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Sunday, November 27, 2011

Visionary painting : The Smile of the Seed

Smile of the Corn Seed - by Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)
 The painting I am currently working on quite obsessively is a work that first began many years ago. It started out as a small painting on card that never got finished, it was filed away, packed under papers and files. It was made with egg tempera paints, the type that can be commercially bought. Due to the damp conditions of its storing, the painting degraded and developed a dusty powder on its surface, probably a mold of some kind and the colors faded also. It was ruined. I felt bad about not having taken better care of my work and did not want to lose the image, as it had a deep meaning and significance for me that I had never really understood. It was as if a piece of me would die and be lost forever, if I did not resurrect the image into a new painting. I have always had it in mind to redo the painting and make further developments with it.
I have given many names to the painting over the years. Names such as 'Demeter the Seed' ' Smile of the Seed",‘The Corn Goddess', 'The Grain of Persephone', Well of Minerva', : all ancient Greek, Roman and Celtic goddesses of agriculture and arts.  Yet somehow to me the soul in the eyes and expression in the face seems to be much older than that. The ethnicity also is a mystery. Some people tell me, the she looks oriental, and some a bit African, strange, the eyes are blue but the face is clearly not Nordic. As an intuitive artist, it is not me who decides what race the woman is, I am just doing my hardest to capture the truest depiction of something that is visionary.   If the woman fits no current ethnicity, then I feel she is of a very old race indeed, an ancestor from far back. No one person looks like their ancestor did thousands of years later, all peoples appearances change with migrations and environments .
The face looks out at you, across the space of time. It looks young, yet very old, with knowledge accumulated of having lived many life times.  Half hidden and half in shadow, there seems to be a shyness, but no it’s not that. The eyes are full of capacity and wisdom and hidden power. She hides herself by choice, from the eyes of the corrupt or the ignorant and foolish, choosing when and who to be known by.
In my mind I have asked myself, who is she?, an archetype from the subconscious?, or some sort of genetic memory, of a far distant relative?. Do I act as some kind of a medium, is this a spirit from another place?. I am asking questions that no one in the reality we currently inhabit, can answer. From this futility I can only move to a second question that may have some answers, as it comes back to me. What message, do I feel the appearance of this mysterious image, is reveling to me?. That's a mystery that will take some working at.
So at least I know she offers me a mystery and it seems this mystery is not offered to all or just anyone. It seems like a gift, something precious, something timeless. Normally we think of a gift as being something wonderful you get for free!. Like “geez!, thanks a million!”. But what kind of special gift gets secretly offered to you, that requires you to work damn hard to attain it?. There really is no such thing as a free gifts, is that an allusion. Are all the true worthy gifts that exist only things you gain with your love, sacrifice and labor?. I believe so, yes.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Life on the edge of Ego disintegration

Cosmic Strings & the Human Heart - by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyrights held by the artist)

Come you lost Atoms to your Centre draw,
And be the Eternal Mirror that you saw:
Rays that have wander'd into Darkness wide
Return and back into your Sun subside
The Conference of the Birds- Farid ud-Din Attar
My painting above is organised in what is known as a Mandala. At the time I constructed the painting I was not thinking consciously on making a mandala painting, in fact I did not research mandalas until much later when I came across some psychology texts claiming that mandalas utilised in art therapy, had been found useful in helping schizophrenic patients deal with overwhelming feelings disintegration and ego loss. The focusing on a center helped to focus and calm such patients.

I did recognise that this is exactly the same reason I had been compelled to paint this painting. One does not have to be a schizophrenic to be suffering from overwhelming feelings of "coming apart". It happens in many disorders (anxiety) , throughout the history of human kind. Though in some conditions, it can be experienced more intensely and more frequently.
For me, its one of the worst feelings imaginable, worse than the fear of death. In actual death you die and leave behind a body that once was. At least something is left behind, signifying you were actually there, existed, even though now your not.

But this is a feeling that you are disappearing, taking with it the reality that you ever existed!. The words "coming apart" are felt literally, as if it were real. Its like every thing, all of your substance, identity and being, is slowly disintegrating out of existence. All of your very atoms are separating and drifting apart leaving a faint thinning vaporous haze, like what you can imaging happening to you if you went over the event horizon into a black hole. Its that vivid.

