Culture, Religion, and the Impact of Color

psychology of color

“The mainstream of creativity appears to be the same tendency which we discover so deeply as the curative force in psychotherapy – man’s tendency to actualize himself, to become his potentialities.” ~Carl Rogers On Becoming a Person

“Nature always wears the colors of spirit.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

“The whole point is to live life and be – to use all the colors in the crayon box.” ~RuPaul

The Impact of Color

Color plays a big role in our feelings, perceptions, and actions. It can set a mood, draw attention, and even influence purchases. Color has historical context and cultural effects. Different colors invoke physiological reactions and impact our thinking. Color is a powerful influencer for our behavior, physiology, and mood.

Cultural Context

Culture can sway many meanings we have for color. Common phrases like “green with envy,” “the grass is not always greener on the other side,” “red with rage,” or “feeling blue” portray shared cultural influences.

Cultural associations have malleability. They change with time. For example, in the 2000’s, the color red emerged as an association with the Republican Party and the color blue implied the Democratic Party. Pink is also on the forefront that represents breast cancer.

History of Color

The first discoveries of cave paintings dates back to 25,000 BC wherein red ochre compared to the common place of black today.  Iron-rich soil made the red pigment readily available for expression and communication.

Over time, a palette of black, brown, yellow, red, and white emerged as artists mixed animal fat, burnt charcoal, chalk, and soil.

Iconic hues progressed from cochineal insects that produced a popular red pigment. Later lapis lazuli, a gemstone from Afghanistan created some of the most sought after and hefty priced paintings.

Green came from toxic arsenic and then later mixed with copper. Cezanne, Monet, and Renoir all used the vivid yet poisonous pigment.

Colors of Religion

Color helps express core beliefs and traditions of the foremost religions. The Christian Bible, the Buddhist scriptures, and the Torah have many references made to color and symbolize specific principles and ethics.

Christianity

In Christian countries, red is linked to the blood of Christ. It symbolizes pain and suffering and some times used as an alternate color for the Season of Lent.

Blue is the color of royalty. The hue is used to welcome the coming of a King, symbolizes the night sky and the birth of Christ with the rising star.

Violet is associated with repentance from sin. Black is a traditional color of mourning. White and gold partake in celebrations, holy days, festivals, and any presence of joy and brightness.

Buddhism

In Buddhist traditions, the highest level of meditative achievement is the rainbow body wherein the body is transformed into pure light. To achieve the rainbow body is to possess pure light, which contains all colors.

Red is one of the five color bands in the flag. Red (Lohita) is the Blessings of Practice, wisdom, virtue, achievement, dignity, and fortune. Red is a marker of sacred areas and a protective color often seen on the garments of monks and shamans.

Orange, also in the Buddhist flag refers to the Buddha’s teachings of wisdom.

Blue, a strip in the Buddhist flag is representative of healing, tranquility, purity, wisdom, and universal compassion.

Yellow is the middle path in Buddhism. It means avoiding extremes and emptiness.

Similar to Christianity, black refers to darkness, hate, anger, and evil. White represents purity, longevity, and knowledge.

Judaism

The history of Judaism dates back to 2000 BCE. It is one of the oldest religious practices in place today. Blue is a common pigment of the Jewish faith. It represents the Divine and the color of God’s Glory. Blue is part of the Israeli flag, the Star of David, and in fringes. The blue threads, or tzitzit often are worn on the corners of garments to separate the eating habits from those of gentiles’ and discourage acts of sin.

White symbolizes purity, intelligence, and innocence.  Red has contrasting symbolism of joy and happiness and sin.   Purple is the purification from sin.

Psychological and Physiological Effects

Color influences our physiology. For example, the primary color red is often associated with injury accompanied by the sight of blood. Red often associated with anger or embarrassment may cause a flushed face. Red also has been known to increase heart rate and blood pressure.

