Seeking Mirroring in the World
I was a professional artist in my twenties. Having my work hanging in the top gallery in the city along with Canada's best artists was a source of great pride for me, and also an enormous pressure. I would spend over a month on each painting, painstakingly making sure that it was aesthetically beautiful.
Looking back, I was creating from my social mask. I self-consciously painted in a way that represented how I wanted to be seen and accepted by others. Unknown to myself on the inside, I wanted to be recognized on the outside. Creating art that other people approved of helped me to feel better about myself - for a time.
Spontaneous Creativity - A Method of Self-Mirroring
After a few short years of exhibiting as a gallery artist, I was offered my first solo show. Suddenly, I felt an aversion to painting for a pleasing end-product. The urge to know myself became intense. After much deliberation, I pulled my work out of the art gallery and began to paint spontaneously in my basement studio.
My first spontaneous creations were both ecstatic and frightening to me. I was not prepared for the emotional content that spontaneously arose - multitudes of drawings of faces without mouths, and haunted unhappy eyes.
When you first allow yourself to paint what wants to be expressed from your inner life, you will likely experience fear. It can feel difficult for your nervous system to accept what is spontaneously expressed especially if it opposes how you need to present yourself to others in order to belong.
And interestingly, you can be just as self-rejecting about where you shine. Fear of social jealousy might arise when you express your positive aspects. You might fear that you will not be loved for your "golden" qualities, as many women are encouraged to "stay small".
Reclaiming Needs, Feelings, Desires, and Drives
“To be shame-bound means that whenever you feel any feeling, need or drive, you immediately feel ashamed. The dynamic core of your human life is grounded in your feelings, needs and drives. When these are bound by shame, you are shamed to the core.”
~ John Bradshaw
In the process of socialization we all learn to reject ourselves in some way. Shame indicates aspects of yourself that you think you are socially "not supposed" to have. The good news is, it is possible to revive neglected, dormant, and even dying parts of yourself. You can recover the rejected parts of yourself through honest self-expression.
You can see and love the disowned parts of yourself in a spontaneous creative practice. You can delve with compassion into your shadow to find out where you perpetuate social shaming and the subsequent self-rejection. You can invite each disowned part of yourself to come up into the light to be loved, understood and reclaimed in the light of your mature awareness.
Pace and Integrate
"Each time an inroad is made by the Numinous into our individual consciousness, the potential is created for the opposite to take hold. This potentiality is only energized from the part of our nature that asserts itself during moments of unawareness - the part that belongs to the subconscious. The subconscious is a reservoir of stored experiences in their unassimilated form; a hotbed of complexes formed from our past traumas, disappointments, fears, unexpressed ambitions and motives and the like."
~ F. Aster Barnwell
Layers of shame can arise in a spontaneous creative process to be loved back into the light. And, at first, you will need to be gentle with your pacing. It is helpful to paint a little, and then allow an emotional disturbance to fully integrate through your body before continuing to paint again.
And, as challenging as process painting can be, each aspect of your shadow - faced with vigour and courage - reveals a choice to care for yourself more than you could in the past. As you attend to your shame, you will find an inner friendship with your socially rejected aspects of self.
Staying present with shame is like building a muscle. It takes time to strengthen. When I started painting spontaneously, I wanted to "dig it all up" right away in order to "get rid of it." I dove into my emotional repression without taking proper breaks for integration.
In my spontaneous creativity binges, I swam in heavy emotional states - sometimes drowning in them for days and even weeks. This weakened me. By becoming more aware of the intense force of shame, I gradually learned to pace myself in order to heal at a rate that felt balanced to my nervous system.
Spontaneous Creativity as Self Therapy
“When our instinctual life is shamed, the natural core of our life is bound up. It’s like an acorn going through excruciating agony for becoming an oak, or a flower feeling ashamed for blossoming.”
~ John Bradshaw
When you express your inner life spontaneously, you will build the capacity for self-honesty, self-empowerment, and self-friendship. But going back into socially shamed places from the past is the loneliest place that you will ever go. So, as you meet what you have cut off from conscious awareness, you will need to summon powerful self-love.
As you progress along the path of spontaneous self-expression, you can begin to form a relationship with yourself through the following self-valuing tools elucidated by psychologist Carl Rogers.
1.) Congruence: When you create spontaneously, you create a sanctuary to be utterly yourself. This is your time to let down your facade and to create congruence between your inner life and your outer expression. Paint exactly what you feel, no matter how strange it appears. Honour whatever comes up in your art-making process. Allow each brushstroke to be genuine. You might have the urge to paint something very ugly. Notice the urge to change it into something more acceptable.
2.) Unconditional Positive Regard: Your creative time is your time to value who you really are. Perhaps no one has ever honoured yourself in this way before. It is possible for you to have an accepting attitude towards yourself - whether you are feeling profound joy, deep sorrow, or intense anger. Prize yourself for all of your feelings. Learn to encourage yourself with kind words. Feel everything inside with dignity and self-caring.
3.) Empathy: Empathy requires that you ask the highest part of yourself to listen to feelings of the less developed, more frightened parts of your personality in the deepest way possible. You can use empathy to practice being a good and loving parent to the younger parts of yourself. You can invite all of your neglected younger parts of self to come forward for acceptance from your loving adult self.