In January’s e-newsletter I highlighted the work of Bay Area artist Courtney Privett . You may not know her by name, but if you were at all present on social media the months leading up to and following the first Women’s March, you’ve probably seen at least some of her art. Privett uses imagery combined with text to draw attention to the harmful messages women receive filtered through different levels of privilege (i.e. race, ability, body type, sexual orientation and so on). The talented Brazilian artist Carol Rosetti, shown above, does the same, while focusing on everyday acts of women’s resistance to those messages.
I remember seeing their art for the first time, along with many artists who are doing similar types of work, and thinking: Yes! That’s exactly it. This is why I have dedicated my psychotherapy practice to the support of girls and women*.
I witness (and, admittedly, experience) the emotional toll toxic messages take on even the most resilient women and girls, such as lowered self-esteem, pervasive worry, emotional depletion, difficulty speaking up … just to name a few.
For the purposes of this post, I’m focusing on just a few incremental daily practices that women and girls can incorporate to help cultivate a feeling of personal power in a world that often negates our attempts. Some of these practices may seem foreign and even uncomfortable at first, so I encourage you to be patient with yourself if you choose to give them a try and seek additional support if needed.
And lastly, if you are interested in exploring the theme of personal power more deeply, you are invited to attend Your Powerful Self: An Expressive Arts Workshop for Self-Identified Women in June 2018. No arts experience is necessary to participate. Please feel free to message me with questions or to register. I hope to meet you there!
As always please feel free to leave comments and suggestions below. You never know whom you may help.
Till next time,
Three Strategies for Cultivating Personal Power
Reclaiming Mental Space
I’m too ___. I haven’t achieved enough ____. If only I was ______. What do you spend your days thinking about? If you are already aware of the messaging you’ve internalized and want to reclaim and/or shift that energy, replacement thoughts (aka affirmations) are a great way to start. For a creative spin on affirmations (and one of my favorite art therapy directives), you can take a deck of blank art cards (available at most art supply stores) and create your own deck of affirmation cards with images and matching affirmations of your choosing to review regularly. Check out an example below.
Reclaiming Physical Space
To varying degrees, women and girls are taught their bodies and personal space are not their own. As a woman, you may notice this when someone you barely know puts a hand on your shoulder to get a point across, or someone simply stands too close for comfort. In childhood, girls often experience boundary violations through forced hugging, rather than adults asking for their consent first.
I often encourage my clients to practice stating feelings, needs and requests associated with physical space. This intervention is rooted in Non Violent Communication (NVC) and may sound something like: “I feel uncomfortable when you stand so close. I need space. Can you give me some space?”
I want to acknowledge NVC may not feel right for everyone, and in some cases may not even feel safe to practice. I encourage my clients to trust themselves. Often, simply noticing your relationship to space or physically moving yourself when you notice feelings of discomfort, are solid first steps in reclaiming what’s yours.
Tracking Emotional Labor
How often do you find yourself pulled into a support role without full consent or reciprocity? The concept of emotional labor is becoming increasingly common as more attention is paid to the unacknowledged roles women take up in their homes, offices and community spaces. The women and girls I work with are not always ready to make sweeping changes, and in some cases, are ready, but for many reasons aren’t yet able.
That said, begin where you are; small steps add up over time.
Notice when you’re extending yourself due to conditioning or unspoken expectation. Is someone at work asking to “pick your brain” when you have already have an endless to do list? Do casual acquaintances seek emotional support when you haven’t consented to do so? These are times to reclaim the moment and know your limits. If setting boundaries feels too overwhelming, offsetting the impact of emotional labor with increased self-care, whatever you perceive self-care to be, is another good starting point. For some ideas on simple self-care practice check out my previous blog post!
Here’s an invitation; let’s play a quick game of free association. If I say spring, you say ____?
I doubt it comes as a surprise that people are quick to associate words like renewal, light, growth, all of which paint a serene picture of springtime. And for good reason-- the beauty and fervor are real.
But for many among us, there’s more to the picture, even if it rarely gets talked about on social media or in casual conversation.
Springtime marks a significant transition period, and transitions can be tricky business.
As the days grow lighter and we’re moving from the stillness of winter to longer days and social expectation of heightened activity, many of the girls and women I work with with report increased irritability and feelings of overwhelm while also looking forward to the change.
It’s a both/and situation, and to me such a response makes perfect sense, as we’re adjusting physiologically and psychologically. Spring’s gift – a whopping jolt of energy - can be both exciting and anxiety-producing, especially for the more sensitive among us.
So how then how do we move forward through this transition period with a sense of ease rather than overwhelm? The word that comes to mind is gently … and with an increased emphasis on self-care.
Below are just a few of my go-to practices when thinking about caring for ourselves during transition periods. Please take what resonates and feel free to reshape, recolor, rename and make it your own. And if you have practices you utilize and you’d like to share, please feel free to leave your wisdom in the comments section. You never know whom you’ll help.
Till next time …
Three Simple Practices for Transitional Times
1.Nature as ally
I am a strong advocate of spending solitary time in nature, feeling your feet on the earth, and taking note. What colors are soothing and how can you bring them into your home or office? What animals and plants do you notice as you take your walk? What lessons can they bring? As of late, I’ve been noticing banana slugs – talk about slowing down! If wooded trails aren’t your thing, a walk in a local park or even your neighborhood can be grounding. The key though is to focus your attention on your feet touching the earth as you walk. Breathe in and out, remember you are both supported and connected.
2. Tending the body
In my opinion, there is no one-way to support our bodies, but our bodies must be supported for a healthy mind and spirit. I encourage my clients to regularly check in with their own needs and plan accordingly. Do I need more rest or more activity? If I do need activity, will an active run help settle me or do I need a calming walk through the hills? Do I need raw food or cooked? If you’re not sure, you can experiment with different routines, and track your response. The goal here is not to add another task to our day, but to approach self-care with a sense of curiosity and exploration.
And lastly, but certainly not least …
3. Creativity and Expression
As an expressive arts therapist, I utilize all types of creative interventions in my practice with clients. The goal here is to externalize the emotions that are arising during periods of transition so you don’t hold them inside. For a simple technique to use at home, pick your favorite medium (e.g. clay, watercolor, markers) and give yourself permission to engage playfully. Give your emotions a place to go and see what emerges. If you are someone who is drawn to words over images, grab a pen and 8 ½ x 11 paper, unlined. Let’s end where this blog post began … free association. Pick a word that best describes your mood at present and begin writing without stopping until the page is full. Again, see what emerges both on the page and in your heart.