What are some of the reasons that you become stuck in your ability to create? Many reasons and excuses exist for stopping ourselves from being creative. If we are able to become aware of when and how we block ourselves, we can make a conscious effort to change our habits. We can let go of the excuses and give ourselves the opportunity to enjoy the creative energy that we all possess.
Are you aware of the inner critic that seems to sit on the shoulder of each of us? It's hard for me to think of a time when I've created a picture or written an article that I didn't, at some point along the way, judge myself: "Is this good enough? Is it worth it? It's terrible, isn't it?" I know I'm not alone. I've met enough people throughout my life and work to know that most of us seem to go through this same thought process, constantly. It's funny, though, that as young children we were able to be creative without any worry about our creation's "rightness," "beauty," or "good" or "bad" qualities. We were absorbed by exploration and experimentation. But as we've grown we began to incorporate the critic for many reasons - to help us discriminate aesthetically, to help us improve the way we approach a project, or even to be useful to others in society. However, just like many tools that we develop over time, the critic becomes unhelpful when it puts shame, embarrassment, and fear into our lives. These things prevent us from being creative.
Good news! We can acquaint ourselves with our inner critic so that it does not dominate our feelings and behavior. One way to do that is to let go of that harsh judge. Simply notice it and tell it to pass by: "Oh, I'm feeling judgmental about myself. I can continue to be hard on myself or get back into the process of doing this project." This kind of meditation allows the inner critic to be a part of your experience but keeps it from blocking your ability to act. You can also say to the critic: "Mr. Critic, you may be useful later in this project, but not now."
We also have a need for approval that can block creativity. "Will anyone like my sculpture?" "What will people think of me if I try to dance and I'm clumsy?" "What if I'm off tune and someone hears me sing?" We are asking a basic question: "Will anyone love me if I'm all of me?" We all need love an approval, but the key to launching our creative power is to find the deepest sense of approval within ourselves. If we put the locus of our worth in the hands of other people...well, that ain't gonna turn out well. We damn ourselves to a life of trying to please other people.
Will anyone love me if
The use of the expressive arts in the creative process is a path to self-discovery, self-esteem, and self-empowerment. Becoming your own best source of approval might take a while. Practice paying attention to the part of you that needs approval. Accept it but don't let it dominate your behavior. You can say "I am aware that I would like someone to tell me I am doing well. I can give myself that pat on the back for now."
The need for love and approval is legitimate. But that need is tricky. The more we long for love and approval, the less we seem to get. I know from my own experiences that when I'm the neediest for love and approval, I don't get them. But when I'm in love or loving, more comes my way. Be authentic and true to your highest self. That's a straighter path to receiving genuine love and appreciation.
Fear of failure is another trip cord that gets in the way of us being fully creative. What is failure? "I did it wrong," "I'm no good," "I made a big mistake!" In the creative process—and in life generally—these are unhelpful statements. More helpful would be to say: "What can I learn from this situation?" "What would make this process or product more to my liking?" As a therapist working with artists, I see people struggling with their process and I remind them that there is no right or wrong to what they're doing. When they hear that, the tension releases.
Using expressive arts in an accepting, supportive environment such as therapy helps greatly in overcoming these blocks to creativity. If you're interested in exploring and re-discovering your creative process let me know!
The thoughts, beliefs, values, and emotions of artists are inescapably represented in their work – and on some occasions, intentionally depicted. Three of the more familiar connections between art and the functions of the mind are the ways in which artists express their own thoughts, feelings, and mental distress in their paintings; the use of art to help individuals with mental disorders; and the occasional emergence of a person with mental illness, untrained as an artist, who proves to have a unique artistic vision.
There are several famous artists throughout the course of art history who have documented psychiatric disorders and who expressed their thoughts and moods through their art. Some of these artists are: Mark Rothko, Edvard Munch, and Bernard Buffet. They each were known to have said that their artwork reflected their depressed mood. Art historians and writers have interpreted the paintings of some artists (including Paul Cézanne, Vincent van Gogh, and Jackson Pollock) as showing evidence of various psychotic disorders.
Psychotherapy clients are often at a loss to describe how they feel. The discipline of art therapy is devoted to helping individuals express themselves without the need for language or logic and their lack of artistic skill or training is no barrier to self-expression.
