Creativity And Emotional Repression
“You should be experiencing the life that’s happening to you, not the one you wish was happening. Don’t waste a moment of life trying to make other things happen; appreciate the moments you are given. Don’t you understand that every minute you are closer to death? This is how to live your life. You live as though you are on the verge of death because you are.” – Michael A. Singer
Engaging with Life
Many of us guard ourselves against the world on a day to day basis without even realizing it; in order to cope with stress, we tense our muscles, put our emotions on hold, and grit our teeth as we power through the day. Many people are lauded for having such thick “armour”and the ability to cope that comes with it, and thus validated, they never take full stock of the consequences of emotionally shutting off in this way.
When we so completely disengage from our emotions, however, we also lose the ability to lose ourselves in feelings of love, gratitude, and joy. Inevitably, this harms our interactions with those closest to us, and does nothing to nurture our deeper selves.
The above described denial of our emotions usually arises from the fact that it hurts to feel and, believing we are alone (or likely to be judged harshly by others) and being unable to deal with that pain, we begin to reflexively avoid feeling. While at first this may seem to make things easier, in the end it winds up costing us a great deal of energy; controlling a growing collection of ignored hurts is an endeavour that only becomes more draining as time goes on.
Inevitably, these repressed feelings begin to seep out in the form of nameless anger, sadness, anxiety, and fear—and by the time things get to this stage, we cannot pinpoint why we feel those things, as we long since divorced ourselves from the instigating stressors and hurts. Likewise, it’s simply part of the human condition to struggle with verbalizing emotions; our emotional patterning is, after all, set in place before we have words (between birth and the age of seven, usually). This makes it even more imperative that we not repress our emotions, as being fully “present”for them as they happen is key to healthily processing them and later being able to heal.
Using Creativity to Reverse the Adverse Effects of Emotional Repression
One of the best methods of healing our built-up painful and hard to name emotions is through the use of visual self-expression and imagery; therefore, having a daily creative practice can help us begin to turn back the clock on our learned repression.
Using visual creativity helps us to express those suppressed feelings and beliefs that we repressed since childhood and adolescence, the parts of ourselves that we hid away in order to navigate the adult world. We can employ imagery, symbol, colour, and patterns, things children innately respond to, to get the inner child within once again expressing his or her self. By doing this, we circumvent the rational mind and our adult attempts to explain away these difficult emotions with logic (which inevitably minimizes them) and instead broaden our perspectives on them into something more all-encompassing. This gets us living these emotions with immediacy again, rather than analyzing them from a detached standpoint, as is they are separate from ourselves, something to be dismantled with reason and then put where they cannot disrupt our lives any longer.
Visual art also has the benefit of being enjoyable, like play, which allows us to bypass our comfort zones (something which emotional repression invariably turns into) in a non-threatening and highly effective manner. This joyous process not only allows us to tune into ourselves, it makes it easy and engenders feelings of compassion for one’s emotions. This in turn becomes valuable practice, making the uncomfortable comfortable, and training our brains to once again automatically engage with life.
Using Creativity to Help the Elderly Cope With Emotions
The elderly often find themselves facing the final stages with unresolved emotional issues which they need to deal with so that they can die in peace. This process is often complicated, however, as many older people suffer from dementia or Alzheimer’s, leaving them with decreased mental faculties with which to process these repressed feelings.
Dementia is not all bad in terms of dealing with repression, however; it often forces buried emotions to the fore as the individual no longer has enough control over their mind to actively suppress them, and it also may awaken creativity in a way hitherto not experienced by that person. Indeed, it’s a little-known fact that people with certain kinds of dementia can be incredibly creative.
Naturally, art therapy is therefore a perfect fit for these people, helping them to process their emotions and find peace in a way that is enjoyable, non-threatening, and does not demand of their minds anything they are not capable of. The presence of an unconditionally loving witness to guide them through the process of art therapy can work wonders when it comes to preventing the elderly from descending into further withdrawal and disorientation.
Whether one is a younger person actively engaged in emotional repression, or an older person slowly losing grip on the ability to control and hide his or her feelings, there is one constant: Repressed emotions lead to fear, fear leads to anger, and anger drives destructive behaviour. Ergo, using visual creativity to get to the root of our confusion and pain and exorcise it constructively is a vital method of readjusting our mental patterns so that we experience more happiness, gratitude, and love in our lives. Through this process we can find peace and begin to live fully engaged and fulfilled in the present moment.