the observer and the observed so that life can be experienced directly - without our habitual filters.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 84 - Practicing Forgiveness With Ho’oponopono
This spiritual forgiveness exercise involves the profound principle of taking 100% responsibility for everything that happens to you. This prompt explains how everything we see helps to clear out hidden emotional pain.
- A journal and a pen
- A quiet space to write and reflect
This transpersonal forgiveness tool involves using your voice, either silently or out loud to heal what is troubles you about other people - inside of yourself. All that is needed is a quiet place to meditate, and the willingness to love and forgive those who have harmed you.
Ho’oponopono, Forgiveness, and Self-Responsibility
Ho'opononono is an especially helpful tool to use when forgiveness and reconciliation with another person seems impossible on an interpersonal level.
The Hawaiian healing method of Ho’oponopono is based on the deepest spiritual truth that anything that happens to you, and anything that you perceive, notice, and experience is your own creation. Because it is happening uniquely and only to you, in this particular way, at this point in time, it is entirely your your responsibility to heal. A hundred percent, with no exceptions.
Our experience of life is our creation, however, it does not mean that every experience is our fault. It simply means that we are each responsible for healing wherever we feel separated from love inside of ourselves, in order to heal whatever or whoever is appearing as the outer problem. If any emotional pain or external disorder is coming into into our life experience, it is our issue to heal.
Three R's of Self-Responsibility....
Journal Therapy Activity # 85 - Learning the Language of Your Unconscious Mind
This directive offers an in-depth 11 step daily review journal process to help you cleanse your darker emotions through honest writing.
- Journal and a pen
Unifying Our Rejected Parts of Self
"The path to the real self includes learning how to shed our mask, accepting our "lower" imperfect human nature, and embracing our "higher" spiritual nature."
Our unconscious mind hides away everything what we reject about ourselves. When we bring every split-off, lost, and unloved piece of ourselves back into the home of our accepting heart, our strength and vitality returns, and we experience a genuine inner peace that is free of enforced positivity.
The Purpose of Unification
Our separation away from loving certain parts of ourselves creates the contents of our unconscious mind. When we unify all of the contents of our unconscious mind with our conscious mind, we earn
the joy of true inner peace.
1. Idealized Self - Our first stage of development begins when we stop trying to appear perfect, and begin to admit our negative and self-centered intentions, limitations, struggles, and shortcomings.
2. Unconscious Mind - As we drop our idealized self, we get to know all of who we are in our unconscious mind and discover that our "younger" repressed, distorted and undeveloped aspects of self can be transformed and integrated into one unified, peaceful whole.
3. Authentic Self - When we accept all of ourselves - our dark and our light - we can access our true strength and authentic creativity, and live our life from intuition. When we embrace all parts of ourselves, from the highest to the most low, we unify our being and experience genuine peace.
The Peace of Integration
The ultimate goal of all emotional, psychological and spiritual growth is unification, which is the gathering of all disparate parts of self into one integrated whole.
1. Dismantling the defensive mask that pretends it is perfect.
2. Coming to terms with all negative and fearful misperceptions, and all destructive emotions and attitudes.
3. Cleaning up all of our unhealthy behavioral patterns - such as addictions and the self-centered actions that arise from lack of self-love.
Unnecessary Emotional Pain....
Art JournalTherapy Activity # 86 - Understanding Your Defense Mechanisms
This written journal directive will support you to understand your defense mechanisms. This prompt includes a journal method of "interrupting and re-associating" your defenses into feelings of openness.
- A journal and a pen
- Collage materials (optional) - old magazines, glue stick and scissors
Our defense mechanisms prevent us from progressing in our psychological and emotional healing work. We all have our own particular architecture of defense that keeps uncomfortable emotions at bay.
Defense mechanisms are learned repetitive behaviors designed to repress the original pain that we do not want to process from the past. Our defenses are the "glue" that holds our "learned self" from childhood in place. Defense mechanisms store buried hurt that keeps us running in place. Our defense mechanisms keep us mentally unchanging, physically stagnant, and emotionally stifled.
While our defenses served a useful purpose when we were too immature to handle difficult emotions - left unexamined - they keep us psychologically frozen in limited and outmoded ways of thinking. The good news is - because our defense mechanisms are not who we really are - when the time is right - we can disassemble them in order to feel more open, flowing and alive.
