Be mindful of your body. Stop for a minute. Take a moment to recognize how you feel within your body. Are your shoulders tight from slouching over your laptop? Are your eyes looking downward most of the day? These can be signals of self-depreciating thoughts displaying themselves through your body. Try this instead. Sit up straight, look up, pull your shoulders back and allow yourself to feel connected to the ground with your feet. These small changes will support the body and mind in a more positive way. Plus, a smile never hurts when working on those positive self-love vibes.
As a part of my series about “Learning To Finally Love Yourself” I had the pleasure to interview Azizi Marshall, Founder & CEO of the Center for Creative Arts Therapy, and Artful Wellness. Azizi holds a degree in Film Directing for Columbia College, two Masters degrees in Community Counseling and Theatre from Northeastern Illinois University, Graduate-level training in Drama Therapy and Expressive Arts Therapy at Kansas State University, is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) in the state of Illinois, a Registered Drama Therapist and Board Certified Trainer (RDT/BCT) in Drama Therapy, a Registered Expressive Arts Therapist (REAT) with the International Expressive Arts Therapy Association, and a member of the National Board for Certified Counselors. Azizi is a past professional actor, dancer and choreographer, and travels all over the country teaching others how to incorporate the arts into their emotional wellness through Creative Self Care TM.
Thank you so much for joining us! I’d love to begin by asking you to give us the backstory as to what brought you to this specific career path.
Growing up in a household of two artistic psychotherapist parents, I learned at an early age that people are beautifully complex. I was witness to how the arts could guide extremely troubled individuals and communities to a place of healing and growth. By participating in group therapy with my father’s clients struggling with eating disorders, multiple personalities, aggressive behavior, etc., I observed my father transform these individuals from people that hated life to people that loved themselves. It was not through traditional talk therapy, but through a therapeutic intervention called psychodrama; the marrying of psychotherapy and theatre. I even co-taught my first graduate level psychodrama course at Iowa State University at the ripe old age of 16.
After having worked as a professional theatre artist for many years, my father passed away from a heart attack when I was 21. I was lost for quite some time without his presence. I later stumbled upon an opportunity to do theatre with inner city youth. They were some of the most troubled teens I had ever encountered, and they had little knowledge of the world’s possibilities of growth due to their community’s lack of safety and financial stability. Through theatre I saw these kids grow, and learn about a world outside of their existence. They were able to give voice to their struggles and begin to form bonds with not only one another but also with the community.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you hope that they might help people along their path to self-understanding or a better sense of wellbeing in their relationships?
Oh my gosh! So many. The one I am most excited about is a series of Creative Self-Care Guides focusing on Balance, Strength, Stress Relief, Resilience and Self-esteem. I have a lot of people asking me how I take care of myself with such a hectic schedule and multiple companies, along with being a full-time mom. The secret is that I have become very good at being creative with my self-care, and I want to share those tips and insights with others that may be struggling with allowing space for their own emotional wellness. For instance, I color with my children at the end of the day to not only help me relax, but to connect with them while talking about their day. I make time for exercise and meditational movement in the morning, which helps me let go of any pent up emotions and increases my focus throughout the day. My self-care is a ritual for me. A well intentioned habit. These rituals and insights can help you reconnect with yourself and find creative ways to fit self-care into your day. They will be available through my personal website as well as through our Artful Wellness downloads.
Do you have a personal story that you can share with our readers about your struggles or successes along your journey of self-understanding and self-love? Was there ever a tipping point that triggered a change regarding your feelings of self acceptance?
Half way through the maternity leave of my first child, I was called in for a meeting at the psychiatric hospital I had been working with for almost 5 years. I came in with my mother-in-law and new born baby in tow, thinking it was going to be a warm reunion and discussion of my return. Instead, I was told that my position was being cut. Not only that, but half of my department was also being laid off due to budget cuts across the hospital. It was a devastating blow to my family, to my team and to my self-worth. I spent the next year as a stay-at-home mom. In between naps, feedings, play time and snuggle time, I developed a business plan for the Center for Creative Arts Therapy. I was not going to let an organization determine my fate, nor the fate of my family. This theme has played out many other times in my life, where I have been pushed down, tended to my wounds, and stood back up stronger and even more resilient. I learned how to accept my strengths and how they could be used to help others on a broader scale.
According to a recent study cited in Cosmopolitan, in the US, only about 28 percent of men and 26 percent of women are “very satisfied with their appearance.” Could you talk about what some of the causes might be, as well as the consequences?
