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Traumatic Childhood, Creative Adult

“Life without pain isn’t real at all.” Shia LaBeouf

Many people have had traumatic childhoods, and are drawn to creative expression as part of their way to deal with it, to heal and regain self esteem.

A number of talented actors have suffered traumatic experiences, including Ashley Judd, who was sexually abused; Charlize Theron, as a teen, saw her mother shoot her father in self defense; James Dean lost his mother to cancer when he was nine, and reportedly once told Elizabeth Taylor that he was sexually abused by a minister.

Shia LaBeouf started acting at age 12 to support his mother when his heroin-addicted father abandoned the family.

LaBeouf has said he was subjected to verbal and mental abuse by his father, who once pointed a gun at him during a Vietnam War flashback.

But he commented in an interview, “I’d say, through the pain, [my father] has given me more than my mother. Life without pain isn’t real at all.”

LaBeouf also said, “I don’t like the gray. I like hot or cold, black or white.”

He drinks heavily, perhaps as self-medication: “I never drink for the taste. I drink to get bombed. And when I let my hair down, I really let it down. All the way to a jail cell, usually.” [The Sunday Times 02 September 2012, via The Week magazine.]

This photo is from the premiere of his movie “Lawless.”

His costar Mia Wasikowska (with him in top photo) was so distressed by his “aggressive method acting and drinking” that she called her attorney in an attempt to leave the film, according to a Fox News story.

His statement “Life without pain isn’t real at all” sounds like Labeouf may be buying into the ‘tortured artist” mythology, an ancient and enduring notion that art depends on suffering, and artists are likely to be – even should be – fraught with suffering and dark emotions.

But a number of artists say that is just wrong.

In his appearance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show, Colin Farrell said he is finding that he is more creative being sober and happy.

“I was terrified that whatever my capacity was as an actor would disappear when I got sober,” he admitted. “I ascribed to the notion that to express yourself as an artist, you have to live in perpetual pain. And that’s nonsense.”

From post: Pain and suffering and developing creativity.

Dealing with trauma

Fortunately, there are effective therapeutic approaches to help people suffering from the emotional and spiritual impacts of abuse and trauma.

In my article Dealing with trauma and abuse to live a bigger, more creative life, I quote some other artists, and clinical psychologists including Cheryl Arutt on the power of EMDR, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing – and my own experience with it.

Some related articles:

Understanding the Effects of Trauma: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), by Lynn Margolies, Ph.D.

Actors and Addiction

The Alchemy of Art

“Art Saved My Life”

SARK on Healing and Creativity


Getting Past Your Past: Take Control of Your Life with Self-Help Techniques from EMDR Therapy, by Francine Shapiro, PhD.

Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, by Daniel J. Siegel, MD – who writes: “Mindsight is a kind of focused attention that allows us to see the internal workings of our own minds. It helps us to be aware of our mental processes without being swept away by them, enables us to get ourselves off the autopilot of ingrained behaviors and habitual responses, and moves us beyond the reactive emotional loops we all have a tendency to get trapped in.”


NOTE – This is a very big topic, and one of much personal interest to me, so I have created an expanded version, with many more quotes and resources: Traumatic Childhood, Creative Adult

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Traumatic Childhood, Creative Adult

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Traumatic Childhood, Creative Adult. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 24, 2020, from


Last updated: 11 Oct 2012
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