Unblocking Crystallized Defenses
As our defense mechanisms crystallize with each passing year, we start to increasingly "wear" our defenses in our body armor, and on our facial expressions. We express our defenses through a persistent level of anxiety, and in repetitive and sometimes obsessively negative ways of thinking and behaving.
As we get older, our defense mechanisms become detrimental - blocking the ways that we need to spiritually unfold. Disassembling our defense mechanisms is the first step to doing deep, fruitful, transformative work.
How to Disassemble Your Defense System....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 87 - Writing Healing Stories
This written journal exercise offers an exploration of memory as a way of digesting and integrating the past.
- Journal and pen
"Stories heal us because we become whole through them. In the process of writing, of discovering our story, we restore those parts of ourselves that have been scattered, hidden, suppressed, denied, distorted, forbidden, and we come to understand that stories heal."
- Deena Metzger
By "re-membering" our life, we gather together our disjointed, alienated, and separated part of self, and begin to re-value what has been hidden and disdained.
It is helpful to understand that whatever we strongly or repeatedly remember will likely still be holding an emotional charge. As we remember and re-collect ourself through our stories, we properly digest our past and make ourselves whole. In gathering up our past memories, as writer Deena Metzger says, "we revitalize, rejuvenate, rescue, re-cover, re-claim, re-new" ourselves.
Following are some ideas to get your writing flowing, inspired by author and therapist Deena Metzger in her book "Writing for Your Life":
14 Story Writing Ideas....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 88 - Develop Heart Awareness by Writing Your Life Review
This in-depth journal directive offers profound methods of self-reflection to inspire you to move past your limits to loving others.
~ Journal and pen
Keeping an Open Heart
We rarely love beyond what we are used to. This habitual withdrawal can be considered our limited emotional set-point, or our family system set-point of loving. We only allow ourselves to give just so much, otherwise we fear we might be taken advantage of.
Often, we keep our love perimeter tight and careful, and in this way we can learn nothing new about ourselves. It is from this withdrawn place that we feel lost and often bemoan how we do not understand what our purposes, gifts and talents are.
We can only understand the unique way that we are meant to give to life by extending beyond our restricted, conditioned personal psychology. We find out who we are in our authentic selves by extending our energy past the edges of our emotional comfort zone.
Consider the possibility of keeping you heart open all of the time. Having this large goal will make you acutely aware of how often you close your heart in judgment every day. Notice the state of your heart as you go through your day. Is it closed, defended and judging, or is it open to whatever life brings? Grow to learn how to “read” your heart regularly.
Consider this possibility of expanding your defended edges as outlined by spiritual teacher Michael A. Singer. I like to substitute the word “love” for spirituality:
“Your cage is like this. When you approach the edges you feel insecurity, jealousy, fear or self-consciousness. You pull back, and if you are like most people, you stop trying. Spirituality (love) begins when you decide that you’ll never stop trying. Spirituality (love) is the commitment to go no matter what it takes. It is an infinite journey based on going beyond yourself every minute of everyday for the rest of your life. If you’re truly going beyond, you are always at your limits. You’re never back in the comfort zone. A spiritual (loving) being feels they are always against that edge, and they are constantly being pushed through it.”
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 89 - Integrating Your Shadow
This fun journal exercise offers a way to become friendly with your repressed aspects of self and learn more about your emotional needs.
- Journal and a pen
"The shadow is created because our ego, constantly trying to control our world, sorts out things that do not fit the picture we have constructed for how to survive and be accepted."
~ Carol Adrienne
Your shadow is the storehouse for all of your unrecognized and repressed aspects of self. Psychologist Carl Jung describes the shadow as all the things inside of ourselves that we do not accept, do not like about ourselves, or do not wish to look at. The shadow begins early in childhood when we start to hide away parts of ourselves that do not fit in with our parents or society.
As we go through our lives, we continue to hide away more and more parts of ourselves that do not gain approval and love from others. By the time we reach young adulthood we have developed an outer mask that is finely honed, underpinned by self-rejection and shame, and designed to gain acceptance.
Outer Events as Inner Metaphors
"If you don't go within, you go without" ~Neale Donald Walsh
Self-rejection engenders a great deal of outer threat in our lives. Whatever we resist persists and follows us everywhere - often literally in the form of strange, reoccurring life events, and repetitive symbols in our dreaming and waking life. If we cannot look at something inside of ourselves, we will project it out, and make it "bad" in other people and outer events.