We live in a comparison culture. People spend far too many hours looking at the world through a lens of filters and cropped images. We forget that most people are only posting images of the “perfect life”. That family trip to Aruba with everyone smiling. First pics with their new baby at a photography studio. Fixing their hair, makeup and surroundings before snapping a photo of themselves with their morning coffee (I’ve been guilty of that one). Rarely do we see the every-two-hour nightly feedings, the “state of emergency” disaster of a house after unpacking, the last minute grocery trip with baby and screaming toddler in tow. We need a reality check, otherwise we will lose our sense of self and self worth. Take the filters off, uncrop your image, and love your whole self.
As cheesy as it might sound to truly understand and “love yourself,” can you share with our readers a few reasons why it’s so important?
Self-love is an art form. You are the painter. When you take care of your canvas with positive thoughts, and healthy choices, then you are better able to create works of art. That work of art is YOU! When you practice self-love, you are better able to deal with adversities. Self-love reduces stress and improves your ability to heal after challenging situations. You choose healthier habits, like going for a walk instead of eating a tub of ice cream, because you know that you are worth the fresh air. And when you do eat ice cream, you do it mindfully and with a gusto, without guilt. Self love allows you to set up healthy boundaries for your own personal well being, and can improve your mental health. You also have a better outlook on your future and life in general, because you are able to create your own image of love.
Why do you think people stay in mediocre relationships? What advice would you give to our readers regarding this?
Change is hard. Being alone is hard. Marry those two things together and you have the makings of a stagnant existence. You are worth so much more. If you feel like the relationship you are in is simply mediocre, then talk with your partner about ways to make things more connected, exciting and deep. If your partner is not willing to grow with you, then have a conversation on what that may mean for your relationship. You will both be better off if you can communicate your needs and determine whether you will continue your life journey together.
When we talk about self-love and understanding we don’t necessarily mean blindly loving and accepting ourselves the way we are. Many times self-understanding requires us to reflect and ask ourselves the tough questions, to realize perhaps where we need to make changes in ourselves to be better not only for ourselves but our relationships. What are some of those tough questions that will cut through the safe space of comfort we like to maintain, that our readers might want to ask themselves? Can you share an example of a time that you had to reflect and realize how you needed to make changes?
What patterns are you reliving? Are you finding yourself in yet another horrible relationship? Do you keep ending up in yet another dead end job? Do you keep sabotaging your goal to finally start eating healthy? Patterns serve us a purpose. They protect us from change. They can also hold us back from our potential.
I used to date only men who lived long distance. It was great! I couldn’t ever really get attached to them, because they lived far away. I’m talking foreign country far away. I had been hurt in the past (physically and emotionally), and was making damn sure I never got hurt again. It took me a while to finally allow someone else into my life. It was a huge leap of faith, but I was tired of feeling like I was missing something, even though it was scary. I chose to step out of my own way in order to let love back into my life. You can do the same.
So many don’t really know how to be alone, or are afraid of it. How important is it for us to have, and practice, that capacity to truly be with ourselves and be alone (literally or metaphorically)?
Super important! When you are by yourself, you are better able to hear yourself. This is why people tend to struggle most in the evening right before falling asleep. They are forced to be alone with their own thoughts, and that can be a scary thing to experience, especially if you are having “not so kind” thoughts about yourself or your experiences.
However, when you learn how to appreciate yourself without the company of another, you find out that you are a fabulous person, worthy of time to yourself. Plus, after having children, time alone is a delicacy.
How does achieving a certain level of self-understanding and self-love then affect your ability to connect with and deepen your relationships with others?
I have always believed that if you don’t love yourself, you sure as hell can’t love anyone else. Deeper connections with others requires a deeper connection, empathy and unconditional love for yourself. If you are not able to accept ALL of the parts of you (your yin and your yang), then making a deep connection will present itself with many challenges.
In your experience, what should a) individuals and b) society, do to help people better understand themselves and accept themselves?
Empathy, Grace and Congruence.
What are 5 strategies that you implement to maintain your connection with and love for yourself, that our readers might learn from? Could you please give a story or example for each?
Self-expression allows individuals to connect with others while enhancing their our own sense of self, which is crucial for people dealing with low self-esteem, anxiety or challenging life transitions. Here are a few suggestions to help start on their path towards truly loving themselves in fun and creative ways.
