Why can't the soul see bright colors?

16 February 2022

I met Maria when she was 27 years old. She was a girl who came from a family without big issues and tensions. She had lost her father to a terminal illness several years before and had recently moved abroad for her husband's work.

She joined the art therapy group to improve her sociability, manage her early depressive symptoms, but also to test her hidden interest in art in a safe environment. After the group therapy, which lasted a year and a half, she asked me individual online sessions. Our treatment lasted for about a year and we met every week (less often at the end).

The beginning

Maria's need to avoid experiencing strong emotions, such as grief, was palpable from our first meetings, mainly through rationalizing situations. She was unable to experience the feeling, especially through her body, and move on. Instead, she covered it up under her strong self-control and rationalization.

Her body was sending different messages, resisting rationalization, wanting to scream, and cry in pain and anger. She wanted to cry out about the injustice of her father's untimely loss. And she needed to experience all this alone, but also with others, with a tight hug and endless tears.

Maria did not listen to her body and let it beg her. The result was that she developed a series of chronic psychosomatic symptoms that began to cause her daily problems, as well as severe symptoms of depression and stress.

When she started art therapy, her paintings were tentative, small, with controlled lines and boundaries. The colors were blurry. She stubbornly avoided clay and would always choose pencils or markers to do her work. Little by little she started experimenting with other materials, and crafts became her favorite activity. Her references to mourning and how she experienced it were almost non-existent.

Little by little it began to emerge that the real reason Maria needed art psychotherapy so much was the loss of her father, the shock and stress this situation had created and her inability to experience grief, even many years after his death.

A second "loss" came to be added to the first. The "loss" of her homeland, the change of country and residence, came before she even completed the mourning of the first loss...

With the start of individual sessions and after already a year of group therapy, Maria slowly began to break free and try new materials, bright colors and make abstract paintings without much thought and with more feeling. She started talking more about the difficult times he went through and sharing feelings and experiences with me.

The opening

Tempera paintings became her favorite and she began to make them large, experimenting with different patterns and having fun with the liquid form of the colors and the flexibility they offer. She often surprised herself with the result and it didn't take long to frame some of her projects!

Maria was unable to live the joy and excitement of the moment, even if the symptoms of depression began to decrease noticeably and her life took on a new form, more active and creative, with new studies, friends and new openings.

While her paintings were alive, rich in color and movement, exuding excitement and freedom, she herself presented them with an almost subdued, emotionless mood that was at odds with what she was experiencing and what her work showed.

In my related observation, she told me that this has always been the case throughtout her life, what she felt she could not express it properly or maybe only through her paintings? Could it be that what she feels is really what is depicted in her artwork? Did she not even see it at first glance? Or did she avoid seeing and experiencing them, whether positive or negative? Or even did she not know how to experience them?

The last drawings told her loudly, you are happy and excited about everything that is happening in your life, you are finally doing what you like and you are grateful for that. However, she was unable to accept it, admit it, even live it. Instead, she falsified it, distorted it, and removed it as if it were about another woman.

My comment caused silence and thought. She didn't speak. She began to wonder if she was really happy, but she couldn't, didn't know, or was she afraid to express it? Was it not only the sadness that she did not know how to express, or the joy too?

Maria liberated, she finally accepts herself as she is


The pattern of this behavior by Maria is not unusual. It is often found in people who have grown up in families with strong boundaries, emotionally and practically, who have high expectations of their children and place great importance on the opinions of others. Their life has a schedule, often accompanied by intense criticism, and above all, a lack of space and time for spontaneity and freedom.

Conservative, small, but also religious societies may more easily create the foundations for the development of such behavioral characteristics, where individuals are dominated by the fear or the guilt of being themselves.

Because fear is the dominant emotion behind such behavior. Fear to be yourself, fear to live the moments of your life, fear to freely make your choices. What will the world say, what will society, parents say, what will the others think of us? What are the reasons that lead to such often absurd situations?

Vicky Tsiaousi

Art therapist