In this episode, I speak with Jennifer Kramer, founder of The Redefined Process. She is an artist,...
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In this episode, I speak with Jennifer Kramer, founder of The Redefined Process. She is an artist, art therapist, single mom, and trauma survivor. Over the past several years, she has used art techniques to begin redefining her identity after narcissistic abuse.
She wants to empower you to find your voice again after surviving abusive and manipulative relationships. I hope you listen because she shares how art therapy techniques have helped you cope and thrive.
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Michael: Hey! What's up Unbroken Nation. Hope that you're doing well wherever you are in the world today. Very excited to be back with you with another episode with my guest, Jennifer Kramer, who is an artist, a licensed art therapist, and an online coach who helps women overcome the effects of narcissistic abuse. Jennifer, my friend, how are you today? What is happening in your world?
Jennifer: I am amazing. I woke up this morning and went on a walk and listened to the Think Unbroken Podcast while I was walking, and now I'm being interviewed on the Think Unbroken Podcast. So, that's a pretty amazing day.
Michael: That's amazing. Well, it is my honor to have you here, I'm very excited. For those who do not know you, tells a little bit about your background and how you got to where you are today.
Jennifer: Yeah. So, I think it's important to give kind of a foundation of where my life started with my family in the context of the generational trauma. I grew up with a single mom and my twin sister, so the three of us primarily, and also my grandmother, was a big part of our life. My mother had made a really difficult decision when her twin daughters were just babies to leave my father, per her report was emotionally and verbally abusive and a little bit physically as well. And I just think that's important to note because it's like my foundation in life was bit both based on this situation of abuse and divorce and betrayal, but also on this very strong woman who took this brave step to walk out of a marriage, literally one weekend when some things came to a head to pack up her two babies and put them in the back of an acquaintance's car and travel two states away to make a choice that she thought was best for herself and her and her children. So, that said, I grew up primarily with my mom and my grandmother and my sister that was my nuclear family. And as my sister and I have gotten older, we've recognized that our mother really unlearned on us emotionally as a single parent who had her own unresolved trauma. She really just kind of wore her emotions on her sleeve, she didn't have a lot of close friends to share her struggles as a single parent with, and so we heard about the financial struggles, her frustrations with work, her frustrations with us. And I've recognized that as an adult I've developed some codependent tendencies as a part of that, that I have this tendency to feel like I have to take care of others emotionally, the way I always felt like I had to take care of my mom. As a child, I was painfully shy, I was very shy and barely spoke out at school and in public, at home, I was very short tempered, always yelling and slamming doors. There were a couple of years in elementary school where I acted out at school as well, I would hit boys who made fun of me for being overweight, but then quickly after that, I receded back into myself and really withdrew in middle school and high school it was not uncommon for me to go through the entire school day without saying a word to anyone. But in high school, I had a really pivotal experience, so, well, first, I'll say around age 14, 15, I was definitely depressed and lonely, I didn't have friends, it's so important at that age to have friends, my twin sister had friends and I did not. And I felt very depressed often thought about suicide, never really developed a plan, but that was always in my mind because I just wanted a way out, I was so lonely. And then I had this experience between my freshman and sophomore years of high school where I went on a mission trip with my church youth group. We traveled from Kentucky to Montana on a hot bus with broken air conditioning for three days, three days of driving, and we were able to go and serve and help a small church in Montana, no idea now why we had to drive to Montana to do that, but that's what we did. I know you speak Michael so much about the importance of service in our healing journey of serving others, and that was my first experience of being able to serve others simply because I came from a large church who knew how to do some things, we put on a little vacation Bible school for the kids at this little church in Montana, and I thought, wow, I have something to offer to someone else. So, for the first time at age 15, I felt like I had some value that I could give to someone else. And that experience combined with a mentor relationship that I had with a young man who went on that trip, who didn't allow me to push him away the way other adults allowed me to push him away, that experience of that friendship, that mentoring relationship with that experience of service really, really just took away all of those suicidal thoughts. Now that doesn't mean I didn't struggle more throughout high school, but it was a real turning point for me. And I really decided around that time that I wanted to someday work with people at that time I was thinking kids are teenagers only ‘cuz that was, you know, my life experience up to that point. And I wanted to help others the way that mentor had helped me but I wasn't sure what that would look like. And again, I still barely spoke at school, you know, I didn't know how I would do that, but that was a long-term goal.