Our shadow leaks out in various ways, one being the negative projection onto others. Every one of us suppresses uncomfortable emotions and disturbing thoughts. This is why our suppressed discomfort needs to come to our awareness through the metaphor of outer events. As soon as we resist our emotional discomfort, it gets projected "out there" through our upset with other people.
When we reject parts of ourselves that we feel are shameful or unacceptable, life and other people can feel foreboding. Because we violently push down what feels unacceptable to our normal awareness, our shadow figures - when they have the chance - may violently uprise into our conscious awareness through dark dreams and discomforting fantasies.
Our inner shadow figures also arise during times of stress, exhaustion, and difficulty. Whenever we feel vulnerable or out of control, our shadow figures will take the opportunity to assert themselves to try to win some time in our conscious awareness. Our shadow figures can keep us awake at night as we wrestle with the anxious task of trying to push back them down, feeling the dread of their insistence and assertion.
How to Become Friendly with Your Shadow Figures....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 90 - Resolving Childhood Emotional Needs
This journal directive will be helpful if you feel angry and frustrated about your outer life circumstances. This journal exercise will support you to discover if your discontent is from unattended emotional needs that originated in the past.
- Journal and a pen
Childhood Emotional Needs
Often, without even realizing it, we wish and even demand that other people meet the emotional needs that were not met in our childhood.
Some emotional needs that may not have been met in childhood are:
- To be accepted, and loved
- To be acknowledged, admired, approved of
- To be attended to in our basic physical needs
- To be encouraged to be confident
- To be allowed to develop naturally
- To be educated about life
- To be seen as competent
- To seen in our individuality
- To be allowed to develop naturally
- To be empowered to express authentically
- To be forgiven for our mistakes
- To feel free to express differences
- To have happy experiences
- To be seen and heard
- To be helped when we are having difficulty
- To be allowed to be helpful
- To have some control over our environment
- To feel included
- To have independence
- To have others express interest in us.
- To feel loved and needed
- To be noticed
- To be allowed to be optimistic
- To express openly
- To have privacy
- To be encouraged to be productive
- To be protected
- To have others who feel proud of us
- To feel reassured during difficult times
- To be recognized for our gifts
- To be able to relax
- To be respected for our autonomy and uniqueness
- To feel safe and secure
- To feel significant
- To be celebrated for our successes
- To be treated fairly
- To be supported
- To be understood
- To feel useful, valued and worthy
Resolving Anger About Unmet Emotional Needs
"Anger is a defensive feeling meant to protect deeper feelings such as hurt, guilt, deadness, fear, and frustration. Anger falls away when we allow ourselves to know what the deeper feeling is and experience it, instead of attacking and withdrawing. If we become interested in knowing ourselves, we can choose and attitude of being willing to experience our more primordial emotions and resolve them." - Chuck Spezzano
Anger often hides the truth that we have an emotional need that we want other people to satisfy. Anger may show up as direct attack, passive aggression, withdrawal, complaining or excessive emotional suffering as a way to try and gain control. But as long as we try to change an outside situation to satisfy an inner need, we will remain eternally frustrated.
When you become emotionally triggered about an outer circumstance you can look deeper to see if you can find anger about an emotional need not being met. In this way, you can use every opportunity to learn how to face and feel the primordial/original pain that drives your "neediness."
The person or outer circumstance that is frustrating you can be a catalyst to help you find your most painful and self-defeating attitudes and emotions - if you are willing to look below your anger.
12 Steps to Dissolving Anger About Unmet Needs- A Journal Exercise....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 91 - Write Your Own Fairy Tale
This written journal directive will support you to discover and actualize your authentic self and your life purpose.
- Journal and a pen
- Collage items to embellish your writings - magazine clippings, opulent papers, foils, leaves - anything that represents your past, present and future selves.
As we are trying to grow beyond our past familial conditioning into our unique vitality, it is helpful to be aware of the mythical path that underpins every human journey to authenticity. To elucidate our true calling and authentic nature we can write our own fairy tale as described by Joseph Campbell's metaphorical hero's journey.
"We must be willing to get rid of the life we've planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us." ~ Joseph Campbell
The path to our authenticity is truly a mythic journey. As we travel along the path of finding and expressing our True Self, we join with Universal forces, and life feels progressively magical - full of signs, symbols and synchronicities that contribute to our emotional healing.
