What do you see in this sketch? I see a frightened girl hiding behind a door. This is the magic of art. I see something in my head and through my hands, I can share what I see with you. Cool!
But, what I really wanted to share with you today is something I learned in the book, "The Body Keeps the Score" by Bessel van der Kolk. This book outlines some of the leading neuroscience around trauma and, for brain nerds like me, it's fascinating. The stories of trauma that are recounted in the book are difficult to read, but immensely helpful in gaining a deeper understanding of how the function of the human brain is altered in traumatic moments.
Then there are what are called 'Big-T' traumas and 'Little-T' traumas. The Big-T traumas have gotten a lot of emphasis in research, and for good reason. The Big-T traumas (rape, incest, war, etc.) have long-lasting effects that significantly impact quality of life. But what about the 'Little-T' traumas? Not as much work has gone into studying those, but I believe they limit our wellbeing if they go unaddressed. That's where the frightened little girl in the sketch comes into the discussion.
When we've experienced a trauma, the brain tends to put the hurt or traumatized part of our brain into a sort of exile, where it isn't readily available to us, like the girl in the sketch. And, if you think about your brain as being a cast of characters all working together, when a part of the brain goes into exile, there are other characters that work to protect that hurt or traumatized part of the brain. They are referred to as 'managers'. I also call them my 'itty bitty shitty committee' (to be referred to as the IBSC going forward) that I learned from my coach and mentor, Dede Henley of The Henley Leadership Group.
When something or someone gets too close to the exiled character and threatens to reveal what it is, the IBSC goes into overdrive. Sometimes it shows up as anger, denial, shame, blame...you name it. Anything to keep someone from getting too close and seeing what the IBSC is working so hard to protect, the exiled, hurt part of yourself.
And, because this exiled character is so closely guarded, it can’t grow. So, like in the sketch, the exiled part of the brain is stunted from any further growth and stays the scared little girl hiding behind the door.
With the new year is upon us, it's a good time to do a little housekeeping and explore who your IBSC has been protecting. It's often the things we don't want to reveal or explore much because they are too painful. I've found that if I politely ask my IBSC to step aside and allow me to access this hurt part of my brain I can gently coax it out into my consciousness. You see, I don't want these things going on inside of me because I know that it ultimately limits my wellbeing, creativity, and initiative to develop my self-awareness -- even though my brain wants me to believe otherwise. My brain is just trying to protect me, but it's a faulty protection.
I was able to access an early art-shaming incident that has been with me since the fourth grade. I had a math teacher say to me 'what a mess' when she looked at some coloring I was doing. I collapsed inside and the part of me that loved to color just stopped. Any artwork that I did after that moment was a sketch with a pencil and no color. Later on, my IBSC showed up in all kinds of limiting beliefs around my creative abilities....mostly in the limiting beliefs that I'm neither qualified nor talented enough to be an artist. Other ways my IBSC showed up was to let me know that it's 'impossible' to make a living as an artist and that I'll never have enough money, recognition, or appreciation for what I create. That I should focus on learning about other things that will give me the lifestyle I crave. But, sadly, that lifestyle was one devoid of art and creativity and I was nothing but a burned-out husk.
With daily work on my creativity and connections to other amazingly talented artists, I'm working to overcome these limiting beliefs. When I reflect on how one adult's careless statement could have so much power over me for so long, it's discouraging, but I accept it as part of my journey.
So, what's going on inside you? Have you stopped to think about the things that you're protecting and how they might be holding you back?
My hope for you in sharing this is that you will once again love your exiled characters and find what brings you joy. That you will have the courage to face up to your IBSC, thank them for the hard work they've performed, but let them know that you are better off without them and it's time to pack it up and move along. I know it's hard digging back through the times in our life when we were hurt, but it does lighten things for the road ahead. The world of psychology is focusing more than ever on improving wellbeing. The psychology I learned in college was very much focused on eliminating mental illness and disease. With the discovery of positive psychology, the shift is moving towards not only eliminating mental illness but improving mental health and wellbeing and I can't think of a more exciting place to be -- bringing wellbeing into people's lives through art and creativity! I'm glad you're here with me on this journey. There are great things ahead.