Creative Therapeutic Writing

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                            buildings of the future

Shifting Boundaries

a cluster of trees used as a boundary  (Old Breton)

When words emerge from inside my head onto screen or paper, they cross a boundary from inner self to outer world to make themselves visible. This blog uses mainly the unbounded form of free writing (see Blog 4) to explore some personal impressions of my own sense of boundaries.

Free-writing by its very nature is without the boundaries of formal writing and considered editing of prose or poems. When I free-write, I value a feeling of freedom within myself. Rather appropriate and paradoxical that this style of writing helped me know my boundaries better.

The OED defines boundaries in terms of ‘limits’ and ‘dividing lines’. A series of short limited journal extracts follow separated with explanatory headings.

Fixed Boundaries

Real walls don’t move – they are built of materials such as mud, stones or bricks, cement too. For thousands of years, they have provided dwellings for humans, for animals and given shelter from heat or cold.

When I look for boundaries I see them everywhere: walls, fences, railings, roof-tops, high rise flats, hedges and lines of trees. All around us in cities, towns and the country-side.

Personal Boundaries

My own boundary is rooted in the sense of myself as a person. My exploratory writing, however, has challenged an assumption that boundaries are definite and static. I discovered, only through writing, that my own boundaries are flexible and often on the move.

Here’s a question I set myself – the answer doesn’t deal with boundaries of time and space, but is more to do with the quality of self and relationship:

Why are boundaries important?

They make me aware of my individuality, more so now having lived alone for six years and being older. I feel defined with a sense of separateness. It has not always been so.

When I am with others I look for edges where I may meet and engage, usually in conversation and empathy. The image of iron filings comes to mind – thinking of the attraction and distances – within the field of energy between me and another person.

I value my personal space and the chameleon like quality my boundaries have depending on how I feel, my needs and responses in the moment and whose company I’m sharing. All of these are invisible indicators to me of the varying qualities of relationship.

Fixed & Permeable Boundaries

This is what I wrote in 2012:

Everything under the sun is on the move; the earth orbits on itself and around this massive ball of exploding gases held in shape through the force of gravity. The air in the atmosphere moves through our bodies as millions of cells inside us are constantly replacing themselves. Yet defining boundaries and the limit of things is what we humans do to the land, to our dwellings, to each other and to ourselves.

Gems in the Scribbles

Rambling free-writes from three or four years ago often gave me insights – like this gem:

It is the boundary between comfort and discomfort in my inner emotional life that I cross when I write in my own creative therapeutic way.

The Comfort & Discomfort Zones

Diary writing is triggered when I’m at my least comfortable – probably ambivalent, angry or upset – or possibly a combination of all three. When I start to feel uncomfortable, I may not be able to express myself in the moment. Sometimes it’s a slow dawning. Or the timing isn’t right. If my writing doesn’t resolve the issue or doesn’t make me feel better, I’ll give myself the boundary of a time limit and return another day.

Often this sort of writing may need a couple of stabs before comfort is reached again. The idea of discomfort stabbing the self may be apt as writing pierces through confusion to find clarity.

Here’s how I dealt with an uncomfortable feeling after seeing a friend:

As I wrote I put brackets around the friend’s name to match my cross feelings. That separated her out from me. I might have chosen to send a letter or e-mail. I chose neither. Although I said I’d be speaking or writing soon, I neither wrote nor telephoned. I later wrote an unsent letter (written in my diary but not sent). In staying silent, I locked her out, showed my passive disapproval – if only to myself.

Writing Life & Emotional Boundaries

Buried in one of my previous long free-writes (2011) was another gem of a sentence, which stopped me in my tracks:

In my personal writing I have no boundaries, which is why I need to do it.

I needed to know exactly what I meant and posed myself two questions:

What does having no boundaries in my personal writing give me?
Why do I need to write?

Here’s the answer:

It answers the creative source inside me. Creativity bubbles up whether from within or without when I am feeling open in mind and feelings. I am truly creative when I am receptive to what wants to come into and through my writing without form. Form in terms of style or working on a piece until it is satisfying crosses into another part of me (wearing the editor’s hat) and I love that too. I love all aspects of writing. But in order to do it, I must be boundary-less within myself. That’s what I experience.

When I first started to explore boundaries through writing about four years ago I quickly realised it’s a complex subject. I had made an assumption that I had no real sense of boundaries. Writing, however, made me see pretty quickly I had a good sense of my own personal boundaries. The writing at the time reflected emotions and explorations flowing every-which-way which I interpreted as a boundary-less place within.

