“All children are born artists. The problem is to remain an artist as we grow up.” ~Pablo Picasso
There was a period in my life, many years ago, when I was utterly unhappy. I was feeling a burden deep within me that did not allow me to enjoy myself. I had become too much of an introvert, my relationships with other people were falling apart, and I didn’t enjoy doing anything–except for painting.
One of those gloomy days, I found myself locked in my bedroom, painting on a canvas with my brushes and colors for many hours non-stop. Whatever my psyche ordered me to paint, I painted, with no conscious effort. The unconscious had possessed me, so to speak, and I was flowing with it.
Suddenly, I felt the desire to stop painting, and I did. And when I did, I felt a great relief, as if I had released all the burden that was inside me. At that time I experienced immense joy and I could sense myself wearing a big smile on my face.
When this took place, I was struck with wonder. I didn’t know how to explain what happened to me, how to interpret such a tremendously mysterious experience. Now, after such a long time, I can.
What I went through was a cleansing process that psychologists call ‘catharsis,’ a term that refers to the cleansing of emotions through the act of creative expression.
Most of us during our day-to-day lives are not fully expressing ourselves. In fact, we tend to suppress ourselves so much that we always carry within us an emotional burden so heavy that does not allow us to be spontaneous, let go, and enjoy ourselves. This happens mostly because we have crafted our lifestyles in such a way that does not allow us to do what we like doing.
For example, the majority of people are spending at least 8 hours for 5 days every week doing a job they don’t enjoy. They are working just because they “have to,” not because they are passionate for it. This is enough reason by itself to cause emotional suppression. But there are other things that add up to it.
Imagine an employee whose boss is a very insensitive, ego-ridden individual, and is behaving in a very rude way towards him. The employee, in most cases, will be quite angry at his boss, although he will not dare even once to express his emotion of anger to him, out of fear that he might lose his job. In other words, he will suppress himself.
Emotional suppression does not take place only in the working space. It can happen anywhere and to people of all ages. A little boy suppresses himself when he is told to behave according to his father’s orders, out of fear his father might punish him. A shy woman suppresses herself by not speaking out her true thoughts when she is in the company of a beautiful man she is in love with, out of fear he might reject her for her way of thinking. Almost everyone suppresses himself or herself, in one way or another.
Psychologists agree that the accumulation of suppressed emotions can cause a lot of psychosomatic tension. This tension, they say, needs to be released in one way or another, otherwise it could cause one to become neurotic, ill, and develop various social phobias.
Psychotherapists have suggested various ways to release that tension–one such way is through the arts, or specifically what has been termed ‘art psychotherapy.’ Art psychotherapy is a form of psychological therapy that uses art as a medium for emotional healing.
The basic idea behind art psychotherapy is that the arts can be a great outlet for unexpressed feelings. By being creative, whether that is creating a painting, a musical composition, or a flower garden, we are expressing ourselves and in this way we release from our psyche much of the accumulated negative emotional energy. Hence art can be a powerful tool for helping us not only to express ourselves, but also to heal ourselves.
The good news is that one needn’t be a professional or talented artist in order to create. All people deep down are creative and enjoy some kind of an art, but most of us don’t give ourselves the time to express and heal ourselves through the arts, mainly because we haven’t yet realized the power of art psychotherapy. What is it that you enjoy creating? Do you enjoy painting? Then take a brush and a paper and paint with the colors of your heart. Perhaps you love writing? Then take a paper and a pen and write down your deepest thoughts and feelings. Whatever you enjoy creating, create.
What you create needn’t be an aesthetically perfect art masterpiece–it just needs to spontaneously spring out of the bottom of your heart. And once you do so, you will come to experience an emotional unburdening as well as a physical relief, and the side-effect of a calm, peaceful state of mind.
The power of art psychotherapy is tremendous, and if we learn how to use it for our own benefit, it can transform us, in a way so positive that we could never have imagined.
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