‘Owning our creative powers takes us from passive passengers or victims, to active change-makers and powerful contributors to our shared culture.
It is time to accept our gifts.’
Lucy H. Pearce from the book Creatrix, she who makes
It is definitely time for us to accept our gifts as creative beings. This is what the world needs right now. The world needs authenticity, perspective and truth.
As Camille Gajewski of Tate Exchange tells us in her article on women and art, for centuries we have been systematically excluded from the records of art history. We have faced challenges due to gender biases, from finding difficulty in training to selling work and gaining recognition. While women artists are very slowly beginning to gain a fairer share of the art market, their male counterparts continue to outperform them dramatically at the highest end. In 2015 a $25 million Bourgeous was the only work by a woman to make the list of the top 100 lots sold at auction.
Women artists aren’t the only ones to have struggled, Virginia Wolf talks about the struggles of women writers in a Room of One’s Own:
“Intellectual freedom depends on material things. Poetry depends on intellectual freedom. And women have always been poor, not for two hundred years merely, but from the beginning of time. […] Women, then, have not had a dog’s chance of writing poetry.”
This book was written just under 100 years ago, in 1929. Whilst many women are more economically independent there is still a long way to go before we reach equality. This is demonstrated by the way that pandemic lockdowns have affected women more adversely than men. According the the Office of National Statistics women were more likely to be furloughed, and to spend significantly less time working from home and more time on unpaid household work and childcare. Furthermore, women’s mental health suffered more, with more women experiencing anxiety, depression and loneliness. This doesn’t leave much room for creativity.
A woman’s view of the world
Women haven’t only been disadvantaged due to economics, space and time. There also seems to be a bias around what women authentically have to offer. Due to their experiences as a woman at this time, many women may have had a lot to say about relationships and communication but it was the seldom few who managed to gain an audience. Virginia Wolf tells us:
“Only Jane Austen did it and Emily Brontë. It is another feather, perhaps the finest, in their caps. They wrote as women write, not as men write. Of all the thousand women who wrote novels then, they alone entirely ignored the perpetual admonitions of the eternal pedagogue—write this, think that.”
Stereotypically female strengths such as intuition, compassion, caring and feminine creativity have been, and often still are, shunned in favour of more ‘masculine’ traits. The rejection of feminine traits cannot be seen anywhere more clearly than in the witch hunts of the 17th and 18th centuries. In his 2005 book “Escaping Salem,” Richard Godbeer examines the case of two Connecticut women – Elizabeth Clawson of Stamford and Mercy Disborough of Fairfield – accused of bewitching a servant girl named Kate Branch.
Both women were “confident and determined, ready to express their opinions and to stand their ground when crossed.” Clawson was found not guilty after spending five months in jail. Disborough remained imprisoned for almost a year until she was acquitted.
It is arguable that the bias against female expression is still alive and well in many quarters. It takes a long time for this type of bias to wane and many of the women involved in these witch trials have only just been posthumously absolved.
Women need to continue to assert their place in the creative history of the world and comment creatively on our society. If you would like to find your own creativity, Lucy H. Pearce’s book Creatrix is a great way to start.
Many of us may have been modelled that it is best to push emotions down and ignore them. Even more of us weren’t shown ways to manage emotions. This isn’t anyone’s fault, our parents were probably only doing what they had been shown or told. It is up to you if you would like to do things differently.
With this in mind, every two to three weeks I’m going to write a blog on a specific emotion and this time I have chosen guilt because it can be one of those sneaky emotions that camps out in us without us even realising!
I’m going to work on the basis that there are three main types of guilt:
- Constructive Guilt
- Toxic Guilt
- Existential Guilt
Constructive guilt is when we feel reasonably guilty for something we have done. For instance, we may feel guilty if we scratch our neighbours car through carelessness or simply forget a friend’s birthday. It doesn’t feel very nice but, particularly if we act on the guilt and apologise or make up for it in some way, it usually passes soon enough.
As with any of these emotions it can be useful to hone in to the sensations of how it feels and describe them. This way, if we feel the same in the future but can’t pinpoint it it might help us to allocate the sensations we have when it comes to guilt. We can then ask ourselves if we feel guilty and if we do work out what for and if it is an appropriate emotion (and if so, what we can do about it).
