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Ripping and Tearing: A Transformative Process

by Lauren Fallat, MA LPC ATR-BC


The ideas of letting go, non-attachment, impermanence and imperfection can all be explored through the process of ripping and tearing. What would it mean to “rip” or “tear” something to you? In my own exploration, ripping and tearing might suggest that there is an active agent (the ripper) and a transformed object (whatever is being ripped- paper, cardboard, tissue paper, photographs). To rip or tear might mean to separate, to detach, to alter from one state to another, to create pieces from a whole, and/or to change the original shape and size of something.


In an art therapy session, one may have a desire to rip or tear pieces of paper, scraps, photographs or images or one may be encouraged to do so. There may be many different functions to ripping and tearing- expressing emotional energy, such as aggression or anger or sadness, working through perfectionistic pressures and feelings of shame, and exploring grief and loss as one encounters the remnants of what had been whole. Ripping and tearing also has physical benefits for promoting the use of fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. To rip, one must be able to hold something and push and pull the two sides apart with their hands in order for the tearing to occur. This process can be used with toddlers through adults, as it is variable in its uses.


Mindful Ripping and Tearing: If one’s intention is to remain present and focused on the process of ripping and tearing, then it would be most important to focus on the physical component of moving the body and listening to the tearing, feeling the texture of the paper. By focusing on how we are engaging with the environment and artmaking process with our senses, we are promoting grounding skills and focus. The focus is on the process and not making something out of the ripped pieces at that moment. You may want to have different colors of papers- tissue paper, magazines, wrapping paper, construction paper, painted scrap paper- available to you and challenge yourself to sort these papers once you have ripped them into different containers. This is a great way to promote focus while also preparing for collaging projects in the future.


Collaging: Using a variety of textured papers, colored papers and images, one may be interested in utilizing the ripped papers and creating an assembled collage with the materials available. To collage is to combine elements together to create a new whole. One might try to reassemble the different papers back to their original format, noticing how the rips and tears created seams that transform the original image (like a puzzle). Or one may combine elements that had not coexisted before to create a unique image. It is possible to initially write words or a statement regarding something that one is trying to let go of, change or accept and then after ripping this apart, reassembling the words into an image of hope. One may also choose to rip up an image or symbol of something that no longer serves them and somehow incorporate the fragments of that image into something hopeful, inspiring or relieving.


It may be important to explore your feelings around attachment, letting go, holding on, impermanence, perfectionism and chance in a way that is safe and non-threatening. With the use of art materials, you are able to adjust and change and adapt your image, which in itself is part of the healing process.





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