6 Art Exercises To Help Boost Self-Esteem (From A Professional Art Therapist)

Katie Oldenburg | September 17, 2014 - 10:00 am

Every day, we’re bombarded with so many ideas about who we should be and how to look and act that we often lose sight of who we truly are. We all struggle with self-acceptance every once in a while, and need to remind ourselves to love who we’ve become. New York-based Creative Arts Therapist Mallory Denison says art can be therapeutic in helping people to become more compassionate with themselves, and ultimately with others. “People who work on tapping into their true, authentic selves may find themselves happier,” she explains. “Connecting inward is an absolutely core exercise for people who want to work on their self-esteem, self-worth, confidence and happiness.” Try one (or all!) of these simple art exercises to tap into the inner “you” and freely express who you are without fear of judgment. Have fun!

1. The Project: Tapping Into Your Inner Child

How To Do It: Choose art materials you feel comfortable with. These could be things you used during art class in elementary school (crayons, markers, colored pencils, glue, etc.). Turn on music that you typically listen to when you’re in a good mood, and maybe even make an art playlist. Before diving into the project, give yourself the permission to create without judgment— you aren’t trying to become the next Picasso; you’re just trying to let out your inner child. Spend 20 minutes playing with the materials. Choose a color you like and start making marks on the paper. After 5 minutes, take a step back and see if any images form and focus on that area to highlight it. Once the 20 minutes is up, flip the paper over and write down a description of your piece, what came up for you during the time you worked on it, and how you felt before and after.

Why It Helps: Allowing yourself to ‘play’ in this exercise will hopefully connect you to the inner child we all have within us. Think about when you were young and were free to imagine and create. There was something carefree about that time and a good reason for that is because we didn’t judge ourselves. Giving ourselves the gift of tapping into that inner child can truly open us up to a world where we feel more comfortable with who we are and express that realness, free of judgment.

2. The Project: Vision Board

How To Do It: You will need the following materials: magazines, scissors, glue, a large piece of paper or poster board, a writing utensil and piece of paper. Take some time to jot down the things that you would like for yourself in the future. Take a look at where you are now and determine what from your current situation would you like to maintain for the future and what you would like to change. Once you’ve placed yourself in this mindset of focusing on your future goals, flip through magazines and select images/words that represent the goals. If you do not have an idea of what you want for yourself for the future that is okay! You can still do this exercise and get a lot out of it. For those of you who do not have specific goals, spend time flipping through magazines and select images and words that stand out to you. You don’t have to understand in the moment why that particular image or word is speaking to you. Begin to compile the images/words on the poster board to create your vision board.

Why It Helps: Just the simple act of taking time out to focus on what you want out of life can relieve some stress. It can allow you to focus on what it is you’re longing for, and what it is you feel you need out of life. Creating the vision board can help you to visually focus on your goals. This exercise is based on the law of attraction, which states that we bring into our lives the things we think about the most, and the board is a daily visual reminder of the things we want for ourselves. By seeing these things, we think about them, and if we believe in the law of attraction, this means we’re more likely to obtain these things. It is also a really great gauge for your progress by saying “this is where I want to be, so what am I doing right now that will help me to get to these goals, and what am I doing that’s hindering me from making these things happen?”

3. The Project: Inner vs. Outer Self Mask Making

How To Do It: Head to a local craft store for supplies. Pick up a couple of blank masks, paint, a glue gun, glue sticks, feathers, beads, flowers, tissue paper, ribbon, and any craft item that appeals to you. Before beginning any project, it is important to focus on what your goals are for the exercise. For this project, you will do this by writing on a piece of paper. Split the paper into 2 columns, one column labeled ‘Inner Self’ and the other labeled ‘Outer Self’. Take some time to think about and write down what characteristics each of these selves has (the inner self is who you are when you are alone, the outer self is what you show to other people in different situations) and what type of emotions these selves feel. Once this is completed, work with the art materials to visually represent the 2 selves. On the inside of the mask (the part that would be placed on your face) decorate that mask in a way to express the inner self. Do the same on the opposite side of the mask and decorate it in a way to represent the outer self or the self you show others.

Why It Helps: This is another form of art that focuses on introspection. It is important to be able to identify what parts of ourselves we show to others and what we keep private. This can lead to further exploration. You can start to think about what it is that keeps you from showing that inner self to people. What people do you feel you share that inner self with and what people do you not. Does your outer self-change in different situations and why? How does it feel to express that outer self vs the inner self? Does one cause more anxiety, does one feel more authentic? Tap into that.

4. The Project: Write a Love Letter to Yourself

How To Do It: This can be done simply with a piece of paper and envelope. If you want to get crafty, you can head to the craft store and pick up nice cardstock and envelopes, add stickers or any other decorations to make it more fun! The important part lies in the words, though. Write a love letter to yourself mentioning all the things you love about yourself. Think about all the things your body & mind does for you. This is not a time to be critical of yourself; it is a time to appreciate all the wonderful things you offer to the world. You can write words of encouragement to yourself for the times when you truly need it.

Why It Helps: We spend so much of our day thinking about what we did wrong or why we’re not good enough, without thinking about how much we have to offer the world. Give yourself credit for being incredible. By writing and reading this letter, you will be taken to a place of compassion and love for yourself. You need to be as loving towards yourself as you are for other people. It’s easy to do nice things for others, but it’s often hard to do nice things for ourselves. You are not alone in that struggle. So take the time out to love yourself with this exercise. Keep it with you so that when you are having a low day, you can remember why you kick ass!

5. The Project: Paint a Self-Portrait

How To Do It: You will need a canvas, paint brushes, paint, a palette or paper plates, water, paper towels, pencil and mirror. Find a comfortable place to sit. Make sure you have a mirror in front of you so that you can see your face. Begin by outlining your head on the canvas with a pencil. This DOES NOT mean to be exact. This is about spending time with yourself, learning the curves of your face, the color of your eyes, the beauty of you and the experience of playing with art materials. Spend some time painting your portrait. Once you have completed your project, again, DO NOT JUDGE. Fighting your inner critic is one of the hardest parts about this specific task! Spend time writing down what the experience was like for you and what you see when you look at the portrait.

Why It Helps: This exercise helps to get you comfortable looking at your reflection. Practicing the act of not judging, but playing with the materials, can help to alleviate some of the critical thoughts we have about ourselves when we look at our reflection. It can be a different experience for people who spend time only critiquing themselves in the mirror and attaching emotion to those critiques. This exercise is more about looking at the face as a set of shapes, lines, and colors and hopefully appreciating the beauty of it instead of immediately finding the ‘flaws’. Having a different experience in front of the mirror gives you the opportunity to have a a different perspective, which after more practice, can hopefully decrease the initial instinct to judge.

6. The Project: Affirmation Cards

How To Do It: You will need blank, unlined index cards, scissors, magazines, writing implements, glue and magazines. Write down affirmations that you like. Here are some examples: ‘I am enough,’ ‘I can do whatever I focus my mind on,’ ‘I am healthy,’ ‘I am creative,’ ‘I believe in myself.’ Take a note card and write down one affirmation. Create an image on each affirmation card that represents that statement for you. You can carry around these cards with you or choose to look at them when you need.

Why It Helps: These daily affirmations can help you to develop a more positive self-esteem. Having positive thoughts about yourself can potentially re-wire the connections in your brain causing you to feel better about yourself. It is important to rework our thoughts. Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) works to adjust thoughts and the behaviors associated with those thoughts. If we change negative thoughts into positive ones, our behaviors will likely follow!

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