Art therapy is a form of treatment where you’re encouraged to process, reflect and express your emotions through drawing, sculpting, collage, or even digital art and photography.
The treatment originates from various fields of psychotherapy, and like every therapy, its purpose is to help you process emotions and heal from mild trauma — in our case, your breakup. (1)
Some of you might squirm at the idea of art therapy. When I proposed this healing modality to clients dealing with the end of their relationship, they often give me a doubtful look.
I get it. Even I didn’t take art therapy seriously at first. I believed that art therapy is just some BS remedy for kids with little to no proof regarding its usefulness. But, after thoroughly researching the subject, my opinion changed drastically. I soon realized that art therapy is a well-documented form of therapy capable of treating all kinds of mental health challenges — anxiety, trauma, grief, depression, and even things like autism or schizophrenia. (2)(3)(4)
hOW TO START
Starting with art therapy is simple. Just take out a piece of paper or a notebook, a few pens, pencils, and follow along with the exercises explained later on.
You can also experiment with art forms such as sculpting, digital art, or photography, but I recommend starting with a simple pen and paper.
Don’t be discouraged from doing the activities if you think you suck at art. The competence of your artistic ability is irrelevant. The whole point of doing art therapy exercises is to relax and express yourself.
And above all, don’t forget to engage in self-reflective questions at the end of specific exercises. They will help you process your breakup pain faster.
sign up and join the adventure!
Along with the fancy weekly newsletter, I’m also going to give you access to 4 exercises that will help you stop obsessing over your ex as soon as you sign up.
1. DRAWING YOUR SAFE SPACE
Draw a place where you feel most comfortable and secure — your sanctuary. This can be a forest, a car, a barn, a shower, a particular room, or just about any place where you feel shielded and safe.
- Why do you feel safe in your safe place?
- What do you think of when you’re drawing your safe place?
- What sensations do you feel in your body when you’re drawing?
- What do you associate with the colors that you’ve used?
- From what exactly is the safe space protecting you?
Let this creation be a reminder of a tiny space that you can always visit either in real life or in your mind when you’re overwhelmed and need to cool off, refocus, and deal with your emotions without any disturbances.
2. DRAWING SOMETHING YOU’RE GOOD AT
Many articles on this site talk about accepting your flaws and dealing with your insecurities. However, there’s not much content that talks about being grateful for the talents or gifts you possess. Therefore let’s make gifts and talents the main focus of this activity.
Remind yourself of something that you know you’re good or skilled at. Be sure it’s also something that you like doing. This can be your ability to make a kickass PowerPoint presentation or the insane creativity and empathy that helps you prosper in your career.
After you’ve selected something that you’re good at and love to do, I want you to draw yourself in the process of doing it. Let your creation be a reminder that there’s also good in you, not just bad.
Extra tip: If you’re competent at the skill you expressed, would you be comfortable teaching it to others? If so, do it. Not only will this help out another person, but it’s also proven that it will make you feel better about your heartbreak.
3. THE COLOR WHEEL
Draw a circle, separate it into sections, and then write what emotion you feel in each of those sections (grief, sadness, anger, hate, contempt, resentfulness, etc.)
The theory behind this exercise goes like this: we can’t deal with our emotions all at once. But if we learn to separate, identify, and name the specific ones we’re feeling, then dealing with them becomes way more manageable.
- What feeling is the most pronounced one (the one you feel the strongest)? Be sure to deal with that one first.
- Did you color the specific sections of the pie chart/wheel? If so, do these colors carry any particular meaning?
- Are there more positive or more negative emotions on average on the wheel? Answering this question gives you an insight into where your emotional life resides – one the positive or negative side, on average.
4. MANAGING ANXIETY, ANGER AND STRESS
Like with the color wheel exercise above, draw another circle and divide it into sections (usually eight or more) until it resembles a pie chart. However, this time, instead of noting the emotions you feel in the sections, write down the activities you need to do when you’re feeling anxious, angry, sad, etc.
5. DRAWING YOUR RELATIONSHIP TIMELINE
This exercise will help you cultivate awareness of how your relationship evolved. When you figure this out, you’ll have a better chance of avoiding the mistakes that led to your breakup in your next relationship.
Draw the timeline or the journey of the significant events you had in your relationship from the start (when you first met your ex) to finish (your breakup).
When you’re done, give each event that you marked on your timeline a score from 1 to 10. A score of 10 translates to the relationship being stress-free and blooming. And a score of 1 refers to an event where your relationship was on the rocks. For example, one even with a score of 10 would be when you first found out that your ex was cheating on you.
6. drawing your future self
When faced with heartbreak, we often flush our previous healthy habits or aspirations down the drain. This art activity will help you reclaim them. It’s comprised of four steps.
Step one: draw yourself. This can be a portrait, a full-body drawing, or whatever you prefer. Just make sure you draw yourself in the middle of the paper, so you still have some whitespace on each side.
