Resilience is a bit of a buzzword right now
And there are good reasons for that. Focusing on strengths rather than weaknesses has a great track record of bringing people to healthier, happier lives after trauma. This focus isn’t meant to deny the pain or woundedness of our lives, however. Resilience is the characteristic of being able to bounce back after stress or injury. Like a rubber band, we don’t know if it’s working until we’re tested – stretched – by adversity. How can we work on increasing our natural resilience?
Art making is a natural resilience booster.
Art is a place where we can make mistakes that don’t have earth-shattering consequences. We can practice problem solving and decision making in a piece of art. We can try new things and experiment. We can see our situations or our histories and possibly even ourselves in new ways. Art lets us put the intangible and tangled thoughts and feelings of our inner lives into a visible form where we can attend to them compassionately. We can view our habitual reactions to frustration or success, and learn new ways to reflect and respond thoughtfully. Art can do all these things, and more …
… as long as it’s supported by a safe container.
To make art in the pursuit of healing – in the pursuit of higher resilience – the artist needs to feel emotionally safe. A number of factors play into emotional safety.
Freedom from judgment or punishment. Art making to deal with pain, loss, or trauma should be done in a place that is sheltered from the curiosity of those who do not know how to react in a healing way. Art made in this spirit is not to be shared lightly, nor observed out of mere curiosity, or subjected to critique.
Freedom from inner sabotage. Sometimes the danger of judgment comes from the artist’s inner critical self as well. It’s helpful in such cases if the artist is able to rely on someone else’s voice of acceptance and compassion. A supportive therapist can be that voice. So can the knowledge that there are others who have been down the same road and battled the same inner discouragement, and that those inner self-shaming voices are only the voices of fear, not truth.
Respect for the limits of emotional tolerance. One of the more subtle boundaries that need to be maintained around the creation of art as a healing modality is the level of emotional intensity that an individual can tolerate before either shutting down or becoming overanxious. Neurobiology has taught us that only in a state of relaxed alertness does new learning take place. This is different for each one of us depending on character and personal history, and can vary from day to day or minute to minute. For those who have suffered trauma it is an especially delicate balance to maintain. It takes care and skill to create a comfort zone that allows for challenge without boomeranging into deeper trauma. There always needs to be permission to back off, clear grounding techniques to help you do so, and confident encouragement to try again another day.
Next time I’ll write more about some useful grounding techniques to help you find moments of peace during challenging times.