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Creative Expression and Sexual Abuse

Artemisia Gentileschi self portraitSo many people experience unwanted sexual contact, rape and other forms of sexual abuse.

And they often help deal with the aftermath through creative expression, perhaps using art therapy, but more often some other form of creative self-expression.

One of many articles on the topic here on Psych Central, Mental Disorders Often Follow Sexual Abuse by Rick Nauert PhD, reports: “Researchers have discovered that a history of sexual abuse is frequently linked with a lifetime diagnosis of multiple psychiatric disorders…this association held true regardless of the victim’s gender or age when the abuse occurred.”

There are many references and articles on “healing” from sexual abuse and other kinds of trauma, but it is important to keep in mind the emotional and spiritual impacts may endure, at least to some degree; dealing with abuse is not like healing a broken bone.

But experiencing abuse of any kind also does not make us “damaged goods” – see actor Teri Hatcher’s comments below.

The painting is a self portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). An article notes she was raped by an art tutor of hers, followed by a “highly publicised seven-month trial. This event makes up the central theme of a controversial French film, Artemisia (1998), directed by Agnes Merlet.

“The trauma of the rape and trial impacted on Artemisia’s painting. Her graphic depictions were cathartic and symbolic attempts to deal with the physical and psychic pain. The heroines of her art, especially Judith, are powerful women exacting revenge on such male evildoers as the Assyrian general Holofernes.”

From profile site: The Life and Art of Artemisia Gentileschi.

Another article notes “Her depiction of traditional stories of rape and vengeance — but from the viewpoint of a woman – marked a breakthrough in the history of art.” – From Artemisia Gentileschi in the Movies by Mary Garrard and Gloria Steinem – an evaluation of the problems with the movie Artemisia, plus links to sites on Artemisia, and on women artists active before 1900.

Book: Artemisia Gentileschi by Mary Garrard.

In her historical novel The Passion of Artemisia author Susan Vreeland quotes Artemisia, in a powerful statement that could apply to many creators:

“An artist’s feeling is the white-hot core of painting… You’ve got to use your own emotions and paint with your own blood if need be in order to discover and prove the truth of your vision.”

Lisa Sonora BeamOne writer that especially inspired me to address this topic again is Lisa Sonora Beam, who wrote in her article This V-Day I Am Rising. Will You? (Feb. 2013), about her own experiences, and the organization One Billion Rising – “a revolutionary campaign to end violence against women and girls.”

[Also see the site NO MORE – “designed to galvanize greater awareness and action to end domestic violence and sexual assault.”]

[Also in Beam’s article are videos by Jane Fonda, Gabrielle Senza, Anoushka Shankar and others.]

Lisa writes:

“Today, one of every three women on the planet will be raped or beaten in her lifetime…

“When I was in college I was attacked in my dorm room and almost raped and killed in a gang initiation…the university forbid me to discuss the ‘incident’, and threatened to take away my scholarship and kick me out of school if I told anyone. I was offered no counseling, no compassion. …

“The worst things that happened to me happened in my own family. For the first twelve years of my life, I was sexually abused by a family member. I told no one, not even the therapists I started seeing as a teen, not even after I became a therapist myself. I couldn’t speak about the unspeakable.”

She goes on to describe how she has used creative work, especially “the process that saved my life”: Dreaming On Paper: The Creative Sketchbook.

“Dreaming On Paper helps you excavate your own true desires, innate wisdom, and intuition, with ease, gentleness and joy. I will show you how to create without fear of the blank page, learning how to play and make a happy mess without fear of doing it wrong or not doing it perfectly.”

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Here are a few related articles of mine, with additional books and resources:

“Art Saved My Life” – Creative expression can transform our painful reactions to traumatic situations, providing renewed strength of our identity and a way to give voice to difficult feelings.

Teri HatcherHealing and art: SARK and others on abuse and creativity – includes quotes by artists Roxanne Chinook, Niki de St. Phalle and actor Teri Hatcher – who revealed in 2006 that as a child she was sexually abused by an uncle, and said in an interview, “I don’t think you have to be molested to be in pain as a woman, to feel like you don’t deserve good things… we are all women who don’t treat ourselves well enough. Women walk around feeling like everything is their fault.”

“I don’t want to pretend it never happened anymore… I’m really a survivor, but I’ve learned so much, given so much, and received so much out of it all that I don’t think I’m damaged goods. I think I’m a deeply sensitive, knowing, beautiful woman.”

Creative People, Trauma and Mental Health. This long article has numerous quotes by artists and psychologists, plus resources including a trauma recovery radio program; articles; books, online information and self-help programs and more.

See much more on the page:

Emotional Health Resources: Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional balance and wellbeing for a better creative life.

Emotional Health Resources

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Creative Expression and Sexual Abuse

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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Emotional Health Resources - Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.

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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2019). Creative Expression and Sexual Abuse. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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