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Your True Self... Finding Who You Really Are

The moment we come into this world we are labeled and handed expectations by the folks around us (sometimes even before we're born). An few examples of this, "He's got that moody artist thing going", or "We knew from the beginning that she was meant to be a lawyer, with all the arguing she does!" These statements may have had some truth to them at some point, but when used repeatedly, not only do the folks who say these statements really start to believe in these labels that they've handed out, but the person being labeled starts to believe in them too...and then takes on this label/role.

When I work with folks, a lot of the time I ask them the question, "Who are you? Tell me about your true self". I usually get responses such as, "I'm a mother" or "I'm a student", etc., etc. These are things you do, titles, responsibilities. What I'm talking about is that piece of you, waaaay inside of you. It's pushed back with the rest of the baggage we create, take on, and carry inside of ourselves. (There's probably even some cobwebs covering it!)

Your true self is what YOU believe in way down inside of your soul. It's what you are passionate about, what you believe in, how YOU define yourself. It's so easy to allow people to define us and to define ourselves. Ever hear a parent or an adult say, "She's the smart one" or "He's a troublemaker". These labels begin to cover our true selves. We believe in these labels, want to live up to them to make people happy, or go along with the labels because it is the safest thing to do at the time. Culture, environment, religion, spirituality, gender, where we live, economics/class, society, relationships, fear, etc., etc. all play a role in the definitions we are given and how we learn to define ourselves.

In our teen years, so many folks are trying to fit in with everyone else. Or, they are trying to be different than everyone else, but that turns into being like all of the other folks who are trying to be "different"! Certainly our teens and 20's are for trying those labels on and walking around in them, but sometimes we forget to take them off when we realize they don't fit, are too tight, too loose, or are just too scratchy!

By the time we get into our 20's, we're well on the way to charting a path, that for many of us, was defined by our family, our friends, teachers, and society as a whole. We're so busy trying to become who we think we should be, that we've actually lost all sense of ourselves and have pushed our true self way, way down. Sometimes, our true self tries to get our attention. When we don't listen, it can either lay dormant for years, while we wonder why we feel like there is something that is missing in our lives, or it shows up disguised as a "mid-life crisis" (which seems to be happening to folks earlier and earlier these days). I've observed and worked with folks who have retired. At this point in their lives, they finally have a moment to reflect and really listen to themselves, their "true selves"; and with this comes a sense of peace.

We are constantly changing who we are and how we present ourselves to the world, and to ourselves. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this! It's how we keep going in this world. We are so busy with our careers, family, and obligations that few of us have the luxury (or time, lets face it!) to really "listen". I have had the privilege of witnessing moments with folks I work with who are able to strip away the layers of labels and begin to take a look at their true selves. This can be tough, exhausting, and lengthy work, but it can also be rewarding, exciting, and life changing!

Notice how busy and noisy our world can get, both outside and inside our heads. Take 5 minutes and begin to notice that little piece of you that relaxes when you take a breath, when you close your eyes, and when you really listen to your true self. I'm sure it has plenty to say!

Art therapy techniques I use with folks regarding this topic, and additional information from fellow Art Therapists and Artists with their approach to these techniques:

Mandala Work, works as a type of safety net providing supporting containment for your work, especially when first beginning this type of self-exploration. Cathy Malchiodi, one of the current leaders and important contributors in today's art therapy world, discusses Mandalas further in this article. Cathy's work can be followed on her site at

Collage Work, which can help take some of the pressure off when you're feeling stuck, allowing your unconscious to take the wheel. is an interesting place to explore art therapy techniques and look a little deeper into the world of art therapy. Here is a good article on Getting Creative with Collages.

Journal Writing and Art Journaling, another expressive way to tap-in and listen using writing and art making. Artist, Art Therapist, and Blogger Kelley Luckett discusses her process on her blog:

Mask Making, this is done towards the middle/end of this inner journey, a way to honor your true self. Sara Roizen, Fine Artist, Art Therapist, and Blogger discusses the mask making process further. Her blog, is full of interesting and inspirational insight into the world of art and art therapy. She reviews mask making in this blog post.

Every Art Therapist practices and applies art therapy techniques in their own way, using their own processes and addressing the needs of the folks they are working with. I enjoy seeing what techniques my fellow art therapists are practicing and thought it would be interesting for you to take a look as well! Enjoy!