The following art journal directive offers a fairy tale journaling outline - with you as the Heroine/Hero of your own life journey. Use your real life details but feel free to imaginatively/metaphorically embellish them too. If you find imagery to depict your writing process, collage it along the margins, or in between your writings in your art journal.
In Your Journal: Refer to yourself as "him" or "her" to create an altered point of view, and to express feelings that may not come when you speak from "I." Do not be afraid to take poetic and creative leaps in your story telling.
The 12 Stages of The Hero's Journey - A Journal Exercise
1. Ordinary World
We begin our story in the ordinary world that we live in before the call to authentic living begins - oblivious of the adventures to come. It is here that we exist in the familiar cocoon of habitual ways of doing things and our family conditioning. There is an uncomfortable unawareness at this point that does not have a name or a direction, yet something is pulling us to grow.
In Your Journal: Choose a name for your main character and describe your everyday current life prior to to your call to authenticity. Describe the crucial details of your conditioned nature, your present capabilities and learned limitations. This anchors your story in the universal human fate of familial conditioning, and describes the common challenges that we all face in leaving our conditioned family limitations behind.
2. Call To Adventure
Our heroic adventure to authenticity begins when we receive a call to action, such as through a crisis or a sudden change in life circumstances. A threat happens to our normal ways of doing things, or perhaps a poignant moment manifests itself and ultimately disrupts the comfort of our ordinary world, presenting a challenge or quest that must be undertaken. The call to adventure may also come from sudden inspiration, and the deeper desire to pursue a passionate dream or goal.
In Your Journal: Write about the call to action that incites you to change your life. If you have not yet had a wake-up call, write about what would happen if your current comfort zone or regular supports fell away? How do you need to change? What inspires you to change? What goal or larger purpose would you be willing to stake your life on to pursue? Who do you most want to be in the world? Write down and complete this statement, "My deepest calling is...."
3. Refusal Of The Call
Although we might be eager to accept the quest, at this stage we will have fears that need to be overcome. There may be second thoughts or even deep personal doubts as to whether we are up to the challenge of venturing out of our comfort zone, and into the unknown. When this fear arises, we will refuse the call to our authentic actualization, and as a result, we will suffer.
Perhaps an illness, a misfortune, or a loss of income arises when we refuse to follow our authentic life path. The fears of moving out of our comfort zone may seem too much to handle, and the familiarity of our habitual conditioning may be far more attractive than the perilous road of change ahead.
In Your Journal: Describe your fears of the road ahead. What hassles, changes or outer objections might incur? What are you afraid of losing? Describe what you fear might happen if you moved forward to your highest purpose.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 92 - Journaling to Cultivate Joy
This journaling directive will be helpful if you are struggling with heavy emotions, and you want to interrupt the downward spiral of negativity.
- Journal and a pen
Moving out of Self-Absorption
Most of us journal to move through our difficult emotions, but a journal can also be used as way to discover what makes us happy. We can use our journal writing as a means to discover happiness, gratitude and inspiration - even amidst heavy emotional states.
Because habitual negative thinking can spiral our emotional state progressively downward, it is helpful to "interrupt" our discomforting states - not a form of denial - but as a way of cherishing the preciousness of life, even when we feel rough. Cultivating joy strengthens emotional health, and it can be cultivated.
We can easily spend our time preoccupied with trying to escape heavy emotions through all manner of distraction, addiction and avoidance. It is debatable as to whether it is possible to actually "get rid" of our darker feelings. It seems we all have an inner quota of emotional pain to process in our lifetime. At certain times of life it may be more realistic to consider developing the ability to function through difficult emotions - learning how to celebrate the poignancy of our pain, and the beauty of life at the same time.
When we look at life through our pain, it can feel exquisitely profound. Our perceptions can be made more vivid through pain, with a willingness to open our heart to the fragility and difficulties of life. When we allow ourselves to vulnerably feel grief and sadness, for example, the raw tenderness can open us up to seeing life more deeply than our normal protective filters would typically allow.
Five Ways to Cultivate Joy Through Writing
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it.”
~ Eckhart Tolle
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 93 - Keeping a Daily Aspiration Journal
The creation of higher aspirations on a daily basis is particularly helpful if you are struggling with depression or emotional pain.
- A small dedicated "Aspiration Journal" and a pen.
Keeping a daily "Aspiration Journal" can help you to go beyond your habitual pain patterns, and can support you to lean forward into your heart's desire for growth.
