Halle Berry said she recalls being terrified that her violent father, who physically abused her mother, would turn on her, adding, “I think I’ve spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that sort of implanted in me. Somehow I felt not worthy.”
She explained, “Before I’m ‘Halle Berry,’ I’m little Halle…a little girl growing in this environment that damaged me…I’ve spent my adult life trying to really heal from that.”
From my article The Alchemy of Art: Creative Expression and Healing.
Most people experience some degree of trauma or abuse in life, but it may have a particularly strong impact on children, and on creative and highly sensitive people.
These experiences can range from combat, rape, assault, sexual abuse, car accidents, natural disasters and other events, to “ongoing emotional abuse or neglect, experiences of shame, humiliation, being left out, bullied or ridiculed or feeling not cared for, to growing up gay in a homophobic culture.”
Those quotes are by clinical psychologist Kathleen Young in her post What is Trauma?
Many people are drawn to creative expression as part of their way to heal from trauma, and regain self esteem and emotional control.
“My life has had many painful journeys and heartbreaks…many of which I draw on for my work.”
A number of talented actors and other artists have been abused or suffered other traumas; here are some examples.
Maybe you can relate to some of their experiences.
Charlize Theron, as a teen, saw her mother shoot her father in self defense.
She said in a 2004 interview that her work has helped her deal with it: “I think acting has healed me. I get to let it out. I get to say it and feel it in my work and I think that’s why I don’t go through my life walking with this thing, and suffering.”
In a later newspaper interview she added more perspectives: “People want to think that I am this tortured soul, that my work is drawn only from this one well. And though I would never sit here and say that it didn’t mark me, or mold me into the person that I am, my life has had many painful journeys and heartbreaks since my father died, many of which I draw on for my work.”
J. K. Rowling says, “I came from a difficult family. My mother was very ill, and it wasn’t the easiest.”
When Rowling was fifteen, her mother was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She has said her father frightened her. “I did not have an easy relationship with my father… We’ve not had any communication for about nine years.”
[From Mugglemarch - J. K. Rowling writes a realist novel for adults, by Ian Parker, The New Yorker, October 1, 2012.]
Ashley Judd (a Phi Beta Kappa grad, by the way) became a “hypervigilant child” – “raising herself under unpredictable circumstances, becoming lonely, depressed, isolated—all feelings she kept under wraps for years,” according to an article.
In her New York Times bestselling memoir All That Is Bitter & Sweet, she reveals being sexually abused.
Zooey Deschanel suffered from being bullied in school, as did actor Lily Cole (who last year achieved the academic honor of a Double First in History of Art from Cambridge University).
Viola Davis was tormented as a kid because of her skin color.
“I have stories of being spit on…third grade was the worst because every day after school I would wait at the door and the bell would ring.
“And as soon as the bell rang I ran as fast as I could from the front door to my house, which was at least a mile away, because I would have eight to nine boys with sticks, bricks, anything they could find, who were ready to kill me.” [Vogue mag.]
She has also talked about suffering from years of low self-esteem and shyness.
In high school, Lady Gaga was bullied, even thrown into a trash can.
She said, “I was called really horrible, profane names very loudly in front of huge crowds of people, and my schoolwork suffered at one point. I didn’t want to go to class.
“And I was a straight-A student, so there was a certain point in my high school years where I just couldn’t even focus on class because I was so embarrassed all the time. I was so ashamed of who I was.”
The scars don’t go away, she says. “To this day, some of my closest friends say, ‘Gaga, you know, everything’s great. You’re a singer; your dreams have come true.’ But, still, when certain things are said to you over and over again as you’re growing up, it stays with you and you wonder if they’re true.”
[From article: Born to Not Get Bullied, By Nicholas D. Kristof, NY Times Feb 29, 2012.]
She formed the Born This Way Foundation with her mother Cynthia Germanotta, to “empower kids and nurture a more congenial environment in and out of schools.”
