resilience

Boston Marathon bombing and art therapy interventions

sherryjacobswebThis week’s bombing at the Boston Marathon is yet another tragic event testing Americans’ sense of resilience. The flavor of comments floating around the media in the aftermath are, “You messed with the wrong city” meaning that Boston is far too strong of a town to let acts of barbaric terror bring it down. This thought process actually is the result of dozens of generations steeped in the collective memory of the American Revolution. The attitude that freedom will be preserved even in the wake of cowardly acts of violence is one we sadly have had tested too often this year. At this writing, the source of the blast is unknown, leaving citizens confused and on alert.

One notable and amazing element to this event which took place in the immediate aftermath was the reaction of people standing close by after the bombs exploded. The video footage showed people running toward the explosion rather than away in an attempt to rescue victims. In a post 9/11 world, all Americans have become the first responders. Many lives were saved due to this visceral and immediate response. In today’s art exercise, we will use the strength of Bostonians and everyday citizens who were present and mimic their resilience through an art exercise.

Please find some pen and paper and take a few minutes to write words, images or symbols all over your paper in no particular order. Let your imagination wander all over the place in your mind, and jot down information about: emotional, historical, social, political issues relating to this incident. Make sure to write the words or symbols all around the paper. This exercise is designed to explore feelings that are often hard to capture in our linear way of speaking and writing. Once you have completed this, leave it for several hours or a day, then go back to it, and circle some words or images that seem connected to one another on the page.

How are you feeling based on the information you jotted down? This exercise can be a great process to explore our subconscious. Can you find someone to share your information with to help you process your feelings? If you have an overall positive outlook, can you connect with the resilient individuals we have witnessed this week? If you are feeling very negative, is there a way to bridge your feelings to those individuals who showed extreme courage this week? If you are looking for more art therapy interventions, please look around this blog and adapt other exercises to this topic.

Because the Boston Marathon attracts such a global crowd, I assume people in most parts of the world might have strong feelings connected to this race and everything it represents. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families.

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Victim or Survivor?

We all have baggage. Depending on our age and life experiences, some of us have more baggage than others. Our baggage might come from of some type of trauma, bad adults from our childhood, or even a recent bad work experience. Resilience is a buzz word getting thrown around these days, but the essence of being a resilient person boils down to how we categorize ourselves in relation to our baggage. Are you a survivor or a victim of these things that happened to you? We cannot change these things. We really can’t even change the people who did them to us or are doing them to us….We can only change ourselves and our attitude.

Please find some paper and draw or write about an experience in which you feel like you were victimized. This art exercise has the potential to be powerful and downright scary if you are exploring some serious trauma. If this is the case, please find someone you trust or feel safe with to explore these experiences with or even bring your art to a mental health professional. The simple explanation of the power of art making with brain science is that trauma is stored as images in the right hemisphere of our brains. When we try to explain our trauma to someone, this proves to be a challenge, because we are attempting to couple language (a left brian activity) with these images. By drawing the image onto paper, even in metaphor, we are suddenly giving ourselves something with which to have that dialogue. Art therapy has proven to be a very powerful tool for soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been a powerful tool for alleviating symptoms connected to PTSD. In very simple terms,  by taking the images out of this right hemisphere and onto paper, we can take time to analyze it and re-file the memory into our brain in a safer region, one that stores memories, making the experiences more distant and less sensory oriented.

If you are a victim, the road to becoming a survivor might involve a tremendous amount of work on your part, but is well worth the effort. If this post strikes a chord with you, please seek help from a trusted person to guide you through this process. Another way to approach this exercise is to ask yourself if you control your feelings or if they control you?

Yesterday’s Art Exercise:

Were you able to assign a person to each negative voice in your head? Sadly many of them might belong to teachers or adults from your past. Were you able to trace the roots of the voice owners’ own negativity? Realizing that these voices are not really in your head, but real people form your past or present is a great way to separate yourself from them and replace them with positive thoughts and voices of your own.