Also note that in ego weakening, the boundaries between inner and outer worlds merge. The self associates outward reality (physical universe, atoms, space, black holes, gravity) with the inner psychological experience. Some speak of this as a sign of illness but I think it is a tool and can aid self re-structuring.

What could possibly remedy such an awful experience. There have been self therapies, from times before the 11th century Sufi mystics, to the present day through the use of the arts, meditation, poetry, ti chi, martial arts and mystic wisdom.

I believe the drive to re-organise the psyche after painful experiences is instinctual and somehow blue printed into the human mind. A self re-organising gift. But from where?. To find that answer, that's the quest of a spiritual Way. The whole thing may also be part of a developmental process. How many times can I die?. as many times it takes to be reborn comes the answer, from somewhere inside me.

As I tried to address the distress I felt, the first thing I did was create the elements around me to contain my poor dissolving self. Earth, Air, Fire and Water. I kind of felt like a magician or shaman doing some kind of magical operation, I don't know what I felt like most the time. I didn't think, I just worked in an unconscious way, doing what felt right, without knowing why.
With the elements and their symbols in place, I worked on the Space beyond the Earth outside. About this time I had been reading about String Theory in a science magazine. Hey, I am no mathematician but I kind of gleaned some images in my head from the article, even though I could not explain it in words.
Around the Space, containing the space, is a tube or string. The picture now becomes like a cross section of a string, like a spaghetti that is seemingly infinite in depth. The skin of this string is Time, as indicated by the encircling snake or Ouroboros, with the infinity sign on its head. So now both the Time and the Space within it, are infinitely long. As one moves along the String, so one moves in Time and Space. The center is my Self, its still unknown to me. But I imagined in it, a Way, to the light source of multiple colours, a place of warmth and golden light, like the Sun. The Gate to the Sun is a flower, a Rose whose petals, (red, passion) are in the shape of a glowing Heart.

 Don't ask me if I an trying to illustrate String Theory, I know little of that, or if I am trying to do magic, again, I know little of that. All I know is making this art, helped me restore my inner compass and pull myself together. I died in my soul and came back. I will die again and again but each time I come back I find I have grown more as an individual, as a person. I added onto myself, I was not lost and if I did lose something, it was the painful shedding of something false about me that I no longer need.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

The Haunted Self- Dissociated Selves?

“How didst thou make division of Thyself?”—William Shakespeare, Twelfth Night
 I have over 11 years been given a whole slew of constantly changing diagnosises by several mental health proffessionals, that always fell short of any one full diagnostic criteria.

In 2001, I sought out help for depression and anxiety. The therapist thought I had borderline due to the fact I was engaging in self harm. Later she changed this due to the fact I had had some long stable relationships and no history of intense, dramatic, love/hate attachments. I was prescribed anti-depressants
Then by my reveling of hearing loud thoughts in my head that I didnt feel belonged to me, it was then thought I had a psychotic depression. Indeed, I was depressed that made me feel numb inside and outwardly like, my face was made of concrete. That probably lead my therapist to tell me I she thought I was schiziod, due to flat affect???. Schizoid people are socially reclusive and avoid all human relationships and sex! I mean, what? Wrong!that's not me at all. I very much enjoyed sex, I wanted to connect with people but it was difficult for me. I was training as a masseuse at the time and loved the physical sensation of giving and getting massages. I reported sudden, extreme changes in identity and mood  throughout the day, plus loud thoughts, this caused me great anxiety, however I managed to work and appear normal on the outside.
When my vivid and artistc imaginative paintings were shown to my therapist the diagnosis moved more over to Schizotypal. This almost fitted because of my high creativity, rich fantasy life, social seclusion and social anxiety, flat affect. However I had no odd appearance, no odd speech, I am not eccentric, nor do I have cult-like beliefs. I was given anti-psychotics. What did I feel about these diagnosis's?, I was happy to be whatever my therapist  wanted me to be, I desperately needed the emotional support. I was like, ok, I will be that if you want, just help me and fix me . But all time, I really thought the real problem lay in my history of abuse from early childhood into my early adulthood, but the therapist was not interested in delving into that and thought it better to just manage the present. Not surprisingly, I did not get any better and I also began to feel very resentful to my therapist, hate her even. I was totally unable to express it to her or even feel it when in session but only began to feel intense anger 3-4 hours after getting home from the session. It was a distressed spaced out rage that was always accompanied by a horrible 3-5 day migraine. When I met her again , all emotional memory of it would be gone, for the duration of the session. I realised therapy was making me feel worse not better. The way my therapist steered aside my attempts to discuss material from my past felt too much like my step-mother hiding the bloody noses from my fathers beating and saying, 'you're not to discuss it with anyone' making me clean-up before I went to school. I tried to talk about my dreams (nightmares) or content of my artwork without success. I once mentioned the possiblity of PTSD but was told no. I grew coldly rageful and desperately depressed. I received cognitive behavioral therapy. it seemed just like a band aid and many of its tenets seemed to me just like the same abusive brain-washing I grew up with. I didn't want to learn to plaster on a new happy face, EFT or learn 'tapping for happiness', "Fuck!" I wanted the truth!, even if it came with pain. I left therapy for about a year.

