At the beginning of my art therapy groups I often remind members that many people stop creating artwork between the ages of 10-12 and that for this reason it’s pretty normal for adults’ drawings to look like they were created by little kids. For those who can open up to this, there is often an element of relief as they allow themselves to create an image – even a scribble – that depicts a felt experience, especially when others can relate. It’s funny though isn’t it? That such important work is almost globally dismissed so early on in life. Self-expression takes back seat to more practical things like work and academics as we all do our best to conform to the high expectations of a money-driven society. Add to this the helplessness many people feel at the mercy of world leaders who seem to not have our best interests in mind, and it’s no wonder that a deep sense of apathy begins to set in. Why bother?
What I’ve noticed though, in my occupation – or maybe just from the wisdom acquired in old age 🙂 – is that the most significant work any of us do is the work that is so small that it’s hardly even noticeable. Everything that is so easily dismissed by so many almost across the board. Like expressing ourselves through child-like drawings. Or taking the time to figure out what our interests are – art or otherwise. Why should we bother to pay attention to the physical sensations that inform us how we’re feeling? Why is it important to recognize the strengths in ourselves as well as the strengths in those around us? It’s so easy to see all that is wrong with the world, because let’s face it, there’s a lot. But when you can begin to see some positives and the value in taking small steps, that’s when real change begins and you can only build up from there. When you start to let go of your defenses and honor your emotions, you can use them to guide you in your interests, in strengthening your relationships… you can allow anger to empower and mobilize you to respond to oppressive situations rather than turn them inward, which as we know would only contribute to depression. And when you begin to follow a healthy meal plan, you may have more energy and access to the emotions that can be used to guide you!
At times I think it’s been a mistake to encourage clients to begin this work by stating their interests…because even that may be too big of a step when stating interests makes the assumption that you even know this information about yourself. And time and again I hear women in recovery state that they don’t know who they would be without their disorder, that it’s become so entrenched in their identity. Maybe the first step is really to bring some awareness to our defenses… especially to all that we dismiss. Maybe the small action you can take this week is to try catching yourself in dismissing mode. When you tell yourself that something doesn’t apply to you, that it’s stupid or has no value in moving forward in life – just catch yourself, maybe create some hatch marks to see how often you do this – and then pause for a second and ask yourself if it’s really true…what if it did apply to you, what if whatever it is that you’re dismissing could help you get ahead in some roundabout, convoluted way? What would be the pros and cons of allowing yourself to actually engage in whatever it is that you’re dismissing? What are the actual risks involved? Let’s start there and see where it takes you. Let me know how it goes!
Copyright 2018 © Rachel Braun, All rights reserved.
Rachel Braun, ATR-BC Art Therapist Philadelphia, PA
Specializing in art therapy groups for women who experience depression, anxiety and eating disorders.