“When we are happy, we are very superficial in our thinking.”
A clinical psychologist, professor and well-being researcher, Todd Kashdan addresses how happiness and “unwanted” emotions affect creative thinking and overall well-being in his book “The Upside of Your Dark Side” – an admittedly ‘provocative’ title that may bring to mind Darth Vader.
What some may label “negative” emotions and ideas are what psychologist Carl Jung and others identify as part of the Shadow Self, which may in varying degrees be shut away from our awareness by active suppression or repression and just not paying attention.
But as artists and others realize, our inner depths – this wealth of emotional and imaginational material – can provide material for creative expression.
“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.” ― Albert Einstein
Stories, perhaps especially the more elaborate and potent examples of fantasy and fairytale, can do more than entertain: they can reveal how others, and ourselves, manage being human. And how we can do better at it.
“The artist begins with a vision — a creative operation requiring effort. Creativity takes courage.” Henri Matisse
What fears and anxieties are holding you back from expressing yourself more creatively? Matisse and many other artists and psychologists note creative work requires courage or dealing with our fears.
Photographic images can be a powerful form of expression for creative people, and also a tool for therapists and anyone to help explore our inner selves.
This image by artist Jennifer Moon is titled “A Story of a Girl and a Horse: The Search for Courage.”
A news article about an installation of her photographs, sculpture and text-based works at UCLA Hammer Museum’s “Made in L.A. 2014″ biennial, describes the piece as a “self-portrait, a chromogenic digital photo [that] depicts Moon on a chocolate brown horse, leaping over a bed of clouds shot through with electricity, as if she were riding a flying Unicorn.”
“Basically, I’d been fairly drunk or high since I was 14.” Colin Farrell
Why do so many creative people use and abuse drugs, often to the point of addiction?
There is of course no easy answer, but one of the factors for many people may be childhood trauma.
In his article Emotional Trauma: An Often Overlooked Root of Addiction, David Sack, M.D. writes, “A history of childhood neglect or sexual, physical or emotional abuse is common among people undergoing treatment for alcoholism and may be a factor in the development of alcohol use disorders…
“Trauma has been associated not only with drug addiction but also overeating, compulsive sexual behavior and other types of addictions.”
Another article notes, “Children who have a history of abuse, neglect, or trauma may exhibit oppositional behavior as a response to their experiences. Experiencing any kind of traumatic event increases a child’s likelihood of acting out, as they must cope with challenging feelings, thoughts, and memories.”
So many people experience unwanted sexual contact, rape and other forms of sexual abuse.
And they often help deal with the aftermath through creative expression, perhaps using art therapy, but more often some other form of creative self-expression.
One of many articles on the topic here on Psych Central, Mental Disorders Often Follow Sexual Abuse by Rick Nauert PhD, reports: “Researchers have discovered that a history of sexual abuse is frequently linked with a lifetime diagnosis of multiple psychiatric disorders…this association held true regardless of the victim’s gender or age when the abuse occurred.”
There are many references and articles on “healing” from sexual abuse and other kinds of trauma, but it is important to keep in mind the emotional and spiritual impacts may endure, at least to some degree; dealing with abuse is not like healing a broken bone.
But experiencing abuse of any kind also does not make us “damaged goods” – see actor Teri Hatcher’s comments below.
The painting is a self portrait by Artemisia Gentileschi (1593-1653). An article notes she was raped by an art tutor of hers, followed by a “highly publicised seven-month trial. This event makes up the central theme of a controversial French film, Artemisia (1998), directed by Agnes Merlet.
[Continued from Part 1]
Musician Henry Rollins commented about being a performer and staying healthy on road tours:
“Eating well is becoming easier on the road as more places are health conscious. Gyms are easy to find anywhere there’s electricity and traffic.
“Time is the hard part. I do my best and I learned a long time ago that without recuperative sleep, good nutrition and constant exercise, this high stress lifestyle of traveling, etc. quickly takes a toll. I just see it as a very important thing and make sure I get it done.”
From my article Taking Care of Your Creative Self.
“Life is about courage and going into the unknown.” Cheryl (Kristen Wiig) in “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.”
The movie is a celebration of the wonderful diversity of people and places on Earth, and pursuing ideas with courage, even if most of the pursuit by Mitty is in his imagination.
It is based on a story by James Thurber (by the way, he hated the 1947 movie version, according to Turner Classic Movies), who said:
“Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.”
Ben Stiller stars in and directs this version, which a writer summarizes as being about “an ordinary man with an extraordinarily active imagination” who embarks “on a globe-trotting adventure that ultimately trumps anything in his daydreams.”
In Part 1 of this article Eric Maisel talks about moving from an everyday mindset of “getting things right” to a creative mindset “where huge mistakes and messes are permitted and even welcomed.”
But many of us tend to be perfectionistic – which can help drive excellence, but may also support anxiety and creative constriction.
Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond notes “Were it not for perfectionism, we would be in short supply of all those myriad human activities we deem extraordinary, excellent, outstanding or great in quality.”
But in his Psych Central article “Perfectionism: Adaptation or Pathology?”, Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D. notes, “Somewhere on a continuum between normality and pathology there is a point at which the behavior results in functional impairment.” Read more in my post Too Much Perfectionism.
Coach and author Barbara Sher has a helpful perspective on this.
“Art work is ordinary work, but it takes courage to embrace that work.”
That is a quote from the book “Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking,” by two artists: David Bayles and Ted Orland. They also point out, “Artists become veteran artists only by making peace not just with themselves, but with a huge range of issues.”
Actor and teacher Jeffrey Tambor describes how fear can impact presence and creativity in performances and auditions, and how to shift the experience of fear.
He notes, “We are all fear-based creatures. And fear can be the great killer. It kills your original impulses, your creativity, and it kills desire. Rather than deny fear, we have to find new ways of dealing with it. We actually have to dance with it, so to speak.”