My next therapist listened to my past history and immediatly diagnosed complex PTSD but unfortunatly he left the island shortly afterward. I struggled another year before finding a new therapist at a health clinic who felt my problem was an Anxiety disorder, yet again they left the area within a few months also. Their replacement came and diagnosed one schizophenic symtom, (hearing internal dialogue) plus a mood disorder but they also left within two months. At this time there were no mental health proffessionals at all where I lived. I began to feel a growing desperation with getting a correct diagnosis and the appropriate treatment.  I made a strong effort to become self educated as none of these former proffessionals had ever encouraged patient education with the diagnosises they dished out. I did not know excactly what I had but I was quite certain about what I did not have. I felt certain my main problems were related to past trauma.

Group sketch by Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)
It was about 2009 I chanced across some online writings by a group of Dutch trauma specialists who had written a book called - The Haunted Self, Structual Dissociation by Onno van der Hart , Ellert Nijenhuis and Kathy Steele and I ordered it online. This book had a profound impact on me. In a  straight thinking style it described clearly, many of my own experiences and the many ways I experienced life and my self. It was an eye opener and a relief that somewhere some one knew and understood what I experienced and they had laid it out and described it in plain logical detail. It also bought me a profound sadness because I wanted to be treated for this condition but realised that where I lived, there was no one who understood or even recognised this condition, let alone could treat it. I tried going back to my original therapist and told her about my findings but she showed very little interest. Rather than fighting the issue I abandoned all therapy. My estimation of therapy and therapists was pretty low then and I regard most of them as clueless, stupid and rigid   Later in 2010 I started to see a new therapist, who is helping  me with depression, emotional deregulation and communication problems. This new therapist believes I have unresolved trauma issues, (at last, someone who is going to listen). The therapy is psychodynamic.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Picturing Depersonalisation - Cloven Consiousness

The Compassion of the Birds - by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyrights held by the artist)

Dual-consciousness, double-consciousness, cloven-consciousness, various names for a particular type of human psychological phenomena. Basically its the experience of having two consciousness's operating at the same time. Its not a common experience and far as I can learn, is a dissociative disorder. Its an form of depersonalisation.
My personal experience is that experiencing yourself as two separate people is a very disturbing sensation. Sometimes when I am doing something, working, socialising, relaxing, I get the sense of another other self watching within or even having thoughts or experiencing emotions that I do not have, that are certainly not anything to do with my current external situation or even my present thoughts at the time and that don't even seem to belong to me. But clearly they come from my own self, not one that I recognise.

Sometimes these feelings and sounds can be very inappropriate to the current moment. For instance hearing a woeful sobbing coming from inside when at dinner or greeting clients of friends. Hearing angry or aggressive remarks when talking with someone you like or who you know likes you. Usually but not all, these are appearances of unwanted, repressed and socially jeopardising emotions that threaten my social interaction. Sometimes I have been alone and also experienced this. These are called 'made thoughts and feelings', also a dissociative symptom.

