Addressing Emotional Pain #5 – Recognizing Deeper Emotions with Artwork

To see things in the seed, that is genius.  ~ Lao Tzu

In a previous post I listed some tools to help address emotional pain.  One of those tools I learned is creating artwork that represents what you are feeling, such as a drawing, painting, sketching, doodling, photography, etc.  It doesn’t have to be fancy and you don’t have to be an artist.  The important point to remember is that the energy associated with painful emotions needs an outlet, instead of becoming trapped in the body.  Just try to get it out of you.  Stopping, distracting, dismissing or suppressing these emotions can surface later in other, potentially harmful ways.

When you create your “emotion” artwork, ask yourself a couple of questions.  “What does this picture mean?”  “What is it trying to tell me?”  It may depict a primary feeling at first, such as sadness, anger, fear, etc.  But try to dig deeper and notice other feelings that arise.  Don’t be content with the first emotion you are creating because this could help reveal core issues that need to be addressed.

Look at the following doodle for example.  Have you ever felt down or discouraged, like you were in a deep hole and didn’t know how to climb out?  If this were one of your doodles, what are your initial feelings?  Is it hopeless, overwhelmed…?  If you dig deeper, what are other feelings that arise?  List them…is it sad…lonely…frustrated…angry…isolated…irritated, etc…?  The face may not depict all the emotions, but dig deeper.  Notice what else you are feeling. 

Consider the following:

  • Did the artwork help?  Did the emotions decrease?  Did the urge to draw decrease?  The emotional charge may have decreased, but don’t worry if the emotions don’t go away after several artwork attempts.  We need to trust the process and see what develops.
  • Keep creating.  You might notice a predominant emotion among the images or a recurring theme that needs attention and help us decide what to do later.  Look at your images and ask, “What is the pattern?”  Do you see one?”
  • Don’t expect the emotion to disappear quickly.  The emotion may continue, but it may need more work with drawing or a combination of other tools.
  • Be patient as this may take a while.  Patience is important.  The process is unfolding and we don’t know the end result.  Take it slow and don’t push it too hard.  The body won’t trust you if you push it.
  • If you produce an image, and have an urge to create more, it may be because you are connecting better with your body (mind/body connection).  Certain memories may be occurring.  If the memories recur, they may tell us what needs attention or cause us to ask what they mean.  The mind also may be determining what is in the closet, and then trying to clean out the closet.  The drawings will help determine what is in the closet.
  • Avoid explaining the emotions away.  This creates more distance from your emotions.
  • Draw an alternate scenario to the emotion or to the drawing you have already done.  For example, with the doodle above, how would you draw yourself if you had more “power.”  Ask, “How do I have power?”   Drawing an alternate scenario helps you figure out an alternate in real life.
  • Draw each different emotion you feel as a result of digging deeper into your artwork.

We did a similar process in one of my pain psychology sessions.  I don’t draw because it is neither a desire nor a talent that I have.  But a few months ago, I had an urge to sketch out how I was feeling.  That first drawing led to another, then another, and another, and over the next few days, I had several drawings.  I took them into my session to discuss.  I gave the background behind the first drawing, and the (predominant) emotion I ha that led me to that drawing.  I was ready to go onto the next drawing, but we stayed on the first one and discussed it further, delving deeper into the feelings of that one drawing.  My psychologist’s question after each feeling I noticed was a compassionate, “what else…what else…”  We spent several minutes just on that first drawing, and it was interesting and eye-opening to see how many feelings were associated with one image.  I listed those feelings on the back of the drawing and it still is amazing to me to see how many feelings revealed themselves.

Don’t always be comfortable with your first emotion.  Try to find out what it is really about.  Recognizing deeper emotions can be very helpful part of a healing process!

Have you ever used artwork to help with emotions?  If so, I’d like to hear your experiences and opinions, and if it worked for you.  If not, what have you found that is helpful?

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13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. victoriaaphotography
    Jun 24, 2012 @ 19:22:04

    Interesting process – I’ve never tried this.

    One exercise I have tried is……….. to quickly write 10 things I would use to describe myself (using my dominant hand). Then, some time later, write 10 words I would use to describe myself using my other (or non-dominant) hand. You have to write both lists quickly without thinking about it. And if you can’t write with your non-dominant hand, it is quite hard to do that second list.

    The lists were completely different. The second list contained words that revealed my sub-conscious or character traits that were hidden from the world. It was far more revealing and most interesting.


    • Fergiemoto
      Jul 01, 2012 @ 10:25:37

      Thanks for the insight! I’ve tried to write with my left hand before, but not to describe myself. I have heard of different personalities surfacing when using the left hand versus the right hand. Interesting!


  2. TBM
    Jun 25, 2012 @ 00:48:46

    Very informative post. I think too many people try to justify their feelings instead of allowing themselves to feel their emotions.


  3. granbee
    Jun 27, 2012 @ 14:59:23

    One of my favorite portions of my 18 months of training in the LIstening Hearts Discernment Method was the artwork guided meditation training and practice sessions. Drawing our emotions, instead of writing them, brings things to the surface from deeper places within us–not only about ourselves but about the world around us, bringing many valuable new insights.


    • Fergiemoto
      Jul 01, 2012 @ 10:31:36

      I’ve haven’t heard of the term ‘artwork guided meditation’ but that description certainly makes a lot of sense. I agree with you about the artwork bringing different things to the surface as opposed to writing them out. You see the image in front of you and studying it closely can help draw out those insights. Thanks for your perspective.


  4. eof737
    Aug 02, 2012 @ 21:04:26

    I’ve never tried it but I’ve heard great things about art therapy and its effectiveness.


  5. Cat Forsley
    Aug 09, 2012 @ 18:57:55

    This is so totally true ………….
    the more we create
    the more we truly tap into the heart
    and unveil ourselves ……..
    This is just soooo gorgeous xo


    • Fergiemoto
      Aug 14, 2012 @ 22:48:38

      Thanks so much for your nice comment, Creative Cat!! The artwork can be very enlightening.


      • Cat Forsley
        Aug 15, 2012 @ 05:21:11

        Yes ….. and i don’t even like that word anymore
        enlightening – because people use it toooo much these days – u know …….?
        without really understanding – or yeah well
        they are trying to sell an “Enlightening ” Book ……
        i am not one for spiritual materialism …….
        every heart has its own journey and it’s own creating to do xo
        Love and awesome site !!!!!!!!!

  6. femako
    Oct 02, 2012 @ 14:34:36

    I used writing once to recover from an emotional dive. It was so helpful, however i got disconnected with my inner voice and self somehow that I could not make myself to write a word. I’m trying to write again and blog once again. I just started but now I’m caught in between writing and love for photography. I feel like I am betraying myself for putting writing aside when I concentrate on images. Reading this post really helped. Thank you so much!


    • Fergiemoto
      Oct 14, 2012 @ 21:44:55

      I’m glad it helped! It’s nice to have both. Perhaps writing works better at times, and photography works better at other times. Thank you for sharing your experience.


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