When it came time for college, I had studied art all through high school and a very intensive magnet high school program. I was a little burned out on art by the time I got to college, but I decided I would become an art teacher because that's what my mother had done that's what I'd grown up with. It took one art education class for me to realize that was not for me, I did not get excited about laminating visual aids of impressionist paintings, I was not a teacher personality for sure. And then I had a bit of an identity crisis and I thought, well, I wanna pursue art, but if I don't have a job lined up like being an art teacher, then what's the point like, should I really do that? And so, I spent a whole semester just thinking about it, praying about it and I decided through a chain of events that it was important for me to continue to pursue art because that's what I was interested in, that's what I felt a calling to, and that's where I was talented. And so, I made the decision to just get a Bachelor of fine Arts degree, which for those who don't know, that literally just trains you to be a professional artist. So, you put on a senior art show, you write your artist statement, you publicize it and I knew that I didn't wanna do that for a living, but I want, I valued that education of learning how to be a better artist and I trusted that there would be a career for me. And I kept saying, I wanna use art to help people, but I'm not sure you know what that looks like. There were a few people in my life who suggested art therapy around that time, and I remember really, really thinking that I was not smart enough to do that, I thought the psychology aspect of that was too much for me. I thought, I'm an artist, I wanna help people, and art therapy might seem logical, but I just was not confident in my intelligence to do that it didn't seem feasible to me. So, fast forward after college, I didn't know what to do with myself for a while I thought I was gonna go, you know, move to Arizona and be a missionary, that's a whole other story like I was just all over the place trying to figure out what to do and with that thought of just wanting to help people and to get experience doing that, I got a job that turned out to be much more intense than I thought, but it was a very valuable experience. I got a job at a residential facility for boys who had been abused and neglected spent most of their life in the foster care system. And so, these were kids who had most likely been hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital after some sort of violent outbursts or series of violent outbursts or other dangerous behaviors in the foster home they were in, and then as sort of a step down from the hospital level of care, they were sent to this residential facility. And so I was, gosh, like 23, 24, I had very minimal experience working with children, but I was like, oh, I wanna help people. And so, I got in this job where I was working in a living unit with boys who were ages eight to 11, all with very severe behaviors, I was told that if I didn't get cussed out and called a bitch at least once every shift that I was working, that I wasn't doing my job because it was our job to set boundaries and discipline and also to love on these kids. And in retrospect, that was the best experience I could have had to prepare me to be a therapist because I wasn't just reading in the DSM manual about, you know, the diagnostic criteria for oppositional defiant disorder or PTSD. I was seeing it every day at work, I was seeing it in these kids and to this day I often think back on those experiences to inform my clinical practice as an art therapist now. And so, it was in that job that I naturally started doing art activities with those boys because that was something I could do and then low and behold I thought, well, maybe art therapy could make sense for me ‘cuz I started to have that mental health experience and that job. And so, then I gradually started this process of going back to school, taking all the undergraduate psychology classes that I had not taken before ‘cuz I thought they were too much for me. And I already had all the art prerequisites for sure and I started this graduate school program. Around that same time so it's sort of to backtrack a little bit that was in my twenties. I also experienced a few dating relationships where I started to notice a pattern that in a scary way I was thinking, Oh, maybe I'm repeating this pattern that my mom was in and actually my grandmother was potentially in, both my grandmother and my mother were divorced. And so, I started noticing myself really being drawn to controlling men, to men with histories of addiction and trauma, to men who had active addictions. And I was really thoughtful during that time of wanting to break this pattern of not continuing in that, and I thought I had a really, really good hold on that. And so, around the time I was finishing up art therapy school, starting my career, I was in an abusive relationship that was kind of the icing on the cake to all abusive relationships I've been in before. In fact, I maybe wouldn't even characterize those previous relationships as abusive, but definitely dysfunctional, definitely some manipulation there and some control. But this relationship was I believe narcissistic abuse, I believe his behaviors are characterized as narcissistic. And in the beginning, I thought, well, I'm not repeating this pattern, because on the surface, he really presented very differently from the other people like his personality was very different. He seemed to really have a heart for serving others, which of course I did too. We actually got to know each other by serving alongside one another in our community, and I did not rush into. I thought I was doing everything the right way; it wasn't often you'll hear people talk about a relationship with a narcissist as being this whirlwind experience where they just got swept up and you know, got into the relationship quickly, things got serious quickly that was not the case. We were friends for a long time, I thought I was doing everything the right way and breaking my pattern. Lo and behold, I find out that was not the case, it was an abusive relationship, very, very crazy making. And the decision to leave that relationship, I would call sort of my rock bottom the fact that that relationship failed. And during this period of time in my life, there were also multiple other things that really rocked my sense of