When I said at the beginning of this piece that some of us can carry guilt around with us and not even realise it, this type of guilt is usually toxic guilt. There are two kinds of toxic guilt:
- When, through a difficult upbringing or a traumatic time in our life we have taken responsibility, without even realising it, for many things that are nothing to do with us. For instance, if as a child we tended to care for our family due to the dynamics and family situation, we can grow accustomed to taking the blame for things and feeling responsible when people aren’t happy. This leads to toxic guilt. We not only feel guilty when our family continue to be unhappy but when others do too (because this is the pattern we have adopted).
- When we have had a period of constructive guilt because we have done something wrong but the guilt remains beyond the point where it is helpful or necessary.
If you feel like you are constantly carrying a heavy burden or like there is a niggling voice saying you shouldn’t have a good time or that you aren’t doing enough, it might be worth asking yourself if you are experiencing toxic guilt. The self-awareness is the first step to doing something about it.
Then try and pinpoint the first time you felt this guilt, how constructive it has ever been (which, if it originated in childhood it probably never was because we should never be responsible for others happiness as a child). This can be heavy stuff so you may need to talk to a professional about this, or at the very least ensure that you are kind to yourself. If you are journalling, for instance, take regular breaks and make sure that you are looking after your inner child.
After this, in many ways as you can, find ways you can physically, metaphorically and emotionally let go of the guilt. That may include physical activities such as kickboxing, dancing or running. It may involve creative pursuits. You could paint a picture of letting go or write a song about it. If you are able to you could try talking about it with people in your safety circle. They may help you to realise that your guilt is misplaced.
Existential guilt can be something as far reaching and simple as feeling guilty that you live in a prosperous first world country, and that you don’t experience the injustice and poverty that others experience. Or it may be that you have survived an accident or disaster and others didn’t, leaving behind a misplaced feeling of guilt. Alternatively, it may be if a loved one dies you feel guilty that you are still around or feel guilty because you think there is something you could have done to prevent their death. The first two types are forms of what might be called ‘survivor’s guilt’.
When it comes to existential guilt it might be helpful to think of it as our minds’ way of feeling it can control things. It’s awful to think that there are people living without basic human rights or that people died in a terrible disaster. So, our mind tries to back track by saying that there is something we should be doing or should have done. It is important to be kind to yourself and the letting go exercises described in the section above might be helpful.
Carrying excessive guilt around with you can cause disconnection, depression and even physical symptoms like digestive distress or headaches so it is something that shouldn’t be ignored. As women (although I’m sure men also find themselves in these situations) we are often expected to fix things and feel guilty when we don’t. It is important to make sense of what is our responsibility and what isn’t so that we can live the life we wish to live.
Last time I explored three types of blocks to creativity. These were:
- having experienced trauma and adversity because it can cause disturbances to being our true self
- messages from families, media and society about creativity being unnecessary or frivolous (which is far from being the case)
- our critical voice which is the culmination of negative voices from our past and present
Now I’m going to explore some ways to overcoming these blocks.
Trauma and adversity
If we experience trauma, adversity or both we can find it difficult to connect with many true parts of ourself, including creativity. A numbness can take hold and this part of us might think it is doing us a favour because it is protecting us, but actually it is stopping us from accomplishing our dreams.
This can be a very difficult thing to overcome and there isn’t a quick fix but I can give some ways to get started. Journalling can be a helpful way to get the ball rolling. It can be cathartic, help us to process things and if writing is an area of creativity you would like to embrace, actually using your experiences helps you get pen to paper. You can write short stories or poems about what has happened to you. Writing metaphorically rather than literally might be helpful because we may not want to recount actual traumatic events. So, for instance, if the loss of a loved one felt like a snail shedding its’ shell, write about that. Writing about our emotions in poetry or prose can also be helpful.
If art is more you thing perhaps you could draw or paint your emotions. What do they look like? What do they represent? A lot of the best creative stuff comes from pain and difficulty. You only have to look at Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream to realise this.
