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A Healthy Ego To Be Creative

William Wegman dog duo

How does a healthy self-concept impact our creative work? Don’t we need a big ego, fame and money for creative expression?

One sense of this word “ego” is a distorted self-regard, what psychologist Carl Jung referred to as “inflated consciousness… hypnotized by itself.”

William Wegman - Bobbin the dogMany people recognize the need to modulate this kind of unhealthy ego in order to facilitate the creative process. But we need to be careful about labeling attitudes as “egotistical” or “narcissistic.”

Creativity teacher and writer Julia Cameron has commented, “We tend to think, or at least fear, that creative dreams are egotistical… This thinking must be undone.”

[From her book “The Artist’s Way” – quoted in my article Ego and Creativity.]

Our self-concept, positive self-regard and simply confidence, are key influences on how fully we realize our talents. We do need to know ourselves, and feel good about who we are, to passionately pursue our ambitions and abilities.

But a study a few years ago, led by San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge (titled “Egos Inflating Over Time”), warns that years of school self-esteem programs and media that “promotes the self relentlessly” could cause distortions in self-regard, and lead to significant personal and social problems, especially for people reaching adulthood.

There’s more about this research in my post Can self-esteem distort our personal development?

Actor Giovanni Ribisi had an interesting – and I think very valid – take on self concept and self-regard for artists and creative people. He said, “I just want to keep honing my craft. Not that I’m taking myself too seriously, but every artist should consider himself Picasso. Otherwise, you’re doing yourself an injustice.” [Quote from his bio]

Realizing exceptional talents may mean you should take yourself seriously, in the sense of really acknowledging your abilities, and look for inspiration such as role models that can activate those abilities.

And not be contemptuous or afraid of being exceptional.

Gillian AndersonActor Gillian Anderson commented:

“When I think of normal, I think of mediocrity… and mediocrity scares the **** out of me!” [From her imdb profile.

In a magazine interview a number of years ago, responding to the question: “What kills creativity?,” she replied succinctly, “Ego.”

Another article notes the Goose Island Beer Co. (Chicago, IL) named two brews after her: a Scully and a second one called Gillian.

Anderson noted her dream when an acting student, “as I’m sure it is with most actors, was that I’d be working professionally and being known amongst the world. That’s all a part of the fantasy, right? … On some level there has to be enough of an ego to keep you going to think that maybe your name will become a household name.

“So if I was contributing to that fantasy in any way, I guess part of that fantasy might include someone naming something after me. [laughs] There’s a lot of ego involved in that particular thought pattern.”

[From Gillian Anderson on Owning Feminine Sexuality in ‘The Fall’ by Liz Shannon Miller, Indiewire January 16, 2015.]

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There are plenty of examples of mediocrity in mainstream media, and it is worth reminding ourselves that who and what can inspire us toward excellence – such as outstanding artists – may not be found in mass media, and may need to be actively sought.

In an interview about his book Life The Movie: How Entertainment Conquered Reality, Neal Gabler noted, “Serious literature, serious art, serious ideas, serious people are given nowhere near the attention and receive nowhere near the respect that they would deserve if the basis of attention and respect were one’s contribution rather than one’s entertainment value.”

Ribisi’s comment about Picasso also implies using role models as examples and for inspiration.

But we need to be careful about not losing a sense of our own value in doing that – director James Mangold warned in an interview about not relying on others to define yourself: “I think the biggest struggle we all have sometime.. is to be what you are instead of what you want to be. I’m not talking about being an actor or a director or whatever, but rather about the pressure we put on ourselves to be the kind of movie director or kind of actor or rock singer that inspired us, because you’ll never quite be that person – you’re always you…

“The people who are really happy always seem to know exactly what they are.”

[From my Inner Actor post Liv Tyler on Feeling Real.]

Many talented and creative people have conflicted feelings about themselves and their self-worth.

John LennonJohn Lennon kind of summed it up :

“Part of me suspects that I’m a loser, and the other part of me thinks I’m God Almighty… You’re just left with yourself all the time, whatever you do anyway. You’ve got to get down to your own God in your own temple. It’s all down to you, mate.”

From article: Talented and Insecure (an excerpt from my main book).

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Gillian Anderson is co-author of the novel A Vision of Fire.

Read about more multitalented creators like Jessica Lange, Gordon Parks, Julia Cameron, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jamie Lee Curtis, Jane Seymour, Natalie Portman, James Franco, Mayim Bialik, Jeff Bridges, Viggo Mortensen, David Lynch and others in article: Multitalented Creative People.

Photos of dogs from

Book: William Wegman Polaroids.

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One of my related articles: Nurturing Our Self-Esteem

Comparing ourselves to others may erode how we appreciate our own qualities. Do you talk about yourself to others, and privately in your mind, in ways that discount your abilities and positive qualities? I certainly do…

Fraud or impostor feelings are one form of unhealthy self-esteem, and Valerie Young, Ed.D. notes: “Millions of people, from entrepreneurs to celebrities, have a hard time internalizing their accomplishments.”

She suggests “Six steps for matching perceptions to reality” – see the article for more, including information on her program Overcome the Impostor Syndrome.


A Healthy Ego To Be Creative

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. (2015). A Healthy Ego To Be Creative. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 4, 2020, from


Last updated: 24 Apr 2015
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