This month’s blog post is about a concept introduced to me by Eric Maisel (and if you haven’t read anything by him, I highly recommend!) A concept that I am getting to know and experience more- and the more I do the more I grow clinically, personally and creatively- and so want to take the opportunity to introduce it to you: it is the concept of dualities.
Dualities exist all around us in life. Opposite end-of-the-spectrum forces that naturally oppose each other and create tension. Philosophers are no strangers to discussing them- Heraclitus’ theory was based on constant change between opposing forces as the source of all movement and natural existence. He said, ““All things are in flux; the flux is subject to a unifying measure or rational principle. This principle (logos, the hidden harmony behind all change) bound opposites together in a unified tension, which is like that of a lyre, where a stable harmonious sound emerges from the tension of the opposing forces that arise from the bow bound together by the string.” The important concept for us as creative people is recognizing the value of dualistic forces in our own lives and embracing them fully: that neither part of these pairs of power is more valuable than the other.
If you get thinking about it there is no end to the pairs of dualistic forces at work in our world, and really what we are doing is operationalizing concepts so we can talk about them (which is fine- it is what language is for!) But of course, as a creativity counselor, what I am interested in specifically are two categories of forces in your lives- creative dualistic pairs and psychological dualistic pairs. Some of the classic pairs in creativity are process vs product, technique vs idea, flow vs stuck or block etc. In psychology they can be emotional pairs like happiness and sadness, anxiety vs peace. Some even blur the categorical boundaries between psychological and creative pairs such as struggle vs success or perfection vs imperfection. Take a moment to consider what sorts of dualistic pairs have presented themselves in your creative and psychological lives.
Just like step one of the process of creating your best life at Creatively is to know your creative self, knowing what forces are at work in your mind and heart and motivate you are important. If you know you regularly struggle with perfectionism, perhaps you can take time to try to accept imperfections. If you know you struggle with sadness, perhaps there are opportunities to find small moments of happiness. This is the type of room for work recognizing these dualities can give you.
The concept of dualities is pretty simple: both parts of a dualistic pair are equally important and powerful parts of your life story. In fact- in your life you will constantly experience and oscillate between these forces. To value one over the other is to deny important experiences and parts of self and life. As Heraclitus famously said, “It is in changing we find purpose.” And so, Creatives, it is with this topic today I propose to you recognizing areas of resistance in your life- places where we can learn to live our lives more fully and authentically, the way your creative soul was meant live.
(C) 2019 Creatively, LLC
Hello, Creatives! The Summer has truly swept me away in the best possible way- the warm air, butterflies and lightening bugs, soft breezes, sounds of cicadas and frogs, and bright sun green through the filter of leafy trees have taken every moment I can spare- but it does feel good to take a moment to sit and write to you again. I am both excited about today’s topic and inspired by the sensory experiences of Summer- today we will discuss sensory sensitivity in Creative People (say that five times fast!)
Like many of the gifts that our creative personalities give us, this, too, is a gift with two faces. We have explored in blog posts past (or if you have been on the Creatively couches, in the workshops, or in the groups) ad nauseam about the Creative Person’s expanded emotional capacity. The new information: with expanded emotional capacity comes an expanded sensory capacity. These two things together are what allow you to tap into and translate your experiences into your art form. Usually your senses are especially sensitive in the same lane as your preferred artistic expression: dancers are kinetically and tactile-ly more sensitive, musicians auditorily more sensitive, photographers, graphic designers, illustrators, painters are visually more sensitive, chefs and culinary artists may be more sensitive to tastes and smells and so on. While specifically more sensitive in a specific area, you are in fact more sensitive in all 5 senses overall as a creative person, generally speaking. This is logical because this is where our emotional experiences also occur- in the body. We experience and sense the world around us very strongly therefore our real-time input channels are powerful.
