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Friday, 20 May 2016

Art Therapy 5: Understanding Grief Part 4 of 8 - Anger & Bargaining (Phase 3)

There is probably not one of us who have not had to deal with the devastating effects of losing someone dear to us. Everyone griefs in their own way and it would be a cheap attempt to say that one formula fits all. Yet, numerous attempts have been made to identify the phases that people in grief pass through and seven have been agreed upon to be more or less universal. We will take a look at these phases in an attempt to gain some form of understanding for the process we are passing through. We take this journey in the form of an art journal, attempting to somehow find a means of dealing with the loss we have experienced and continue to experience still. In this fourth blog of the eight part series, we look at the third phase identified, namely anger & bargaining.
This blog is co-authored by Marietjie Uys (artist) and Melette Els (therapist).
You can follow these links to read the full series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7

We start today's stage on the reverse side of the previous stage and we add a new page from our Dala Paper Pad that we've been using. My first step is once again to punch holes in the new page, using the hole in the preceding page as a guide as to where the new holes should go. This is kind of like this course, isn't it? We are using what others have already learned about grief and we are using that as a guide to help us through our own process of grief. There is such comfort in knowing that others have also experienced what we have, that we are not unique in this. If they could make it, then maybe we can too. By using the previously punched pages as a guide, we show, in however small a way, that we have started a process and are aligning ourselves to an alternative understanding.

My first step is a slightly quirky one. I put my pages next to each other and then I paint the top third of the layout a teal blue, using Blackboard Paint! I really love Dala's range of Blackboard Paints for this. There can only ever be one reason for using Blackboard Paint. It means that I want to write things here that has no permanent meaning to my life or the process. Interested? I was surprised by this myself. But keep reading. I think you will see the sense of this.

The bottom of my layout is painted a bright red. The next step will explain why I chose this colour. This time I do not use chalkboard paint, but I choose to use Dala Craft Paint.

This stage in the grieving process is identified as anger and bargaining. Red, as much as I love the colour, also represents anger to me. It says something of that red hot all consuming rage that sometimes come from intense emotions. This is why I take a black marker and write in big black letters the word ANGER in the red area of the left hand page.
Writing this and looking at it, how do you feel? What emotions and/or thoughts are provoked?

I take a white marker to write the word BARGAINING in the teal area of the right hand page.

I want to deal with anger first. I take up a charcoal stick. This time I choose to use this medium because it allows me to draw quick dark angry lines. The medium thus becomes an extension of my emotions. I make a very quick outline of a face. The mouth is wide open in rage, but the eyes are shut closed. This is blind rage. It does not understand reason and does not want to see it. It is reactionary and emotionally loaded. Notice how the face extends into the teal area? It is because our anger an our bargaining sometimes cross over the lines and influence each other. It is like that mixed colour line where the two colours met. It is not always easy to see where the one begins and the other ends. Sometimes we feel angry and terribly upset with the situation and not towards a specific person. At other times those feelings are directed at identifiable individuals. We may blame them for negligence, for not understanding, for being culpable, etc. We may even feel angry with the loved one who has passed away, either for having caused their own demise, or simply for 'leaving'. Our anger could also be directed at ourselves for whatever reasons, reasonable or not. And then there is also anger directed at God.

I use Dala Acrylic Paint in Flesh and apply it to the face with a palette knife. The use of the palette knife is very symbolic. Not only does it allow me to make the bold and furious strokes that I want to make to illustrate my anger, but it also allows me to symbolically lash out with a 'knife' in my anger. I do not want to encourage lashing out in anger, but if you are going to do it, better that you do it on paper, with paint, than with words or worse.
Acknowledge your feelings and emotions while doing this step of the journaling page. It is important that you allow yourself to feel what you feel without suppressing it. If not, those feelings could emerge in unexpected ways and strange places where we are not necessarily capable of dealing with it in a preferred manner.

I then use Dala Acrylic Paint in Payne's Grey, which is a blueish black, to paint the big raging mouth as a big gaping hole. I do not even add lips. the details are unimportant. It is really the emotion that matters here and that is what we need to deal with. What little detail is added to the facial features, is also added in this black. This too is indicative of the blackness of our mood during this stage of the grieving process.

I then decide that my head needs a hand to cover it's ear and draw a very quick hand and arm protruding from some shapeless form under the head. I have reverted back to my charcoal stick for this drawing. My initial idea was to symbolically blot out reason, the way that anger also tends to blot out reason.

