A few months ago, I read an article about creativity and motherhood that resonated with me to my core. In my work with mothers, I often hear similar problems such as “I had expectations about who I would be as a mother, and who I actually am doesn’t even come close” or “I want to be able to do something that is just for me”. These women are ambitious, creative, and caring but somewhere along their motherhood journey they stopped developing the creative parts of themselves that helped them feel connected to both themselves and others.
Women are natural creators. My grandmother was part of a quilting bee. These groups would get together to create quilts and connect about the world, talking freely about what was going on in their communities. The International Quilt Study Center and Museum states:
“Quiltmakers have long acted out of an understanding that most people share. That is, we don’t live isolated existences, but are connected to one another regardless of geographic, political, religious, cultural, or social boundaries.”
Isolation has a profound influence on our ability to feel joyful, creative, seen, understood, and connected. It is especially easy for mothers to sink into isolation due to napping schedules, lack of consistent interaction with other adults, sleep deprivation, anxiety, lack of partner support, lack of family support, and a general lack of social support.
Isolation has great power. Its cloak is alluring and comforting. But constant exposure to this super villain can lead to depression and anxiety, which can have some pretty serious consequences, leaving families vulnerable to increased risk of mental health issues.
How can creativity help? Creativity allows us to access the right side of the brain, processing and reflecting in a way that doesn’t always create meaning from words alone. It can help connect us to deep parts of ourselves that assist us in finding relief from the unconscious parts that may hold us back from feeling seen. It may help us express our pain, our joy and our ambivalence in a way that feels safe and personal. When used in the context of a group or with a therapist, we can further access growth and healing through a supportive witness who can validate our experiences and share in a way that lets us feel less alone.
“I’m not an artist.” It’s easy to censor ourselves and block our creative spirit by saying, “no.” “I’m too shy. I never did well in art class. I can’t rhyme. I’ll look silly.” What if it doesn’t matter what the end product is? What if the most important part is engaging in the creative process? Exposure to things that scare us in a safe, protected environment can actually help decrease anxiety and increase feelings of capability and resiliency. There’s a bunch of science that backs this up. This is why improvisation is so beneficial for social anxiety and any group of people who need to feel more connected and capable in their abilities.
Engaging in a creative process is also a great way to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of being present in the moment without judgment. It sounds easy, but it takes a lot of practice. Whether you are creating an abstract picture of how you feel in the moment, writing a poem or monologue, singing your favorite song or dancing in a way that feels just right for what your body needs, you are allowing yourself to be present. Take away the judgment and you are finding an even greater source of connection to your mind, body and heart.
Now that you know the benefits of creativity, you may be wondering how to access this wondrous part of yourself that has such potential for healing and personal growth. Here are a few ideas.
1) Find a group to engage with creatively. This can be done in a variety of ways. You might look up your local parks and recreation schedule to see what classes are being offered. Maybe you go to Meetup.com and search for local groups that do improvisation, drum circles, or written narratives about personal experiences. You might decide to call on some friends and form your own group where you engage in a variety of creative processes.
2) Find a creative arts therapist to work with regularly. A creative arts therapist may be a drama therapist, music therapist, art therapist, poetry therapist, or dance/movement therapist who has advanced training in helping people who want to explore their lives more deeply through different creative forms.
3) Begin creating at home and journal about the process. It doesn’t have to take a lot of time out of your day. I am a firm believer that when we start to make small changes, these positive changes can grow into something greater. This can be the same with creative process. You may start with a Haiku one day and work your way up to an epic poem, both have the possibility for insight and healing. The reason I encourage journaling about the process is to allow yourself an intentional place to explore how you feel differently, examine any insights you might have and non-judgmentally notice if you were able to stay present in the moment. Again, it doesn’t have to be a long James Joyce stream of consciousness experience. A few sentences will do.
Stumped for an idea? Start with whatever you are feeling in the moment. Maybe it’s an image or a dialogue between completing feelings or a song that expresses exactly how you are feeling. Remember, it’s about the process not the product!
I’d love to hear ways in which you engage creatively or groups that you wish you could find but just don’t seem to be out there. Or maybe you are interested in working with a creative arts therapist. Feel free to contact me!