This means a couple of things for you, Creative. It means that you need to feed these channels in order to stay well. It means you need to be refueling your sensory channels often because your fuel tanks for these are necessarily bigger because your input levels are stronger, so your responsibility to keep those tanks full requires more regular work and attention (read: regular mindfulness practices and regular creative practices!!) It also means that when you are sensorily deprived, you will not feel well and you will notice. You will feel depressed, disconnected, low energy, like you aren’t experiencing life, poor self esteem, blocked from your creativity, and generally not like yourself (read: regular mindfulness practices and regular creative practices!!) The final thing it might mean is irritability. Let me explain:
Do you ever notice it is really difficult for you to get pulled away from a task, project, experience or moment? This can be pathologized as something else, and maybe in your life it was. Imagine a person without what we are calling a creative personality, someone with normal levels of creativity (after all, all people are creative) looking at a beach scene. Imagine them connected to their experience by 2 hooks. The hooks represent how much attention is invested by absorbing the scene. Someone calls out to them for their attention, and it is fairly easy for them to disconnect from their experience. The same situation repeats for a creative person, except imagine this person is connected to their experience by 12 hooks. This is much more difficult for them to disconnect from. It requires more effort and strain and can generate irritability which might even be misdirected at the person calling to them.
Let’s imagine this same situation again, except now instead of hooks the creative person is holding a bucket, which is already full of water. The person without a creative personality is in the same situation with a bucket half full of water. The bucket of water represents how saturated the person is sensorily in their experience of the scene. Now imagine a lifeguard drives by on a loud ATV right in front of the scene. This adds 4 cups of water to each bucket. Non-creative personality’s bucket can withstand the volume. Creative person’s bucket overflows, again creating irritability. When you are more sensorily connected to your experiences as a creative person, added sensory information can more easily overwhelm and irritate you than a less creative person.
So I said we would bring this back to mindfulness. After all, isn’t that what we are saying by default, that a creative person should also have an increased capacity for mindfulness tools? To be present? Ultimately, mindfulness is the perfect natural tool to harness this gift of increased sensory sensitivity to our experiences, whether they are outside of us in the world, or inside of us in our feelings and reactions to the world. Mindfulness helps us with the element of choice when processing and receiving this information.
Intrigued in learning more and jumpstarting your own creativity and mindfulness program? I am here to help you learn how.
(c) 2019 Creatively, LLC
Hello, Creatives. In addition to working with Creative People one of my clinical specialties has been working with anxiety disorders- and for many reasons it is not uncommon for creative people to be anxious. So, in this week’s Creatively Blog, I bring you a self-coined term I have identified from working with anxiety to help you understand some ways you may be compensating.
Let’s start with some basic information about anxiety. Anxiety indicates a physiological aroused state where your body- to varying degrees- is perceiving and preparing for a threat. Anxiety is an emotion that activates your limbic system- some of your more basic brain functions live here- something I talk about in session as “lizard brain.” More or less, anxiety acts as a switch, either activated or inactivated. The prevailing psychological model for reducing anxiety is exposure response prevention, or, gradually reducing sensitivity to physiological arousal to perceived threats. Anxiety can be summarized as how sensitive our body is to activating emergency response mechanisms when a threat is perceived- and this sensitivity is largely inherited but also can be impacted and changed by life events (eg trauma). A frequently used set of terms in anxiety treatment are “triggers” (what makes you anxious) and “coping skills” (how you manage that anxiety). Some of these are fairly universal and some are more individualized. A coping skill that I see a lot, and that is frequently subconsciously used, is increasing the level of control (type A, much?) to offset the feeling of anxiety. An exacerbation of this relationship can be seen in classic OCD presentations. Anxiety is not always bad and in fact evolutionarily the emotion functions to keep us prepared and safe. Unlike many other emotions, it is not an emotion that you can “stop” from doing- in fact trying to “stop” anxiety may worsen it. Ultimately the best anxiety strategy is to not over-attend or feed into the cycle; allowing it to run its course, and reducing its overall severity and disruption is key. For more about anxiety, reference the “Pet your Inner Cat” blog post about self soothing and self care- a place I usually start treatment with most of the anxiety diagnosed clients that I treat. For more about anxiety and creative people, reference the “Creative People, Anxiety and Intuition” blog post.
