Peace Treaty: A Dialogue Between the Critical Voice and the Creative Voice
By Beatriz Martinez Barrio
To soften the power of the critical voice and to allow creative energy to express its needs and desires.
When there is a creative blockage, there is usually an internal fight between a part of ourselves that wants to create (our creative force or inner child) and a part of us that prevents us from doing so (our critical voice or self-saboteur). In this exercise, clients are guided to connect with these two forces, name them, draw them and make them engage in dialogue. The aim is to create a peace treaty that ends the internal fight and encourages small creative actions.
Crayons (or any other drawing material), pen and paper.
Step 1. Make a list of the messages that your critical voice tells you. Try to be as exhaustive as possible and include all the critical beliefs that you tell yourself regarding your creative work and your self-image as an artist, e.g. “You don’t have real talent,” “Your work is boring,” “You are too old to succeed”, etc.
Step 2. Make a caricature drawing of your critical voice and name it. Try to picture the energy of this character and how it talks. Is it a dictator, a cynic, a tyrant, a sneak, a Machiavellian character? What color or colors do you associate with it? The drawing can be just an abstract shape that depicts the energy or any type of character drawing (male, female, animal, cartoon, fantasy). No drawing skills are required, a doodle or a childlike drawing are both welcome. Have fun doing it! Once you have finished, find a name for the character and write it on the drawing.
Step 3. Connect with your creative force and draw it. Try to picture a time when you felt totally immersed in a creative project. How did it feel? Find some adjectives that describe this energy. What color or colors do you associate with it? What shape? Make a drawing following the same instructions from step two, name the character, and write it on the drawing.
Step 4. Incarnate the energy of your creative force by using your non-dominant hand to answer back, one by one, the messages listed on your list of “messages from your critical voice.” The technique of using the non-dominant hand has been explored extensively by many therapists and has been proven to be an excellent tool to connect with our subconscious, our interior voice and our inner child. In this exercise, we are using it to represent our creative force.
Let yourself be surprised by what your non-dominant hand writes, almost as if it didn’t belong to you. It usually has its own personality and a very direct way of expressing itself. For example, in answer to the belief of the inner critic, “You don’t have real talent,” a non-dominant hand might respond, “What is real talent? I do have talent. It is you, who can’t see it!”
Step 5. Place the two drawings next to your working space. When your inner critic gets activated, think of it as a character and use the energy and the list of answers from the creative force to counteract its messages.
In Session or as Homework
The exercise can be used in a one-to-one session or in a group session.
Things to be considered: sometimes writing with the non-dominant hand can create feelings of stress and frustration since it puts us in contact with our own clumsiness. It can bring up memories from childhood lessons and make subconscious content emerge. It is important to advise clients that there is not a “right way” to write with the non-dominant hand and that any sorts of letters are welcome, even if they are illegible. Each person should find their own rhythm and take breaks in between if needed.
Warm-up exercises are recommended, especially if it is a person’s first time writing with their non-dominant hand.
Gentle massage. First the right hand massages the left hand and then the left hand massages the right hand, in an effort to bring awareness of the differences between both hands.
Doodling. Alternate drawing doodles with one hand and then the other.
Symmetrical drawing. With a pen in each hand, try to make a symmetrical drawing using both hands at the same time.
Writing your name. Write your name 5 times using your non-dominant hand.
Adaptation for Home Use
An interesting variation of this exercise is to hold a dialogue between both hands. Any of the characters can start the dialogue. Once you’ve written a sentence with one hand, switch the pen to the other hand (you can also use a different color or different pen for each hand) and allow yourself a couple of seconds to connect with the energy of the other hand before answering. The dialogue can start as a simply as “Hello, how are you today?” or it can be related to a creative block, a feeling, a thought, etc., for instance, “I’m feeling insecure about my new paintings. Why?”
The process of making a caricature of the inner critic is usually quite liberating. It helps to create some distance from the character, to not take it too seriously and to approach it with a sense of humor.
The dialogue between two hands can be enlightening. Here is a short example of a dialogue from a client session:
R.H. (Right Hand): Hello, how are you?
L.H. (Left Hand): Weird. I feel clumsy. I want to write faster and nicer but I can’t.
R.H: Does it bother you that I write faster and better than you?
L.H: Yes!!! It does. It bothers me to be compared to you all the time.
R.H: I do it to help you grow.
L.H: Well, it doesn’t help. It makes me angry.
R.H: Oh! I didn’t know that. Sorry! How can I help?
L.H: Stop putting pressure on me and accept that I have a different rhythm. It is OK to be slow!!!!
After this dialogue, the client realized there was nothing wrong with his own rhythm of creation, which was maybe “slower” than the demands of his inner critic. He made a drawing of his left hand and placed it next to his work space. Every time he looked at it, it reminded him that it was okay to work more slowly.
About Beatriz Martinez Barrio
Beatriz Martínez Barrio is a visual artist and art therapist based in Madrid, Spain. She uses art as an introspective and healing tool to help people reconnect with their own source of creativity and wisdom. She specializes in creative processes that involve the use of photography and video. For more than a decade, she has been coordinating the Master of Photography course at EFTI School of Photography in Madrid, where she helps students find their strengths in the visual languages. She also uses photography and art in her private art therapy sessions and creative workshops. She collaborates as a professor in various art therapy schools in Madrid. For more information, visit www.beatrizmbarrio.com