identity. So, my mother died, actually, my grandmother and my mother died 11 months apart and so, that was half my family, right? I do have other family that I keep in touch with that are part of my life, but as far as who I grew up with, it was my grandmother, my mom and my sister and half of that family was gone. And so, that really shook my sense of self then I also changed jobs multiple times, moved multiple times, I became a mother myself and found myself as a single mother, and then this abusive relationship as well. And so, so through all of that, I didn't know who I was anymore, I felt definitely at a rock bottom. And I have some other thoughts about rock bottom that I'd like to mention in a minute maybe but actually I'll go ahead and mention it now. You know, I think that our rock bottom experiences are relative, right? Like it looks different in everybody's situation. And Michael, I've often heard you ask your guests, essentially, do you think that reaching a rock bottom moment is necessary? Like, can we somehow avoid that? And I think in retrospect, looking at my experience, so I needed that relationship to hit rock bottom and to really catapult my healing and actually break the pattern, that is what catapulted me into actually pursuing therapy for real, for the first time and so, many other like a support group, all kinds of things that were so helpful to me. But I think if we think about that rock bottom as the thing that is the catalyst or that big change in our life, I think we can actually sort of control that, if that makes sense like what if everybody listening today thinks about if you're in this pattern that you've noticed like I was in in my twenties and those dating relationships, and you think, well, I'm not, I'm not like in a horrible place yet. I'm not like those people that actually need to go to therapy or actually need to do all these other extreme things to heal themselves. What if we stopped and made a choice that last experience, whether it was that last time we abused drugs and alcohol, that last unhealthy relationship, that last time we binged on a food that made us feel sick like what if that was the last time and you decide, Hey, I think that was my rock bottom and now I'm gonna move forward and change. And so, I think in retrospect, yeah, I sort of maybe needed that in order to catapult me into this phase of more healing, this phase of therapy and really seeking help. But I could have done that earlier. So, that's kind of what I want listeners to consider, that you can maybe choose that your rock bottom is right now and you don't have to wait for it to sort of happen to you.
Michael: Yeah, and there's, you know, so many thoughts here that I have about your journey and your story and the reason I've just kind of been listening and absorbing it is because it's relatable, right? And I think so often people immediately kind of look at the experience of other people's lives and go, Oh, well, they're just so differently, they figured something out they're special. And I'm like, No. Like I sit here and in this conversation I’m like, yeah, no, that makes sense I had that experience; I remember this moment. I remember that thing that happened that kinda led me down this path and there's so much to it where you're just in my experience in looking at life through this scope of someone who is healing, obviously, and I've said this before, I don't think you're ever like healed, like this is a fucking lifetime journey, but in this journey, you learn and you understand and you get so much clarity about who you are, but I think it takes all of those little sequences, all of those experiences. And unfortunately, I think life is obviously linear healing is not, so it's like you have this straight line and then you have these ups and downs like our incongruence with each other and you just learn because like, I have this question then I want to go back to something that you said because, and we'll get into art therapy, I promise, but I think that this is really important and probably the catalyst into this question. You know, you mentioned being in your early twenties and working with those little boys. I remember distinctly in my own journey being young and art being kind of this thing that I explored. But there wasn't a lot of safety around it, and I think a lot of kids are really scared to express themselves, especially in environments like that. And so, I'm wondering twofold, one, what was it that you learned from those children in that environment and what did they learn from you?
Jennifer: I think what I learned was that they needed an outlet, they were looking for a creative outlet and that wasn't offered to them. Especially, I mean, I don't know exactly what their environments were like in their foster homes or their homes with their biological families, but in that environment, there was not a lot of expression they were living in a facility. Right? And so, yes, they were going to therapy, but as you said, it wasn't necessarily safe for them to express themselves with their peers. So, the art making process really provides this safe container when done in the safety of a relationship, you know, and that's really the definition of therapy, is it takes place within that therapeutic relationship and even though I was not a therapist in that particular role, I was that safe relationship for them to create that art in. So, in a way, I created that sort of safe container within the art making process. And so, I think maybe that's what they learned from me. I learned through those experiences that, well, like I said, that they really needed that outlet, that it could be very helpful for them and I think they learned what safety could look like within that relationship and learned to trust through those projects. You know, and again, even though I wasn't an art therapist yet, a really key component of art therapy is that it's about the process and not so much about the product. And so, in art classes we're really taught that it's about the product, it's about your technical skills, it's about learning to make evasive flowers look like evasive flowers, but in art therapy, it is about that process and then we certainly look at the end result but it is not primarily about that and making something look a certain way. So, if we can sort of kind of take the expectations down a notch and say we're just here to play and create something, then I think that's so helpful and I think that's something that I provided to them.