Now that you have some basic information, let’s move on to the phenomena I started to observe. Like many things in clinical work, I noticed it together with a patient during a breakthrough in session, which allowed me to see it again with another patient, and then another, and so on. Before I knew it, there was a behavior or series of behaviors I was watching my anxious clients engage in as a way to cope with their anxiety, which ultimately once labeled could serve them to identify the worsening or a change in their anxiety symptoms. What I noticed I began to call the “Control Perceived Imbalance Correction” or “CPIC” (pronounce see-pick). In my overview to anxiety I said that subconsciously many anxious people balance or offset their anxiety with control- they believe- usually erroneously- that by increasing control over something they can also increase control over a different thing. Often we feel excess anxiety about things we cannot control, and to offset this it feels good to take control of something else. For example- a person may be feeling anxiety about increased tension in their marriage- a perceived loss of control- and so to correct this imbalance they binge eat- an over use of a coping skill psychologically used to restore control or correct the imbalance. Sometimes there is a sense of self-fulfilling prophecy or self-sabotage- someone may be feeling a loss of control of personal finances, and to correct the perceived imbalance of control go on a shopping spree. On a psychological level they are taking control by doing what they want with money, but in a literal way of course worsening the stressor. CPIC is one, driven by the emotion of anxiety and not by logic, and two, is usually subconscious, and this combination can be problematic. Once I see this relationship with a client, I can help them identify the imbalance correction (eg overspending, overeating etc) and this can be used by the client to pinpoint the source of stress in the future and change course sooner. This is one reason why in therapy I will usually ask you about your week- anything unusual? How have you been sleeping, eating, etc? I am looking for evidence of changes in your life.
CPIC is a bit more of a cerebral concept, but, I have found it very useful to my clients once applied. It is certainly something easier to unravel individually by example and through deduction and fact rather than hypothetically and conceptually in writing- and so I invite you to come sit on my couch and learn about yourself, Creative! Come start creating your best life.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
This week’s post is again inspired by clinical themes I have been seeing this month.
At this point I have published enough yummy articles on my blog that they gorgeously cross reference and complement each other- in this way this topic is related to many others- so when it speaks to you and emotionally connects with you, I encourage you to pull the thread and browse some of the other topics and past blog articles.
Today we are going to talk about the psychological concept of distress tolerance. In simple terms, this is our ability to stand still in a certain intensity of stress. I don’t mean change it, avoid it, or do anything with it- simply tolerate it. This underused but powerful skill allows our emotions to communicate their vital messages and naturally dissipate- freeing us to stand empowered in our lives to make better choices for our own happiness. It takes the power from variability and the unexpected and allows us large scale emotional peace and freedom.
(I will give you the caveat that if you are in crisis, severe stress or worse, then tolerance is not your course of action. If you are unsure how this topic applies to your levels of stress, give me a call and let’s talk).
In several past articles, I have referenced the biological function of emotions to communicate chemical signals and messages between the brain and body. In an ideal biological and natural sense, whenever we have an emotion we would fully express it and allow our brain and body to absorb its lesson (interested in the topic of the biological functioning of various emotions? Browse those past blog posts!) What happens instead is we feel emotions with an intensity we don’t like and avoid or bottle up, we absorb sociological lessons about which emotions we are allowed to express or not (different for males and females traditionally), we lose touch with what are emotions are, what they are telling us or how to feel or express them. This diversion has the unintended consequence of weakening our distress tolerance.