It is possible to be present with a troubling emotion, and to endeavor toward opening our hearts - through the "interruption and alternation" of higher aspirations. Because it is so easy to be over-identified with intense emotions, and the language that they "speak," it is helpful to set a loving affirmation to "sit" alongside of your pain. If, for example, you feel lonely, your higher aspiration for the day might be, "May I invite love into my heart today."
1. You might wake up inspired or you may wake up in emotional pain. Embrace either state without judgment or preference. Reflect upon how you feel naturally without trying to change your state. Sense, from an intuitive place, into what might be emerging from the edge of your awareness for you to aspire to today. Write your aspirations before you start your day.
2. As you become more present with your pain, you will notice that your hurt is actually saying something. Each hurting part of self has a voice. It might say, "I am failure." Or, "Nobody loves me." Each belief that arises from, and perpetuates your emotional pain, has an opposite higher aspiration that can be introduced into your Daily Aspiration Journal....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 94 - Witnessing and Healing Emotional Pain
This journal directive will support you to heal your emotional pain at its root through a six step process that will take you from anxiety to effortless presence.
Journal and a pen
Creating Our Own Pain
Daily, we recreate our emotional pain through mostly unconscious micro-choices to contract our mind and body in ways that seem so automatic, we think they are true. Observing ourselves creating our inner states is a key factor in healing emotional pain.
Our natural essence state is relaxed, open, unbounded, and unconditionally connected to life. Yet, for most of us, we only experience this state of natural ease and flow when we forget our emotional pain body, such as during a crisis, when immersed in the beauty of nature, when fully absorbed in a creative process, or immersed in any pleasurable activity that requires our fullest concentrated attention.
The Creator Behind our Conditioning
When your childhood pain body is triggered in present time, you may notice that you are holding your breath and contracting your body in a very particular way. This pulling away from pain separates you from fully connecting to, and healing the "cellular imprints" of your emotional pain.
But as we refine our awareness, we can learn to catch how we habitually make the same choices over and over again to resist an emotional pain that wants to come up for recognition, release, and integration.
Emotions rise up from the places within where we do not love ourselves - or said more more simply - emotions arise where love is not. Resisting emotional pain generally follows a particular process of avoidance as detailed below. Track where you are in your emotional healing process in your journal.
The Six Step Process to Healing Emotional Pain
1. Anxiety Avoidance Behaviors - On "top" of our emotional pain is our anxiety stuffing and distracting behaviours. Usually when a difficult emotion rises up for healing and integration, the first line of defense is to reach for a pleasurable, distracting, or numbing behavior to try to get rid of the anxiety.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 95 - Exploring Empowered Anger
This journal exercise will be helpful for you if you have trouble owning that you feel angry, or if you feel inhibited to express anger.
This exercise is especially for those of us who repress anger, feel weakened or unable to take powerful action in life.
- Journal and a pen
" Anger has a will, and it finds a way to make us listen. Anger is meant to be a part of each one of us."
- Deborah Cox
Admitting You Feel Anger
The emotion of anger is often repressed, diverted and denied its full expression, especially for women. Even if you think that you fully express your anger, you may be surprised at the deep pockets of anger that you have not yet recognized and released. Many women internalize anger by minimizing it or denying it, or by diverting it into tears or depression. Anger can also be externalized through judgment and blame, or through passive aggressive communication.
It is helpful, whenever you feel angry, to immediately admit to yourself, silently or out loud: "I feel angry" or "I feel upset." This admittance, in an of itself, releases great energy, and starts the process of reclaiming the power inherent in anger.
Ten Myths about Anger
Repressing anger takes tremendous mental and physical energy to shove out of mind and body awareness. When we are reluctant to admit to or express anger it can easily get deeply packed into the heart and body tissues.
Suppressed anger manifests itself through muscular contraction, body tension and pain, gritted teeth, clenched jaw, sexual dysfunction, upset stomach, headaches, and even life threatening illnesses.
The following ten "myths" about anger are inspired and informed by the book "The Anger Advantage" written by psychologists Deborah Cox, Karin H. Bruckner and Sally Stabb. Take care to "bust" these myths, and journal about what you believe and do not believe is true about anger.
1. Anger does not naturally lead to aggression - Anger can help us protect and advocate for ourselves. It is possible to use anger to respond strongly and speak up assertively in conflicts or threatening situations without resorting to aggression or violence
2. Anger is not destructive - Anger can be powerfully constructive. It can create needed change quickly and effectively because it has so much energy inherent in it.