Red is also stimulating and evokes passion often times seen in women’s cocktail attire, ruby red lipsticks, and in sports. Research conducted at the 2004 Summer Olympics found competitors who wore red were more likely to win.

Blue, another primary color is often associated with tranquility, relaxation, nourishing, and calmness. It is the color of the sky, water, and sea. Blue is a cool color of sadness and may evoke feelings of depression for some.

Yellow, one of the three primary colors has shown to speed up metabolism. Yellow requires intense focus and grabs people’s attention.

Bubble gum pink tends to relax and have a calming effect on children. A pilot study conducted at the San Bernardino County Probation Department in California showed that a room painted bubble gum pink tended to reduce violent behaviors of children. When the youngsters were put in the 8-foot by 4-foot cell painted pink, they stopped yelling, banging, and fell asleep within ten minutes.

Conclusion

Color has many common associations. Readily obtainable mineral mercury gave way to the use of cinnabar, or red, during rituals in the Iberian Peninsula territory between Spain and North Africa, burial sites in the ancient culture of Yangshao in China, and in weddings and special occasions in the Chinese culture. In India, red is seen as a color of luck.

White across all cultures and religions symbolizes purity, light, and innocence.

Blue is also quite popular and universally represents wisdom. Red esteems condescending meanings across all cultures from passion to anger.

However, there is no definitive connotation to pigment. The article is intended to stimulate your thinking about color and its personal meaning to you. Colors can be contradictory and ambiguous. It is up to you to explore your color palette and what associations you have concerning color.

Here are some inquiries to ponder taken by Cathy A. Malchiodi, ATR, LPCC Using Art to Express Feelings: Drawing on Loss.

  • How do you use color in your dress, in your images, in your home décor, to express emotion?
  • Do certain colors have specific meanings for you?
  • Does your family, religion, ethnicity influence your associations to certain colors?
  • Do certain colors remind you of a specific holiday or event?
  • Are there colors that you wear for a specific occasion or situation?
  • What colors have you used the most in your artworks, wardrobes, or decors?
  • Are there areas of heavy uses of color? Light uses of color?
  • Do you like to use particular combinations, such as black and white; earthy, golden colors, pastels, deep, dark tones; colors found in nature?
  • Have you noticed any changes in your feelings, meanings, and preferences for colors over the years?
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Synchronicity Comes In Mysterious Ways

cricket

“Jung introduced the idea of synchronicity to strip off the fantasy, magic, and superstition which surround and are provoked by unpredictable, startling, and impressive events that, like these, appear to be connected.” ― C.G. Jung, Synchronicity

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Susan has Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, severe agoraphobia, panic attacks and dissociation after being robbed at her place of employment. While being held up at gunpoint, she was still able to remain composed and pack the thiefs’ backpack as he demanded.

She returned to work after a week but she remained in the fear response and couldn’t manage the constant feeling of intense danger.  She was overwhelmed and thus came to see me.

We have been working together for almost a year with some progress. Her intense fears cloud her confidence and her critical voice keeps her stuck.

She rather leap forward and “return to normal” than confront her fears with small steps.  She feels the fear and then criticizes herself for having the thoughts at all. She understandably just wants the fear and anxiety to go away.

I have used many of the techniques inside my toolbox.  I introduced mindfulness meditation, four square breathing, grounding exercises, and positive, compassionate self-talk to soothe anxiety. She is able to relax in session and regulate her fears but once she leaves my office, her attempts at home empower fear and her critical voice belittles her efforts.

The Anatomy of Anxiety

Neuroscience has helped us understand how trauma effects the brain. Physiological changes occur even before the conscious mind knows why you’re afraid. The classic fear response located in the amygdala alerts other brain structures resulting in a burst of adrenaline, a shutdown of digestion, a rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, and increased blood pressure.

The circuitry from the amygdala alerts the thalamus and the cortex, the conscious thinking portion of the brain. After the fear response is activated, the cortex and thalamus kick into gear. The thalamus processes sights and sounds and filters incoming cues and directs them either to the amygdala or the cortex.   If the data streaming in through the senses assesses there is imminent danger, the body stays on alert and the thinking part becomes limited.