Michael: Speaking of process, right, and that obviously being the crux of this whole thing when it comes to art therapy. I would love if you would just kind of define what art therapy is and how that differs from other forms of therapy and kind of integrated within that like what is the process?
Jennifer: Yeah. So, art therapy is a master's level mental health profession so the same as a licensed professional counselor, a social worker, marriage and family therapist and a lot of people don't know that, that it is a licensed profession that requires that you attend an accredited master's level art therapy program and as I shared before, you have to have a background in psychology and visual arts in order to even enter that program. And in a practical sense, what it is like within an art therapy session is that your therapist is engaging you in the active process of art making. So, a visual art and then there's also some verbal processing. So, it's not entirely, you just go make art and the therapist stares at you, but it's also not entirely talking like, regular talk therapy you're doing both and it can look different depending on the art therapist, depending on their approach. But it definitely takes place within that psychotherapeutic relationship. Many people will say just that their hobby of doing art that is therapeutic is art therapy, or certainly, I've seen adult coloring books that actually say art therapy on the cover, and they're art therapists all over the globe, they get up in arms about that because that is not art therapy when those first got popular, every art therapist in the world was so angry because it is therapy and drawing coloring in a coloring book is a therapeutic art activity it's actually what we would call art as therapy. So, your weekend hobby of painting landscapes is art as therapy, but art therapy takes place within an art therapy session with a trained in licensed art therapist.
Michael: You know, it's really interesting to me. I was thinking the other day, I have done every modality of healing that you can imagine except art therapy like this as we were preparing for this show, I was thinking to myself like, damn, I've done everything Reiki, gestalt, NLP, CBT, EMDR, like you name it, like all of the things. And I was like, I've never done art therapy before but as a kid I distinctly remembered like, I love to draw like I would always be drawing in school or reading a book ‘cuz I didn't give a shit about school. So, I would just sit there and like draw and create and I remember it being this beautiful process except I kept getting in trouble. And now in real time I'm like, hmm, I wonder if that's a boundary and a limiting belief that I have to work through to step into art but I also think like maybe my art is this, you know what I mean? So, for someone who is kind of like sitting in there; in there with you, they're processing art as therapy, they're going through this. What's transpiring like, how can art therapy be used in actually healing trauma? Like where's the connection happen?
Jennifer: Yeah. So, I'm actually gonna go a little more in depth in this with you on this podcast ‘cuz I think this is the place to do it to really get into what's happening in the brain. Art therapy really activates the right and left sides of our brain and art therapists really use this strategically and it involves how we kind of what directives we give sometimes it's super open ended and sometimes we give a specific directive to the client and also involves what type of art media we choose. So, I'm gonna get into the art media in just a minute because I think that's the more sort of practical piece of this that listeners can actually apply to their own art making at home, even if it's not quote unquote art therapy that's something I love sharing about how we interact with the media and how that affects our brains. But first I'm gonna share kind of a more in-depth foundation of that. And so, there's this concept in art therapy called the expressive therapies continuum. And you can picture that as sort of a diagram of three lines, three horizontal lines and then there's one vertical line down the middle. And so, I guess first I'll explain that trauma treatment, we approach it either from a bottom-up approach or a top-down approach. And bottom up means we're starting kind of in our body, in our senses and the sensory and kinesthetic component of our physical experience and our emotions, and then kind of moving up to the cognitive and kind of making more sense of it in what I call our thinking brain so, kind of we start in our feeling brain and move into our thinking brain to make more cognitive sense of things. And from the top-down approach we might start in our thinking brain and move to our feeling brain. And so, an art therapist is gonna really gauge where a client is, if they're really in their emotions and need to start expressing that or if they really cannot access their emotions and they're stuck in the cognitive, then we start there and you know, you meet the client where they are and both are important though, for healing. So, you wanna integrate the cognitive and the more effective the bodily sensations. And so, with those expressive therapies continuum that I explained, so the bottom level of this involves the sensory components. So, basically the expressive therapies continuum it describes the way we interact with the art making process. And again, I'll get into more of the art media as a second component of this. So, the first level of how we interact is sensory and kinesthetic. Sensory it would be, if you imagine like you're using a piece of play doh or modeling clay and you're really concerned with engaging your senses so you're feeling what it feels like, the texture, maybe gently pressing your fingertips into it, seeing what that feels like, maybe the smell of the clay. And then the kinesthetic component is this polarity sort of the opposite of that