A few individuals with mental disorders have produced works that have gained the attention of artists, art dealers, art historians, collectors, and curators. Jean Dubuffet called their work “Art Brut,” (“rough art,” or “coarse art”). Roger Cardinal later defined a category he called “Outsider Art,” which included Art Brut and also the work of folk artists, primitive artists, and untrained artists without mental illness who were indifferent to the prevailing culture. Outsider artists are not influenced by the formal art world, and are therefore free of the restraining conventions of traditional art.
As a psychotherapist and a trained, professional artist, I am discovering another intersection of art and the mind: artwork produced by the psychotherapist with the emotional experience of the client as the subject. For several years, I have used my studio practice as a time where I can create paintings and drawings that reflect what I felt after leaving one of my own psychotherapy sessions. But recently I have been making paintings that depict the depression, mania, psychosis, and compulsions that my clients experience. These paintings have become valuable to me and have helped provide me with insight into my client’s journey. My initial purpose was to enter into the clients’ world of mental illness to help me understand it better, but now I am hoping to bring the paintings into therapy sessions to show to the client and use them as a springboard for the client further explore their universe.
A basic method of communication, given to us by God, is the ability to make and share images with one another. Whether or not the psychotherapy client creates the work him or herself or if he or she is simply responding to an image in front of them, it is often helpful for the client to direct “stuck” thoughts and feelings onto something outside of the self in order to get past the hurdle that they are facing and to enter into one’s personal experience more deeply.
As I continue on in my work as a therapist, my practice as an artist and my identity as a Christian, I will continue to pursue the use of God given creativity as a method and means of healing in the therapy room.
Art matters to your journey.
Creativity is both a fully human and fully divine experience. It is an acknowledgement that something eternal and full of truth lies behind the temporal world in which we live. Art is powerful. Artwork, whether it is a beautiful paintings, an emotional dance, or powerful melody, focuses our eyes on and tune our ears to the pain that pierces us, the injustice in front of us, the joy abounding within us, and the pull we feel to live meaningful and significant lives. Music moves us. Poetry connects us. Paintings shout at us. Dance energizes us. Art draws us back into the reality of our humanity when we wander away from it—full of pain, discouragement, and bitterness. Art whispers to us: “You are not alone.”
In our American, western society, real art is slowly becoming less and less present in our every day experiences. It’s true that our current generation experiences “art” in abundance, as a constant stream of marketing—creativity is often times now merely used to push product. The sad reality of this is that when we only experience art in advertisements, websites, brands and logos, we lose the invaluable ways that it helps us understand who we are and what life is all about.
Our world today has lost sight of the fact that art is worthy without first having to prove it’s worth.
We live in a culture that values prestige and monetary success as the ultimate goal and because of this, the artist is beginning to fade away. In order to survive, artists must strive for success; even though that is not why they originally create. Artists create because they feel. Artists are emotionally connected and invested in the world and people around them and they are compelled to share the story of their experience with those around them. The reality is that creativity demands more materials, time, space, and funding. The act of creating becomes costly. If an artist is lucky enough to succeed, he or she usually struggles deeply with the fact that success dictates their art becoming a fad that requires mass approval. This fad only ever demands more of the same, which leaves the artist exhausted from trying to please the hoards of people who have jumped onto the latest trend.
I believe that humanity is losing a vital connection to God and to our souls when the arts begin to become unworthy in society. In order to prevent this from happening, action needs to be taken so that art can be restored to its rightful place. We are all responsible to change things.
So what can you do?
Make art part of your daily experience.
We all enjoy creative expression in some shape or form. Find out what form this is for you and make space in your schedule for it. Creativity can look like many things and will be different for each of us. Creative expression is refinishing furniture, gardening, experimenting in the kitchen, and even working passionately in the world of science or math. Another important way to elevate the arts is by supporting art within your local community by purchasing tickets to the ballet or symphony, checking out a local art show, attending local and regional theater productions, entering a writing contest, painting a mural, starting a band, singing at church, drawing on the sidewalk, organizing community dance lessons, or simply donating funds to an artist you know or creative organization that you love, and by purchasing original artwork!
Bring creativity to your workplace.
