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How Broken Becomes Beautiful

0603598001654365428.jpgFor as long as I can remember, I've loved mosaics. Until my hands stopped working the way I needed them to work, creating small mosaic pieces was a hobby of mine.

When I still had my psychotherapy practice, I kept a few of these small pieces on the bookshelves in my office as a visual reminder (to myself and my clients) that broken pieces can become something beautiful.

I think I like quilts for a similar reason, especially the kind of quilts that have been created out of scraps of fabric or old clothing. It's a beautiful thing to see the incredible patterns that have been created from scraps of fabric that might otherwise have been discarded.

Quilts, of course, have been created as much from necessity as they have been for show, but even those created out of necessity are creative works of art -- or at least I have never seen one that was otherwise.

So something that mosaics and quilts have in common is that they involve creative processes that begin with a collection of pieces and are arranged into a whole artistic product. Simple, perhaps, but not easy work.

All of us have broken pieces. It's part of the human condition. No one is immune. It's what we do with those broken pieces that makes all the difference. And I think the process for us is similar to the process for mosaic artists and quilters. The process involves:

  • Finding and collecting the broken pieces
  • Sorting them out and creating a new pattern
  • Understanding that we sometimes need help
  • Celebrating the beautiful result

Finding and Collecting the Broken Pieces 

This may sound like a "no-brainer," but the truth is, we are sometimes very good at hiding our broken pieces. Sometimes we even try to hide them from ourselves. Whether the pieces are conscious shortcomings or failures, emotional abuse, physical or sexual abuse, or other types of psychological trauma, humans have a strong tendency toward trying to hide these painful things away. We may even consciously decide to "not think about them anymore" in the hope that they will eventually "go away." The problem with this strategy is -- it doesn't work!

This is what happens when we tell ourselves "don't think about white bears"!

The classic example I've used with many folks over the years is Dr. Daniel Wegner's "white bear syndrome" of0769299001654365505.jpg attempted thought suppression. The short version is -- if you tell yourself to not think about white bears for a period of time, you are actually more likely to think about white bears! This is especially true for painful thoughts and memories.

Wegner suggested several strategies for dealing with white bear syndrome, such as making a conscious choice to focus on something else (similar to changing negative self-talk), "scheduling" a time to focus on the troubling thought, using meditation and mindfulness techniques, and exposure. It is the last strategy -- exposure -- that is often a critical part of finding and collecting the broken pieces within ourselves.

I've heard it said many times (by many people) that when you can name the pain/demon/memory/thought, it loses its power over you. I think there is some truth in that statement. I think the power in naming "it" is that the "it" becomes a separate thing and, therefore, not us


I think when we begin to name "it" and think of it as apart from ourselves, we can begin to make a shift from "something is wrong with me" to "something happened to me." This is a huge difference. It helps us gradually come to understand that although these things have affected us, they do not have to define us. They are only part of our story. We find them and collect them through writing, journaling, music, dance, visual art, or therapeutic conversation. 

Sorting Them Out and Creating a New Pattern

 Once we've found and collected the broken pieces, we can begin to sort them out by asking: What seems to fit together? What seems different? What do I want to keep? What do I want to let go? 

This is a process of deconstruction -- of taking the pieces apart, no longer accepting what the presence of these broken pieces has meant to us (that we're ugly, weird, stupid, clumsy, awkward, helpless, hopeless, or any of a thousand other hurtful things we've said to ourselves or have had others say about us.

When the broken pieces are deconstructed, we then have a choice about how they are reconstructed. We give0050424001654365778.jpgourselves permission to be the authors/creators of our own stories, we change our thinking and our language from changing words like "victim" to "survivor," from "powerless" and "weak" to "empowered" and "strong." 

It's an amazing thing to experience this kind of deconstruction and reconstruction. I have been blessed to have had that experience. It is also been a deep, sacred honor to observe it in others -- clients, yes, but also family and friends.

Regardless of who or what may have shaped our stories in the beginning, deconstruction and reconstruction of the broken pieces are ways for us to decide how our stories will proceed and to discover what wonders and possibilities a new story/pattern holds.

Understanding That We Sometimes Need Help

I have known folks who have experienced deep personal growth without going to therapy, but they have been rare. I think everyone -- yes, everyone -- can benefit from a course of psychotherapy with the right therapist. I also think that individuals who want to become therapists do themselves -- and their future clients -- a great disservice if they don't experience psychotherapy (as a client) themselves. Time and time again, studies have found that it is the relationship between the client and the therapist is the best predictor of a helpful therapy experience, regardless of what the therapist's theoretical orientation may be (for example, cognitive-behavioral, psychodynamic, etc.). I believe that this is because the broken pieces in our lives and ourselves always occur in relationship and, therefore, must also heal in relationship. 0689790001654365846.jpgIn his book, Why Therapy Works, Louis Cozolino, explains both the psychological and biological processes that create the broken pieces of our lives and also the healing that is also possible in a good therapeutic relationship. His exploration includes things like attachment in intimate relationships, shame, trauma, and "Those Things We Don't Remember Yet Never Forget" (the title of chapter 5). This is a great book for anyone considering therapy as a client or as a therapist. The thing is, regardless of how independent we think we are (and may be on a day-to-day basis), none of us gets through this life alone. We need an other -- that's not a typo -- we need someone other than ourselves to bear witness to our lives, our broken pieces, and our healing.

Psychotherapy is definitely not the only possible healing relationship, however. Other professionals, such as spiritual directors, shamans, and other professionals can provide healing relationships if they have received some training and experience in what I call holy listening. Unfortunately, not even all therapists have been trained or understand the dynamics that must be present in a healing relationship.  

A relationship with a loving partner or friend can also be healing. Such close personal relationships are not appropriate0693372001654365921.jpgfor treating any kind of mental disorder (like depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, trauma, substance abuse, etc.), of course, BUT healthy, loving relationships can make a huge difference in an individual's healing. The healthy dynamics of such relationships are very effectively explored in M. Scott Peck's best-selling book, The Road Less Traveled (25th Edition): A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values, and Spiritual Growth.

Celebrating the Beautiful

The importance of healthy, loving relationships continues in an individual's life whether they choose to engage in psychotherapy or not because long after therapy has ended, it will be the healthy relationships with friends and family that will ultimately celebrate a loved one's healing in the lives they share.

0809689001654366003.jpgI think Julia Cameron's runaway best-seller, The Artist's Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity, and its companion book, The Artist's Way Workbook are often initially misunderstood by those who think these books are only for folks who write, draw, paint, or play music. Nothing could be further from the truth! These books are great tools for anyone who longs to develop or deepen their individual passion for creative self-expression. That's why I think they're such great tools for celebrating the new "beautiful" once you've found it and nurtured it within yourself.

By attending to your needs for creative self-expression -- in whatever ways you choose, you can learn to nurture the "beautiful" you've discovered within yourself and finding within it the power 0792448001654366043.jpgto protect the newly healed broken pieces and cultivate a sense of abundance. Whether or not your chosen type of creative self-expression (art) is one that becomes something enjoyed and valued by others, what an incredible gift to give yourself!

Sharing details of your journey from broken to beautiful may feel too personal to share, but if you wish to share some of the highlights or things that were helpful to you along the way, you may help a fellow traveler in ways you may never know.

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