As I write this blog, reassessing what I think and feel, I realise that my sense of inner boundaries has changed and firmed up quite considerably. Shifted in fact. There was a time when exploration was key to my writing. That time is not now. I’m following another direction. There are times for exploration and times for consolidation. Times for explanations. Times for pauses. Limits to the best of things like experiential and exploratory writing.

My current purpose is working with the material already written and explored to explain its power and effectiveness and bring it up to date. That in itself gives me a sense of the boundary I bring to this current blog writing.

ⓒ Monica Suswin 2015

Writing Exercises:
How are boundaries important to you?
What is the link between your writing and your internalised boundaries?

Please do make a comment. Thank you.

Notes:
Skeat, W. (1893) An Etymological Dictionary of the English Language. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Extracts: Shifting Boundaries (Chapter 5 – book ms.)

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6 thoughts on “Creative Therapeutic Writing

  1. Thanks for sharing your reflections, Monica, I found them very thought-stiumaing.
    I find it fascinating that boundaries are not static, that they can and do move: having been in my friend’s flat on the 18th floor of a Hackney tower block and feeling it moving; having seen trees growing through barbed wire and forcing the fence line to move outwards or inwards; having seen Germany re-united above and across a wall. And like you said my own boundaries are moving and my sense of myself as a person, the point (does it exist – or am I making it up, drawing an invisible line?) of where self ends and something other begins is shifting…
    When I think about boundaries in personal writing Sanchita Islam’s art (http://www.pigmentexplosion.com/site/) comes to mind which is also always an expression of deeply felt emotions and journeys. She says about her scrolls (which I find stunningly beautiful and very touching) that having found a way of writing in the tiniest possible hand-writing means not only she could fit a lot of her emotional journey onto the scroll but also didn’t feel the need to censor herself because she knew it was un-decipherable for others.
    I mostly write in English which isn’t my first language and sometimes feels greatly liberating – I’m probably less aware of potentially limiting norms and conventions than a native writer. But I’m still not sure that I can easily get to a place of total no-boundary, total freedom. I think there’s often just some little directives or correctives sneaking in; however I know that the more I write the less tight these feel, the less I feel bound by them, the more I relax into my inner voice and detect the intruders – so maybe there is a point of shutting them up entirely?!

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  2. Thank you Petra for your thoughts. I have found too that boundaries beyond the obvious ones in the material world may have a different emphasis and meaning to different people. And since all my writing about this some years ago when I thought of boundaries as a pejorative term, I now see how useful my own inner and outer personal boundaries can be. They are not restrictive for me but protective. So I think there is a distinction between boundaries that inhibit freedom and boundaries which are there for a reason: maybe safety.

    I couldn’t find the link to the scroll writing on the artist’s web-site. Could you possibly give the url, please? Thanks

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  3. Charlotte Williams says:

    For me, writing is often from my private world, my non public, non social world. I destroy this kind of writing as I do not want it read. There is a boundary I cross when I write for anyone else to see. This becomes my public face. In your workshops Monica I travel between my private and public worlds – I go back and forth and make bigger or smaller incursions according to the trust I feel at that time, or the amount of daring I wish to experiment with.

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  4. Thank you Charlotte for making that link between trust, boundaries, your writing and daring too. That really shows how boundaries shift around according to how you move between your private and public self.

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  5. I feel that I want to push against and through my inner boundaries but I don’t know how. Somehow I still want to break free, but I’m not sure from what
    Thank you for that thought provoking piece.
    See my writing at:
    gramswisewords.blogspot.com

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  6. Thank you Maz for making a comment. I do appreciate responses very much. Here’s a suggestion if you’d like to try writing from these prompts to find out more about the purpose of your inner boundaries:

    a) imagine this boundary as a thing or an object and describe it as fully as you can sticking to only how you see it visually in your mind’s eye.

    b) write to it either in letter form or a dialogue using the phrases you’ve used above ie: I want to push against you / I want to break free from you …..

    c) give your boundary image an ‘I’ Voice to reply to you either in letter form or dialogue

    d) if any of that doesn’t make sense scroll through my previous blogs to get more of an idea of how I write like this when I want to find out about something abstract in myself

    e) if you want to make contact with me or run into stuckness my e-mail is on the contact page of my cabin on the hill web-site – there should be a button at the top of the blog page

    I hope this might be helpful
    best wishes
    Monica

    ps: respect your boundaries and find out why they are there before you dismantle them!

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