Once the circuitry proceeds into an elevated stress response for a long period of time, physical, mental, and emotional aspects remain out of normal working conditions. Tools like mindfulness meditation, walking, deep breathing, listening to soothing music, and positive mantras can help regulate the stress response and return your neural circuitry back to normal.

As confidence is built in your ability to self regulate emotions, it is possible to slowly expose yourself to your fears in small doses. Susan was stuck in the stress response and had depleted her self-esteem to try and normalize her emotions.

Symbolism and Synchronicity

While we were in a recent session, I decided to have us switch chairs to engage her into a sense of empowerment. The physical change didn’t help.

But just when things seemed so unhopeful, a cricket appeared. I had been in the office all morning without a cricket in sight. I mentioned seeing the bug crawl on the floor.

Susan lit-up. She said, “My daughter and I were sitting in the backyard the other day and saw a cricket. I was about to kill it but my daughter stopped me. She said, “Mom, crickets are good luck. Don’t kill it. You’ll ruin your luck.”

Was this a coincidence or synchronicity? In Cameron’s book, The Artists Way she described Carl Jung’s term synchronicity as a fortuitous of intermeshing events. Whatever you want to call it, it helped Susan. The belief in seeing the cricket sparked her hope again.

According to many cultures, crickets are a symbol of good fortune and wealth. The cheerful chirps of crickets make us happy. Even William Shakespeare writes about the joys of crickets in his play, Henry IV. In scene IV, Prince Henry asks Poins, “Shall we be merry?” Poins responds, “As merry as crickets, my lad.”

In The Cricket on the Hearth, Charles Dickens writes, “It’s merrier than ever tonight, I think.” And it’s sure to bring us good future; John! It always has done so. To have a cricket on the hearth is the luckiest thing in the world!”

The Chinese observe the cricket as the threefold of life. Crickets lay their eggs in the soil and lives underground as lava. Then they transpire and convert into the imago.

The Irish considered crickets wise and household spirits. They understood all that was said and it was unwise to speak badly of crickets. The singing of crickets keeps the fairies away.

There is much evidence from many cultures and timespans that crickets are a symbol of good things are to come. Sometimes it’s a spontaneous symbol like a cricket that can bring positive change. I am hopeful that Susan will normalize her fears and anxieties.  Soon she will reflect back on the experience as major turning point in her life as a way to make new meaning and sense of a more expanded and renewed sense of self, compassion, and gratitude.

By the way, I never saw that cricket for the rest of the day. I believe it to be a synchronistic event meant only for Susan!

How To Overcome Fear

We all have worries and fears. They can easily disempower us and keep us stuck. I’ve seen it in myself and with others.  Falling into the trap of worry and fear doesn’t have to be the default.

Here is an example of how I worked through some of the fears with, Susan, a pseudo name of a person who came to me to free blocks that were preventing her success.

Susan began the session sharing worries, doubts, and uncertainties in her business model.  She even discounted her abilities. She said, “I am excited about my vision.  I know it’s a good business model.  I just have such a long way to go before it will come to fruition. It’s so overwhelming and keeps me stuck. How can I keep sane and make it to the finish line?”

I empathically replied, “One small step at a time. Look at what you have already accomplished. You have written the blueprint and have an outline to follow. Most people don’t even have the courage to take the time to think of a concept out of their normal routine job, let alone write the procedures. Give yourself credit and recognition of how far you’ve come.”

“True, true. But it still feels so overwhelming,” Susan responded.

It is overwhelming when you think of the overarching picture. It’s easy to think of where we want to be and not acknowledge how far we’ve come. Self-criticism and judgment is NOT helping the matter now.

Stay in the Present Moment

The present is all you know and can control. Acknowledge the past accomplishments, give praise where praise is deserved and then ask yourself, what can be done now?