There is another side to this depersonalisation experience. That is, being on the other shoe, as they say.
This side is more unsettling because in the first example at least you are the one in control, in the drivers seat. In this one you're in the back seat and whats more the driver don't even know you exist!. Its like you just a passenger in someone else's life.
For example: I can be having a stressful day, thoughts on my mind and a lot of anxiety, intense negative feelings of sadness. I am absorbed and experiencing overwhelming feelings from thoughts of traumatic memories and then Bam!, I am challenged to respond to the present moment, to a friend, spouse or neighbour, who interacts with me and I experience an intense moment of panic. I must respond, but not as I am, they cannot see me as I am. Suddenly I am feeling I have receded. I hear these words come out of my mouth in the present and its not my words. I didn't put them together. I sort of sit here in the back hearing (my) witty remarks and complex responses and feeling chuckles vertebrate in my chest and all the while I am not aware of any of these thought processes or memories that created them, all I have is these other intense emotions. its so weird, its like someone else is running the show. I couldn't consciously act this well even if I tried. Sitting here in the back of my head, I am thinking, 'how the hell does she do that?', how the hell does that happen?'. I feel anxiety and dismay at the same time. How can this fake bitch carry on chatting with light and ease when I am here in the background with these horrible feelings?. Its like a betrayal. This goes beyond covering up ones feelings. I have tried to act not scared or hurt or sad when I am not but never managed the effortless ease my other self has achieved it, with such autonomy in these experiences. I suspect this self cannot even be aware I exist.

Luckily this experience although can be frequent during stress times only last about 20 minuets or so. Recently I have become aware that this "fake bitch" as I call this other self is not acting, is not actually aware of me and the feelings but is trapped on the other side of the defensive wall of dissociation I created. This is the flip side, the other side of the coin, the other experience I was talking about above. I was experiencing life as the suppressed thought/feeling self. Its all me, but experienced at times as separate. It is my hope that I can learn better self communication that will help minimise this chronic depersonalization. By exploring it in my personal art therapy, as all my art is actually, I hope to depict both experiences in painting, and try to foster a more global awareness in my self.

Feb 2013: Since this old post I have learnt much and add these links that help explain the experiences in my article

Depersonalization (or depersonalisation) is a malfunction or anomaly of the mechanism by which an individual has self-awareness. It is a feeling of watching oneself act, while having no control over a situation. Depersonalization, de-realization is the single most important symptom in the spectrum of dissociative disorders .
Individuals who experience depersonalization feel divorced from their own personal physicality by sensing their body sensations, feelings, emotions and behaviors as not belonging to the same person or identity. Often a person who has experienced depersonalization claims that things seem unreal or hazy. Also, a recognition of self breaks down (hence the name). Depersonalization can result in very high anxiety levels, which further increase these perceptions.
- Wikipedia.

Dr Cheryl Arutt on Creativity and Trauma :

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Have you ever felt there was a fight going on inside you as to who you really are?

"Have you every felt there was a fight going on inside you as to who you really are?"

Flame Roses from the Red Nebula- by Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)

I read this line somewhere and thought to myself, 'have I ever not!'.
Actually all the time, for years since I can remember. So whats it called?. Identity confusion. A couple of words that mean a whole lot more than these two mere words. An experience that is so difficult to describe to anyone else, even if one where motivated to do so, which nearly always is not the case. Why?, because instinctively you know others have no reference of experience to grasp this experience themselves. Most are unable to comprehend it. Also you know it sets you apart from others and so is shameful and to be kept hidden for fear of being thought crazy or a liar who is making it up. Neither is desirable. Especially when you feel you need people and fear social rejection like I do.
It is my aim to examine and put into words this life-time covering affliction that is so difficult to describe. I do so for the very first time.

I do so firstly for me, because if tomorrow I get hit by a bus, something that that's been real and hidden about me will be stated in the real world for once. I have lived with a denial about half my inner life for so long, I hear the arguments in my head that its not real ie:, "just forget ta 'bout it", but I have come to the conclusion that if my experiences are not real, then most of my life is not real and I am not real and I know that this is not so. So what the hell, here goes,

I have always felt divisions in myself, deep divisions, like fissures or chasms, from where up comes unnerving anxiety. The anxiety is the fear that the chasm will widen and I will fall apart and disintegrate into it or its simply the realization that the separations may actually exist inside. These divisions are more than an the odd changing thought or emotion. They are all of that and more, each is different, each thinks, while being experienced, that's the real me, the complete me, that this is all of who I am, all my thoughts, my feelings and  ideas about things, dreams, what I find important in life, or not, how I experience life, the world, the people in it.

 This goes on until its replaced. Its replaced by another set, another completely different way of being. I know people say, "yeah but we all go through different emotions and thoughts about life, as life changes so do we ". Yes but for me, these different sets, or ways of being, don't change!. They each stay the same and separate, never merging or joining into a unifying conclusion!. There is never any conclusions. Year after year out, always. some places in me remain changeless, regardless of what goes on outside in my life.

