Using Creativity & Compassion to Uncover Yourself

Carefully listening to yourself allows you to hear the words you have taken on to define and confine your life. The words that create the story you consider your life.

How do you describe yourself? What story do you tell? A story of struggle, of victimization, of emptiness, fear, or boredom? A story of feeling put-upon, misunderstood, discriminated against, being unloved? A story of over-coming challenges, resilience, love, and joy? What do you believe about yourself? 


Under and behind those words is a self  who may feel lost or empty or clueless. In those words, is a self that may be completely defined by other peopleís needs and wants.

You may actually discover your true self only by feeling between the lines. 

Is your present life in contrast to your past life? Or are the patterns: I always end up with men like that; I am unlucky; I canít keep a job; I usually quit my jobs because I canít stand my co-workers after a few months; I have always been overweight; I canít make a commitment; I never keep friends for long.....  repeated endlessly? Do you believe you are this person whose feeble story you re-count?

Can you see evolution in your life? Are you more in touch now? A bit braver, more independent, more at ease? Congratulations! Or is today more of the same, with no sign of improvement in the future? You are not trapped. The human mind and heart are marvelous and powerful. You can change!

Since we so often use words to define ourselves and to obscure true emotions, reaching past language into feeling and action may be uncomfortable at first.

You will probably feel MUCH WORSE for a period of time as you discover the words you use to create the feelings that define yourself and your life. 

Be prepared to feel discouraged and tired at first. This is hard work and requires a remarkable amount of energy. Be kind to yourself. This is where to practice compassion. Feel loving kindness toward yourself. Be non-judgmental.

We live in a quick-fix-instant-gratification society. You need to throw a way the calendar when it comes to making these profound changes. Think of all the years you have practiced one way of talking and feeling. You canít expect to undo this in six weeks. 

Belief systems are intertwined and hard to untangle, especially if you are tired and over-committed. If you canít figure out how to slow down, it will take even longer to change. 

Pay close attention to your self talk.

Be creative about how you do this. Maybe you can carry a pad of paper and jot things down. Maybe finger-paint the words. Perhaps scratch them in wet clay. Embroider them! Spray paint them on plywood. Make one of those macaroni and bean pictures that we considered art in the second grade. Get those words and negative self-beliefs out in the open where you can fight back.

And then, one word, one phrase, one feeling at a time, re-write your story.  


Take a belief phrase, for example: I canít learn how to use computers. 

Start with a non-threatening belief at first. You need to practice, not scare yourself to death!

OK, the words are out in the open.  

Is it important to know exactly why you believe this? I donít think so. Often we spend lots of time in the intellectual exercise of chasing down demons. The net result is that we catch the demon and then really own the darn thing! You want to vaporize the demon, not own it. 

There are many versions of this story often told by Zen Buddhists:

A man was gathering wood and suddenly a rogue samurai jumped out in front of him, bow and arrow drawn, ready to rob and kill him. Is this the moment for our woodsman, who believes that one should always give the benefit of the doubt to everyone, to think about the family and career circumstances that drove the warrior to take up the unseemly life of a robber? The most prudent course would be for the woodsman to duck as the arrow flew, not analyze why the arrow was heading toward his heart.

But we are children of a mechanistic, cause and effect culture. Why. Why. Why. Explain and complain!

Although knowing the origin of this belief might interest your head, it is of no interest to your heart. The fact you doubt your abilities to accomplish something that grade school children can learn (using a computer) is sufficient information. 


Our woodsman, in his effort to grant the benefit of the doubt to his attacker, may end up impaled on an arrow.

Your belief about using a computer may have a variety of outcomes. You miss out on emailing your grandmother in ThreeTimeZonesAwayVille. You might be stuck in a low-paying job because you are afraid to try something new. You might not be able to start that home-based business you have dreamt about.

Each belief has consequences.  

Look at the consequences. Are you willing to live with them? 

If yes, then simply change your statement/belief: I chose not to learn how to use computers. Instead of limiting yourself by the passive canít, make it an active, chose not to. This frees you up to chose a different option later. 

Letís take another example: Someone offers to give you a ride home. She knows you have trouble with your knees. The two of you have spoken about it often. She says, OK, weíll meet at 9:00.

Oh, by the way, I am on the third level of the parking garage and the elevators are broken.

You think: I canít walk up three flights of steps, she knows that! She must not really want to take me home! No one understands what itís like to have pain like this all the time.

 So you fall into your martyred, physically-impaired person life story: Thatís OK. I will just take a cab home, in your best huffy voice. 

And you walk away. Feeling how? Pissed off, martyred, rejectedÖ..? And she is left confused and unlikely to offer a ride again. Because even though you have spoken about YOUR knees often, they arenít in the forefront of her mind. She offered the ride as a kindness. It never occurred to her that the three flights of stairs would be a problem. 

Guess what: no one is as involved in your life problems as you are.

Of course, you could have spoken up instead of wallowing in self-pity! Can I meet you at the entrance of the garage because my knees canít handle the steps.

 So you pay for a cab, alienate a kind person, AND get to feel sorry for yourself. An eventful evening to be sure.


Most of us have subjects we get stuck on. Canít get it out of my head. 

Over and over we chew our cud of unhappiness. We answer the phone every time our worn-out belief system calls. AND we take the message!!

For short-term, acute repetition, you can try distracting yourself. Interrupting yourself and your word flow is a reasonable short-run solution. If you begin thinking, I hate job interviews because I always screw up, as you leave your driveway and the phrase echoes, builds, maybe even gets more elaborateÖ.I am not really capable of doing any job with real responsibilitiesÖ.STOP IT!

Do this in any number of ways: maybe by yelling STOP every time your phrase starts over Ė of course, do pay attention to your driving. 

Maybe you write STOP IT in red letters on a dozen Post-It notes and stick them on your dashboard. Schedule a time (after the job interview) to feel inadequate, but donít let yourself feel bad before the interview.

The STOP IT approach is not the best one. In the long run, simply stopping a thought doesnít re-craft it. It delays it. But it will be back unless you de-construct it. Take it apart and dispute it point by point. Analyze it. Do you screw up job interviews because you donít really want the job? Maybe you really need to think about a different career.

Maybe you just think you screw up interviews. You might not be the most qualified person interviewed. Just because you donít get the job doesnít mean you make mistakes in the interview.

Maybe you need to feel more prepared. So, do some research on interviewing and on the company. Maybe you donít really want to work! 

All of this leads to a different statement than the pessimistic: Because I always screw up.

 You need to re-state so you can make a choice and a plan.

Take a look at the FACTS. FACTS are not your beliefs. 


Make a plan based on facts. Learn to give up the words OUGHT, SHOULD, CANíT, ALWAYS and NEVER. They are traps that hold you to beliefs which have grown out of long ago, worn out patterns of behavior and language. These keep out of date, life-crippling lines cycling endlessly.

Your plan can grow out of the answers to these questions:

  • Whatís important to you? 

  • What do you want?

  • What resources do you have that can contribute to successful change?

  • What support do you have from others that contribute to successful change?

  •  How are you going to make it happen?

Copyright 2003
Constance Lee Menefee
Cincinnati, Ohio