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Brene Brown's Work Meets Art Therapy

I have been reading Brene Brown's book Daring Greatly and it has been influencing what I focus on with clients in session. It's like the volume got turned up on certain words: "guilty, I feel bad, not enough, other people...." Defining for people shame and guilt has been helpful. According to Brown's research shame is how we think/feel about ourselves and guilt is how we think/feel about our behavior. Shame doesn't allow for much change: "I'm bad." Guilt has more wiggle room - "I wish I hadn't done that but I can do different next time." Shame has what Brown calls "gremlins" attached to it: comparison, "scarcity thinking" or not seeing yourself as enough of something, not being worthy, self-doubt, etc.

For a while I've been aware of how hard we are on ourselves and have asked people to draw what "gentleness" looks like. Drawing it helps give our minds an anchor to reach for when we become aware we are putting ourselves down. The very act of drawing helps engage both sides of the brain when processing something, which at least with trauma, is needed to heal. It's a step in re-wiring the brain to react with gentleness when those gremlins come around.

I ask people to name it - literally, like "Bob," - maybe even begin a dialogue with it, "How do you help me? I don't need you right now. I'm being brave, go away!" Lately I've been asking people to draw "shame" as well. So far it has been a positive experience for people. It's helped give voice to something that words might not encompass. It helps to see what shame looks like, separate from us, again providing an anchor to help be more aware when we are feeling shame.

"Gentleness" drawings have similarities to each other, as do the "shame" drawings. Gentleness has lots of soft lines and light colors. Shame is linear, hard lines, dark colors, often caging something in.

My hope is that expressing these aspects of ourselves will help grow our self-awareness and understanding. Maybe shame will move down (or up) a notch to guilt. Then we can treat ourselves with more kindness, which in turn leads to increased kindness with others, more creativity, aliveness, and empowerment to make our lives and world, better for us all.

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