What I am saying to you is our sociological adaptation to avoid emotions has weakened our ability to handle stress. This is unfortunately not to our advantage. Think about exercise as a parallel here. What we are doing is avoiding exercise because we don’t like it, which has the unintended consequence of making it harder for us to take the stairs when the elevator is out. Just like we build our muscles by slowly increasing our physical activity, we can regain our ability to tolerate stress by acknowledging and feeling emotions when they happen in smaller ways, and doing nothing else with them.
Ultimately what our emotions “want” from us is to be felt without resistance. This allows them to fulfill their function. Emotions, as the communication signals they are, naturally crest and fall. If we don’t feed them, fight them etc, they communicate their signal in whatever intensity, then fall away. If we simply acknowledge and feel them they naturally dissipate.
To begin repairing and strengthening your distress tolerance try a version of this exercise: pick precipitating events of small emotional weights and allow the accompanying feelings to crest and fall while you simply experience them and survive.
As your distress tolerance builds in strength you begin to experience stronger and stronger stressors without becoming overwhelmed or destabilized. You are free to make choices about action or inaction and how you can better shape the variables in your life. The end consequence we are going for here is (as always) empowerment to create a life that is happy and fulfilling.
How strong is your distress tolerance? What are your personal patterns of emotional avoidance? Want to regain control and build towards more peace and happiness in your life? I can help!
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Creative People, Anxiety and Intuition
Something I see often with the creative people that I work with is an association between their creativity and anxiety. Specifically I mean worrying, dread, fear of uncertainty and about the future. There are some simple aspects of the creative personality that contribute to this, and one of these is the creative personality trait of intuition.
Creative people are usually highly intuitive. By intuitive I mean they have a high capacity to see the potential in things. A common test of creativity in psychology is the “paperclip test” where participants are asked to list how many things you can use a paperclip for- and the quantity and variety of uses is said to correlate with higher creativity. This is just one was to illustrate the quality of intuition in creatives. We have a questioning, investigative nature, and are looking for the potential in things all around us.
What can happen to this intuition is it becomes impacted by our mental and emotional state. In other words, if we are highly tired, exhausted, frightened, sad and so forth, our intuitive capacity begins to make associations that are less productive are useful. Instead of seeing positive potential, we begin to see risks and fears. We make negative predictions. We follow pessimistic thought distortions. We begin to worry.
The antidote to this is really quite simple:
1) Educate yourself that your creative personality is intuitive and accept that this powerful intuition is impacted by your state of being.
2) When you find yourself negatively predicting the future, anxious and worrying, stop and ask yourself what unmet needs do you have? What in your life is causing you to be stressed, sad or fearful?
3) Meet those unmet needs!
4) Engage in grounding activities. Whenever you find yourself caught up in racing thoughts and worries, your best way to combat that is to bring yourself from the intellectualizing into the present moment and sensory experiences.
5) When you are fully grounded, and have met the unmet needs, send your intuition back out to reevaluate the positive potential in the situation.
So, Creative People, you are intuitive. It might make you anxiety prone. But it is all ok. Try some tips and come sit on my couch to work more deeply on using your personality strengths to create your best life.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Every once in awhile, rather than offering new information, I want to encourage you to reflect upon some of the important tidbits we have already shared on the Creatively blog. Sometimes its inspired by what I am seeing in session- I may notice the same piece of information being sought after by my clients in a short period of time- and so decide on an information re-fresh.
In that vein, this week, I want to direct you back to the diametrically opposed creative personality traits. You can access the post by clicking the button below:
Why is your creative teen self harming?
Self harm is a scary thing to see, hear or talk about, but it is nonetheless prevalent among today’s teens. If your teen, one of their friends, or other young people you work with have talked about it, you may feel unsettled, unsure and alarmed. In today’s blog post I want to dedicate some space to starting to demystify this behavior and talk about why it exists, the purposes it may serve and how to address it.