I then pick up the palette knife and the Flesh paint to add colour to the arm and hand, when it suddenly dawns on me that this head seems to be in despair more than anger. But what is my anger other than despair? Once we realize the source or motivation for our anger, it is so much easier to deal with it. Isn't it wonderful how a few simple strokes with a charcoal stick and a palette knife managed to penetrate my reason where all words failed? I find this incredibly encouraging for my journey into art therapy. Who knows what other depths of my soul I will be able to reach in this way!

I then turn my attention to bargaining. I draw a simple stick figure with my charcoal stick. My figure is on its knees with its hands lifted high in supplication. There is only One Person who could change the way things are and my figure is lifting its petitions to God. Now you will understand why it is that I chose to paint this area on the layout in the colour of the sky.

For practical reasons, I fix my charcoal figure the page by spraying it with fixative. Hairspray will achieve the same results.

My figure has a lot of questions for God, but have you noticed how it is resting its weight on its anger? This is because we so often find ourselves drawing to God in anger. We blame Him for taking our loved ones. We blame Him for our pain. We want Him to do something to change things back to the way they were. And this is when we lash out at God in anger, even if it is only in passive aggressive anger. What we need to do, is to master that anger, but we can only do that if we are willing to explore it in truth and reality. Then only, we will be able to put it beneath us as something that has been conquered, rather than something that serves as our platform. People are often too scared to express their anger towards God. This is not necessary. God, being an all-knowing God, already knows the way we feel and think. We might as well express those thoughts to Him. There are plenty of examples of faithful Biblical figures who have done exactly that, e.g. David, Job, Eli, Jonah, etc. After voicing these feelings, their relationship with God was restored and they began to feel the love and protection of a relationship with God once again. Anger is not necessarily a negative emotion. It is a natural survival mechanism, which includes bargaining and fighting to stay alive. However, it has the potential to become destructive and then it is not helpful at all.

It is now that we have explored our anger in pictures, that we can finally go in search of words for it. The importance of this journal-ling phase should never be underestimated. It is only when we find words for our feelings that we come to terms with them. A term can only ever be words. Terms are also found in contracts. We need to establish terms that will allow us to continue. We can not allow ourselves to wallow in anger for longer than is necessary to come to terms with it. It is, after all, a potentially destructive force that needs to be tamed. I did not want to attach my terms to your process and opted to rather write a series of questioning words down for you. Why me? What? How? Why? Where were You God?

It is also time to put words to our bargaining side of the page. This time we use erasable chalk to write with. Perhaps you will recognize these bargaining sentences from your own life. Perhaps you have your own to add. I wrote: You can have ..., if you would bring back ... You need to fill in the blanks yourself.
You may also want to write down the bargains your struck (or tried to strike) during the time when you found out you were in danger of losing a loved one, or before you found out what had happened to them. Not all grieving processes start AFTER the death of a loved one.

I also wrote: I will ... if you ...

Somewhere down the line, we will be confronted by the futility of those bargains we struck with God. That is when we will lay a heavy burden of guilt upon ourselves, wondering how we could ever erase those words and restore our relationship with God. That is the time when I want you to come back to this page to simply erase the words in chalk. All that you will have left is a figure on its knees. That is all that is needed to restore a broken relationship with God. Humble yourself before Him, ask for His forgiveness and leave your burden there. He assures us over and over again that He will forgive and He will restore. That is the only reason why Jesus died. Do not make His death futile by choosing to hold on to your feelings of guilt.

When that day come, you will see yourself a winner and this page will be a landmark to testify of your progress and your ability to overcome.

This is a close-up of the completed pages of the third phase of understanding grief, namely anger and bargaining.

Melette Els (Clinical Social Work) can be contacted via the webpage, or by email at, or by phone at 082 776 1536.
Melette Els B.A. (SocSc) M. (Th) 
BHF Pr Nr.: 089 000 00 28754 SACSSP Reg.Nr.: 10-17310

Marietjie Uys (Miekie) is a published author. You can buy her books here:
You can purchase Designs By Miekie 1 here.
Jy kan Kom Ons Teken en Verf Tuinstories hier koop.
Jy kan Kom Ons Kleur Tuinstories In hier koop.
Jy kan Tuinstories hier koop.
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