Fortunately somehow I have discoverd I have a somewhat separate flexible part of me that manages to evolve enough and "re-configure" but its not without a lot of hard inner work, anxiety and struggle, juggling, patching, paste-ing and re-configuring on the inside, and all without letting any of this show on the outside, even to those closest to me. The last thing I want is for people who don't understand to think me as the freak I feel inside I am.

These separate ways of being, as I call them, don't have names or ages. I don't believe I have Multiple Personality Disorder, I don't suddenly find myself in a bar, dancing on tables in fishnets and high heels, calling myself Shirley or come to, babbling baby talk and standing in a pond lol!. I have never found a wardrobe of clothes I don't remember buying... (though, that could be fun, ..wouldnt mind that). I don't believe people can have more than one personality, but I do believe they can have one that is experienced as divided in varying degrees.

What I do have is:
A persistent and ongoing battle and conflicts between the different ways of feeling and being, especially in regards the best way to handle things, ie my life. sometimes a different way of being will "descend" on me in reaction to something that frightens me and that's usually a reminder or trigger of something in the past, some very strong emotions will emerge from something happening externally or internally. The different ways of being can be very contrasting from one moment to another. sometimes I can experience it like an observer, sometimes I am unaware. It is never  controlled or conscious but is fear driven, impulsive, sudden, like a knee jerk reaction. Its like feeling out of control, the last thought when changing from one state to another is, "Shit!, I got to get out of here". and then all the feelings and way I experienced up to that moment are gone, disappeared, receded and different ones are there. Different information, feelings, jokes, memories, and narratives, that was not there before. Sometimes I feel like, a rider, constantly jumping from one galloping horse to another.
Inner conflicts arise over what I am going to do today, how I will spend my day, I have several different "wants', goals , ambitions, needs. Each feels equally important, some are in opposition and I feel I cannot tell which is important, either or none of them. I constantly experience anxiety, because which ever one action or activity eventually gets done, instead of a sense of satisfaction or achievement, some parts of me feels cheated, ignored and sidelined. This results in feelings of self hate and self anger and identity confusion.

Since I have written this I have learnt about the effects traumatic experiences, PTSD, can have on emotional regulation from Dr Cheryl Arutt. Here is a link to an article on Douglas Ebys blog Creative Mind, with her discussing this issue and its effects on creative people.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Trying to catch the thread - poem

Detail from painting 'Spirit' -by Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)

Trying to catch the thread

Across the forest floor, in the slant of afternoon sunlight,
She leaves the door open, by the window, where the curtains move.
Caught bettween the worlds, these multitudes,
Whoses numbers are as blades of grass.

Too quick is the change, the crossing over, bettween worlds,
Trying to catch the thread, trying to remain in only one,
If only I could grasp the thread, stop the shift,
If only I could distance myself.

(Well you know, the kicker is the last line aint it?. The catch 22)

Monday, May 23, 2011

Inner Self Helper, Higher Self, continued

From Out of the Stone - by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyrights held by the artist)
The poem I wrote around  1986-9, I cannot remember the exact year. I am sure I had moved to Luton (my birth town) from Bristol. However I know the formations of the poem took hold in my mind, as early as 1984-5, while living in Bristol. It started out as a inner thought or feeling that I had slowly become aware of and that was emerging, A need to find who I really was, my thoughts about myself, feelings, perceptions, opinions about trying to define and have a cohesive and less nebulous concept about my identity. At that time my sense of self was ill defined, if it existent at all. Constantly shifting, contradictory, changing and shifting, intangible like spiraling smoke. I related and operated in the world like someone on auto pilot, stoned, dazed, unconscious, like someone in shell shock, numbed out and distant but super sensitive at the same time.
The poem starts with an observer walking past a derelict structure, a house? a crumbled derelict ruined house. They stop to watch a magical entity or being slowly emerge and take form from the cracks, stains  and shapes in the crumbling plaster and bricks. Years later, I understand the Jungian interpretation of house in dreams and the unconscious, is the self, the personality. Mine felt ruined and neglected, but now out of it, something marvelous and magical was emerging, something like an Angel. I say Angel, which is strange because I consider myself in no way religious at all. This alien being comes through silently, without word, unannounced, no birth cry, its not being born, its emerging, like it was always there, always existed, hidden, never manifested (to the conscious, the conscious self) before. What was happening is something quite beautiful, mysterious and sublime. The twelve stars about the head strangely alludes to some sort of biblical reference, also is, "the woman clothed with the sun" in Revelations. I was mystified over the Christian imagery, as I consider myself pretty much an athiest or at least agnostic, least thats what I tell myself. Never baptised, neither parents ever went to church. I always have thought and felt myself more comfortable with  scientific and logical thought than anything else, with a big distrust of religion. Yet I live unaware or un- aknowledging of this deeply spritual side.  Clearly, this experience demonstrates an existance of a higher self or higher power that somehow I am connected to. For the first time, I got a glimpse that there was something divine in me, some spark, I was not a ruined old shell of a person, there WAS something valuable in side me, even though I may not  always be aware of it, not feel it, or it may be hidden from me most of the time but I have seen it and it has shown me, that I should fight for myself, that I was something worth fighting for.

