Because trauma and the brain and body are so connected, creative expression can be a powerful (and fun!) strategy for building new neural pathways. Additionally, expressing yourself creatively can be a cathartic way to work on healing, as well as to celebrate the progress you’ve made. For some, creative expression may feel like the safest and purest way to communicate the emotion they’ve been feeling. For others, this will be new territory and may bring up feelings of inadequacy. Either way, allowing yourself the freedom to creatively explore or express what you are feeling can be intensely rewarding.

How Can Creative Expression Help Me Heal?

It is common for survivors of childhood sexual abuse to have feelings of not being heard or understood. Some survivors had such negative responses when they disclosed the abuse that the expression of what occurred is just as traumatizing as the abuse itself. Because of this, we encourage survivors to find safe ways for them to explore and express their emotions and experiences. In fact, at The Haven Retreat, one of the first classes a survivor participates in is kintsugi, a Japanese art-form in which a beautiful, broken piece of pottery or glass is pieced back together using a sparkling, strong gold resin. For many survivors, this creative project becomes very symbolic, and the mended bowl becomes a representation of their healing journey. Much like the kintsugi experience, you may find that your creative expression becomes a symbol of your own healing journey, a celebration of your strength, or the outlet through which you will find healing, one expression at a time.

What Are Some Ways to Engage in Creative Expression?

Healing from trauma, especially the trauma of child sexual abuse, takes time and intention. Likewise, we recommend that you give yourself some time and space to do something creative. And, instead of focusing on the end product, let the process itself be the most important part. Observe and experience the range of emotions you feel as you express what healing is to you. Remember, there is no wrong emotion to express or incorrect manner to express it.

You may want to use creative expression to work through more uncomfortable emotions, like anger or disappointment. Or you may feel a need to create something that is inspiring and empowering as you look ahead and set intentions. Whatever you choose to creatively express, remember there is no need for judgment or criticism. There is only what you are feeling and what you’d like to use your creativity to accomplish. While the possibilities are endless, we’ve provided a list of possible ways to creatively express your own experience. Whether you try something from this list or are inspired by your own ideas, we encourage you do to whatever feels helpful, expressive, or joyful for you.

Write

Words can be a powerful way to explore and express your healing. Consider writing a poem or a series of poems that capture your healing journey. Or, simply find a paper or notepad and begin writing whatever comes to mind. You may decide to keep your writing, or you may find it therapeutic to tear it up or burn it. You may want to keep your writing to yourself, or you may find empowerment in sharing it with others. There is no right or wrong way to write; use writing in a way that is helpful to you.

Paint or Draw

For some, emotions and experiences may be difficult to capture in words. Perhaps creating something visual would feel more engaging to you. Think about creating a painting or drawing to express your healing journey. You could create an image with recognizable elements or maybe you want to create something abstract that expresses your feelings in shapes and colors.

Take Photographs

If painting or drawing feels intimidating, maybe you’d like to take a series of photographs to represent your healing journey. Our phones have made it easy to instantaneously capture images. You could set up and photograph a series of objects that represent your healing journey, or perhaps you want to go on a mindful walk and consciously looks for things to photograph that express your feelings.

Make an Art Journal

Art journaling can be a great way to collect meaningful words and images. There are many examples of art journals online, and the possibilities are endless. Ideally, you’d have a notebook that is just for art journaling, and a collection of pens, images, glue, washi tape, stickers, or anything else you might want to use in your journal. Some survivors find it helpful to expressively write on the pages and then cover the writing with images and words that best represent their healing. You may choose to art journal daily, whenever you feel inspired, or as a part of a Finding Hope Support Group. Be creative and let this journal be what you want it to be.

Create a Collage

It can be fun to gather and curate images and words to represent your journey and your current feelings. Thumb through old magazines and cut out images and words that stand out to you. Enjoy arranging them in different ways to capture your thoughts and emotions. Consider displaying your collage somewhere that you’ll see it.