- Tap into your creative side. Exploring your creativity can improve your sense of self. Whether it’s an evening journal, a short crafting session, or a guitar jam in your living room, your brain craves an opportunity to create and reconnect with your core self. Creative outlets are a great way of expressing yourself by putting your emotions, thoughts and needs on canvas or in a song, and loving what transpires.
- Listen to music. Music has been found to increase positive emotions, reduce pain, alleviate anxiety, and increase immune functioning. Music has a direct link to your emotions, so when you are feeling less loving toward yourself or totally stressed out, turn on your favorite song and jam out! Better yet, sing along to your favorite self-love anthem and feel the negative emotions leave your body.
- Create an Art Journal. What is an Art Journal you may ask? Basically, it’s a visual diary of your emotions, thoughts and experiences. It allows you to let out all of those challenging feelings and stressful thoughts onto a more productive location. It’s a safe place to let it all out, especially when you are feeling less confident of yourself and need a way to release all of that self-doubt. Spending just 20 minutes at the end of your day in order to pause for reflection, can allow for a moment of clarity and release. You can also write positive messages to yourself throughout the day. Seeing a colorful sign that says “I am fabulous!” in your bedroom when you wake up can go a long way to feeling great about yourself and what you have to offer the world.
- Be mindful of your body. Stop for a minute. Take a moment to recognize how you feel within your body. Are your shoulders tight from slouching over your laptop? Are your eyes looking downward most of the day? These can be signals of self-depreciating thoughts displaying themselves through your body. Try this instead. Sit up straight, look up, pull your shoulders back and allow yourself to feel connected to the ground with your feet. These small changes will support the body and mind in a more positive way. Plus, a smile never hurts when working on those positive self-love vibes.
- Make it a priority. Self-love is not selfish. It is necessary. If we do not make time for our own needs, other aspects of out life (career, marriage, parenting, etc.) will suffer. Make yourself a priority!
What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources for self-psychology, intimacy, or relationships? What do you love about each one and how does it resonate with you?
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
By Twyla Tharp. I LOVE this book! As a past dancer and choreographer, this book resonates with the fears I used to have in creating movement. She delivers quick witted responses to your inner fears, and encourages you to take a deep breath, find your own ritual, and create.
The Creative Connection: Expressive Arts As Healing
By Natalie Rogers. This is where I geek out psychologically. Rogers incorporates all of the arts into what she has coined the “Creative Connection”, to help us connect with the creativity that lives inside all of us, while deepening our psychological strength and resilience.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? Maybe we’ll inspire our readers to start it…
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experiences a mental illness in a given year. That’s 43.8 MILLION people. These brave “statistics” are your neighbors, your closest friends, family members, your children, your partner and yes, even you. When you see someone struggling or hear of someone that needs help, the best thing you can do for them is to let them know that they are heard, they are seen and that you are there for them. Find a professional psychotherapist in the area, and go with them to their first session for moral support, if they want. Mental health is a serious issue, and a professional psychotherapist is best equipped to handle the more challenging situations and events. It’s time to let people know that #mentalhealthmatters. YOU matter!
People can also use the arts to work through mental health challenges with a trained Creative Arts Therapist. Most Creative Arts Therapists have a Masters degree which incorporates art specific classes, psychology courses, as well as clinical internships to most appropriately use the arts in progressing the individual towards their therapeutic treatment goals. People who work with Creative Arts Therapists may experience a decrease in symptoms of depression and anxiety, develop an increased abilities to practice self-love through difficult challenges in their life, and feel less stressed and more satisfied with their lives.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that you use to guide yourself by?
Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life and how our readers might learn to live by it in theirs?
“Courage allows the successful woman to fail — and to learn powerful lessons from the failure — so that in the end, she didn’t fail at all.” Maya Angelou
As a past professional actor, you experience rejection on a continual basis. Audition after audition, you are told that you are “not what they are looking for”. I used to take it personally. I used to take each rejection as a failure. That was until I started my undergraduate studies in Film Directing at Columbia College. I started to understand that I could not be everything for everybody. I could only share my talents the way I felt connected to the piece I was reading for. I learned that the shows I got cast in were because they saw something in me that resonated with THEM. It was nothing personal. I no longer took those rejections as a failure. Instead, I used it to improve who I was as a person and as an artist.
Thank you so much for your time and for your inspiring insights!
My absolute pleasure! Thank YOU.