Creativity is becoming more and more essential in today’s businesses. Creativity and passion are becoming increasingly necessary to companies who desire imaginative and innovative ways excelling in their areas of expertise. Seth Godin, the author of Purple Cow: Transforming Your Business By Being Remarkable says, “I call it the [new] art system. People doing work that matters, feeling human about it, feeling connected, and making an impact. Companies now want their employees to step up and do something interesting.” Perhaps it’s time for you to start thinking outside the box and getting in touch with your creative side at work. It may help you stand apart in your current job or gather the courage to go after your dream position. Our lives are valuable and our time in this world is limited. It is important for each of us to do what we are passionate of and to stop wasting time chasing dollars and cents and to focus on work that is powerful, innovative and life giving. When we go to work each day we should be dreaming less about getting ahead and cashing in more at the bank and more about creatively solving the world’s needs and speaking life into the people around us.
Encourage your church to engage artists.
The Church is losing its culture makers and is hurting because of it. 1 Corinthians: 25-26 presents a model for churches where all different types of people are integrated into the community, “The way God designed our bodies is a model for understanding our lives together as a church: every part dependent on every other part, the parts we mention and the parts we don't, the parts we see and the parts we don't. If one part hurts, every other part is involved in the hurt, and in the healing. If one part flourishes, every other part enters into the exuberance.” (The Message)
How can churches re-incorporate artists when many of them feel that in order to have their art welcomed in church, it needs to be tame, cute and kitschy? Churches seem to censor so much, but forget that historical Christian art displayed naked people, bloody scenes, and crosses. Congregations could be much more welcoming by actually allowing creative, evocative and challenging work to be displayed.
In a world that encourages us to become more materialistic and anesthetized to our souls, we desperately need the re-emergence of art in all aspects of our lives. Let’s all do our part to make this happen.
Of all human activities, creativity comes closest to providing the fulfillment we all hope to get in our lives. Creativity is foundational to our sense of purpose and meaning. Most of the things that are interesting, important, and human are the result of creativity. All of the things that set us apart from our closest animal relatives—our language, values, artistic expression, scientific understanding, and technology—is the result of individual ingenuity that was recognized, rewarded, and transmitted through learning.
When we allow ourselves to be creative, we sense that we're living our lives more fully than when we are trapped in the monotony of the day-to-day. The excitement of the artist at the easel or the scientist in the lab comes close to the ideal fulfillment we all hope to get from life, and so rarely do. In my work, I have the joy to learn the ins and outs of how creative people live and work. I get to experience them as they work through the mysterious process by which they come up with new ideas and new things. In my work with artists and other creative individuals, I have found that they are remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals. If I had to express in one word what makes their personalities different from others, it's complexity. Creative people show tendencies of thought and action that in most people are separate. They contain contradictory extremes; instead of being an "individual," each of them is a "multitude."
Here are a few antithetical traits often present in creative people that are integrated with each other in a dialectical tension.
So, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), millennials experience more stress and are less able to manage it than any other generation. What's up with that? Millennials have been found to be more anxious than older Americans. The APA reports that 12% of millennials have a diagnosed anxiety disorder—almost twice the percentage their Boomer counterparts.
On a non-clinical scale, a BDA Morneau Shepell white paper revealed that 30% of working millennials have general anxiety, while a 2014 American College Health Association (ACHA) assessment found that anxiety regularly afflicts 61% of college students. In my work with college students, I have found this to be an accurate representation. Anxiety and stress sabotage my students' productivity and academic performance. Some sources of millennial anxiety may be due to a tough job market, student debt, as well as psychological causes. Some psychological causes that I have seen in my practice are issues such as ambition addiction, career crises, and choice-overload. However, even more simple day-to-day behaviors can trigger anxiety. Here are some reasons that I've witnessed why 20-somethings are so anxious:
Much of the work that I do in my counseling practice is with Millennials. Yes. Millennials. It seems as if Millennials get a bad rap from much of the adult world, but I find Millennials to be, on the whole, deeply thoughtful, complex people who are just trying to figure out how to do this thing we're all caught up in - life. Not to mention they keep me feeling young and on point with what's going on in society and culture.
Naturally, since I do a lot of work in the areas of love, personality, and...relationships, I wanted to take a look at what single millennials think about dating in 2017. No surprise - it's pretty complicated! I checked out the 2017 Singles in America Survey (the most comprehensive survey of singles that reveals how over 5,000 American singles ages 18-70+ view dating, love, and sex today) to see what it had to say about smartphone-addicted, swipe-right-or-left obsessed, ghosting/benching/breadcrumbing Millennials and their views on dating. Here's the Cliffs Notes version:
1. Millennials are dating obsessed. Not only are people who are between the ages of 18-34 125 percent more likely to admit they're addicted to the process of dating, Millennials are 30 percent more likely than other generation to want a relationship this year.
