Dancer and choreographer Martha Graham (1894-1991) lived a richly creative life, and one of her often quoted perspectives is about respecting and expressing our own individual personality and talent :
“There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique.
“And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and will be lost. The world will not have it.
“It is not your business to determine how good it is, nor how valuable it is, nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open… You have to keep yourself open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open.”
Like many teachers and personal growth leaders, she emphasizes the key role of self-awareness. Living our lives fully and creatively means being aware – as much as we can – of the truth of our inner lives and life stories, without judging or condemning.
Wanting to leave behind shameful or stupid or hurtful aspects of our experience may be ‘natural’ – but that sort of protective reaction may not really be in the best interest of achieving our full growth, and making the most of our abilities.
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Writer Cat Robson comments:
The things we are ashamed of, the dark scars that cover our wounds
and our crude attempts to heal with substance and isms, that holy hell
hole is our gift. Not maybe, not just for some people.
It simply is.
That doesn’t mean the abusers and users are off the hook. But that’s
not our business. Your only and essential job is to choose, not just
to accept, but to powerfully and willingly choose, the parents, the past
and the personality you have been given.
It takes just a moment, a flutter of an eyelid. But it’s the difference
between loss and life. The difference between a victim and a writer.
[From the page Nurturing mental health: writing 2 – which includes books on writing and rewriting your life story.]
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This image is from the book Trauma and Survival in Contemporary Fiction, by Laurie Vickroy – which “explores how contemporary fiction narratives represent trauma, and investigates novels by Toni Morrison, Marguerite Duras, Jamaica Kincaid, Larry Heinemann, Pat Barker, and Dorothy Allison, among others.”
Andrew Schneider in his article Overcoming Fear and Healing Wounds notes, “We cannot escape childhood without being wounded. Every time we made demands of others and they refused us, we were diminished in our self-worth.
“Each time we asked for love and it was withheld, our self-value decreased. Whenever we attempted to prove ourselves and we failed, we lost some of our power.
“As we repeated these experiences, patterns of inadequacy developed, and fears of various kinds took root in our subconscious. Then as we grew up and became more self-sufficient we worked hard at overcoming our diminished self-worth, our decreased self-value, and our loss of power.
“But we have not been totally successful. The reason is that underlying all our efforts are the fears buried in our subconscious. What is unknown within us usually controls us.”
Holly Black, author of The Spiderwick Chronicles, says, “A traumatic childhood is the gift that keeps giving to a writer.” [Parade, Aug 12 2007]
In her review of the memoir Circling My Mother by Mary Gordon, Donna Seaman declares, “Family trauma is often at the root of compelling literature. Children under duress frequently find solace in books, and young writers-in-the-making soon learn that channeling feelings and thoughts onto the page or screen staves off anguish, however briefly.”
She notes that Gordon “has fictionalized many of the lies, betrayals and sacrifices that poisoned her family circle in her provocative short stories and intrepid novels. But because she also needed to address head-on the hard facts about her past, she began writing memoirs.” [Los Angeles Times, August 12, 2007]
We can, of course, always learn more about our inner subconscious depths, and make creative use of both “positive” and traumatic or “negative” aspects of our histories.
A TIME magazine article: “Use a Happy Memory as a Guide” [a section of the main article “20 Ways to Get and Stay Happy”] advises, “Learn to scan your memory bank for your strengths, talents, passions, interests, practical coping skills, and earlier potential” – whether it’s actualized or not.
“Scanning this memory bank and gleaning material that can be used to reinvent yourself to be happier is key, says Barbara Becker-Holstein, psychologist and author of Enchanted Self: A Positive Therapy.”
In her article Remembering the Best, Restoring Yourself, Rapture, Dr. Holstein notes that most of us “have sustained loss and experienced pain… Sometimes we’ve been stepped upon, left or forgotten. If we spend our daily life focusing on these disappointments then we cannot release the positive energies we need to make the most of the present moment and to plan for the future. …
“Besides, there is beauty in our own story and most, if not all disappointments we’ve experienced have strengthened us. Often, we have even developed talents in coping with hard times that can reemerge in ways to enhance pleasure and/or help us be of service to the world.”
Our lives are not “a series of facts only,” David J. Pollay reminds us in his article What’s Your Story?! Make it a Good One. “It is mostly a set of interpretations we have made about events in our life,” he writes.
“These interpretations add up to a story – a story of who we think we are, what we have experienced, and what we’re likely to do in the future.”
Pollay quotes Dan McAdams, professor of Psychology at Northwestern University, from his book The Stories We Live By: Personal Myths and the Making of the Self :
“If you feel that your myth is stagnant, if you sense that you are not moving forward in life with purpose, if you believe that you are falling behind in some sense with respect to the growth of your personal identity, then what you are looking for is developmental change in personal myth.”
Pretty much all of us experience some kind of trauma in life. How does creative expression help people deal with it?
How do people make use of traumatic experiences in their creative work?
Programs, books, articles and sites to improve your emotional wellbeing.