Would you like to:
- deepen your creativity;
- enrich your sense of who you are and what is possible for you;
- introduce more playfulness into your life;
- find out more about a particular side of yourself;
- get a bit clearer about a situation that feels problematic and stuck;
- or gain clarity when you’re feeling torn between two choices?
Well – have you ever thought of using puppets?
Puppets!… hearing that word, do you get a curious tingle inside, your heart beating a little faster? Or perhaps, on the contrary, you’re thinking: ‘What??? I hope no-one expects me to use puppets!’
Some people love puppets, some absolutely hate them (which is fine!); and most aren’t quite sure until they’ve tried.
So I’m going to give you a few ideas about why (and how) might you use puppets by yourself, on your own at home*.
I’ll show you:
- how to choose a puppet
- how to dialogue with it
- what’s happening when the puppet won’t ‘speak’
- what to do if you don’t feel comfortable with your puppet’s ‘personality’
- how to build on what you discover
1 Choose a puppet
To start, you’ll either need to make a puppet, or buy one. Making a puppet can be a very enjoyable creative activity. It can be as simple as an old sock, with a couple of buttons sewn on as eyes. If you like, you could sew more details on to create a really elaborate puppet. Or draw a figure on card and stick it to a lollipop stick. You don’t have to like what you’ve made — but you do have to be open to what it might have to show you.
If you prefer to buy a puppet, spend some time in a toyshop checking out the hand puppets; or look online at the wide range available at specialist online stores. Notice what are you drawn to. Cuteness? Quirkiness? Mischievousness? If you can afford it, perhaps you might buy two puppets, each with different qualities. It helps if you choose a puppet that you are drawn to — but you can also discover a lot from working with a puppet that you find unappealing.
2 Dialogue with your puppet
Once you’ve got your puppet, find somewhere that you can be alone and undisturbed for at least half an hour. Put your puppet on your hand and get to know it. You may find it helps to walk slowly around; or you might prefer sitting.
Let your puppet speak. What does it want to talk about? If no words come, that’s okay. Sometimes these things take time. The part of you that ‘knows’ the puppet’s character may be very wary of revealing itself. This might be the most vulnerable, fragile part of you that has been crushed and hurt in the past, and it might need a lot of patience and gentle acceptance before it can safely be seen.
You might like to dialogue with your puppet. You could try asking it questions such as:
- Who are you?
- What do you know about you?
- How do you show up in my life?
- What do you need?
- What are your strengths?
- What is a gift or quality that you have to offer?
3 What’s happening when the puppet won’t ‘speak’?
It’s important to note that although the answers may come in the form of words, they may come instead as body sensations, feelings, memories or images. Work on bringing your awareness to these other forms of knowing. It’s possible that you may need to allow yourself several sessions of trying to open yourself to picking up any subtle messages that are coming from your body, your feelings, and your imagination.
4 What to do if you don’t feel comfortable with your puppet’s ‘personality’
You may feel quite charmed and delighted by your puppet. It might be very loveable, sweet, brave or quirky.
But equally, the character of your puppet may seem obnoxious or disappointing to you in some way. Perhaps your puppet is a show-off, mean, nasty, sexist, racist, or just stupid and dull. Perhaps it flirts in a way you disapprove of, or it wants to criticise you.
All of this is valuable information. See if you can allow yourself to hear it, for now. You don’t have to agree with it. If the criticism feels overwhelming, take the puppet off your hand and consider using another puppet to speak, one which represents the ‘underdog’, the criticised part.
Like it or not, everything that the puppet ‘says’ or ‘feels’, is actually a part of you. It might be a part that you’re familiar with already; or it may be a part that is in your ‘shadow’.
The Shadow is a Jungian concept that refers to all the qualities, feelings etc that you have inside but which you don’t recognise as part of you. If you’re shy, your shadow may be assertive and bold; if you feel ugly, your shadow holds your disowned beauty; if you see yourself as always good and kind, hidden in your shadow is your unrecognised capacity for meanness, selfishness and cruelty.
It can be very helpful to be familiar with your shadow. It can open up more richness and depth in your experience of yourself, and it can also help you have compassion for other people (even the ones who seem very different to yourself).Getting familiar with your 'Shadow' can open up more richness & depth inside. Here's one… Click To Tweet
5 Build on what you discover
It can be enormously helpful to follow through on your puppet work by spending a bit of time reflecting and recording through drawing or writing, so that any insights you gained don’t disappear. Bear in mind that there will be other aspects of you that might emerge in puppet work at other times, or with other puppets.
If you encountered a puppet that was very critical of you, I’d recommend that you contact a therapist or counsellor who specialises in working with the Inner Critic. A lot can be done to disarm the critical part of you and strengthen your inner confidence.
If puppet work appeals to you, have a go*. I’d love to hear how you found it, in the comments below. In another article I’ll be giving some stories as examples of how puppets can be used in the therapy room. You might be surprised at how much variety there can be!
*Note: Puppet work is safe for most people who try it. However, if puppet work begins to make you feel a bit strange or worried, don’t make yourself keep going — it might not be the right time for you to do this. And if you already have a diagnosed mental health problem, or you have a history of trauma, do discuss beforehand with your doctor whether you should do puppet work.
This article is meant for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or psychological evaluation or treatment. If you are concerned about your mental or physical health, please see a doctor or mental health professional to address your concerns. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions, please seek emergency treatment immediately.