(The image is a detail from a small tempera painting on wood panel I did at the time)

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Emergence of the Inner Self Helper

The Aspects of the Self
From the Stone - Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)

The Spirit stepped forth from the Stone,
Emerging slowly, without sound, save for a chiming and tinkerling,
Like small glass bells or birdsong in quartz, echoing,
Small sparking notes tumbled and cascaded and pushed ahead into hard won spaces.

The queen of Sedition put Logic to flight,
in an empty lot of rubble and weeds, a derilict stone site.
Ripping aside the fabric of boundries, upon the infinite Mirror of God,
Altered forces stepped through.
Her many parts, reflections
A multiplicity of bright forms... and winged!,
Concisting of many elements,
both part and seperate.
Golden skin was silver sheened,
The aspect of the face, alien yet familliar,
The crowned head sprung twelve spining galaxies,
Bright suns.

Demeter-Sketch by Stephanie Tihanyi
(copyright held by artist)

I have often wondered what this poem I wrote meant. So here I have tried to analize my own poem. I realise I am writing this is in a detached intellectual mode, but thats all I got right now as these things dont all come together when you want them.
Any infomation is better than nothing I say, who knows I may get something in the future. So here goes.

The aspect (alter, covert or hidden undeveloped part of the personality), emerged from the stone (a frozen or arrested part of the personality).
Emerging slowly, without sound (unbidden, unexpected, without any prior knowledge of, unannounced as of course a split off part of the self would do).
The Queen of Sedition (a female authority archetype that has come to overthrow and upsurp, aided by the unconcious, the false conciouseness)
The fabric of boundries. ( a break in the partitions and intra-psychic walls of dissociation). Mirror of God, (not a pathology but a natural operation).
Her many parts, reflections, a multiplicity of bright forms- and winged, Concisting of many elements, both part and seperate, (Subselves, alters, self-states)
The aspect of the face alien yet familliar, ( the yet unrecognised and co-concious parts of the self)

Saturday, February 5, 2011

The Shark, the Shadow, the Fire Cat & the Knife

Shadow and the Firecat - by S. Tihanyi (copyright held by artist)
In the painting, 'The Fire Cat & The Shadow', there are a number of elements at work. They each have significant meanings for the subconscious. Trying to explain them to anyone, even myself is really quite difficult because a lot of the information is kept in the subconscious and therefore locked from conscious awareness. What I am going to try to do is at least to attempt a coherent explanation. The only way I think I can start is to look at each individual element separately and then look at their relationships.

detail of Shadow and the Firecat - by S. Tihanyi
(copyright held by the artist

First I will start at the top of the page. The Shark. A purple shark looms out of the shadows across a deteriorating ceiling of an abandoned derelict old house. A house that is still occupied. I do not like sharks. Sharks frighten me, they have featured in my nightmares many times. They are everything that is perceived as menacing, devouring, dangerous. In my nightmares they have lurked in my dream oceans and also pursued me through several dreams in one night. In one set of nightmares two left the ocean and pursued me up the beach by changing into a half human half shark creatures, (the shark brothers), muscular, masculine steel grey, thick upper torsos and a huge diabolical hammerheads with rows of teeth. They walked slowly and steadily but with an relentless determination. I escaped them in that dream only to see them coming down a city street or over a field on a different night in a different dream and then I would be on the run again. Obviously a fear of masculine sexuality somewhere in there, but sometimes the same symbol can have a different meaning although the emotions of it are the same. The shark in the painting,' Fire Cat & the Shadow' is mainly about all fears and anxieties. The flames (of the Fire Cats wings) have driven it out from the shadows into the light. Fear is now seen, (and felt) it is no longer shut away or lurking in the background denied but has risen to the surface of awareness. So the question I need to ask is this,: who is the Fire Cat serving?. Is it routing and chasing out the Shark, destroying or defeating it or is it the Sharks friend, liberating the Shark (fear) from its prison of shadows?. In this mysterious house, its uncertain where whose allegiances lie.
More later.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Shadow Self & the Emerging Self in Art

