I read this article in the Guardian, it was about how to silence negative thinking. The article talks about visualising the negative thoughts and giving them an identity by imagining what kind of person they would be. Doing this externalises the thoughts, separating them from yourself. This approach is not dissimilar to the practice in Acceptance Commitment Therapy of visualising unproductive thoughts (those that are not serving you well or helping you achieve your goals) and then reimagining them before accepting them again.
The writer advocates drawing this character, reminding you that you don’t have to be good at drawing. In my experience most people don’t want to draw, regardless of whether they’re told it doesn’t matter what it looks like or not. However, if you are affected by unproductive, self-inhibiting thoughts then being able to use the process of external visualisation is an effective way of counteracting them. Magazine picture collage provides an alternative approach that overcomes the reticence to draw.
I worked with a client who knew she had tendencies towards perfectionism which stopped her doing certain things because she always thought they wouldn’t be good enough. She had used the Daleks (bottom left) as a metaphor for these thoughts because of the way they repeated ‘Exterminate! We will exterminate’. My client felt that her negative thoughts were exterminating her chances of making new, positive choices and then acting on them; that the Daleks were in control and not her.
After some discussion and reflection on the collage I asked her if she’d noticed that one of the Daleks was wearing a red party hat. She hadn’t, but now it had been brought to her attention she decided that whenever negative thoughts came she would visualise them as a Dalek in a red party hat, meaning she wouldn’t be able to take those thoughts seriously anymore. She felt this was a positive breakthrough for her, something she could remember and work with.
In my client’s case externally visualising her negative thoughts gave her the opportunity to have tangible images to work with and reflect on long after creating the collage. Additionally, her visual metaphors were a quick and powerful way of creating meaning and making sense of her emotions and situation. We were then able to work together and help her understand how these metaphors were affecting her decision making processes. As the Dalek metaphor in particular was not serving her constructively, she found a way to view it from a different perspective. When viewing it differently isn’t possible, clients are encouraged to create new ones that serve them better.
We all have self-doubt and an inner critic sometimes, but there are ways of dealing with these thoughts. Utilising the power of images, external visualisation and metaphors; magazine picture collage is an accessible, yet undoubtedly powerful approach to overcoming these self-limiting beliefs.