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Monstrous Self-Images: Releasing Our Shame

by Lauren Fallat, LPC LPAT ATR-BC

Monsters can show up in our lives in a variety of ways. They often serve as significant metaphors for challenges we may face in ourselves and with others. It can be difficult to process feelings of shame, guilt, sadness, hurt, loneliness, and anger when the emotions surface. When we feel ashamed, for instance, we often try to hide our feelings from others or cover up the emotion with specific behaviors. We might believe in those moments of shame that we're not good enough, we are not worthy of love and respect, or that we're a failure, which can often lead to self-loathing, self-hate and regret. These internal negative self-perceptions can be very powerful, and can often feel like symbolic monsters inside of us. The shame that these perceptions create can be so painful that people will go to great lengths to avoid feeling it. Shame is a very powerful and often destructive emotion, which can be crippling when left unresolved.

A monster is a figure of fear and revulsion, usually sporting horns, spikes, scales, and a wild mane. They are often depicted as fierce, powerful, and intimidating. Monsters are often used in artwork as personified symbols or entities that may be characteristically demonized, grotesque, chaotic, disorderly, frightening, rejected, greedy, uncontained, scary, and evil. Monsters are often used as symbols to process and understand difficult feelings and emotions. In this way, they can be used as a tool in art therapy to help process shame through a creative platform using art materials to externalize deeper internal material. By bringing these shadowy aspects of ourselves into the light, we can begin to process and release the shame that holds us back

Whether you are working on anger, sadness, or fear, creating a monster can be a helpful way to express those feelings. There are a few basic steps that you can follow in order to create your own monster in art therapy. The first step is to select the right materials. This means choosing materials that will help you express the emotions that you want to work on. Consider working in a variety of mediums and how these mediums might help you to engage your senses as well as your emotional state. Consider working with oil pastels, clay or tissue paper. Consider the processes that you might use to create your monster- combining, ripping, assembling, deconstructing, filling in, shading, etc.

The next step would be to consider a theme or character for your monster. What type of monster do you want to create? In answering this question, you may want to choose an emotion that will best represent your monster’s personality. Will you create a worry monster, anger monster, sad monster? Consider what traits your monster would need to possess to fulfill this theme- what would an angry monster look like, act like, sound like?

To create your monster, choose colors, shapes, lines, and/or patterns that may reflect the emotional state of your monster. Draw or sculpt your monster using the colors and shapes that you chose. Allow yourself to express all of the anger and frustration that you feel as you mold the clay, rip the paper, or add in details to your drawing. When you are finished, you may want to create a journal entry introducing your monster, giving it a name. You might want to create a brief narrative about your monster- a background story or fictional story with your monster as the main character. You might choose to destroy your monster once you have taken time to write and process the visual aspect of your creation. This is an important step, as it allows you to release all of the negative energy that you have been carrying around.

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