where you're more focused on the movement. So, this would look like maybe pounding the clay or more aggressively needing the clay, really engaging your muscles in that movement. And as you shift from one to the other, you're less focused on the opposite end, again, these are polarities. So, if I'm more focused on the pounding of the clay and that kinesthetic movement, let's say, I've got a lot of anger, I've definitely worked with a lot of kids in the past who had that anger just deeply in their bodies. And so, they're concerned with the kinesthetic quality and nothing else. If you transition more into the sensory component, focusing on the texture, the smell, then you're not as focused on the kinesthetic. If we move up to the next level of the three levels and the expressive therapies continuum, it is perceptual effective. So, we engage with the art making process from a perceptual perspective by focusing on using line and value to create forms. So, you're creating like the definition of different figures and shapes, the difference between a foreground and a background, that kind of thing. And I guess I should say, so this sensory component and the perceptual are very much more left brained activities when we think about left brain versus right brain, where the kinesthetic and the affective are right brain.
And so, on the other end of the spectrum, what it looks like to engage on an affective level in the art is you're using more color, you're expressing your emotions and you're not so concerned with the form and making like recognizable shapes, you're just focused on the colors and the emotions. And then the third level is cognitive symbolic with cognitive being engaging more of the left brain and symbolic being engaging more of the right brain. So, cognitively that deals with our recent memories, like I said, our thinking brain, kind of the things we're aware of and symbolic is coming up with symbolic representations of things we've been through.
And so, if someone comes into therapy with past trauma and they're not really connected to their body and their feelings, we might start at that cognitive level where they're telling the story of their trauma, they're drawing a picture of an event whereas if they come in and cannot, are not able to verbalize what happened to them we just start with that, those sensory kinesthetic components, we just start with kind of playing with the art media and get into connecting to our emotions. It's in that more effective state in playing with the materials, like for example, finger painting that you're gonna be able to access sort of the subconscious emotions, kind of those things we shove down the memories of the trauma, you're gonna be able to access them in that state.
Michael: I'm curious in this, because the thing that comes to mind for me, and I'm sure a lot of people may be having the same thought, is a – it sounds, I think it sounds complicated in the moment, obviously, like while you're in it, it's a very different experience. My thought is, and this may just be a me thing, and that's why I'm asking the question, obviously. Is there a space where you find that people have to let their guard down to step into this medium? Because like in my head, cognitively I'm like, Oh yeah, talk therapy makes sense group therapy, makes sense punching something makes sense to me, Right? All those different aspects of like that. And in this, I'm thinking to myself like, oh, that's probably this place that is incredibly vulnerable or maybe that's just my interpretation of it. So, do you find that there is this area where people really need to let their guard down for this to have efficacy?
Jennifer: Yeah. I mean it depends on the client for sure, I mean, most often those who come to me seeking out art therapy are comfortable with the idea of art making on some level. But I remember in graduate school one day we had some music therapy students come into our class and teach us an activity of like making drums outta Tupperware containers and we did a drum circle and I was so uncomfortable with that and like no one else in the class understood why I was so uncomfortable. So, music therapy is not something that I would seek out because that would be too, too much for me that would be too overwhelming. And so, that for the first time gave me a glimpse into, oh, people who are not comfortable with art, cuz I've grown up with art it was always a comfort zone for me. And so, I think those who have that much of a reaction against it, the way I couldn't imagine doing music therapy probably would not seek that out as a first sort of treatment. But that said, I do certainly have clients that are a little more apprehensive. And so, as I said earlier, we start with where the client is, so, I worked with kids for many years and you know, I would often have little boys in particular that just loved drawing with pencils, with graphite pencils, black and white, no color, they could control it which I can get more into talking about the art media, which is my favorite thing to talk about and how that comes into play here. But I knew kind of the psychological reasons why they needed that media and they were also expressing that's what they liked to use so I start out by asking like, do you like art? Do you like to draw? Have you drawn before? What have you used? What do you like to use? And we start there and that gives me information about where they are so, I know where to start again with that top down or bottom-up approach. I mean, sometimes people will be like, I really need something expressive, give me a way to express myself then we'll get out the paints and the oil pastels and the chalk. But if they're more apprehensive, they're probably gonna go towards that art media that's easy to control, like a pencil and I'm gonna allow them to do that and we'll kind of inch our way into the activities they're gonna bring out their emotions more and get them more in their bodies.