3. Anger does not breed more anger - Anger can solve problems with great cutting clarity. Admitting to anger inspires rapid change.
4. Anger does not make you sick - Stuffing anger out of our awareness does make us sick, as well as tired and weak.
5. Anger is not a weakness - Anger has a powerful strength that can discern between right and wrong. To constantly disguise the parts of ourselves that oppose, direct, manage, lead, or even keep ourselves safe is what actually creates weakness.
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 96 - Healing Fixations - Unblocking Stuck Energy
This journal directive will help you to understand and release varying drives, desires, and fixations on the different levels of your being so that you can flow with reality as it is unfolding, and prepare yourself to hold higher spiritual energies.
- A journal and a pen
- Self-reflective time
Being multidimensional beings, we often confuse one level of healing with another, and this can lead to confusion about what is appropriate for our growth. For example, if we are unconditionally loving all people on a spiritual level but are not in touch with the practical truth of external reality, we could get taken advantage of.
When we are fixated in one area of our being, we cannot see the creative possibilities that exist all around us. Loosely defined, a fixation is an area of life that we feel obsessive about or stuck in. For example, we can be overly fixated on finding success, eating particular foods, or on having sex. Any fixation that we are stuck in indicates a target area that we can focus our healing attention. When we free ourselves from fixations, we experience life more creatively.
We heal best when we work on the fixation at the level that we are stuck in. Becoming unstuck involves loosening our fixations on the various levels of our being. Following are the various dimensions of awareness as explained by psychologist Stephen Wolinsky. Reflect upon where you are in your healing process in your journal. I have adapted some of Wolinsky's experiential exercises for the journaling processes below.
The Fixation of Attention
* "What is true on one level of awareness is not necessarily true at another level of awareness."
We can become stuck at various levels in our life. Awareness can be fixated in the external, thinking, emotional, or biological dimensions. It is important to address your problem directly on the level of awareness that you are feeling stuck in. When our attention is fixated excessively in one area - we cannot grow in a balanced way. All levels of our being are equally important, and need to be integrated in order to function in a balanced way.
The Five Dimensions of Human Experience
- External Dimension
- Thinking Dimension
- Emotional Dimension
- Biological Dimension
- Spiritual Dimension
1. External Dimension
* "Different externals pull up different unresolved internals."
To function well, we have to learn how to work with the world the way it is. Working with external reality, when trying manifest to goals and purposes in the world, for example, requires discernment about the actual external context that we live in. Living in external reality requires seeing realistically what the current market can understand, embrace, or see as valuable.
Different external experiences pull out unresolved internal responses and reactions. Our primal nervous system (formed from our earliest experience of life) generalizes our life experience to the point where we are not able to clearly see objective external reality. Until we look at our habitual mental and emotional associations, we will continue to overlay the past onto our external experience.
Journal Exercise for Healing Fixation on the External World
1. Look around the room at people and objects. Note how you are viewing your external life right now and write down the memories, internal voices, and associations which automatically "pop up" as you focus on your external life. Contemplate what you emotionally want from your environment, what memories get triggered, how you judge and organize your thinking.
2. Now clear your mind, and without using your thoughts, memories, emotions, associations or perceptions, look around the room. Notice the difference in your awareness. Feel the creative openness of viewing your external reality without past associations of any kind.
For a few hours a day, explore being in your life without using memory, mind associations or perceptions. Note the fresh creativity of your vision. See if any new insights or awareness arise from "outside" of your normal fixed view of your external reality....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 97 - Healing Patterns of Emotional Abuse
This in-depth written journaling directive will be helpful if you are unsure about what emotional abuse is because it feels like your "normal." As you question your "normal" you will be able to discern how you unconsciously emotionally abuse yourself, and why you accept it unquestioningly from other people.
- Journal and a pen
Inner and Outer Emotional Abuse
Emotional abuse is defined as any non-physical behaviors or attitudes that are designed to control, intimidate, subjugate, demean, punish or isolate you. Emotional abuse is like brainwashing that systematically wears away self-confidence, self-worth, trust in your perceptions, and your authentic self-concept.
Recognizing how you allow abuse from other people will also help you to see how you continue to "abuse" yourself on an inner level by perpetuating the negative messages that you have heard from others in the past. The patterns of emotional abuse and reflective journal exercises below are informed and adapted from the book, "The Emotionally Abusive Relationship" by therapist Beverly Engel.
