This exercise was introduced to me by my teacher of Social and Developmental Issues in Psychology. It seems to be a common exercise in art therapy, and it’s easy to see why; it can give a very insightful look into one’s interpersonal relationships with other individuals and within social groups.
- a large piece of blank paper
- crayons or markers
1. While keeping in mind the image of an atom, draw a representation of yourself as the nucleus. Think of some of your significant personal connections that you have with other individuals and draw them as particles surrounding you. Make a distinction of how close or far each person is in relation to you. Draw them as they are, not as you wish them to be. The individuals that have the most impact in your life may not be the ones that you value the most, or those who you wish were the closest. It may be someone such as your boss or your doctor who is most present in your life. This piece represents the facts of your interpersonal life, not you desires.
2. Flip the paper over and draw a representation of the significant social groups that you belong to. Now, draw yourself in relation to each group. Indicate where you feel you fit into each one; how close or distant you feel to each social identity.
3. Reflect on the two pieces.
a) In the first drawing, which represents your individual connections, do you see people around you that you don’t want to be so close? Are there some people who you would like to bring in closer? Who you thought may be in the forefront could actually be more distant than you initially thought.
Consider the possible factors or conditions which influence the proximity of influential individuals in your life. These factors may include:
- stage of life
- occupation or profession
- family situation
- sexual orientation
- belief systems (religious, spiritual, political)
- socio-economic status
- interests (hobbies and leisure activities)
- school or education
b) In the second drawing ask yourself if there are social groups in which you would prefer to be closer to the centre? Are there groups in which you would rather be more on the periphery? Are there groups your would rather not be in at all?
Are there any social groups that overlap? Do you merge or integrate your social identities or do you keep each one separate?
In the first drawing, I noticed that those who I hold closer or who I want to be closer, are the individuals who I have multifaceted relationships with; those in my life who I relate to on many levels, sharing similar values and more than one shared passion. With people who I share only one interest or activity, I find it difficult to have enough depth with them, and I seem to let them drift further away. Since it takes energy to maintain relationships, I have been trying to put energy into those that nourish me the most.
When I was making the second drawing, I realized that I used to keep my social circles very separate, and I felt like a different person in each group. As I have become more comfortable in my own skin, I have started to overlap my circles and connect my relationships. When I decided to have more integrity in the world, I saw that putting up walls of separation and protecting my individual identities didn’t serve me well; that to be more grounded in my being, I had to be more consistent in how I am in the various worlds around me. For me, it’s important to integrate the individual pockets of my life into a more cohesive whole and for my expression to be similar in all situations.
Everyone has a different style of living. I found my style, and although I am still working on creating cohesion in life, my efforts so far seem to be serving me well; life feels more efficient the more integrated and less private I am with my various worlds. I don’t think everyone feels the need to have this integration; for some people there may be more benefit in keeping their worlds separate. It’s all personal style and what works for everyone is different. There is value in reflecting on this and becoming more aware of how we are impacted by the various factors in our lives, to know what we need and to stand gracefully in that.
Image: Michelle Leela Grace