Michael: Like if you were to summarize it in a simplified way, what is it that you would say that is kind of the framework or the baseline that allows us modality to really be effective for, let's call it a specific group of people as opposed to the broad, general audience of folks listening. What is it that you would like drill down into like, this is the reason why I think it's applicable?
Jennifer: So, I work now primarily with women who are survivors of narcissistic abuse and using my own experience to help them. If you don't mind, let me explain more about my experience and what led me to the work I'm doing today and that's gonna explain a lot.
So, when I found myself in therapy after experiencing this abusive relationship and after I had had so many just experiences in life that had rocked my sense of self. My therapist one day challenged me to make some steps towards creating art again, ‘cuz I hadn't been making much art on my own outside of just the work I would do with my therapy clients. And so, it was so interesting how we often just need someone to give us permission to do something for ourselves. And so, I actually had in mind for a long time that I wanted to rent an art studio at a local art center, I knew they had small studios that could be affordable, and I had looked into it, I looked on the website frequently to check the availability, but I had never taken that step. And so, when my therapist said, how about between this weekend, our appointment next week, you just make some step towards making art. And I think she thought I was gonna clear away like the corner of a kitchen table or something make a little space at home to make art. I actually had this idea to rent a studio so I went out literally an hour before my next therapy session. I rented, or I viewed the available spaces, made a choice, chose one, signed a lease, went to my therapy appointment right after that and proudly proclaimed that I had signed a lease on a studio space, and she was so surprised. Then that space became a place where I could go just freely express myself informed by my knowledge and training and art therapy, but also just Jennifer as Jennifer, everything else stripped away just trying to get all of these emotions out of my body. You know, anyone who's experienced, any kind of domestic violence, coercive control, gaslighting, you know, you don't know how to make sense of what you went through. And often you're just anxious, there's so many feelings right on the surface. And so, I had so much bubbling up and I just I finger painted, I put like a big piece of paper on the wall, was my first drawing with chalk and I would literally just like walk along the wall and draw and I did whatever felt good with the thought that nobody else ever has to see this. Like, this is not something I'm gonna show to anybody, this is just for me and it is a way for me to express my emotion.
As a part of that, I remembered a particular technique that I learned in art therapy school by an art therapist, an author named Pat Allen. She wrote a book called Art As A Way Of Knowing, and she developed this process of spontaneous art making and then what she referred to as witness writing. And so, what this is literally you’re dialoguing with your artwork, which in essence is your dialoging with different parts of your brain so, in trauma work, you know, we have these different parts of ourselves, these different parts of our brain. And in that art making and then writing in response to it, but literally like asking the drawing questions like, if you could talk, what would you say? What do you need? Really? I'm asking myself what I need, but that was too hard for me to ask myself when I was in that cognitive state of just overthinking things, I had to use the art materials to get in my body, in my senses and then once that sort of opened up and I've accessed my right brain, then my thinking brain is or my right brain, my feeling brain then I can sort of pull it back into my thinking brain and make more sense of it. And so, this is where we're pulling from that sort of cognitive level down into the effective or no the opposite from that effective level up into the cognitive. And so, I began that process and I kept doing it and kept doing it and there was a real kind of integration of these different parts of myself that occurred in that process. And part of this is the use of the art media, so another kind of spectrum to talk about is that we can categorize all art media on the spectrum from fluid to resistive. And so, fluid media of course is paint, but even within paint, watercolor paint or a watered down, like thinned out acrylic or oil paint is gonna be more fluid than thick paint right out of a tube and then kind of moving down the spectrum, you have soft chalk pastels that you can sort of glide them across the page, it creates a lot of chalk, dust that you can smear around in a real fluid fashion and then keep going down the spectrum to the more resistive, like I mentioned, little boys that that really feel the need to draw with a graphite pencil for a sense of control.
