The skill of listening to and respecting our intuition is at the base of a flourishing life. Our intuition lets us know when something is in or out of alignment with us. It hints towards decisions that will enrich our lives and protect us. The skill of heeding intuition is one of the most important skills I can help my art therapy clients develop.
Many individuals do not have the opportunity to develop a strong connection with their intuition as a child. They grew up in environments where their feelings and thoughts were not fully welcomed or encouraged. They were not encouraged to explore and develop into their unique whole selves.
For example, some people grow up with authoritarian parents who have strict standards, high expectations, and little patience for a child who deviates in any way.
When a child’s full feelings and unique personhood are not honored, that child often learns to ignore their own feelings or needs in favor of keeping everyone around them happy. It’s a safety mechanism their brain/body developed to protect them. The brain/body knows they are safe only when everyone around them is calm.
The child’s mind/body learns to regularly scan the environment around them, waiting for unrest. This leads to a constant state of anxiety and walking on eggshells.
The trouble is, these behaviors cut a child off from themselves - from listening to their own intuition (they are focused on the environment and others, rather than themselves).
Continued disconnection from the self leads to feelings of emptiness, depression, and anxiety.
This is what usually brings clients to therapy.
As I work with these individuals in therapy, the first step is re-establishing a positive relationship with their emotions. This begins with naming their emotions and identifying the needs behind them (this is a method that comes from Marshall Rosenberg’s nonviolent communication).
For example, if someone feels frustrated after a conversation, I ask them to name the feelings present (anger, fear, etc.). We then look at what needs were not met in that conversation, such as needs for connection and understanding.
The process of identifying feelings and needs enables individuals to see that their emotions are valid. Furthermore, people learn that their emotions carry valuable information (such as, “Hey, there is a need here is that isn’t being met!”)
Our intuition frequently communicates with us through our emotions. Whenever a feeling arises, we can pause to think about what needs are behind it. We can then seek to have those needs met.
Given most of my clients grew up in a constant state of anxiety and hypervigilance, they have a difficult time discerning if a feeling is motivated by their anxiety or their intuition.
It can be maddening to figure out what is a valid feeling and what is not.
One of the most difficult emotions is fear. It can be challenging to discern if fear is fueled by anxiety (and therefor possibly irrational) or by your intuition (and therefore possibly trying to warn you of a dangerous situation).
In this instance, we can identify what unmet needs are fueling the fear.
For example, If I have fear about going to dinner at a new place with a friend, I can treat the fear as valid. I can identify what needs are fueling the fear, such as a need for certainty (I like knowing where I’m going), predictability (I like to know what I’m getting myself into), and safety (I’m still concerned about limiting my possible exposure to COVID).
Once I understand the source of the fear, I can then choose how I want to act. In the case of dinner, I decided that my desire to spend time with my friend outweighed my needs for complete certainty, predictably, and safety.
I did not completely ignore my needs though. I still honored them by looking up the restaurant online (allowing for more predictability) and asking that we sit outside (honoring my need for safety).
In retrospect, I can now see that my fear was coming from a place of hypervigilance. However, I didn’t need to know that when I worked through the emotion.
We don’t actually need to know right away if the emotion is fueled by intuition or anxiety. Trying to differentiate if an emotion is due to hypervigilance/anxiety or intuition can lead to an endless cycle of rumination.
Instead, we can treat the emotion as valid and identify the needs underneath. We can then take action to honor those needs in the best way possible. This helps us to step out of our minds (rumination/anxiety) and into action that is alignment with ourselves.
I provide art therapy for individuals with overwhelming emotions and thoughts.