Let’s start with some developmental psychology to set the stage of why the classification of behavior known as “self harm” is so prevalent among teens:
Teens are children who, due to the natural societal progression in age milestones, have more stressors. They are more socially aware of friendship dynamics, they are beginning to question, identify and build independence and self-esteem. They have demands at school and are becoming aware of learning strengths and weak points. With all these things at play, their stressors have increased. However, they are still children, and their ability to handle the added emotional response to these new stressors may not have grown with them yet. In other words, they have lots of feelings, without necessarily more ability to deal with them (think an older stage of toddler temper tantrums).
Along with growing stressors and limited control over emotional responses, teens are in a unique stage of neurological development where the separate hemispheres of the brain, while still building connections separately, do not yet have many pathways that connect them (think dirt roads vs super highways between the spheres). This means limited executive function capacity. Limited multitasking. Slower neurological processing time. Slower to make higher level connections. Slower to see big picture and build insight. Still very much functioning in the “here and now” of children, they are simultaneously growing into the higher level intellectual capacities of an adult (you may see, for example, your teen is very smart but has limited “common sense.”)
Under these developmental pressures, teens may feel a disconnect between their strong emotions and how to handle them. They may feel a loss of control and an intense period of change personally and in terms of worldview. They are looking for ways to manage this discomfort and change. But why something like self-harming?
One reason is that teens subconsciously use self-harm behavior to ground themselves and assert control. In this capacity, self harming serves to take them out of their spiraling headspace, into the current moment, while giving them a ritual or routine that is all their own. In younger children, we may see behaviors like resistance or regression with toilet training serving a similar function. Remembering our teen’s limited executive functioning and “common sense,” asserting control over ones’ own body is the “low hanging fruit” to manage the chaos of change. They are not rationally selecting a coping skill- rather experimenting with cause-and-effect choices over their own body. Self harm, of course, is not an ideal or healthy coping skill, however it is unfortunately one of the most accessible (control using one’s own body) and biologically very rewarding.
Another reason teens self harm is for the biological reward. A natural response, especially in children, to change, chaos and stress is to dissociate or numb themselves. This is a natural built in survival mechanism, but one that most children find unwelcome and depressing over time. In an effort to “feel something again” a teen may turn to self harm. Unfortunately, self harm is very effective in fixing this problem because it causes a natural chemical reward in the brain- another built in biological survival tool- happy hormones are released to offset the physical injury. The combined effect is momentary pain, followed by a rewarding natural chemical rush and temporary relief from numbness. While again this is not a healthy way to reach these goals, knowing the motivations of the behavior can help you introduce the same rewards to your teen in better ways.
Some things you need to know about self harm and your creative child: creative kids feel emotions deeply. This can make them more susceptible to finding relief with coping skills that are more extreme (because they are feeling more extremely!) Creative personalities also have the tendency to romanticize suffering- and in a childlike way the self harm can feed into this. Adults have the benefit of life experience to offset some of the romanticism to pain and chaos that children have yet to experience.
So when should you worry? We need to remember and balance two important things when it comes to self-harm in our teens: one, self harm as such is not suicidal. If we are indeed talking about self harming behaviors as separate from depression and suicidal thinking, then the goal of self harm is not to actually harm onesself, especially permanently. However, the second thing to remember when it comes to self-harm in our teens is: teens and children are by nature impulsive. They have fewer protective factors, responsibilities, and less life experience to offset risk. As such, any talk of self harm should be taken seriously and immediately precipitate evaluation by a clinician, doctor or other licensed and capable professional.
I would introduce a discussion on this topic without also giving you some tools to help your teen. Assuming you have involved a clinician/doctor/licensed professional as part of your process, here are some other recommendations to support them:
1) Talk. To. Them. Ask them questions. Show them love and interest. Show them you are a safe person to go to with your feelings and that you will hold and support them through whatever treatment they need.
2) Creative kids have their best coping skills built in: make art! I have researched and presented on this repeatedly throughout my career and I cannot emphasize this enough: if you have a creative child, they NEED to be creative in order to stay well.
