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Closing the Distance: Using Art Therapy to Tackle Feeling Withdrawn

Anger can happen in response to different contexts and events. People who are sensitive to rejection have been found to respond to overt rejection by withdrawing, and to respond to ambiguous, more subtle rejection with reactive aggression (Zimmer-Gembeck & Nesdale, 2013). These findings suggest that reactions to rejection can be experienced both as a threat to which aggression feels appropriate, and as a message to retreat and isolate. Social and emotional withdrawal also correspond with experiences of depression and anxiety, and are particularly exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

There are some art therapy techniques that could serve as useful tools to manage feelings of withdrawal. Depending upon the context, it may feel important for you to withdraw and spend some time at rest by yourself. If that is the case, but you are feeling that you need some support, one option is to look to nature to help ground you. If it is possible for you to spend some time outside in a natural setting, then you can take that opportunity to be present with whatever setting you are in. Take the chance to tune into your sense, making note of what sounds you can hear, what the air feels like on your skin, and all the different things you can see.

One thing you can do is engage in some eco-art therapy. Here is an idea of how you can do that:

  1. Find a spot in nature where you can feel at ease. Make an effort not to disturb any wildlife in the setting.

  2. Gather natural materials that you are drawn to that you can find in your vicinity. Examples include twigs, fallen leaves, and rocks. Be sure to respect the ecosystem that you’re in while you do this.

  3. Once you have gathered your materials, pick a spot to create an art piece using your collected items.

  4. You can place your collected items in relationship with each other to create a scene. You could also draw and make marks in the ground using your items to create an art piece.

  5. Once you have finished, take a step back from your piece and look at it in the context of the overall environment you are in. Did you make something that blends in, or that stands out? Will the piece withstand the elements, and will it be witnessed by others who visit this environment?

  6. If you are able to, take the opportunity to come back to the scene the next day or the next week, and notice what has happened to your piece, and how it makes you feel. Think about what it means to have participated in the structure of the environment, and how it feels for time to affect your piece. If you are looking for inspiration, look to the artist Andy Goldsworthy, who creates art in natural environments.

On the other hand, if you are unable to make it outside and into a natural setting, there are some other options for how to tackle feelings of withdrawal. If you are struggling with reaching out to others and are feeling isolated, it may be useful to spend some time making something for somebody else. Pick a person, a pet, or even a plant, and think about what it is that you value about their spirit and their presence in your life. You could write and decorate a thank you note, expressing your gratitude. You can write a letter to them that you don’t have to send, or you could ask yourself what you could create for them that would bring them joy or use. When feeling depleted and withdrawn, it is important to take the pressure off of yourself and go with the flow of what your body needs in that moment. It can also be helpful to consider what networks of support you have, and to consider what you are grateful for when you feel like you are alone.


Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J., & Nesdale, D. (2013). Anxious and angry rejection sensitivity, social withdrawal, and retribution in high and low ambiguous situations. Journal of personality, 81(1), 29–38.

Wrote by:

Kiri Lester-Hodges

Creative Arts Therapy Intern

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