Finding your voice and finding yourself
In my experience as a therapist, I would say that the number one reason for people accessing therapy is because they are disconnected in some way.
It may manifest itself in different ways, causing them difficulties such as depression, anxiety, work stress, troubled relationships, addictions, self-harm, and so on. But, more often than not, once a person enters the therapy and establishes trust, a different pathway begins to open up.
They begin to learn that what they are struggling with is a manifestation of their disconnection with themselves. They feel lonely, alienated, uncertain, restless, and insecure, and they lack meaning in their lives. They don’t know who they are or what they want.
They may feel that they have everything they need but are still not happy and they don’t understand why. What they need is to reconnect to their inner world of thoughts - and most importantly feelings- to live a more fulfilling life.
One of the most powerful ways of reconnecting internally is by learning to be fully present via the practice of mindfulness. Many people think of mindfulness as something they don’t have time for in their busy lives, but it’s more about developing a 'mindful' way of being and living. Anything can be done more mindfully - it is about focusing your full attention on whatever you are doing, even if only for a few minutes. Eating, walking, playing, reading - it doesn’t matter. It’s a mindset.
For example, when I take my dog on his daily walk, I could think of it in terms of getting from A to B; getting the task done and focusing on what I need to do next in my day. However, by observing and noticing my external surroundings - the colour of the sky, the movement of the clouds, or the leaves gently moving on the breeze, the birdsong... I begin to experience a sense of calm and peacefulness internally. I am no longer aware of what came before or what is happening next. I am in the now; not the past or the future. This reduces many unhelpful, irrational thoughts such as 'what ifs', 'shoulds', and 'oughts'. You are simply learning to just be, and we can learn a lot by observing the natural world as a recent poem I wrote demonstrates.
The world around me
Feels damp and dull and dreary
It’s January and nature is resting
Ready for the burst into spring
Walking amongst the trees
The only green is the ivy climbing high and low
And the vivid brightness of the moss
Covering the decaying, fallen trees
Lying lifeless on the ground
We could learn so much from nature’s example
Us humans, rushing around
Caught up on the hamster wheel of life
Forgetting to pause and look
And reconnect with the perpetual cycles that encircle us
Winter is a time for hibernation
For rest and recuperation
Restoring the energy to springboard us
Into the vibrance and wondrous colours to come
A new chapter with endless possibilities
It becomes easier to put aside any thoughts or worries about bigger issues (which are often out of our control anyway) and live more 'in the moment'. Also, by noticing and observing sensations in your body, through learning to pause and breathe, allows the space for feelings to rise to the surface of consciousness and be acknowledged. This will enable you to feel a connection; connection to your internal world and a connection to your fellow human beings, your loved ones, or someone who simply passes you in the street. You smile, you make eye contact, and you say hello. You make contact. In return, this makes you smile on the inside.
Not only is mindfulness very effective at reducing anxiety and negative thoughts, but it has also been proven to improve concentration, academic performance, and the ability to focus, and it can help with stress and depression. So, it is particularly effective for young people, and let’s face it, with one in five teenagers now suffering from anxiety, there is a big need for more calm.
Accessing your creativity can open up a doorway to the self, the core, the fundamental part of who you are. It can help you to reconnect with your true, authentic identity, and once you are reconnected, the world becomes a very different place. You feel more confident and self-assured. You banish the self-doubt and fear of failure that you will be found out one day and exposed as a fraud. The 'imposter syndrome'. You can be yourself without fear of judgement from others.
Creativity also reminds you of how to play and have fun. It can be dull being an adult, serious and with responsibilities. It helps you to let go.
It can help to reconnect you with your inner-child and, if you have children of your own, you will notice that you find it easier to relate to them and your relationships improve. You become more attuned and speak the same language.
Creativity is everywhere and comes in so many forms; it’s not just about art or writing. It’s about expressing yourself - your identity, individuality, spirituality, and sexuality. It’s about finding your voice and using it.
So, I encourage you to have an awareness of what speaks to you - whether it be in the form of dance, music, art, sculpture, writing, poetry, gardening, cooking, sewing, fashion, decorating your home, building, constructing… the list is endless. Some of these things you probably do already without realising you are being creative.
Working creatively, in therapeutic terms, can help you to connect with fragmented or suppressed thoughts, feelings, memories, and experiences to bring them to consciousness where they can be more understood and, ultimately, assimilated into self-awareness where they can be of use.
To take time out, to be quiet, to be still, to sculpt, to mould, to draw, to write, to play. All this can provide the space to bring clarity, compassion, and empathy; a different perspective sometimes. This can be extremely helpful in understanding yourself better.
When you are disconnected, your heart is closed, and there can be a good reason for this. Previous heartbreak, disappointments, sadness, and anger can result in defences being constructed - walls around your heart. These are designed to keep you safe from further hurt and pain, but sadly they also keep others out. This limits your ability to create trust and intimacy within a relationship.
To create a loving, trusting, fulfilling relationship, you must first take the brave step towards opening your heart. It’s risky and it’s a gamble. You could get hurt again. But it’s necessary to take that leap of faith if you want a more rewarding intimate connection.
In therapy, by understanding the impact of emotional pain, you can learn to acknowledge it, accept it, feel it, and then put it in the past where it belongs. You can liberate yourself from old 'baggage'.
One way to do this is to develop more self-compassion. Working creatively with your inner-child - sculpting him or her, writing a letter to your childhood self, emotionally connecting - can bring about a huge shift in perspective; from judging and blaming to observing, loving, and accepting.
For me, writing poetry has become a liberating form of self-expression. I wrote this poem following a therapy session for a lady who struggled to acknowledge her own needs, which is something that many people find difficult.
You are allowed to feel sad
And it’s ok to let others see
You are allowed to feel angry
It channels your strength and passion
You make yourself heard
You cannot be ignored
You are allowed to feel unwell
At times when your resources are low
Treat yourself kindly
With compassion and love
You are allowed to be quiet
Words don’t always provide you with what you need
Noise can be a distraction
From your inner wisdom
You are allowed to ask for what you need
When you require extra strength or comfort
You can open up your arms
And be acknowledged by another
Taking responsibility, flexibility and self-discipline
Many people come to therapy with the idea that a therapist will 'fix' them. He or she will have all the answers, will patch them up, and send them on their way. They can get back to work, and carry on in their unhappy (but safe) lives without upsetting the applecart. It couldn’t be further from the truth.
People in therapy often very quickly learn that’s not how it works. They must take responsibility for their own lives, which requires self-discipline and often developing a more flexible mind-set. They must learn that it requires effort and work to change self-harming/sabotaging behaviours which are destroying their self-esteem. No-one can do this for them. This is the most adult, healthy act of self-love that they can make.
Finding your voice is to connect with your own unique, individual truth, so when I work creatively with people, it is often in silence. Afterwards, words come more easily to express the experience.
Be brave, take the leap of faith into therapy, and the reward could be great.