3) It is ok for them to make scary art. If your teen wants to draw, paint, sculpt, write, or otherwise express the intrusive thoughts of self harm or other strong emotions that they are feeling, it is ok and it is healthy. The images or words may seem disturbing to you, but your teen is feeling relief from expressing and communicating them.
4) It is ok for your teen to cry intensely. Again- think of the toddler temper tantrums. Your teen is learning how to manage their growing stressors and strong emotions, and natural releases of emotions will help them be more successful with their coping skills. I know it is hard to do, but allow them a safe space to cry and emote, then be there for them afterwards to support them.
5) It is ok for them to talk about it to others. In the same vein as the emotional expression, talking about it with you, with friends, with other safe people gives your teen a way to make much needed neurological connections to deal with stressors better.
6) Help them find other emotional outlets. This may look like music. Arts. Sports. What helps them feel control over releasing some of the emotions that they are carrying?
7) Give them some control. Find ways to help your teen have control in appropriate ways in their lives. Is their a volunteer project they can participate in that will allow them to feel control and success? Can you let them choose something about their daily routine? Get creative.
8) Teach them mindfulness and grounding. This one, if you aren’t familiar, is a good one for you both to learn together. Try meditating. Try sensory practices together (cooking, hiking, swimming). Help them use soothing objects (pets, blankets, foods, music). The idea is to come out of the racing thoughts in the mind and be fully present in the moment.
These are just some ideas and there are many others. The best approach is one collaborative between you, supportive people in your teen’s life, and seasoned professionals to make a diversified team effort that is catered to their individual needs. So, in summary: don’t panic, get help, and with good support better coping skills will be learned to replace this unwanted behavior.
If you have concerns about your creative teen and self harm, don’t wait- give me a call- I can help.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Creatives, I toyed for awhile with several topics for today- and decided upon another snapshot of your amazing creative personality. It’s gonna be a short one today but what we may lose in length we will make up for in potency and relevance today, I hope. So, here it is:
Have you ever been called independent, adventurous or even oppositional? You may not be surprised to find out that “going your own way” is another fundamental part of your creative personality.
Logically, this makes sense: creative people have to be bold, brazen and independent enough to go against the grain, innovate and create something new. It takes questioning everything, going against the current and daring to be different. It also makes us stubborn, beholden to none, afraid of commitment and crappy with dates/times/deadlines/absolutes.
Sound like you? You like to flow with your feelings- go when you want to, stop when you are ready. You are spontaneous. You may also find that events scheduled on your calendar loom and may actually have a feeling of dread and heaviness associated with them. Rules even in the form of deadlines and appointment times to be places can feel confining, restricting and interfere with your ability to respond to your flow.
Unfortunately, Creative, there is no cure for what ails you. Your best bet is to face your struggle like you do everything in life- with passion. Embrace this quality- its enthusiasm, its curiosity and capacity to absorb and feel the world around you. You may be able to reduce deadlines and scheduling in your life and be more spontaneous, or you may not. Either way you have what it takes to do things according to your own schedule, or rise to the occasion when expectations are set out for you by others (even if you may not relish it the same).
There are tricks I can teach you to dread less, schedule better, set goals more and be both regimented and organic in the way you live.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Creatives, this week we will continue our discussion of the creative personality and the creative cycle. We are going to dive into the notion of “showing up for creativity.”
Let’s take one step back and revisit the topic of art process vs product. As we are learning how to make art, and again throughout our lifetime as artists, we are very product focused: how does our finished product look, represent our view, our technical skill, the marketplace, the art world, and more? In fact, without discerning between the two, our default view of our art form is likely to be product focused. This is valuable and important, but distinct and different from the process of making art. The process we engage in while making art is connected to neurological creative processes that are grounding, inventive, fulfilling, communicative and even cathartic. Becoming too product focused can disrupt the artistic process, and over investing in the artistic process doesn’t usually create your best product. Depending on the goal, it is useful to more heavily weight or balance these two elements. Assignment due? You are likely to be product focused. Doing art for the therapeutic value? You will need to invest more in the process.