Thinking into the future, brings worry. The future can feel like light years away. Forward thinking is daunting and overwhelming. It does nothing but stop you in your tracks. And that certainly isn’t moving forward at all.

Learn from the Past

You can reflect on the past, think about other goals you’ve tried and didn’t succeed. There might be some belief you’ve developed that’s keeping you stuck. Could it be something from my childhood? Was there a time in your past where you worked hard and circumstances unexpectedly took them away?

Susan began a story about a time when she was thirteen. “I was so excited for the upcoming dance recital scheduled for the end of the season. I had prepared for months going to dance class religiously. I consistently did my chores, saved my weekly allowance and bought my uniform. I hung it proudly in my closet anticipating the big day. And then bam, it was taken away. I got into trouble hanging around the wrong crowd and my punishment was I could not go to the dance recital. It tore me apart.”

Susan, that must have been so disappointing to work so hard, to feel so proud, and then have it shattered. I can imagine that hurt and disappointment and betrayal can feel like it may at any moment come back. But what is different now versus being that thirteen-year-old little girl?

Susan thought for a moment, “I am an adult and nothing is going to be taken away because I have no one to answer to but myself. I am the only one stopping me now. “

Yes! As a little girl you have no control over how your parents respond, but you are not living under their roof anymore. You are not dependent upon them for your survival. You are taking care of yourself now. You have worked hard, are able to pay your mortgage, buy your own food, and live comfortably with friends and others that support you. Many changes have taken place.

Susan was able to shed some light on her beliefs and move to a new perspective in a loving manner and as a grown, mature woman.

Worry and anxiety comes from a place focusing on the past or the future. The solution is the present. Concentrating on the past hinders what can be done in the present. To get unstuck it is important to focus on the present. What can be done now?

Unfold the Full Truth

Acknowledge what is going on right now. Name the fears and then assess each one. The truth of the matter is that you are fearful of possibilities of the future. Perhaps failure, even success, looking like a fool, or that no one desires what you have to offer.

Those are all possibilities. But what other possibilities exist? You can handle any disappointments and learn from them. Obstacles are pieces of information on how to improve.

Success can be controlled. If you are so successful, you can back off and regulate what makes you feel comfortable.

You may look like a fool to yourself, but I bet some people find your vulnerability courageous. It takes great bravery to expose your endeavor.  You have worked on your project for a long and hard time.

Lastly, if you desire what you have to offer, what makes you think you are the only one? You made a big leap and gathered some friends who were willing to do a practice run. You received invaluable feedback.  Acknowledge the courage it has taken to achieve the progress you have made.

Worry, fear, and despair will never disappear but it is those that learn to acknowledge the fear and move into it that succeed. You can’t thrive unless you try. Reflect upon your past, learn from it, and then use positive self talk to encourage your progress.

When worry and fear overwhelms, stay present and unfold the whole picture.  Anxiety may seem to cloud other emotions but next to anxiety is excitement. Find the excitement within your stress and you can then move forward. Anxiety likes negativity. The overall picture is never one-sided. Find the positive to counter the negative.

Positive Affirmations Don’t Work but the Truth Will Set You Free

“Honesty is the first chapter in the book of wisdom.”  ~Thomas Jefferson

Three things cannot be long hidden: the sun, the moon, and the truth.” ~Buddha

I have noticed it with myself that when I decide I’ve done all I can to make this all happen and I decide to just let it go and move on, that’s when the universe takes over.

The minute you release your tight grip on the vision, the vision appears. I believe there are no accidents.

Oprah gives a great example of the belief, ‘there are no accidents.’ While she was living in Baltimore she was asked by her boss to attend a party at her house who happened to be one of the wealthiest people she had known. When Oprah arrived, she noticed the house was large but what amazed her the most was that the host had six large trees in her backyard. She had never seen a property with so many trees. She thought to herself, “Oh rich people have trees. If I ever have some money that’s what I want, six trees in my yard.” She could care less about fancy pocketbooks or cars but she was sure she was going to get those trees.

