Coping Creatively

Featured Image is by Artist Roz Young

I imagine that a lot of people’s minds are reeling today, maybe tossed around by recent provocative news stories. Maybe the weekend shooting in Orlando tops the list for you, or maybe it’s the sentencing of Brock Allen Turner or ongoing crises in the Middle East and Eastern Europe. Or maybe your top stories aren’t in the news at all but are those of personal loss, disappointment, or sadness — a betrayal, an insult, or an expectation left unfulfilled.

Life is like that.

I want this post to be about the importance of creative expression and the role it can play in aiding recovery from trauma and also in simply helping individuals to express or process the personal, daily complications of life. But it’s sensitive ground to tread. It’s difficult to face anyone who has been truly and deeply hurt and suggest that they do something that seems so remote from the practicality of what they’ve faced . . .

Having a hard time getting over something terrible you witnessed or experienced? Difficulty coping with the death of someone close to you?

Would you now like to draw, paint, make music, or dance? Probably not.

It sounds perhaps so flippant then to suggest that creative activities would have any benefit when a heart is broken or a life seems to be shattered, but research continues to point to evidence that they do.

In one article I read, a Therapist named Cathy Malchiodi explains that she has some of her clients who have experienced trauma do an exercise where they build a safe place for a rubber duck using feathers, paper plates, fabric and other materials because it’s a highly sensory activity which allows the client to actually feel the nest, pond, or whatever they build without having to use higher cognitive areas. Sometimes getting to the basics of feeling – just feeling – is the first step.

For some of the more skeptical among us, building such a ‘safe place’ might seem ridiculous. We’re so often taught that the way to deal with difficulties is to just be strong, pull yourself together, or to ‘be a man.’ I imagine some who have grown up with this mentality might well secretly wish to play with some feathers every once in a while.

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Maybe you need to seek the professional assistance of a trained Art Therapist, or maybe that’s not the right fit for you. You might not have experienced a debilitating trauma, but there may still be ways that you could benefit from incorporating creative expression into your everyday life.

Anecdotally, I know that I’m often a more joyful person when I make space in my life for creative expression or play. Do you feel the same? Have you tried it?

You may not think of yourself as an artist or a creative person, but have you ever pumped up some loud music and danced to let your feelings sort themselves out? Have you ever written your thoughts in a journal or penned a poem to help you think something through? Ever tried a new way to prepare yourself mentally for challenging work situations? There are a thousand different ways you can bring creativity into your everyday difficulties, and those thousand ways can help you to get in tune with yourself, with God, and with other people.

Tapping into creativity can help you to build empathy for others who are suffering in various ways in their own lives and can help to strengthen the emotional muscles you’ll need as you continue walking through life.

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I understand that there may be times when life is so over-run with commitments or so under-supplied with time or resources that it may tempt us to think that there’s literally no space for creativity, but I might suggest that those are in fact the times when we might most benefit from it. Maybe at those times undertaking big projects is impossible but taking a few minutes to dream of creative solutions to your personal problems is not. Maybe taking time to get out paints and brushes would be too exhausting but doodling with a pen on the back of an envelope wouldn’t be bad at all. Maybe writing a few short thoughts on a blog or social media would be possible even if you’re too burned out to think about writing your Great American Novel. Or maybe you just find some new ways to bring creativity to your efforts as a parent or a plumber or a paramedic.

Do you have any experience with the benefits of creativity in your own life? If so, I’d love to hear about it. Would you leave me a comment below?


Nicole

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3 thoughts on “Coping Creatively

  1. When I was in high school (and into college) I went through some struggles, some worse than others, and the worst was falling very hard for my best friend and being rejected. It was rough for me, but a lot of what I did to cope was paint. I’m not usually a traditional artist but when I was feeling messed up inside it always helped to physically paint my feelings. I used watercolor, and by using that method I could just slap color down, splatter paint down and it would do crazy things, and I think that funneled the hurt that I felt to just go nuts with what I was doing. I also always painted really late at night. So when everyone was asleep and the world was quiet and dark, I could expel all of my frustrations on paper until I was empty and tired, and then I could go to sleep. So, I definitely believe in creative outlets for your feelings!

    1. Thank you, Michelle. I really appreciate you sharing this story. I think your experience is a great example. Of course I’m not glad to hear about the pain of the experience . . . But finding a way to find comfort or healing in those painful times is so important. I’ve tried different things over the years, from writing really bad poetry the first time my heart was broken to drawing sketches of difficult emotions as characters, etc. Once, shortly after college, I was going through something big that involved the split of my closest friendship & I wrote out affirming statements on huge pieces of tracing paper and covered a wall in my apartment with them for a while. It might have seemed odd to anyone else who saw it, but it was pretty therapeutic for me at the time. Life is complicated & I really value being able to have different ways to handle the complications . . . Thanks again for sharing your thoughts!

      1. I definitely agree! And I actually also relate to what you said about your wall of affirming statements – while I was going through the same emotions, in college, I wrote a bunch of inspirational quotes and lyrics on different colored index cards and taped them all up right next to my bed. So I get that. It helps. 🙂 Having the ability to channel emotions into a physical form, an art form, is very soothing.

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