Have you ever had that experience of hearing some exciting news from a friend or loved one, and on one hand you are thrilled and yet on the other hand you feel somehow left behind? Or jealous? Overlooked? It can feel pretty rotten, because of course you wish to be supportive yet on the other hand you are hurting inside.
Having a life threatening condition often means you have to drop off of the “normal” path or trajectory that your peers are on, to address the problem. For some, it is a significant detour, for others perhaps a less intense disruption. Either way, the emotional impact is frequently the same.
Confronting an emotion that seen as negative can create a whirlpool of shame, guilt and self loathing, especially when you are bombarded with messages to stay positive or strong. Certainly our inner chatter does have an impact on our outlook; however, the pressure to be in a constant state of positivity does more damage than good.
When we confront the shadow self, i.e. those aspects of ourselves that create vulnerability, it might trigger the fight/flight response. It is a real challenge to sit with our vulnerable, tender parts and accept them for what they represent. However, rejecting or avoiding those parts causes a greater backlash than finding a way to notice, observe, allow and accept them.
To practice sitting with our vulnerability, we need to tap into it. Art can help us move in and out of a painful experience, which gives us the opportunity to break down an experience into manageable bits- especially if it causes a lot of emotional pain.
Try this exercise, and notice if it helps you. Gather art supplies that feel comfortable for you to use and create a welcoming space to be in. Play some music that feels soothing and engaging with your feelings. If you are feeling nervous about it, perhaps set a timer for a brief period of time, to increase the sense of safety that you will be pulled back to the present moment. Get in touch with something inside of you (sensation, feeling, memory) that feels tender, and then use the art supplies to try and replicate it on the paper. When you’ve decided you are ready to stop, spend a moment or two observing how you are feeling.
You may be surprised at what you find once you give yourself permission to experience these feelings without judgment. You may feel relieved, you may feel more self compassion, you may uncover hidden dreams and the power to pursue them. Who knows. What I do know is that no one functions well when they are repressing emotions that just want the opportunity to be heard.
– Stephanie McLeod-Estevez, LCPC, is an art therapist and breast cancer survivor, who works as an oncology counselor at the Dempsey Center. She began Creative Transformations to help others who are healing from a life threatening illness or injury. Creative Transformations offers individual sessions, in person or via Skype, workshops, and this weekly blog. Sign up today so you never miss one by visiting our website, Creative Transformations, where you will also find the links to our Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.