It is really important, not just for creativity, but for life in general to be in touch with your intuition and this is something that may have been disturbed through trauma or adversity. Ideally, it is a good idea to access counselling or psychotherapy if you are feeling the repercussions of trauma. However, if this is not possible, try and tune in with yourself and your body every day to see how you feel about things. Stay with your breath and make sure that you pay attention to the small decisions and then the big ones will follow (eg. do I really want the cheese roll or am I just having it because everyone else is?!) Slowly getting back in touch with our intuition can help us to be more creative.
Messages from family, society and media
In my recent series of blogs on values I talked about the importance of checking in with our values and seeing if we have carried some with us that don’t fit with who we are. Families might have passed values on to us and we may never have questioned them (this is normal by the way). For instance, our family may have valued power and financial solvency and told us that to achieve this we shouldn’t pursue anything creative in life. It may be worth looking at these kind of assertions to see if they are true to us.
With regards to media, it can be helpful to take a break from it and perhaps that will help you to see how you really feel about things. Or perhaps you could question the kind of media you follow to give you some different perspectives on what is important. Again, you may have inherited habits that are not aligned with who you really are.
Remember that it is important to take your own path and that you have things to say within you that are important. We are not all made the same and it is important to acknowledge this.
That critical voice
You may have a critical voice that whines or barks at you whenever you try and do anything creative. Perhaps it tells you that what you are doing isn’t any good or that it is pointless. As I mentioned in my previous blog, believe it or not the critical voice thinks that it is helping. It thinks that it needs to keep us small or to stop us from making mistakes. Of course, if there was ever anything useful about this, the sell-by date has probably passed. It may sound counter-intuitive but it is important to be compassionate to this critical voice. It comes from a place of pain so if we are angry with it, it will whine and bark even more and being too hard on ourselves never helps anyway. You could sit your critical voice down and have a chat with it. Perhaps you can write a screenplay from it! Or you could paint or draw your critical voice. What does it look like? What colour is it? Does it remind you of a villain from one of your favourite childhood stories? Getting to know the critical voice will help because it becomes less scary and being kinder to it (but not letting it rule the roost) will help it to be calmer.
There was a woman who had a stone in her throat. She tried to ignore it but it impacted her greatly. She felt heavy inside so that her shoulders and head hung downwards. Her heaviness also meant that she found it difficult to get up in the morning and she found it nearly impossible to speak.
Her difficulty in speaking meant that she found it problematic to tell healers about her plight. They’d simply just look at her quizzically and tell her to gargle with salt water, something that dismayed and baffled her greatly. How could salt water dislodge something so old and entrenched?
Due to her condition there were limited occupations available to her so she ended up working at the local quarry shifting stones. There was something about her lumbering gait which suited the work and what difference would many more stones make when she had one lodged inside her?
One day, in what she said was a last ditch attempt to heal her life, she went to see a different healer who didn’t tell her to gargle with salt water. s
She didn’t look at her as if she was annoying or even lying like the others had done. She tried to listen to the woman and whilst she couldn’t fully understand what she was saying she at least tried.
Whilst the stone was still there it wasn’t so uncomfortable and she found it a little easier to get up in the mornings. Her gait wasn’t as lumbering as it had been and she wondered if working at the quarry continued to serve her. Now that she stood and walked a little straighter she found piling the stones one upon the other an uncomfortable pastime.
One sunny Monday morning she set down a particularly large rock and then found herself stretching to the sky. Effortlessly and it seemed involuntarily she said: ‘I don’t want to do this anymore!’ Everyone turned and looked at her. Finally she had been heard. The stone finally dislodged from her throat. She held it in her hand and looked at it.
She was surprised to see that the stone was beautiful. She had always imagined it to be an ugly thing but it was a painted stone with magentas, pinks and whites. She took it to her healer and said: ‘I’m surprised it’s so lovely!’ The healer said to her: ‘of course it is, it’s come from you. It doesn’t serve you well inside you but perhaps you should keep it so you can look at it from time to time.’
She did what the healer said and kept the stone on her mantelpiece. It reminded her of the day she finally spoke her truth.
‘Creativity is the love of something, having so much love for something whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, a land or humanity that all that can be done with the overflow is to create. It is not a matter of wanting to, not a singular act of will, one solely must.’