Understanding the Patterns of Emotional Abuse
Domination - To dominate is to control another person's actions. The person who tries to dominate another person has a tremendous need to have their own way. Dominating behaviors might include having someone monitor your time and activities, interfering with your opportunities, excessive jealousy or possessiveness, threatening harm to you or your loved ones, abusing loved ones in front of you, forcing or coercing you into illegal or uncomfortable behavior.
Verbal Assaults - Verbal assaults include berating, belittling, criticizing, humiliating, name calling, screaming, threatening, excessive blaming, shaming, using sarcasm in a cutting way, or expressing disgust toward a person. This kind of abuse is extremely damaging to a person's person's self-esteem and self-image. Verbal abuse assaults the mind and the soul, causing wounds that are difficult to heal. Other forms of verbal abuse are withholding, countering, discounting, verbal abuse disguised as jokes, judging, trivializing, ordering, and abusive anger.
Constant Criticism/Continual Blaming - When someone is unrelentingly critical, always finds fault, can never be pleased, and blames you for everything that goes wrong, it is the cumulative effects of the abuse that do the damage. Over time, the abuse eats away at your self-worth, undermining good feelings that you have about yourself and your accomplishments. Constant criticism and blaming can be insidious and done under the guise of humor.
Abusive Expectations - Abusive expectations involve placing unreasonable demands and asks that you put everything aside to satisfy the needs of another. It asks for undivided attention, constant sexual availability, or the requirement for you to spend all of your time with another. With abusive expectations there is always more that you could have done. You will likely be subjected to constant criticism, and be berated because you do not meet the needs of the other.
Emotional Blackmail - Emotional blackmail is one of the most constant forms of manipulation. It happens when one person consciously or unconsciously coerces the other to do what he or she wants by playing on fear, guilt, or compassion. The use of withholding love, or affection or fear tactics to get you under control is emotional blackmail. With emotional black mail a person will try to make you feel like you are selfish or a bad person if you do something that they do not want you to do.
Unpredictable Responses - This type of abuse includes drastic mood swings, sudden emotional outbursts for no apparent reason, and inconsistent responses such as: reacting very differently at different times to the same behavior, saying one thing one day and the opposite the next, or frequently changing one's mind (liking something one day and hating it the next).
Unpredictable responses cause you to feel constantly on edge, never knowing what is expected of you. This kind of behavior is common with alcohol and drug abusers who can exhibit one personality while sober and a totally different one when intoxicated or high. Living with someone like this is extremely demanding and anxiety-provoking. You feel constantly frightened, unsettled, and off-balance, and must remain hyper-vigilant.
Constant Chaos/Creating Crisis - This behavior is characterized by continual upheavals and discord. If someone in your life is in constant conflict with others, they may be addicted to the drama of chaos. Creating chaos provides excitement for people who are uneasy with silence, those who distract themselves from their own problems by focusing on outer problems, those who feel empty inside and need to fill themselves up with outer activity, and those who were raised in an environment in which harmony and peace where unknown qualities.
Character Assassination - This involves constantly blowing someone's mistakes out-of-proportion, humiliating, criticizing, discounting achievements or making fun of someone in front of others. It can also include lying about someone in order to turn people against them, and gossiping about a person's failures and mistakes. Character assassination can also ruin someone's personal or professional reputation, causing them to lose friends, or even their family.
Gaslighting - This term comes from the classic movie "Gaslight", in which a husband uses a variety of insidious techniques to make his wife question her perceptions, her memory, and her very sanity. A person who does this may continually deny that certain events occurred or may insinuate that you are exaggerating or lying. In this way the abusive person may be trying to gain control over you or avoiding responsibility for his or her actions. Gaslighting is sometimes used to turn others against someone, or as a way to justify inappropriate, cruel, or abusive behavior.
Sexual Harassment - Sexual harassment is defined as unwelcome sexual advances or any physical or verbal conduct of a sexual nature that is uninvited and unwelcome. It is also considered sexual harassment when a partner tries to force you into sexual acts that you have no interest in or that upset or repulse you.
Journal Exercise - Action Steps....
Expressive Art Therapy Activity # 98 - Resolving Inner Conflict
This journal exercise will help you identify the two parts of your mind that are in conflict, understand how each side is trying to protect you or get needs met, and facilitate a dynamic resolution that helps to reduce emotional pain.