Step two: on the left portion of the paper, write down all areas that you want to get better in. Take about 5 minutes of brainstorming. When you’re done, decide on three areas you want to focus on in the following months.
Step three: set a goal in each of those three areas. Be sure it’s time-sensitive and precise. Likewise, watch that you don’t set your goal far-beyond your capabilities or too close to your comfort zone. Make it challenging but not overbearing.
For example: My goal is to get six-packs in the next year.
Step four: shift your attention to the right portion of the paper where you drew yourself. There, write down all the habits you need to create so you reach the goal you set previously. Similar to goals, your habits should be challenging but not overbearing.
For example: I need to go to the gym at least three times a week and do some fasted cardio while at home.
A word of warning: Take it easy. If your goal is to get six-pack abs in a year, but you never stepped in a gym before, don’t try to make it a habit to work out like crazy for five hours each day. Again, take it easy.
Start by going to the gym once every week for an hour or so. When you feel ready, start going twice a week, then three times, four times, and so forth.
Remember: when it comes to habits, it’s all about making incremental, 1% improvements over a long period. It’s at that point that you’ll stay consistent with your habits in the long-haul.
To conclude, be sure to keep track of your daily habits somehow. I do it with an excel spreadsheet, but you can also use a simple pen and paper.
After months of working towards your goals, be sure to refer back to the art piece you made in this activity and cross out the goals you’ve achieved. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t hit any of them.
Counterintuitively, the most important thing is that you’re heading towards your goals, and not necessarily that you reach them. While it’s nice if you do, the whole point of having them is so that they push you in the right direction of growth.
7. DRAWING by a lit candle
This exercise will help you relax and soothe your emotional world. You can do it whenever you’re feeling lonely, angry or have trouble sleeping.
First, find a room you feel comfortable in. It helps if there’s a table in it so you can draw without straining your back. Next, turn off the lights, and light a candle somewhere. Preferably, next to you. And finally, take out a sheet of paper or a notebook and start drawing whatever comes to mind.
You can also experiment by drawing by having your eyes closed. In any case, the point of this nighttime activity is to relax and express whatever comes to mind. It doesn’t matter if that’s a thought, a memory, or a feeling.
- Did drawing by a lit candle contributed to expressing more emotions than usual?
- Are your amplified feelings portrayed in the artwork?
- Did you find this exercise relaxing?
8. DRAWING your breakup
When a relationship ends, people often avoid dealing with their pain and suffering. Instead, they succumb to excessive drinking, gambling, shopping, dating, web browsing, etc. Unsurprisingly, this is the wrong way to handle your breakup — one that only leads to prolonged recovery.
This exercise will help you avoid the trap of distracting yourself from your pain. In it, you will discover how to fully feel your pain, grief, loneliness, and all the other icky feelings that come with heartbreak.
Only by processing, that is, feeling your feelings and letting them out of your system, will help you be able to move on quickly. So let’s start.
I want you to draw your breakup.
It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been dumped or whether you’re the one who called off the relationship. I want you to draw the exact painful moment when it all came crashing down — the moment your relationship ended. Draw how it looked, how it felt, and capture all the event’s intricate, subtle and hellish details.
- Where did your relationship end? In your car, in your home, or through a text message?
- How did you feel before your relationship ended? Did you already know that it’s over? Have you suspected that your ex will leave you? What was your gut telling you?
- How did it all feel in the moment when one of you called it quits?
9. DRAWING letting go
Draw yourself letting go of your ex — whatever that means for you. You can make a picture of yourself gently pushing them away, you can draw yourself being alone and happy, or you can draw an old version of yourself dead on the floor and the other, new version, standing tall and with a smile next to it.
- How does letting go of your ex look like?
- How does it feel like?
- Is it hard to let them go?
- If so, what’s the most challenging part about letting them go?
- What’s the strongest emotion you feel while you draw?
- How do these feelings affect your thoughts?
- How do these thoughts affect your actions and behaviors?
- Can you let go of your ex without hatred, anger, or bitterness? If so, can you also learn to appreciate your time together as well as the hardships you endured till now? If so, how?
10. making response art
You probably have a breakup song, poem, or quote that deeply resonates with you, right?
If it’s a song, begin listening to it, and if it’s a poem or quote, start reading it. As you’re digesting the piece of art of your choosing, begin writing down or drawing how you feel. Keep doing this until you feel it’s enough — until you’ve vented for long enough.
- What words from your song/poem/quote brought up the strongest emotions?
- Why did you pick that particular art piece to respond to?
- How did you feel while performing this activity?
- What were you trying to capture when engaging with the activity?
Feel free to do these exercises as many times as you like. Just remember not to look for some significant meaning in them. The sole reason why you do them is because of their therapeutic effect — they make you feel more at ease and make it easier for you to move on from your ex.