Clarissa Pinkola-Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves
Being creative allows us to tap into our true selves, to become more authentic and to express that authenticity to others. Sadly, however, there can be blocks to creativity. Acknowledging the blocks can be the first step in freeing ourselves. Blocks can include but are not limited to:
- Trauma and other adverse experiences
- Familial or societal ideals or values
- The critical voice in your head
The affect of trauma and adversity on our ability to be creative
Internal Family Systems theory tells us that there are eight C words that make up our true self. These are: calmness, clarity, confidence, curiosity, compassion, connectedness, creativity and courage. Being creative is an important part of our true self and denying creativity can stunt our growth and stop us from feeling alive. Unfortunately when we have experienced trauma and adversity we are less able to access these eight parts of ourselves, including creativity. This is because protectors step in (who think they are helping). These protectors can include rageful outbursts, controlling behaviour, obsessive thoughts, judgement and addictive patterns that can lead to drug, alcohol and other kinds of abuse. All these things can stop us from truly connecting with the eight Cs.
The affect of familial or societal ideals on our creative life
It may be easier to be creative in some families or societies than others. Perhaps you grew up in a family where creativity was embraced and valued. If so there is probably still a chance that creativity was belittled by some in the wider community or school, for instance.
For some people creativity may have been maligned. Your family might have told you creativity was pointless, saying that there were much ‘better’ ways to spend your time and certainly much ‘better’ ways to make a living. Some communities may not value creativity either. Some people may say to artists: ‘when are you going to get a proper job?’
Once these messages have sunk in it can be really difficult to believe any different so that when we think we would like to do something creative we immediately find something ‘more important’ to do. What could be more important than expressing our true selves and trying to make sense of the world around us (for ourselves and others)?
The Critical Voice Stunts Creativity
Perhaps as a young child it was easier to spontaneously and without self-judgement create paintings, drawings, songs and stories. Whatever the kind of upbringing we’ve had, after the age of about ten, we start to worry a bit more about what people think of us and this includes what people might think about our creative work.
Some people might have the added problem that they received a lot of criticism in their early years, from family, teachers, bullies or a combination of these sources. This may mean we have a brain which is far too hard on ourselves. This can make it incredibly difficult to be creative.
You might recognise some of these blocks to creativity and wonder how to overcome them. I will explore this next time and I will also start sharing some of my own (Goddess Within relevant!) creative work.
is there something stopping you from feeling alive but you are not sure what it is? Do you wonder why you end up in the wrong relationships or the wrong jobs? Do you feel unfulfilled but unsure as to what to do about it? Well, maybe you can work out what is going on by looking at your values and whether you are living the values that are most important to you.
In my previous blogs on values I’ve mentioned that it can be a good idea to do a values audit: work out what your key values are (between three and five) and then decide how much time you spend being driven by these values. Deciding and saying what our values are is completely different from living and breathing these values. It can be good to know that feminism or courage, for instance, are really important to us, but knowing it and putting those values into practice on a daily basis are two completely different things.
If you’ve done some exploration and realised that you aren’t living and breathing your values as much as you want, I’d like to try and help. There are three main ways we can live and breathe our values. These are time, relationships and words.
Have a think about how much time you spend on projects or tasks related to your values. If you feel unfulfilled in your job it may be as simple as the fact that you are not immersed in your values enough. For instance, if you love being creative but work in administration you might not feel you get much chance to be creative. I know that it’s necessary to be realistic (ie we can’t all give up our job because we’ve realised we want to work in a creative role or in a role that helps combat climate change) but, what is possible is to work towards a. long term goal (so that we can ultimately do something different) and also to think of the small ways we can bring our values into the current role. For instance, is there the possibility of getting involved in new projects at work that are creative or is it possible to help the company work towards becoming carbon neutral?
Sometimes the issue with our job is less about the role and more about the culture of the organisation. You may question why you are unhappy at work because you are happy with the role itself. It may be the company’s outlook that goes against your values. For instance, integrity or honesty may be very important to you but the organisation may not display these values. In this case you may need to ask yourself if there is anything that can be done about the culture, or at least the part of it you work in. If not, you then need to decide whether to leave or whether the job role itself is enough for you.
