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The Personal Dimension

Is a person still a ‘person’, should parts of brain function deteriorate, resulting in declining mental and physical ability, together with challenges in emotional regulation? In a hyper-cognitive society, the answer is likely a ‘no’, because such a person would not be able to participate rationally in society. In person-centered care approaches, the answer is ‘yes’, because the being of a person is still present (Kitwood, 1997). It is up to society to discover and develop different forms of communication, interaction and contribution that individuals can make, regardless of mental, physical and emotional challenges.

Person-centered arts approaches with communities are, first and foremost, committed to developing artistic platforms for the person to be present. The arts programs we conduct therefore have to connect with the personal dimension as its foundation. This section proposes a layered lens through which we can decipher the significance of what we do for our participants within this dimension. The ultimate goal within this dimension is for our participants to gain a more stable sense of self and subsequently be confident participants who, through the arts, can journey towards a personal experience of self-realization.

Foundational elements of the personal dimension: Self-Awareness

As a person, we know we exist because we take on a physical presence through our body. We then perceive experiences through our senses that become processed through our mental faculties (Genari, 2012). We consequently respond or participate with the perceived experience through our actions (of the body), along with emotions which verify our identity within the situational context of the experience (Stets & Trettevik, 2014).

The first layer of the personal dimension can therefore be proposed to comprise of body, emotional and mind consciousness. In short, it is a nucleus that is made up of a Mind-Heart-Body triad that work together to create and support a sense of self. This triad can be likened to a tripod, where the three equal legs are able to support the self. Should one leg, or two, be shorter than the other, the sense of self, or self-awareness, may become less confident, less stable as a result. The persons whom we work with often come from communities that face challenging social constraints or judgment. It is common (though there are exceptions), to find that one leg of the Mind-Heart-Body triad is less developed than others due to a variety of challenging circumstances faced by an individual. The arts experience we provide can create occasions for balancing. This however means that we must be sensitive in crafting arts experiences that allow for these three aspects of consciousness to manifest themselves.

Strengthening Self-Awareness: Our Response

As an artist-facilitator, it is also essential that we respond to acknowledge the growing self-awareness, and hence presence, of our participants. This is especially essential for participants who have a weak sense of self. This weakness can take the form of avoiding engagement in the first-person, choosing to mimic others instead. Responses that enable and engage with a growing sense of self can take place in verbal ways, such as addressing individuals by name or rephrasing and hence mirroring their expressions of emotion. It can also take place through non-verbal responses of stable eye-contact in our interaction. Appropriate touch is also helpful in affirming the physical presence of both the facilitator and the participant. These actions recognize our participants as individuals and in turn encourages the participant to feel safe in expressing first-person thoughts. Our words and actions can therefore affirm and strengthen self-awareness in our participants.

Maturing elements of the Personal Dimension: Self-identity

As a person matures, he or she establishes a self-concept, or self-identity. The arts can support individuals through identity exploration and affirmation, which eventually matures into self-confidence and autonomy. One’s identity is constructed via interactions with others in a particular situation, together with consequent perceptual responses made internally by the individual as a result of these interactions (Stets & Trettevik, 2014). Overtime, a person’s identity changes, as the meaning in one’s identity regulates itself based on the feedback of others set within a wide range of life scenarios. The ability to sense a ‘core’ self that is aware of one’s lived past and anticipated future, is called an “extended consciousness” by Damasio (1999). The ability to be aware of one’s past and future is what defines an “autobiographical self” (ibid).

Strengthening Self-Identity: Our Response

It is essential that the artist-facilitator does not take a moral stand with regards to judging various forms of self-identity that our participants start to grow into. Bias based on sexual identity, religious affiliation or ethnic identity should not at all be evident in the way we respond to participants who choose to identify more assertively in any one of these areas. This requires us to be conscious of our reactions and responses. Patronizing behavior in lieu of acceptance also does not work, and often participants, especially children and youth, are perceptible to being patronized. Trust and enthusiasm wane as a result of this.

Mature elements of the Personal Dimension: Self-realization

Based on psychological theories, personal development is a trajectory that ends with a holistic sense of self. Maslow’s (1943) hierarchy of needs calls this pinnacle of achievement ‘self-actualization’. Individuals who achieve this stage of growth have been able to fulfill their search for meaning in life, which Maslow defined to be the ‘highest of needs’ (ibid).   Erikson (1950) presented eight stages of human development, which culminated in the stage of ‘ Integrity vs Despair’, where ‘integrity’ depended on how an individual reviews his or her life’s purpose and meaning against the backdrop of society and the wider world. To summarize, a positive review of having contributed well to society and the world, as a unique individual, results in ‘integrity’, while a negative review leads to ‘despair’. Jung (1966) developed a theory of individuation, which refers to the becoming of one’s innermost unique self (the individual). Individuation can thus be translated as ‘self-realization’ (ibid).

Supporting the Journey Towards Self-Realization: Our Response

In view of this possibility, we could become more open to the peculiarities of our participant’s responses. If we consider that each drawing, each action or speech idiom is potentially part of the journey towards self-realization for our participants, we will value each drawing, action and speech idiom. This also means that the participant comes to value his or her own artistic outcome, and in doing so gives it the significance of introspection. By being mindful to the various expressions of self that our participants demonstrate, we can validate these expressions to enable them to become more confident and secure individuals.

* For more details on each element of the Personal Dimension, please refer to Person-centered Arts Practices With Communities: A Pedagogical Guide (


Damasio, A.R. (1999) The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion In The Making Of Consciousness. Harcourt Brace & Co. USA.

Ganeri, J. (2012) The Self: Naturalism, Consciousness, and the First-Person Stance. Oxford Scholarship Online.

Jung, C. (1966) Collected Works Of C.G. Jung, Vol. 7, 2nd edition, Princeton University Press.

Kitwood T (1997) Dementia Reconsidered: The Person Comes First. Open University Press, Bristol USA.

Maslow, A. H. (1943) A theory of human motivation, Psychological Review, 50, pp.370-36. Retrieved from, accessed 26th May 2018.

Stets J.E. & Trettevik R. (2014) Emotions in identity theory, in Handbook of the Sociology of Emotions: Volume II, pp. 33-49, Stets J.E. & Trettevik R (eds), Handbooks of Social Research, Springer, Dordrecht.

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