The idea of “showing up for creativity” comes from a long held belief by creative people that the spark of creativity or inspiration isn’t constant (remember the creative cycle post?). Oftentimes between these moments of inspiration (which can range from less interest or energy in your creative work to being stuck or blocked creatively) we decide we will wait for that next creative wave to crest before diving back into our work. To “show up for creativity” is the idea that this is backwards: the spark doesn’t organically appear without doing the work. Rather, by continuing to produce work, you will build the momentum and energy back to the moments of inspiration and passion that creative people live for. In other words, the belief is: do not wait for creativity to happen, show up for it every day.
This is actually a commonly disputed belief, and unfortunately the evidence for or against the system is by necessity anecdotal. Essentially, like many things in the creative personality, whether or not it works for you to “show up” for your creativity and continue to produce work during inspirational lulls, depends on the unique factors that make you, you. What it does do is give us a concept by which to begin to explore and discuss your creative process, struggles and goals. I am interested in how the adage works for you.
How do your creative instincts, protective mechanisms and personal history respond to the concept of “showing up for creativity?” Dare you to test the theory? What I have said before and what my own psychological research has sustained, is that to be happy, fulfilled, resilient and their best self, creative people need to create. Regularly. All the time. This is perhaps one way to make this happen. Many creative people swear by it. So tell me, Creative. How does it strike you?
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
As artists, we have a unique way of viewing others and the world around us. We communicate this through our work, and it is as cathartic and fulfilling for us as it is exciting and enjoyable for our audience. As a fellow artist, I am interested in exploring this with you. As your therapist, I am also interested in how you view yourself in relationship to the world and others.
In psychology, we talk about a “mental map” as a sort of extension of cognitive mapping. In simple terms, we each have a mental map which we use as reference for how we interact with the world. It is comprised of rules, routines and rituals built from lessons we have learned, people we have interacted with, experiences we have had, and things we have gleaned throughout our personal histories. It is sort of like your personal belief system, but all encompassing, advising how and why each of your behaviors is chosen.
I want to take the concept of our unique mental map as a springboard for today’s concept- which I want to call a “referential self.” What I mean by a “referential self” is a version of yourself at a point in time in your life which is significant, and by which you define yourself. You may frequently go back to this version of yourself to assess progress, changes, relationships, decisions and other aspects of growth and development throughout your life.
These “referential selves” are frozen in your mind visually and characteristically. In fact, this is a good starting point for identifying what referential selves you may have. Without looking at yourself, imagine yourself. Not what you look like today necessary, but just “you.” How old are you? What are you wearing? Feeling? Can you pinpoint other details about this version of you? You may have more than one mental image which may mean several referential selves.
I wonder 2 things for you about these aspects of yourself: 1) what signifies the storage of this version of yourself (eg why this version of you?) and 2) how do you use/judge/see this reference? Take a moment to think about these questions. Is one of your referential selves captured at a moment when you fleshed out important pieces of who you are? Does this version of you have insecurities and flaws that you continue to cling to, even though they may be many years behind you? You may consistently judge yourself or identify yourself as this version of yourself no matter how much you have changed since then. I call this being “stuck” and it is a good concept to explore in therapy.
May I suggest the following exercise, as a continuation of self-portrait activities we have previously done together: use your chosen creative modality to explore one of your referential selves. Truly express who this version of yourself was- the good, the bad and the ugly. When you have finished, take a step back (musicians and dancers- you might record your work so you can replay and examine it fully). As objectively as you can, pick apart why this reference is captured and stored (question one above) and how you continue to identify yourself by this version of you (question two above). Go deep. Pull the thread. What did you find?
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.