When it comes to relationships there are two ways we can live and breathe our values. Firstly, it is in the relationship itself and how we act in it. If you consider honesty as something very important, how honest are you in your relationships? Be honest now! If you value vulnerability, do you allow others to be vulnerable with you as well as the other way around?
Secondly, it may be necessary to decide how compatible others values are with you own. There will always be differences and differences can be very healthy but there are some occasions where the difference may be insurmountable. We may decide, for instance, that we can’t have a partner who isn’t committed to combatting climate change.
Sometimes words are underestimated or aren’t valued enough. There are so many words around us all the time: people talking to us, social media, TV, books and news sites. Words can seem very disposable but perhaps that shouldn’t be the case. Arguably, we say things all the time that are not quite true or masking something in some way. Someone might ask us if we are okay and we say ‘yes, I’m fine, thanks’ when we are actually upset, but if one of our key values is vulnerability then we are not doing ourselves any favours.
Perhaps, also, we don’t acknowledge the times when it could be a good idea to speak up for a certain cause or value. Perhaps you might think that no one is going to listen to you or that there are enough voices already. There are never enough authentic voices. Say what you need to say, Goddess.
When exploring our values it can be helpful to break them down into groups because there are so many different types of values. For instance, love might be an important value to us but so might sustainability. These values live in a different part of our lives. Grouping values (for example love is an emotional value and feminism is a cause based value) can help us to identify any lack of balance in our life. For instance we may be constantly looking for love and not feel very fulfilled. Perhaps, in that case, we may need to focus on some of our other values like feminism, knowledge or nature.
The different value groupings I have identified are as follows:
- Morals and ethics. This can include values such as loyalty, honesty and integrity. Knowing what our key moral and ethical value or values are can help us be sure of our moral compass. If we value honesty over all else, for instance, this may help us to work out what to do when the choice is between being loyal to a friend or being honest with a different friend.
- Ideological. This includes values like freedom, justice and equality. Knowing we value freedom above many other things can help us to feel more comfortable when we make certain decisions because we know that freedom comes at a cost.
- Interpersonal. What is important to us when it comes to our connections with other people? We may particularly value compassion, community, collaboration or trust, for instance.
- Occupational. This is purely about what we want to spend our time doing. We may be particularly interested in adventure, knowledge or creativity, for example. If we find that we are bored or unfulfilled at work we might realise our job isn’t as creative as it used to be so we may want to move on.
- Emotional. Notions like vulnerability, love or humour might be very important to us or we may realise we need to do something to bring more of one of these values into our life.
- Character. This includes values like authenticity, determination and humour. If things aren’t going to plan we can check in with ourselves regarding if we have been fully authentic or if we are lacking our usual determination.
- Cause based. There are lots of causes to be committed to at the moment. These include sustainability, feminism or Black Lives Matter. It can be easy to try and stand for many causes, which isn’t feasible. We may decide it is best to focus fully on one of these causes (whilst also bearing in mind other causes when we can).
- Wellbeing. Values relating to the wellbeing of ourselves and of others can include balance, connection and fitness. If we realise we don’t know what our values in this area it is probably a good idea to explore what is most important or lacking.
When it comes to unleashing our goddess within it is essential to explore what our key values are (perhaps decide on four or five) and work out how we can embed them in our life. Living and breathing our true values is a key part of unleashing the Goddess Within. Be free Goddess Within, be free!
In my next blog I’ll explore how we can (further) embed our values.
When it comes to being authentic and unleashing our goddess within it’s really helpful to know what our values are so that we can act using our most important values.
What are personal values?
Brene Brown describes values in the following way:
‘A value is a way of being or believing that we hold important.’
Values include notions such as authenticity, creativity, kindness or knowledge. Values can also centre around issues we are passionate about such as animal welfare, feminism or sustainability.
Most of us aren’t taught about values when we are young and we may even have been exposed to some questionable values. What also happens is that we have the values of our family, school or community instilled in us, not realising that they are not the values that are most important for our authentic self. For instance, our family of origin may be very patriotic and we may grow up thinking that patriotism is something very important to us when actually, there may be other values that are more important.