Engage with Music

Music can be the perfect tool to explore thoughts, insights, and feelings that are difficult to express in other ways. There are a variety of ways you could use music. Maybe you’d like to write new lyrics for a song that already exists. Or perhaps you’d like to write an original piece of music either with or without words. You could also create a playlist that includes songs that represent your healing journey. You can listen to this playlist to inspire you to focus on healing or to celebrate your strength.

Dance

For survivors of child sexual abuse, there is great power in connecting with your body. Consider choreographing a dance to represent your healing journey or putting on a triumphant song and spontaneously moving as a way to connect with both your body and your emotions. (You may also be interested in exploring more ideas related to Movement as an effective coping strategy for many survivors.)

Plan with Vision Boards

Vision boards have grown in popularity in recent years, and they are an excellent example of Aspiration. Typically, vision boards are a collection of images and words that represent things you want to accomplish, focus on, or become. You may choose to create a vision board from your own drawings, or a collage of photos or images from magazines and books. The underlying purpose of a vision board is to remind and inspire you to continue working towards your goals. Consider posting your vision board where you can see it so it can help direct your thoughts and actions towards healing.

Craft with Paper, Fabric, or Wood

Many survivors take up a hobby to help them practice Mindfulness. Hobbies can also be a great way to form connections with others. For example, paper crafting (like scrapbooking or card-making) can be a fun way to create things that become keepsakes or gifts, and can easily be done in groups. Paper quilling is also a beautiful art form, and the attentiveness needed as you roll the paper can be an excellent opportunity to practice Mindfulness. Embroidery, cross-stitch, knitting, and crocheting can also provide opportunities to connect with others and/or practice Mindfulness. Wood provides similar potential with painting, woodburning, carving, etc. The key is to find something you enjoy and to allow it to help you explore your feelings and express your experiences.

What Symptoms Can Creative Expression Help Me Manage?

When it comes to managing trauma symptoms, what works for one individual may not work for another. Ultimately you, as a survivor of child sexual abuse, will know best what aspects of your life will require the most attention for you to find healing. But if you’re not sure how creative expression applies to you, or how to connect it to managing symptoms, the following ideas may help.

Depression

If you experience depression, creative expression can be a lifeline for remembering that emotions ebb and flow. Art journaling may be especially helpful when you are feeling stuck in one emotion or state of mind. It can help you express a certain “stuck” emotion or thought to help you work through it or see it in a different light. Once you capture such emotions you may feel more empowered to release them. Art journaling can also serve as a mood tracker, a motivational tool, and an honest reflection of your thoughts and feelings… all in one!

Flashbacks

If you commonly experience flashbacks, expressive writing may be a helpful tool for you to reflect on your emotions and process the things that occurred. Many survivors will use expressive writing as a way of writing out the experiences they remember, addressing the abuser, or writing to younger versions of themselves. These writings can be kept or destroyed, whatever feels most healing. Keep in mind that as you work through writing that incorporates flashbacks, emotions can be very intense. If at any time you feel triggered or overwhelmed beyond what you can manage, take a break. As always, we encourage you to seek out the help of a licensed professional who can assist you on your healing journey.

Dysfunctional Relationships

As a survivor of child sexual abuse, you may long for connection but struggle to find that in your relationships. Perhaps you could identify a few things that you can work on personally and create a vision board to remind you of the focus. For example, perhaps your vision board will include images and words that remind you to communicate assertively. Or, you could invite a loved one to complete a vision board with you, where together you can come up with ideas for improving your relationship and areas that you’ll focus on together.

Find What Inspires You Most

Whatever struggles you may be experiencing, creative expression can serve as an outlet to help you explore your emotions, express your point of view, process your experiences, and envision the future. As you try out different mediums of creative expression, you are practicing:

  • Acknowledgement by identifying the thoughts, emotions, or memories you feel you need to express, work through, or celebrate.
  • Mindfulness by focusing your attention on the art you are creating in the present moment and allowing your mind to be guided by whatever inspiration or ideas take hold.
  • Aspiration by fostering creativity as a new habit, curiosity, or coping skill that you can utilize in the future.