So, the reason why this is important is precisely because the resistive media, which requires more control and gives you a sense of control that can alleviate anxiety, it helps you feel in control of your emotions and in control of your body whereas the more fluid media, it gets in kind of at that effective level. We are accessing your emotions you're more in your body. And so, I knew this as I was approaching the art myself so, I would assess how am I feeling what do I need in this moment? So, do I need to draw with pencils, a really tight mandala design because that feels good and calming and like I can control it. The same reason people love the adult coloring books, it can give them a sense of control, but some days those adult coloring books are drawing a really tight pencil design would make me feel anxious and I would need to be more expressive and use the paint. You know, and it was so interesting when I learned this concept in graduate school, I had immediately made sense to me intuitively as an artist, ‘cuz I remembered back in my undergraduate experience, I would often get really kinda lost in the paints and I didn't know why, I would just, like for hours in my painting studio and just go over and over the same thing and I was notorious for never finishing a painting. And even in my senior art show, I ended up with a very small amount of works, it didn't even need to be narrowed down. I had just enough to fill my part of the gallery, you know, because I just kept going over and over and over again on these canvases or piece of wood this painting actually behind me is one of those that I did in college and I would get lost in it and I'd feel anxious. And then what I would do eventually was I would take the back end of my paintbrush, the handle and make a line to delineate a form. So, like I was explaining earlier that kind of left-brain activity of the perceptual engagement where we need to create a form, it's like we need to contain it whereas when we're moving more into the feelings with the paint, things are less contained, it's more about our emotions. And so, I was feeling the need to go from that polarity of the feelings, oh my gosh, I'm lost in the feelings and the fluid media and the paint over to, I needed to like reign it in by making lines and making more solid forms and shapes.
And so, when I learned about the fluid versus resistive media in graduate school, it made so much sense to me based on how I naturally engage with art media ‘cause I tend to be anxious and I love painting, but that can feel overwhelming and so, I need to sort of reign it in. And so, these are all concepts that I apply with clients. You know, I have specific directives where you make a mess and then clean it up, you create a painting and then you reign it in somehow by going back and adding lines to contain it and, and vice versa those who feel a high need for control and we just need that resistive media, they need to just make a cut a perfectly, you know, perfectly cut out magazine pictures to make a collage or just drawing with, with black and white, with pencils, you know, I will gradually kind of ease them in to, well what would it look like just to use liquid glue instead of a glue stick, because that's more fluid, right? It might induce a little bit of anxiety, it's not exactly like exposure therapy, but in a way, if you wanna think of it that way, you know, we're kind of inching them this experience of what would it feel like to feel a little uneasy and a little bit out of control within the safe space of the art making session within the safe container of your piece of paper within that safe, psychotherapeutic relationship.
Michael: Yeah. That makes a ton of sense to me because I'm thinking to myself, there's been these times in my journey where if I'm doing something, I'm like intentionally somehow because of understanding my need for control, I'm like, oh, you gonna be really interesting just let go of this and see what happens. I'm like in visualizing, like going through this process of creating this art and then like making it messy to see what that feels like. So, that makes so much sense to me. I mean, it feels like CBT to some aspect, right? I'm really curious for people who maybe they're at home and they're listening and this is a new idea for them, they've never even heard this concept before and they're like, oh, this is curious and I wanna at least tap into this a bit. How could they do this at home with themselves in a way that could, I don't know if necessarily be therapeutic, but at least it would be something that would start plant a seed about this being a modality for them?
