Healing Shame

Intuitive Painting - Shelley Klammer
Seeking Mirroring in the World

I was a professional artist in my twenties. Having my work hanging in the top gallery in the city was a source of pride for me and also an enormous pressure. Every painting had to be really "good" so it would sell. I would spend over a month on each painting, painstakingly making sure that it was aesthetically beautiful.

Creating from my social mask, I self-consciously painted in a "perfect way" that represented how I wanted to be seen and accepted by others. Unknown to myself on the inside, I wanted to be recognized for the beauty that I sensed within, but could not contact myself. Creating art that other people approved of helped me to feel better about myself - for a time.

Spontaneous Creativity - A Method of Self-Mirroring

After a few short years of exhibiting as a gallery artist, I became pregnant with my daughter. Suddenly I had an aversion to painting for a pleasing end-product. The urge to know myself became intense. I pulled my work out of the art gallery and began to paint spontaneously in my basement studio.

My first spontaneous creations were both ecstatic and disturbing to me. I was not prepared for the emotional content that arose - multitudes of drawings of faces without mouths, and raw, passionate, sexual, and sometimes even violent paintings. Yet, as I created, I felt invigorated by the openings I felt in my body. My authentic truth began to unfold as I painted my inner life onto the canvas.

When you first allow yourself to paint whatever wants to be expressed, you might experience fear. Because you will self-reject in ways similar to how you have felt rejected by others in the past, spontaneous paintings often mirror back what you have repressed in shame. It can feel difficult for your censoring social mask to accept what is expressed through spontaneous art-making if it opposes how you prefer to present yourself to others. 

And interestingly, you can be just as self-rejecting about where you shine. Fear of being unlovable might arise when you express positive aspects that were not accepted in the past. You can also fear that you might not be loved for your "golden" qualities. Mirroring your truth to yourself in visual form is a profound act of self-love.

Solidify Self-Love Before Sharing

At the budding stage of psychological honesty, it is important to keep your creative work private, to allow your forbidden imagery to become comfortable, welcomed, and integrated into your everyday awareness. When I first began spontaneously creating, I was unable to contain myself. I was so enthused about my new-found freedom of expression, I made the mistake of showing some of my sombre drawings to one of my family members. 

My relative remarked what a contrast my new work was to my former, more "happy" professional artwork. When she said, "You must be very angry right now," I could feel my freshly-accepted anger retreating back into the shadows. Yet, I loved the honesty of my new work. Even though my drawings and paintings looked strange, chaotic and primitive they evoked hidden truths that I did not know I had inside.

 Express Your Shadow - Reveal Your Shame

"Doing shadow work means peering into the dark corners of our mind in which secret shames lie hidden and violent voices are silenced."

~ Natalie Rogers

Whatever you have exiled out of your awareness is an essential piece of the puzzle of your wholeness. You will need to allow every part of yourself to come up to the light of your conscious awareness to be loved in order to live a meaningful life. Spontaneous creativity provides you with clues about who you are in all of your various aspects. 

Negative emotions such as anger, sadness, shame, guilt and fear shroud specific gifts. Anger, for example, is the seed of passionate change, constructive action, and healthy emotional boundaries. Shame holds the seeds of humility and compassionate tenderness. Guilt will remind you to act with integrity.

Reclaim Your Needs, Feelings, Desires, and Drives

“To be shame-bound means that whenever you feel any feeling, need or drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, needs and drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core.”

~ John Bradshaw

All of us have a shadow. We all have learned how to reject ourselves in some way. Shame indicates an aspect of self that you are "not supposed" to have. Your shadow can hide aspects of your unaccepted aspects so deeply - you will hardly feel alive. The good news is you can recover the lost parts of yourself. It is possible to revive rejected, dormant, and even dying parts of yourself into your loving awareness.

You can easily make another's emotional absence mean something negative about yourself When you were a child your caregivers might have been wrapped up in busyness, distractions, addictions and emotional pain. In this way, you will reject ourselves in the same ways that others rejected you in the past.

But you can learn to love the disowned parts of yourself. You can delve with compassion into your inner shadow to find out where you perpetuate self-rejection. You can invite each disowned part of yourself to come up into the light to be loved, understood and reclaimed in the light of your mature awareness.

Pace and Integrate 

"Each time an inroad is made by the Numinous into our individual consciousness, the potential is created for the opposite to take hold. This potentiality is only energized from the part of our nature that asserts itself during moments of unawareness - the part that belongs to the subconscious. The subconscious is a reservoir of stored experiences in their unassimilated form; a hotbed of complexes formed from our past traumas, disappointments, fears, unexpressed ambitions and motives and the like."

~ F. Aster Barnwell

Layers of shame can arise in your spontaneous art to be seen and loved back into the light. At first, you will need to be gentle with integration work.  It might be helpful to paint a little, and then allow the emotional disturbance to fully release before continuing to paint again so as not to become emotionally overwhelmed.

Each aspect of the shadow - faced with vigour and courage - reveals a choice. As you attend to your shame, you will find an inner friendship with your rejected aspects of self.  When you face shame with determination, a self-rejecting belief system is revealed. 

Staying present with shame is like building a muscle. It takes time to strengthen. Shame can come up with great intensity when you first make room for it. When I started painting spontaneously, I wanted to "dig it all up" right away in order to "get rid of it." I dove into my emotional repression without taking proper integration breaks. 

I was not sufficiently emotionally developed to handle so much. In my spontaneous creativity binges, I swam in heavy emotional states - sometimes drowning in them for days and even weeks. By becoming more present to the force of my own shame, I gradually learned to pace myself in order to emotionally heal at a rate that felt balanced to my nervous system.

Spontaneous Creativity as Self Therapy

“When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming.”

~ John Bradshaw

When you create spontaneously, you build the capacity for self-honesty, self-empowerment, and self-friendship. Going into shame places is the loneliest place that you will ever go. Your shame is the place where you have cut ourselves off from the light of love and connection. As you meet what you have cut off from your conscious awareness, you will need to summon powerful self-love.  

As you progress along the path of spontaneous creativity, you can begin to form a relationship with yourself through the following self-valuing tools elucidated by psychologist Carl Rogers.

1.) Congruence: When you create spontaneously, you create a sanctuary to be utterly yourself. This is your time to let down your facade and to create congruence between your inner life and your outer expression. Paint exactly what you feel, no matter how strange it appears. Honour whatever comes up in your art-making process. Allow each brushstroke to be genuine. You might have the urge to paint something very ugly. Notice the urge to change it into something more acceptable. 

2.) Unconditional Positive Regard: Your creative time is your time to value who you really are. Perhaps no one has ever honoured yourself in this way before. It is possible for you to have an accepting attitude towards yourself - whether you are feeling intense joy, the deepest of sorrow, or the most intense anger. Prize yourself for all of your feelings. Learn to encourage yourself with kind words. Feel everything inside with dignity and self-caring. 

3.) Empathy: Empathy requires that you ask the highest part of yourself to listen to feelings of the less developed parts of your personality in the deepest way possible. You can use empathy to practice being a good and loving parent to the younger parts of yourself. You can invite all of your younger, exiled parts of self to come forward for acceptance from your adult self.