The depiction of the ‘Shadow Self’ in my art work is not easy to put in a few brief paragraphs. What came first, the Shadow Self or the art?  Does art and creativity create the Shadow self or it the other way round?. For me as the early life instincts and personality are born bringing forth a  known Concious Self, so is the Shadow Self. 
The Angel & The Firecat
by Stephanie Tihanyi
(all copyrights are held
by the artist)
Can the Shadow Self be ‘used’ to enhance your creativity, like a tool and be called on to serve its ends?. I don’t believe it can. The only way most people first become aware of or become in touch with their Shadow Self is in a time of intense emotional and identity crises. You can’t just tap into it when you feel like it. You don’t get in touch with it, it gets in touch with you and when it does you will know it and for most part your reaction to it will not be pleasant. Its going to be at a most difficult and challenging moment in your life. Whatever you are in, you’re way in deep and you are going to be in some sort of life changing emotional crises. You cannot control experiences like that.  
I had not heard of the concept of the ‘shadow self’ until after many years of painting it. At a time of trying to overcome intense emotional problems, I underwent counseling. I developed an interest in psychology, particularly trauma, in an attempt to understand and overcome my chronic inner turmoil and confusion. The best book I read was The Haunted Self, by Ono van der Hart, made clear a lot to me. I came to realize I had been painting disavowed aspects of my personality for years without consciously comprehending it, all I knew was that it was important but did not know why.
I was an imaginative and sensitive child, who began painting and drawing quite early. I found my imagination a refuge and a solace when the violence and abuse in our family home became too much. To protect myself I invented ‘friends and protectors’, I found places to hide, literally and artistically. When my mother finally left, the sadistic bullying and abuse got even worse, there were many days I feared for my life and that of my brothers and sisters. I feared my father may end up killing me, my siblings and or himself. My memories of this time became unreal, dreamlike, in slow motion and fuzzy. Only the strong emotion of overwhelming fear and horror remained until I even put that out of my mind completely. I became frozen and forgetful. Its hard say I grew up, it more true to say, I survived.  Growing up came much later.
I seemed to arrive in adulthood one day. A shell of a person, a house with lights on but nobody home, only ghosts at home. At least I was alive, albeit on autopilot. I had no opinions, no views, no personality, no center; I was what I thought anyone wanted me to be on different occasions. I was a construct. I mimicked bits of people’s behavior in order to engage socially and I began to believe that was me. My sense of identity changed like a chameleon does with its background but with no sense of self continuity. To me it was safer to appear colorless, dull and boring, safe, but very lonely. I continued like this for years. My imagination on the other hand was a rich fantasy world of dreams and magical beings. In real life I began to have terrible nightmares. That was the beginning, of trying to become a true person but it felt like a horrible disintegrating death, this crumbling of the false self.
The Shadow and the FireCat  by
S. Tihanyi
(all copyrights are held
by the artist)
                                Instinctively, I turned to my artwork in search of a true self. I knew the clues were in there somewhere but they were encoded in private symbols.  Magical and fantastic creatures appeared in my art, memories of long ago childish imaginings and self stories. I worked on them, revived them, and drew them obsessively.  They felt more real to me than myself. While working on them, I felt like I might find the secret way to become a real person. Raging tiger cats, winged cats, phoenixes and powerful sphinxes, fighting dragons that were powerful, aggressive, defiant and wild. Looking back now with knowledge, I know these were where I hid the emotions that were too dangerous for me to have or express as a child. Symbols that hid and locked, dissociated parts of a personality, in a secret language that only my subconscious understood. My mind was sending postcards to myself, only it was in code. Still it was therapeutic all the same. I just drew and drew. I invented new characters and developed them. My social skills grew and I became more confident, I began relating to others on a deeper level, though still I was too emotionally fragile to cope with going to art school. I worked cleaning jobs and painted after work.