It can be very helpful to identify five key values we hold and then select two which are our most important.
Some values that are instilled in us might not be in line with who we really are. For instance, as women we might be taught that being caring is very important, that we should put others first or pursue a career in a caring profession. This might compromise who we really are. It’s not that we aren’t a caring person and that being caring isn’t important but a role in a caring profession might not be the right thing. Also, what isn’t taught is that having something like caring, kindness or compassion as a value isn’t about putting others first. Being caring, kind or compassionate is not only about caring for others, it is about being kind, caring or compassionate towards ourselves too. So, it is not only helpful to think about what our most dearly held values are, it is also really helpful to think about what they mean for us personally. This is where journalling can come in very handy (you may know that I love journalling!)
Thinking about what our key values are can be a very important part of unleashing our goddess within because they act as a compass (or sat nav!) in life. If we are considering a new career path, for instance, we can refer to our values and if that new career path satisfies those values. Values can also help guide us through difficult or confusing situations. For instance, our friend may have done something to upset us by acting out of character, but if we hold compassion as an important value we might be compassionate because we know our friend is having a tough time at the moment.
When I first started looking into values and what is important to me, something I found confusing is that there are many different types of values but they are not separated in any way. For example love is a value, as is feminism but they serve very different purposes in the world. As a result I’ve put values into different groups or purposes so that they are easier to explore. The groups or purposes I have identified include:
- Moral and ethical values such as integrity and honesty
- Emotional values such as love and peace
- Occupational values such as adventure and creativity
- Interpersonal values such as compassion and collaboration
In my next blog I will explore the different types of values in more detail. I hope that this has fuelled a greater interest in your values and how exploring them can help you to unleash your goddess within. Happy exploring!
Women have been conditioned to accept certain norms when it comes to physical contact. As in many other areas of life we have been moulded to cut ourselves off from our intuition because if we used our intuition it might upset the status quo.
I think it’s important to call out some of these norms. What needs to happen is that women recognise certain things they were used to when they were young (and even now) weren’t and aren’t okay. These are things that may seem minor but actually meant that we were being cut off from our intuition and what our bodies were telling us.
- When it was insisted that we kiss or cuddle certain relatives but we didn’t want to.
- Perhaps, like me you had to sit boy-girl at school. They did it by surname and I was unfortunately next to the school bully who, on several occasions, shoved a ruler between my legs. I didn’t tell anyone because I was too embarrassed.
- Anyone else have to have naked showers after PE? I’m hoping that this doesn’t happen any more but I’m sure there are plenty of us around who had to endure it.
- Perhaps you were forced to wear clothing that didn’t feel comfortable for you. For instance, perhaps you were made to wear pretty dresses and this didn’t feel authentic.
I’m sure I could go on for a long time thinking of similar examples. (Please comment below if there are examples you can think of. It is important that there is awareness around these issues.) It isn’t surprising that many women don’t feel connected to their intuition or their bodies because they were basically told that what they wanted or felt was wrong.
This even continues into our adult life. In many job roles we are forced into open plan offices where, in many organisation cultures, it is the norm for people, with no warning, to loom over us as close as they like without any consideration for our physical boundaries. Please know that you are entitled to have physical boundaries and outline them to people.
I’d like to use a personal example to illustrate what I am saying. Just over two years ago I went on a Continuing Professional Development course for Somatic counselling (so it was all about how we store trauma in our body, processing that trauma and generally being more in touch with what our body tells us). One of the exercises we did was around physical boundaries. We were told to think of someone in our life who we would rather not be near. I was able to think of someone straight away. I was asked to imagine the course leader was the man I had in mind and to explore how far away from me they should be for me to feel comfortable. They stood at the other end of the room and started to step closer, telling me to let them know when I wanted them to stop because they were too close. They only took two steps before revulsion coursed through my body and I told them to stop. Yet, I regularly stand a few feet away from this man and have even accepted hugs from him! This is surely due the way I had been programmed to bypass my intuition and go with what is expected from society.
Whatever stage you are in life take some time to explore areas where you would like to exercise stronger physical boundaries. We should live in a society where women (and everyone in fact) are able to state clearly what they do and do not want in terms of physical contact and what happens to their bodies.