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I recently read this: “Belonging is a sense of fitting in or feeling like you are an important member of a group. A close family gives each of its members a strong sense of belonging.”

What if, like many artists, you grew up without that sense? What if you showed up differently than those around you? What if you were raised to be tough, analytical, and practical, but inside you felt contemplative, creative, and sensitive? What if you saw and heard things that you considered shocking, but others accepted as normal? What if your voice was dismissed as naïve, and mocking was an acceptable sign of love?

Brené Brown says a deep sense of love and belonging is an “irreducible need of all people.” She says when those needs aren’t met, “We don’t function as we were meant to. We break.”

I broke. Repeatedly. I didn’t absorb lessons from setbacks because my deep need to belong took precedence, even over my own safety. Driven by blind optimism, I repeatedly returned to the same type of controlling, abusive relationships, and workplaces, driving myself into helplessness and depression.

When my mother died recently, I was gifted a session with a treasure of a person, someone who helps people navigate death and dying. She said something that no one else has ever said to me:

"You didn't get what you needed growing up."

The statement was profound in its simplicity. No blame to feel guilty about. No overdone sentimentality. No phycological theories. Just a factual statement. My family, schools, community, religion…they provided me the training I needed to become like them, but they failed to provide me with what I needed to fully actualize who I am, and certainly didn’t provide what I needed to go down the unconventional path of an artist.

Do any of us get what we really need to fully develop as artists? Perhaps the path of the artist is one where we must reinvent ourselves, and separate our identities from our indoctrination.

Nevertheless, the acknowledgment was affirming. And somehow, it was exactly what I needed to hear. I have noticed that the kinder and more affirming I become with myself, the more my painful past fades in the rear-view mirror. The more I nurture my inner artist as the parent I never had, the more I protect her from the things that hurt her, the more joy I feel and the better my art becomes.

I used to think it was stupid to go back into your childhood and uncover stuff to feel bad about. Someone told me that once and I attached myself to that belief. I realized now that if you don’t go back and at least understand what happened and how you reacted to what happened, it’s hard to move forward into a healthier future. If you don’t fix the past, the disfunction of the past will manifest today.

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Carolyn Wonders


Modern life with its social, political, and cultural debates leaves us all raw, triggered, and anxious. We are bombarded by rhetoric that is carefully chosen to obscure truth and advance agendas. I see art as a universal language that can transcend that which twists us into parrots of this rhetoric. Living with art you love and seeing through an artist’s eyes can help us see these superficial debates for what they are and get us in touch with what really matters.


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