- Journal and a pen
"For us to experience pain, at least two parts of our mind must be in conflict. It is this conflict that generates not only a fear of moving forward, but also pain in the situation that we are experiencing.
Two parts of our mind are in a power struggle, and neither will be satisfied until there is an integration of both parts. Simple acceptance of the pain will not be enough to release us from pain if two of the deeper parts of our mind are still in conflict." - Chuck Spezzano
Identifying the Inner Conflict Between the Known and Unknown Parts of Your Mind
When a known part of our mind - a part that we primarily identify with - is in conflict with another more unknown part of self, emotional pain arises.
1. Find the specific polarization of your inner conflict. Look for opposite tendencies inside of yourself. What is your primary life direction? Sense into an opposite part that does not want to grow in the same way.
2. Look for your conscious attachment to have your life go a certain way. Your hidden part is trying to feel good in another way. Look for an emotional need that your hidden part of self is demanding to get met.
3. Note how the hidden - more unconscious - part of your mind refuses to go forward until the emotional need or life condition is met. Notice how the more unknown part of your mind emits emotional pain to try to get you to notice it....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 99 - Understanding Your Protector Selves
This journal directive will help you to identify the parts of yourself that work hard to protect your from becoming overwhelmed with intense emotions. This journal activity will support you to relax your protector so that your emotional healing can progress.
- Journal and a pen
Our entire human psyche is organized around avoiding emotional pain. The protective parts of our mind work very hard to keep emotional pain submerged. Developing a trusting relationship with our protector parts of self is essential so that we can begin the process of unburdening our emotional pain.
We cannot access and work with exiled emotional pain until we see the positive aspects of our defense system. We must gain permission from our "pain protectors" to process the pain. After you learn about what a good job your protective parts of self have been trying to do to protect you from pain, your protectors can be transformed, and invited to take on less extreme roles in your psyche.
Finding Your Protector Selves
The following directives are informed and inspired by psychologist Jay Earley, author of "Self-Therapy."
1. Body and Emotions - Note the tension in your body and pay attention to exactly where you steel yourself against unpleasant emotions. A protector part might feel like a tense holding-in of your body energy or a dissociation away from what you are feeling. Sometimes a protective part will freeze your heart or will make your head feel like cotton.
2. Imagery - You can also find a protector part of your personality by allowing an image of it to arise in your mind. You may also want to draw, paint, or collage your protectors to better understand what they are trying to do for you. Close your eyes and see if a visual character comes to mind.
Look for specific details, such as what kinds of clothes your protector is wearing and what it is doing to protect you. You can ask your protector to get up on an inner stage and act out the role it plays in your life. Note that the protector part may transform as you pay attention to it. What was once hidden from your awareness might brighten and change as you honor it with your witnessing interest.
3. Direct Knowing - Because your protector parts of self have been with you for most of your life, you may already know them well. Their mistrust, for example, will feel familiar, and you will likely recognize where some of your protectors live within your body.....
Art Journal Therapy Activity # 100 - Positive Life Creation
The following journal directive illustrates how to discover the inner causes of your unhappiness, and will support you to manifest your
desires through "The Four Keys to Positive Life Creation."
- Journal and a pen
"The moment you can see where your concepts, intentions, and attitudes create your life experiences, you have your key to create a different and more desirable life."
- Eva Pierrakos
Principles of Positive Creation
Just as we unconsciously create negatively, so we can also create our life positively. We each have a birthright to create our own positive, beautiful, abundant life, and at any point we can turn the tide of negative circumstances in your life though the following contemplative journal process.
Record the following directives in your journal. Consider and write in detail about your desired positive reality. Refine your positive vision each day. Reflect upon your new positive state in the morning when you get up in the morning, and in the evening before you fall asleep:
1. Align with your positive inner longing by forming a clear concept of what your desire. Make sure that your desired positive state is alignment with love for self and others.
2. Impress your positive creation onto your soul by practicing the "frequency" or body feeling tone of your desire.
3. Create a visualization of your new desired state as your permanent inner reality.
4. Affirm and allow the fulfillment of your new state, on an inner level daily, while also being grateful about the current state of your life.
5. Wait in faith for your positive desire to come into your outer life
6. At any point, if you meet obstacles in your positive creation process, go within to discover the lower self causes of your unfulfillment. Pay attention to the obstacles in your outer life and do the inner work needed to remove them.
*The Four Keys to Positive Life Creation...