I showed my artwork to friends who were intrigued. They expected me to know what they meant, but I was just as mystified as they. I secretly hoped each time I showed them to someone, they would magically be able to tell me the meaning but they never did. I began to believe I would never know. It depressed me that I would never know myself and that no one will ever truly know me. I felt such loneliness.  I knew future happiness lay in solving these mysteries. How could I ever really relate to anyone if my feelings, thoughts and sense of self were still a mystery to me, how could I plan or build a future without any sense of continuity?  Many of my emotions were confusing and some I had no concepts or labels for. Likewise my convictions about who I was, my opinions and beliefs’ also shifted. What feeling or belief seemed real one minute was not the next. Only my drawings and the characters in them seemed to know who they were.
When I met my future husband, I finally felt a safe stable place at last. Feeling strong, I made a bold decision to finally face my inner demons. I had developed a good logical mind but did not realize I lacked the skills to handle the unknown emotions that were going to arise and overwhelm me. I jumped right in and journaled about my early painful childhood, the beating and sexual abuse. Anxiety and fear surfaced out of nowhere, it took me by surprise. I took self defense classes to fix that. Flash backs and panic attacks began in training and outside of it. It got worse. I began to fight myself. I evoked the courage and rage encapsulated in the magical creatures I drew. The Firecat was the strongest. When I felt threatened by my  feelings of anxiety and fear, I drew him and studied his picture and drew his power and rage and defiance into myself for protection. I felt I could take on any adversary; I had dragged myself up from nothing, come so far and became strong at last, I would not let anything drag me down and make me helpless  again.
I did not realize that it was my own feelings and self I was fighting against. If my feelings of rage, libido, sexuality, destructiveness and defense had a champion in the Firecat, my feelings of vulnerability, neediness, gentleness, acceptance, love also had a champion, living in the paintings of the Angel. In the painting, ‘The Angel and the Firecat’ you can see their struggle. She strives to control him but he fights back, clawing her side. She is obedience and conformity, acceptable, stable, gentle and depressed. He is wild, aggresive, rebellious, manic and passionate.  I did not understand then that these were self representations, I was a house divided. I painted a new figure of The Shadow in my work, it chilled me, “who the hell was that”, I did not know who it was but I didn’t like it. At times my paintings so unnerved me, I turned them to the wall afraid to look work on them for weeks. I was having a breakdown, I was very scared.
I began to slip into a psychotic depression although I managed to work and keep an outward functioning self. At least  I was good at dissociation. My relationship was on the verge of collapse when I made my boyfriend move out. I became paranoid and feared my boyfriend wanted to harm me. I was getting battling voices in my head all day, arguing over what I thought or felt; I began to have suicidal thoughts. The images of the Firecat became more sinister; it seemed less like a protector now and more like a persecutor. The final crunch came when I woke up from a night of drinking alone to find razor scratches all over my body from another binge of self harm. I was alarmed but a voice came in my head saying, “the Firecat scratched you, don’t be such a pussy” and I laughed, then a voice came “maybe it’s trying to kill you!” and I was scared . I said out loud to myself, “You’re really are in deep shit!”. It was then I realized I had to get some help. Initially I was thought to have schizophrenic spectrum diagnosis but overtime it was clear my problem was trauma related, complex ptsd and emotional deregulation.  With medication and counseling I came back from the brink. Eventually I came off medication altogether but have continued to find talk therapy helpful to remember and address the past and learn to recognize, bear, name, own and tolerate my emotions. I continue to use my artwork to explore subconscious truths about myself. I still paint without total knowledge of the meanings but trust the process that eventually it will reveal itself. I have gained much knowledge in my own psychology and emotions and in turn, that of others. I no longer have loud thoughts and chronic dissociation. I have a more a sense of myself as a whole person, although not seamless, more like a mosaic; at least I see where all the bits begin to fit.
 Looking back, my experiences were kind of inevitable in some way. The instinctual drive for growth and life meant my true self had to emerge. The shallow false self had to crumble, but being a defense, it did not go without a fight; it almost pushed me to the point of contemplating suicide. For me, my imaginary world and its figures, far from being a sign of psychosis, were actually a creative attempt to encapsulate and hold my core self and its representations in a frozen state during a state of trauma. This allowed later retrieval and developmental when a safer environment was perceived such as now.