Fame and invasion of space
Alanis Morissette has said: “I still have PTSD from the ‘Jagged Little Pill’ era. It was a profound violation. It felt like every millisecond I was attempting to set a boundary and say no and people were breaking into my hotel rooms and going through my suitcase and pulling my hair and jumping on my car.
“There was a period of time during the ‘Jagged Little Pill’ era where I don’t think I laughed for about two years. It was a survival mode, you know. It was an intense, constant, chronic over-stimulation and invasion of energetic and physical literal space.” [ww.femalefirst.co.uk]
[Also see post: Alanis Morissette: Channeling rage and finding joy in creativity.]
Angelina Jolie “suffered episodes of suicidal depression throughout her teens and early twenties. She felt isolated at Beverly Hills High School among the children of some of the area’s affluent families, as her mother survived on a more modest income, and she was teased by other students, who targeted her for being extremely thin and for wearing glasses and braces.” [Wikipedia]
The effects of trauma
Jolie “found it difficult to emotionally connect with other people, and as a result she started to self-harm, later commenting, “I collected knives and always had certain things around. For some reason, the ritual of having cut myself and feeling the pain, maybe feeling alive, feeling some kind of release, it was somehow therapeutic to me.” [Also Wikipedia]
Of course. people respond to experiencing trauma in various ways, not just cutting or substance abuse.
In her article Understanding the Effects of Trauma: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Lynn Margolies, Ph.D. writes, “The essential psychological effect of trauma is a shattering of innocence. Trauma creates a loss of faith that there is any safety, predictability, or meaning in the world, or any safe place in which to retreat.
“Hyperarousal is when the traumatized person’s physiology is in high gear, having been assaulted by the psychological impact of what happened and not able to reset. The symptoms of hyperarousal include: difficulty sleeping and concentrating, being easily startled, irritability, anger, agitation, panic, and hypervigilance (being hyper-alert to danger).”
More artists and trauma
Some forms of trauma are long-term circumstances, rather than specific events.
Musician will.i.am of The Black Eyed Peas often went hungry as a child. He had to leave home at 5 a.m. every day because he went to a school in a ”better” area of Los Angeles than where his family lived and that meant he often missed meals. [From various news stories.]
James Dean was very close to his mother, but she died of cancer when he was nine. He developed an intimate relationship with his pastor, beginning in high school, and reportedly once told Elizabeth Taylor that he was sexually abused by a minister two years after his mother’s death. [Wikipedia]
Shia Labeouf started acting at age 12 to support his mother when his heroin-addicted father abandoned the family. LaBeouf has said he was subjected to verbal and mental abuse by his father, who once pointed a gun at him during a Vietnam War flashback.
Labeouf commented in an interview, “I’d say, through the pain, [my father] has given me more than my mother. Life without pain isn’t real at all.” He also said, “I don’t like the gray. I like hot or cold, black or white.”
He drinks heavily, perhaps as self-medication: “I never drink for the taste. I drink to get bombed. And when I let my hair down, I really let it down. All the way to a jail cell, usually.”
[The Sunday Times 02 September 2012, via The Week magazine.]
The photo is from the movie “Lawless.”
His costar Mia Wasikowska [in photo] was so distressed by his “aggressive method acting and drinking” that she called her attorney in an attempt to leave the film, according to a Fox News story.
The tortured artist
His statement “Life without pain isn’t real at all” sounds like Labeouf may be buying into the ‘tortured artist” mythology, an ancient and enduring notion that art depends on suffering, and artists are likely to be fraught with suffering and dark emotions, and even need their pain to create.
But a number of artists realize that is just wrong. In his appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Colin Farrell said he is finding that he is more creative being sober and happy.
“I was terrified that whatever my capacity was as an actor would disappear when I got sober,” he admitted. “I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”
From my post: Pain and suffering and developing creativity.
Sexual abuse of child actors
Former child star Corey Feldman, now 40, was a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and has warned about abuse of child actors. “I can tell you that the No. 1 problem in Hollywood was and is and always will be pedophilia,” Feldman told ABC’s Nightline.