Jennifer: Yeah, I think first I would encourage anyone who's interested in this to explore different types of painting and drawing media. So, like I said, I know I've learned to notice in my body what days I need to use more resistive media like a pencil, and what days I just need to paint and express myself. So, I would encourage listeners to go get a Crayola watercolor tray that you can find in the school supply aisle of your grocery store at Easy to obtain, get some crayons, some markers, some colored pencils. I also really love oil pastels, which I often call like an oily crayon, it's a little more fluid, it glides on the paper and you can blend it more so than a regular crayon. So, get a variety of those art materials, it can be just the Crayola, you know, student grade, it doesn't have to be fancy and just play, just experiment with it. You know, that's another really important part of art therapy that I hear from clients that they love the expressive quality of it and that they can just play because as trauma survivors, we've not always been allowed to play and to be free in that sense. And so again, it's that safe container of the art making process where we can play. Also, I often say that within the creative process, there's no impulse control required so as long as you're not harming yourself or others, you know, you're not sniffing toxic chemicals then there's really no impulse control required, you can do what you want. So, I would encourage anyone who's interested in this to just play with different kinds of art media and notice how your body responds. Notice how your body responds on different days, notice what you're feeling, do some journaling, some writing about. And then second, kind of a foundational art therapy intervention that I use with my art therapy clients, also with my coaching clients this is something I teach that definitely can be done easily at home without an art therapist, is essentially a scribble drawing. And this is something that all art therapists use and it sounds silly, but it is really fascinating and really impactful. So, literally, you know, I always encourage clients to imagine if that emotion was coming from your head ‘cuz we often think our emotions in our mind, right? They're in our head, they're not in our body so imagine if that was coming down from your mind, from your brain, through your arm, out through that color pencil, that marker, that crayon onto the paper. What kind of line would that make? How would that move across the page? And so obviously, you know, something like anger for most people that has a lot of energy to it, right? So, that's gonna be like a fast zigzaggy scribble line for most people. And choose a color that goes with that feeling for you then maybe, you know, calm, sad, relaxed, excited, joyful, like whatever feeling you're having or just whatever feeling you kind of feel on a regular basis. Practice how you would express that literally just through a scribble using line, shape and color, not trying to make it look like a happy face or a sad face just how would that, would that emotion move out of your body if it was a line on the page. And then I encourage, that process that I explained that I do and that I teach to my clients of the responsive writing or what Pat Allen referred to as the witness writing. So, you're witnessing your art, your kind of, you know, oftentimes in art therapy we think about, the piece of art is kind of the third person in the therapy session. So, it's like there's the client, there's the therapist, and then there's the art over there and when we take it physically outside of ourselves, and we have this visual representation of it there on the paper, in the sculpture, on the canvas then it makes it feel safer to talk about and there's some sort of, what I call reflective distance there. So, we've distanced ourself from it a little bit emotionally by taking it out of our body, out of our brain and putting it on the paper and then that writing process creates even more of that distance. And like I said, taking things kind of from our feeling brain to our thinking brain. So, ask a question, I like to start out though by, it can be hard to sort of get into the question asking if you're not used to it. So, I encourage you just to start out by kind of writing your observations about your feelings, scribble, drawing. So, write, you know, there's a yellow blob in the corner, there's some black lines here, you know, just describe what you see and then maybe ask yourself a question, is there anything that surprised you? Like, what do you see here? And then start asking your questions like, what do you need? What is this? What is this black squiggle line? You know, what does that mean? What are you trying to tell me how do you feel? Again, what do you need is a really powerful one for most of my clients. And just write down, this is very much a free association form of writing. So, you're writing whatever comes to your mind without judgment, without editing and then later, I think you'll find as you read back over it, there's a lot of insight to be gained in that. And I often practice this sort of a journaling technique just in my sketchbook or journal, I'll do a quick scribble and then do that, that writing in response. And again, many of my clients find that really helpful as well.
Michael: Yeah, that sounds attainable too. I mean, you have a piece of paper and a pencil like at your house, like no excuses, right? And at least it'll give you an idea and you can step in and it might be before you may not even now, I'm like, Yo, right after this, I'm gonna go do it just to see what happens. Jennifer, my friend, this has been amazing conversation, can you tell everyone where they can find you?
Jennifer: Yeah. So, I'm on Instagram @jenniferannekramer and Facebook as Jennifer Kramer Art Therapy. I have a free Facebook group called Women Overcoming Narcissistic Abuse. You can find that on a link to that on my Facebook page. Also, a good website that has all the links to everything as my link tree, it's linktr.ee/jenniferakramer that's also the link in bio, on my Instagram.
Michael: Brilliant. And of course, we'll put the links in the show notes for the audience. My last question for you, my friend, what does it mean to you to be unbroken?
Jennifer: So, I'm an avid listener of the podcast, and I've thought about this question a lot. You know, and I think that we all are broken, I think that is what it means to be human, that we're broken but the thing is, we often think of being broken as I am the only one, this is horrible like I will never find a way out of this we can get lost in that, but I think if we recognize that it's part of the human condition to be broken down by life and trauma, by all these life experiences, then in a sense, it loses its meaning, if that makes sense. You know, if everybody is broken, then no one is broken in the way that we tend to think about it. And so, I think when we can recognize that we're all in the state of brokenness, we're all trudging through this thing called life then that's where we can experience this feeling of unbrokenness.
Michael: Truth. I love that. Thank you so much for being here, my friend, Unbroken Nation. Thank you so much for listening.
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Jennifer Kramer is an artist, licensed art therapist, and online coach who helps women overcome the lasting effects of narcissistic abuse so they can redefine their identity and build the confidence to make their daydreams a reality.