Just a few years ago, Oprah stood in her kitchen looking out the window as she made her morning coffee and she saw six trees. She was so taken back by that moment that she went onto the back porch to actually count them. That’s when she realized that she could dream the six trees but beyond that were thousands more all in her yard.

What she witnessed was way more than she could have ever imagined for herself. Suddenly it clicked, she could imagine and dream the six trees but all that there is due to the forces of her life, her experiences, and that only the universal energy, God could see way beyond that number.

Dream and Dream Big

The point is to surrender to the bigger dream that life has in store for you. Oprah admits that she is not special but claims that she was obedient to the call of the dream.

What is life’s dream for you? What is the universe dreaming for you right now? So many people spend their lives hoping, and wishing, and desiring things. But what is certain is that you don’t get what you hope for or wish for; you get what you believe. Surrender the dream for your life to the bigger, more divine flow that is your life.

Positive Truths

One way to go about changing your beliefs is positive truths. Many people have heard of positive affirmations such as, “I can achieve anything.” “I am beautiful inside and out.” “I am a great public speaker.” “I have an abundance of money in my bank account.”

Repeating them throughout the day can certainly improve your mood. You may feel empowered, ready to conquer the world. Unfortunately, they never stick. After awhile, you begin to feel like you’re lying to yourself.

A large unexpected bill, a rejection from a recent pitch you made, or even a friend not returning your call, can cause the mind to flood with anxiety and fear again. Nothing changes.

The truth of the matter is positive affirmations don’t feel authentic. The difference between positive affirmations and positive truths is that positive truths define what is really happening.

Personal permanent transformation takes honesty, respect, and love. When you say, “I have an abundant of money in my bank account” and you know you only have a few hundred dollars you are trying to fool yourself. The reality is you don’t have unlimited funds. Your mind knows this and angrily lashes back.

Positive truths look for the truth and put a positive spin on your honesty. They work because they are scripted with total honesty.

Here are some examples of positive truths:

  • I am frustrated with my lack of income, but I am exploring new ways to bring in more money and networking every week.
  • I am scared about my new business venture, but I am learning to have confidence in my ability to achieve my goals and reach out for help when I need to.
  • I am sad that I’m still single after all these years, but I am meeting new people and taking action. I am learning to listen and trust myself in the process and relate to diverse individuals in a more open capacity.

As you begin to write your positive truths, sense what an unlimited back account would feel like, and then use your imagination to visualize abundance. Repeat the mantra for two minutes a day, three times a day, and with consistency watch things start to shift in your life.

It may be helpful to create a collage, a painting, or some art piece as a symbol of your abundance. Each time you see the finished piece, take the time to sense the feeling of abundance and say your mantra at least ten times.

Positive truths are honest, self-respecting and loving assessments about your present situation and actions taking place to change them. They are friendly reminders of how you are taking care of yourself. You aren’t just sitting on the sidelines of life. You are living life, feeling all your feelings of joy, sadness, fear, gratitude, and worry. You are honoring who you are, what you are doing, and affirming your truths with compassion.

You are capable of becoming your dreams.

You honor yourself with honesty, self-respect, love and positive truths. Then let go of the rest. Let the energy of the universe take care of you and the rest will come.

About

As a California Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (MFC #96155) residing in Los Angeles, I offer a safe and comfortable environment for individuals, couples, and groups to heal from emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, and neglect; anxiety, depression, grief and loss, and adapt easily through life’s many transitions. We meet weekly for 50 minutes in a non-judging environment in West Los Angeles, or via Google Hangouts or FaceTime. We work together to determine your goals, access your needs, and create a healing plan. Mindfulness, ACA tools, and nurturing support in the here and now are part of my approach to unleash critical thoughts, destructive beliefs, and assist in helping in parenting the child within. I welcome you to contact me at april@aprilwrighttherapy.com. l will contact you within 24 hours of receiving your email.

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