When I was enrolled in a gradate program through Goddard College becoming an art therapist, a close friend of mine was setting up her private practice as a Marriage and Family Counselor. Jane and I had met through Tom Gordon’s Parent Effectiveness Training programs, as we were both teaching Gordon’s methods for improving communication in families. My background had been Child Development, Jane’s had been raising six children.
Jane attended one of my first "practice" workshops in which I presented the idea of drawing and writing with the non-dominant hand. These workshop activities eventually became part of my master’s thesis. Jane readily took to the idea of scribbling her stress and powerful emotions out onto paper. She also kept a journal and started creating deeply felt art work of her dreams. She shared these drawings with me along with writing and dialogues with dream images.
What really got my attention were the pages and pages of graffiti-like scribbles (with 4 letter words and all) that she said allowed her to dump her anger, frustration and stress out onto paper instead of carrying it around in her body or throwing it at someone else.
I also knew her husband, Jack, who was a Parent Effectiveness trainer as well. At a party all attended, Jack pulled me aside to thank me.
"What for? “I said."
"Why, for saving my marriage, of course."
"What do you mean, Jack? How on earth did I save your marriage?"
"Well, you know we’ve been married for many years and we’ve raised six kids together. For a long time Jane used me as target practice. If she was pissed off about something, I got the heat. If she was frustrated, she took it out on me. Franky, I was ready to bail out of the marriage."
"I can understand that you’d be pretty put off by that," I replied. "But, I don’t understand how I saved your marriage."
Jack explained. "Well, when Jane started coming to your workshops and using your method of scribbling her feelings out with her other hand, all of that stopped. I mean, I was amazed. The blaming and dumping stopped. I was really surprised. I mean, it just stopped."
He laughed. "Sure, she kept on name-calling and dumping, but it went into her journal instead of being aimed at me. She showed me some of her journal pages after she'd been doing this for awhile. Pages and pages full of crayon scribbling in black."
Jane had shown me, in confidence, some of these scribbles, or what I termed Graffiti art, so I knew exactly what Jack was talking about.
He continued, "And, yeah, she called me every name in the book, and then some. But she did it on paper. She put it in a safe place, in her journal. Which as you know, is confidential and very private. She only shares certain things with me."
He thought for a moment and then added. "You know, Jane learned to own her own feelings using this method, instead of making me responsible for everything she felt. You know, as if her feelings were my fault."
Jack gave me a big grin. "So, do you see, Lucia? I have you to thank for saving my marriage. What a relief to walk into the house and know that I’m not going to get yelled at or dumped on."
That was when I realized how powerful the non-dominant hand was for expressing explosive feelings. It not only relieved stress for the person who had the feelings, it calmed the waters. It let off steam in a safe place. This is important in relationships where strong emotions can do damage by being dumped out impulsively in words of blame and recrimination.
Contrary to the old saying about "words can never hurt me," words can and DO hurt. They can leave lasting emotional scars and wounds that damage or destroy relationships. We know this from the phenomenon of bullying, which has become an epidemic in our society and in our schools.
So next time you want to yell at someone, indulge in name-calling or blaming, try scribbling it out on paper. Use your non-dominant hand and a crayon. The bigger the crayon the better. Or use a big fat marker. Let the paper have it. Do your name-calling and blaming in writing. The words may be barely legible, but that’s okay. Think of it as graffiti. You’ll feel better. You’ll own your own feelings without using someone else "for target practice," as Jack put it so perfectly.
With relationship issues it is also important to draw images of the dynamic within oneself. Especially the interaction of the male and female within. Jane did just that in her journal, drawing various images of how the masculine and feminine aspects of herself were relating to each other. In one drawing a "pot" emerged, with two faces pointed in opposite directions.
She also created a classic yin yang symbol, the traditional Chinese image for balance of the masculine and feminine energies.
Artwork by Jane Murphy shown here appears in the new color edition of The Creative Journal: The Art of Finding Yourself, 35th Anniversary Edition, Ohio University/Swallow Press 2015.
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