“That’s the biggest problem for children in this industry… It’s the big secret.” … “This has been going on for a very long time,” concurs former “Little House on the Prairie” star Alison Arngrim. “It was the gossip back in the ‘80s. People said, ‘Oh yeah, the Coreys, everyone’s had them.’ People talked about it like it was not a big deal.” Arngrim, 49, was referring to Feldman and his co-star in “The Lost Boys,” Corey Haim, who died in March 2010 after years of drug abuse.
[From article Recent Charges of Sexual Abuse of Children in Hollywood Just Tip of Iceberg, Experts Say - By Meagan Murphy, FoxNews.com Dec 05, 2011.]
[The BizParentz Foundation is one organization that supports young actors and advocates for protective legislation.]
Dealing with trauma
Fortunately, there are many effective therapeutic approaches to help people suffering the emotional and spiritual damages of abuse and trauma.
In my article Dealing with trauma and abuse to live a bigger, more creative life, I quote some artists, and clinical psychologists including Cheryl Arutt, Psy.D., on the power of the therapy EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – and my own experience with it.
On her site www.drcherylarutt.com she says, “My understanding of recovery involves more than learning how to function again after a trauma, but also extends to regaining the capacity to be present, feel safe, and learn to better understand and regulate your responses to perceived danger in the present.”
TEDx video – Cheryl Arutt, PsyD – That Good Feeling of Control
‘This talk explores self-regulation as the basis for mental health, how trauma disrupts this, and ways new technology and discoveries are creating exciting opportunities to teach, learn and treasure what one self-regulation pioneer referred to as “that good feeling of control.”‘
“Curing is the work of experts, but strengthening the life in one another is the work of human beings… Sometimes the deepest healing comes from the natural fit between two wounded people’s lives.” …
“At the deepest level, the creative process and the healing process arise from a single source. When you are an artist, you are a healer; a wordless trust of the same mystery is the foundation of your work and its integrity.”
- Rachel Naomi Remen, MD, holistic health physician and author of books including Kitchen Table Wisdom.
Michele Rosenthal, a survivor of a horrific medical trauma as a teenager, struggled with PTSD for over twenty-five years, but today she “joyfully lives 100% free of PTSD symptoms.”
You can hear her inspiring and informational podcast “How to Access Your Healing Potential: Taking Control of Your Path to Recovery” by purchasing the package of recordings by the Mental Health Telesummit, which includes a number of other speakers on healing.
On her site yourlifeaftertrauma.com Rosenthal writes, “While the task of creating yourself can seem large and overwhelming the truth is, every day in the smallest actions you make choices that create who you are and what your life is about.
“It’s in those small choices – and changes – from which your whole self gathers into existence. Enjoy the process! Play, imagine, explore, discover, revamp and set yourself free. You have enormous healing potential. The goal is learning to access it. You can do this. Dig deep. I believe in you!”
Her book on recovery from PTSD: Before the World Intruded: Conquering the Past and Creating the Future, A Memoir.
Hear Michele Rosenthal’s interview with Dr. Cheryl Arutt on trauma and recovery in the post Becoming More Present – And Why You Don’t.
Some related articles:
Tips of Helping Gifted, Highly Sensitive Teens & Kids Cope with Trauma
by Sharon M. Barnes, MSSW, LCSW, on the SENG site.
“If You’re So Smart, Why Do You Need Counseling?” by Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.
>> Also see my Scoop.it collection on Mental Health & Creativity
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Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy, by Francine Shapiro, PhD.
Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, by Daniel J. Siegel, MD., who writes: “Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in.”
The Pocket Therapist: An Emotional Survival Kit based by Therese Borchard, author of daily blog “Beyond Blue” on Beliefnet.com and on The Huffington Post. Her book is based on her journals and twelve years of therapy sessions.
One reason this is such a long post is because the topic is so meaningful to me personally.
Is it for you? Feel free to leave a comment below.
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