If you’re not a very self-analytical person, you may not be fluent in discerning your emotions. And even if you are, you may not always be able to break through an emotional block. I’m going to show you a quick exercise that you can do to help push through blocked emotions.
- Sturdy crayons
- A few pieces of paper
Get Those Emotions Out
Lay out your crayons and paper on a hard surface. Grab whatever color you want, don’t think about it.
Now scribble on the page like crazy. Scribble hard.
You might break a crayon or two.
Change colors if you want, or stay with the same color. It doesn’t matter. Just scribble until you think you’re done, and then scribble for another minute beyond that.
Scribble on top of previously laid color, or move to a blank space. Do what feels natural, don’t let your brain get involved. Just scribble.
A Variation to Get Emotions Out
Here’s a variation I did with one of my sons after my divorce. He was still a toddler and didn’t like to talk. I drew a smiley face on paper for each person in the family and put their name underneath it. I let him choose a color, or colors, and just scribble his feelings on each face.
When he was done, I asked him how he felt about each person and he started expressing his feelings through words. He refused to do so before the scribbling exercise and then suddenly was able to afterward.
You could do a similar exercise if you’re feeling negative emotions toward someone. Draw a simple face on the page and scribble the feelings your experiencing all over the page. You don’t have to label it if you’re afraid someone might see it. Just color those feelings onto the page. Tear it up when you’re done, if you want. The point is to get emotions out on paper, not to create a masterpiece or even anything to share with others.
I’m not saying this is a cure all. But it’s a powerful yet simple way to get some of your feelings outside of you, so they are not wreaking havoc inside of you.
My First Experience Getting Emotions Out by Coloring
Here is a section from my book “The Love Yourself Dare” where I was taught this same exercise by a friend many years ago.
Partial Chapter from “The Love Yourself Dare”
It is my birthday today and it’s been a relatively peaceful morning. I had some great breakthroughs about safety and fear while journaling this morning. My dear friend Anna, who has helped me through so much, stops by with a little gift and Happy Birthday wishes. Small talk turns to deep talk and I start crying. She immediately steps into a healer role.
“Do you have any fat crayons?” She asks.
I wrinkle my brow, puzzled by her question. “No. I have some regular crayons though.”
“Okay, those will do, but next time you’re at the store buy some fat crayons, they hold up better for this.”
I rise from the couch to get the crayons, wondering what she could possibly need them for.
“And grab a notebook or paper, too,” she adds as I ascend the stairs.
A few minutes later, I return with the supplies. At her direction, I choose a color, puke green. I start scribbling hard on the page.
“Harder,” she instructs. “Scribble harder.” I do so, feeling a little foolish; then the crayon snaps. “That’s good,” she says. “Keep going.”
We do this for several minutes and with several colors, then look at my creations. They are ugly.
“All this was inside of you,” she says, pointing to the page. I shudder at the black color covering the page. “Now that the emotion is outside of you the words can come out. What do you feel?”
I think for a moment, “Fear.”
“What are you afraid of?” She asks.
“Failure of what?”
My eyes begin to sting with tears.
“I fear the failure of the most important and sacred of commitments I’ve ever made,” I swallow hard. “Divorce is proof of that failure.”
We are both quiet while I digest the depth of my fears and what they mean to me.
“What else?” She asks slowly.
“I feel unworthy.”
“Unconditional love.” I try and hold back the dam of tears I feel behind my eyes. “So many people have stepped up over these last few months and served me and my family in ways I can never repay. I don’t deserve such kindness. “
“Why not?” She looks truly concerned.
I am silent, swallowing hard to prevent the sobs pressing for escape. She waits for my response. “I believe . . . ,” my voice breaks. “I believe I have to be perfect to deserve such kindness.”
“Ahhh,” she says. “Do you know that you are worthy and beautiful?”
I shake my head back and forth in disagreement.
“I want you to do something,” she says as she stands. “I want you to visualize yourself cutting away the lies that you are hiding behind and step forward into the truth.” She takes my hand, raising me to my feet and then guides me forward through symbolic steps as she speaks. I instantly recoil from the exercise as Matt steps through the front door. Anna acts as if nothing has changed, as if we are still alone. She says, “I want you to repeat after me. I am glorious and beautiful.”
I cannot say it. It would have been hard enough saying it without Matt in the adjacent kitchen, but knowing he is there and can hear us, and knowing that he doesn’t believe those things about me, leaves me speechless.
“Repeat after me,” Anna coaxes again.
I shake my head in protest. How can I say such things within earshot of the man who did so much to nourish my negative beliefs?
“I can’t do it,” I whisper. I feel like my voice box is surrounded by an invisible cage.
“You’ve got to do this,” Anna says insistently with tears in her eyes.
“I can’t,” I whisper again, tears streaming down my face.
“You’ve got to, or you’ll never be free,” she insists.
I stand frozen for what seems like an eternity.
“I am glorious and beautiful,” I whisper, without a drop of conviction in my voice.
She nods, “Louder.”
I repeat the words, still no conviction.
“Again,” she directs.
I muster some conviction and try again; we both know I am holding back.
“Jennifer, when you truly believe this, when you truly love yourself, people will see it. You will be free to truly love them, and this will give them permission to love themselves.”
She leaves and I know in my heart that I am the only obstacle standing in my way of happiness, not Matt, not my circumstances, just me.
Does Coloring Out Emotions Work?
After reading this chapter you might think the exercise didn’t work. I wasn’t able to say what my friend wanted me to say. But I was, after coloring, able to express the emotion of fear and even define what I was afraid of–failure in my marriage. To me it was an effective exercise. Like I said, it won’t cure all, but it can help get things moving.
This Week’s Challenge
Take time this week to give coloring out emotions a try! Journal your results. Was it an effective exercise for you? If so, add it to your arsenal self-care tools. If not, try it again on another emotion and see if it’s helpful. Different tools may be more effective for different situations.