What negative beliefs do you hold about yourself? What negative stories have been swirling inside your mind for years?
Maybe, you think, there are too many to list.
Maybe you think you’re terrible in general.
Maybe you think you have a disgusting body.
Maybe you think you don’t deserve happiness or compassion.
Maybe you think you don’t deserve to rest, to act on a certain dream, to leave a certain relationship.
Maybe you think you’re all alone.
Maybe you think you’re inadequate, unlovable and unworthy.
But are these beliefs really true?
Are you sure?
Erin McKeen, LMFT, ATR, a licensed marriage and family therapist and registered art therapist, suggested using words and symbols to explore the beliefs you hold—and to recreate them into positive, reality-based beliefs.
For instance, McKeen shared these examples:
- “I am a bad person” becomes: “I have done some good and bad things in my life.” You draw a face with one half representing the good, and the other half representing the bad.
- “I am alone” becomes: “I have resources and I don’t have to be alone.” You draw your therapist, your friends and your community.
- “I am not likable” becomes: “Not everyone has to like me, I can like myself.” You sketch a symbol of self-love, such as a portrait of yourself with a massive heart.
When you hold such deeply negative beliefs, one activity won’t undo them. After all, they’ve likely been around for a while, and they’re likely stubborn. But it’s a helpful start.
And please don’t worry if you “can’t” draw, if your idea of drawing is sketching a few stick figures. That’s totally OK. Don’t let that stop you from trying these techniques.
Art-making, in particular, is powerful because it lets us access parts of the brain that words cannot. “Many people find that it feels easier, safer and more comfortable to express difficult feelings through art-making rather than [writing],” art therapist Hannah Wilson, LPC, ATR-BC, told me in this piece. It’s because stressful and traumatic experiences are stored differently in our brains, which makes it harder to fully access them and their associated feelings with writing alone, she said.
“Art-making, as opposed to verbal processing, can help to get past our egos, defenses, over-thinking and analyzing in order to access what we’re really feeling underneath as well as internal strengths and resources we may not realize are there.”
Below are several other ideas, which include art-making and writing, too.
- Draw your negative beliefs. What do they sound like? What do they feel like? What do they taste like? Capture your answers to these questions on paper. Describe your beliefs through the images you create. Putting them on paper is one way to release them. Though this might sound strange, think of the paper absorbing them. Picture yourself letting them go, as they flow from your mind to your notebook. Maybe rip the pages out, and toss them in the trash. After all, you’ve been carrying these beliefs for too long.
- Pick one self-critical belief to explore. Write a story about a character who holds this same belief, and refuses to let go. Write about why they refuse to relinquish it, and why they’re so convinced it’s 150 percent true. Then write about this character changing their belief—and how they finally realized it’s absolutely false.
- Create a collage with uplifting and empowering quotes and images. Keep your collage somewhere visible, and turn to it any time you need a reminder, a dose of inspiration or a boost of confidence.
- Draw a portrait of yourself as a child. What beliefs do you want that child to grow up believing? Write them down. Can you start believing them, too, right now? What might have to change so you do internalize them (which doesn’t include changing your weight, shape or size)? For instance, maybe you need to hang out with sincerely supportive people. Maybe you need to start feeling more comfortable in your own skin, and you begin by taking restorative yoga classes and sitting with your sadness (instead of avoiding it or judging it).
Again, these suggestions are just a start. If you’d like to deepen your work with disparaging beliefs, consider working with a therapist.
Your negative beliefs can feel like a permanent resident inside your mind. You think you’ll feel this way forever. And ever. You might think it’s hopeless, and things will never change.
But they can. And they will.
Find techniques that resonate with you (which may or may not be the ones above), and keep practicing them. Because they will help you to slowly and gradually chip away at the negativity and falsehoods. And the small steps will create significant strides. They always do.