“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.
How important is it to identify yourself as an artist – to others, and especially to yourself?
What if you don’t get awards for your creative work? What if it isn’t even seen by others?
Are you still an artist if you are doing something else for survival?
Psychologist Robert Maurer has worked with many creative people and researches the dynamics of success. He comments:
“The people who love their craft and see themselves as artists, and carry that identity through and study each day… are the people who thrive. To me, that’s the only definition of success that matters.”
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.
“At any time I still expect that the no-talent police will come and arrest me.” Actor, writer, director Mike Myers
Many talented and creative people experience impostor feelings and beliefs about themselves, despite their accomplishments.
Valerie Young, Ed.D. is an expert on impostor syndrome and commented in an Entrepreneur magazine article: “Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments.”
The article author notes “the impostor syndrome is especially common among people who become successful quickly or early, and among outsiders, such as women in male-dominated industries.”
Dr. Young adds, “They explain away their success as luck or timing. They feel this sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
From Fake It Until You Make It: How to Believe in Yourself When You Don’t Feel Worthy by Nadia Goodman.
One example is actor Emma Watson, who commented about its impact for her:
“It’s almost like the better I do, the more my feeling of inadequacy actually increases, because I’m just going, Any moment, someone’s going to find out I’m a total fraud, and that I don’t deserve any of what I’ve achieved.
“I can’t possibly live up to what everyone thinks I am and what everyone’s expectations of me are.”
Many actors, musicians and other performers seem to be very self-assured and confident, though some admit that is not always true. Some psychologists note that confidence can have negative aspects – and low confidence may have benefits.
Her fourth album “Red” had opening sales of 1.21 million – the highest recorded in a decade, and Taylor Swift has had two million-plus opening weeks.
But in an interview in front of a college audience for a tv show she commented: “I doubt myself 400,000 times per 10-minute interval. I have a terrifying long list of fears. Literally everything — diseases, spiders… and people getting tired of me.”
In an article of hers, Irish writer and creativity teacher Orna Ross notes a creative person may be “all too aware of their problems, but often unaware of their abilities.” She continues:
“This, allied with the fact that they live in a society that prefers linear, rational thinking and behaviour, makes them try to fit into situations that don’t suit them — and then blame themselves when that doesn’t work out.
“Hence: ‘I’m too sensitive’; ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’; ‘I think too much’.
“Over time, self-blame and lack of understanding leads many bright, creative people into marginalized lives as adults — underemployed, dissatisfied and often in tremendous psychological pain.”
Continuing from Part 1 on the topic of recognition: What if your novel remains unpublished, no gallery wants to show your painting, no one seems to want to fund or promote your idea for an app?
What if you never get an Oscar?
[Photo: Colin Firth and Meryl Streep from post We Need Healthy Self Respect to Be More Creative.]
If your creative work of any kind is not applauded or at least acknowledged, does that mean you are not “really” creative?
Cheryl M. Ackerman addresses this idea of recognition specifically for gifted people, but I think her perspectives are helpful even if you were not “labeled” as exceptionally intelligent or creative.
She notes “It is important to remember that just because a person was not identified as gifted when they were in school, doesn’t mean she isn’t a gifted individual.
One reason for discounting our creative abilities is comparing ourselves to other people, especially well-known and successful artists, such as millionaire novelist Dean Koontz.
And myths about artists being “crazy” or “starving” may also influence how much we may be motivated to live a creative life.
But some people need to first get past the insidious idea that they are “not creative.”
“Anyone who says ‘I don’t have a creative bone in my body’ is seriously underestimating their skeleton. More to the point, they are drastically undervaluing their brain.”
“The deepest principle in human nature is the craving to be appreciated.” Psychologist William James
Our needs for attention and appreciation may be basic, and grounded in survival as a child, but for some people, those needs are especially potent.
In a recent article, Ben Kingsley commented about being a performer as a child, like so many other gifted actors, and some hurtful responses from his parents.
“I had always been the song-and-dance man of the family,” he says. “I remember my father referring to me as ‘our little Danny Kaye’ when I was about seven. That was the only remotely positive comment I remember from them. They never praised me or acknowledged a gram of talent in me.