What makes you angry? What makes you sad? What calms and soothes you? What inspires you? What nourishes you? What brings you genuine, smile-permanently-plastered-to-your-face joy?
What do you want?
Do you know?
Many of us aren’t sure. Many of us don’t know what we need or what we want or what we feel. Many of us don’t take the time to ask ourselves these kinds of questions. So naturally we don’t speak up in our relationships. Because how can you make requests around your needs when you’re clueless about what they are in the first place?
Maybe we also say yes when we really mean “Ughhh, nooooo.” Yet, as art therapist Rachel Del Dosso, MA, AMFT, said, we say yes “out of obligation, fear, or guilt.” The yeses roll off our tongue so quickly (so habitually), we don’t even have time to process what someone is asking of us, and it feels like it’s too late to catch them and put them back in.
These are all examples of ways we use our voices. Or rather ways we don’t use them. And that’s OK. Because this is an opportunity to start, to reconnect to ourselves, to raise our voices.
Art can help.
“Art has an amazing way of bypassing defenses and helping us understand ourselves on a deeper level,” Del Dosso said. ” It has the potential to connect us to parts of ourselves we have been cut off from and can also reveal to us what we are feeling or needing, even if we can’t initially express it in words.”
Below, Del Dosso shared different ways we can use art to discover our voices. And remember that you don’t need to call yourself an artist to make art, any more than you need to become a professional writer to write. You just write, and you just draw.
- Keep a daily art journal of your feelings. “For example, choose a color to show what feeling you are having, and fill up as much or as little space as that feeling is taking up for you,” Del Dosso said. She uses her art journal to release feelings that feel stuck or are bothering her. She specifically likes to use oil pastels. Because pastels are so tactile, it’s easy to apply pressure to them, and let the feelings essentially flow through you. She then thinks about what’s bothering her, and channels those feelings into an abstract drawing. “Everyone’s process is different, so it is about trusting your intuition and seeing what works for you, what helps you feel like you can move on and focus on the things you want to focus on,” Del Dosso said.
- Make art about the future. Reflect on what you want for yourself, and create art about that. Then write down specific, practical steps you can take to make that happen. For instance, last summer, Del Dosso made a collage of images she was drawn to (such as images of nature). When she reviewed her collage, she realized that she craved more time in nature, more time to view and create art, and more time with friends. So she made some concrete decisions: Every Saturday she’d spend time connecting with her natural surroundings and with her creativity, going to the farmer’s market, buying delicious food, and having friends over for dinner.
- Draw what’s bothering you—and identify what you can do. Some of Del Dosso’s clients have drawn shapes to represent themselves and their spouses, shapes that overlap and infringe on each other’s space, shapes that reveal the clients’ resentful and bitter feelings. Which has created an opportunity for Del Dosso and her clients to discuss the importance of boundaries, along with the kinds of boundaries they can set in their relationships—such as requesting more space and saying no to certain activities they don’t want to do. What’s bothering you? What actions would’ve helped you in that situation? How can you handle it differently in the future?
- Make art intuitively. Use your non-dominant hand, and give yourself permission to create anything. “Art can be a wonderful way to learn to be present and to stop anticipating the outcome,” Del Dosso said. It’s an opportunity “to trust yourself that you can handle whatever comes your way, moment by moment.”
Think of finding your voice as an adventure, an expedition. It is an exploration into the different, fascinating, multi-layered parts that make you you. And as you start discovering your needs and feelings and concerns, make sure that you incorporate them into your life, into your days. Make sure that you raise them. Make sure to speak up. Don’t silence yourself.