2. But they're also frustrated AF with it. While Millennials are the generation most likely date online, they are also 22 percent more likely to feel that technology makes the process more difficult. In fact, 57 percent of Millennials report being lonely.
3. They date online. The survey found that 40 percent of singles overall have dated someone they met online and only 25 percent have met through a friend, but Millennials are the biggest online daters by far! This group is 57 percent more likely to have created a profile on a dating app, and they're also 30 percent more likely to have a first date that leads to a second.
4. They are more likely to hook-up before the first date than previous generations. Millennials are 48 percent more likely to have sex before going on a first date with someone, and 28 percent of the demographic thinks of sex as a way to decide how they feel about someone.
5. But at the same time, they believe sex is better with a strong emotional connection. Single Millennials are 51 percent more likely than Boomers to have no interest in sex, and they are 40 percent more likely to think that sex is better with an emotional connection.
6. They feel deep pressure to get married. Marriage is definitely on the minds of the Millennial generation. They are 177 percent more likely to feel an overwhelming pressure to get married.
People with bipolar disorder experience episodes of both mania (an exceptionally elevated, irritable, or energetic mood) and depression. These episodes can be separate or depressed and manic symptoms may occur at the same time as symptoms of depression. The frequency of episodes varies. At least four depressive, manic, hypomanic (mild form of mania) or mixed episodes within a year is known as rapid-cycling bipolar disorder.
During the early stages of a manic episode, people can be very happy, productive and creative. They have less need for sleep and don’t feel tired. There is some evidence that many well-known creative people suffer or have suffered from bipolar disorder. But this link may be caused by an unknown third factor, such as temperament.
In our culture, bipolar disorder has the tendency to be romanticized by its association with creative types, but many sufferers’ experience of the illness is far from glamourous. Patients report getting to the point where they can’t function and sometimes need to be hospitalized, especially if they don’t take their medication as prescribed.
"Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”
At the same time, however, at the start of a manic episode, a person might make lots of plans because the world seems full of opportunity. Individuals report that they feel high, they meet a lot of new friends, they'll go on shopping sprees and spend all their money, and sometimes they say that they even feel invincible. When prescribed, medication can remove or dull the experience of mania. A person experiencing mania may not like that their high mood and productivity is compromised, so they stop taking their medication.
So... is there something about the manic or in-between episodes of bipolar disorder that can be conducive to creative expression in some people?
Researchers at the University of California-San Francisco noted, “It is well-established that people with affective disorders tend to be overrepresented in the creative artist population (especially those with bipolar disorder). Bipolar disorder may carry certain advantages for creativity, especially in those who have milder symptoms.”
Oftentimes, people living with bipolar disorder report that they are at their most creative and productive when feeling most healthy. For example, the poet Sylvia Plath, who is widely believed to have had bipolar disorder, said that when she was writing she was accessing the healthiest part of herself.
In 2005, a study tried to unravel the relationship between writer Virginia Woolf’s creativity and her mental illness, which was most likely bipolar disorder. The psychiatrist Gustavo Figueroa of the University of Valparaiso, Chile, writes, “She was moderately stable as well as exceptionally productive from 1915 until she committed suicide in 1941.
“Virginia Woolf created little or nothing while she was unwell, and was productive between attacks.” But, “A detailed analysis of her own creativity over the years shows that her illnesses were the source of material for her novels.”
It does seem that for those who are diagnosed with bipolar disorder, creativity can offer a powerful means of expression.
Figueroa, C. G. Virginia Woolf as an example of a mental disorder and artistic creativity. Revista Medica de Chile, Vol. 133, November 2005, pp. 1381-88.
Liu, A. et al. A Case Study of an Emerging Visual Artist with Frontotemporal Lobar Degeneration and Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Neurocase, Vol. 15, June 2009, pp. 235-47.
Many of the couples that I work with show up to counseling confused and frustrated because they just don't know what to do with the one another. They are missing each other. Their needs aren't being met and they have fought for so long that now they are just numb. They are stuck. The key to unlocking stuckness and creating lasting change is learning to listen and to expand on key emotions.
In order to do this, I work with the couple to identify their negative patterns of interaction. The negative patterns are the enemy - not the partners themselves. By focusing on the exchanges in the session and helping the partners see the spiral they are caught in, rather than just focusing on the last thing the other partner just said, helps them begin to see the entire dialogue; how it has a life of its own and hurts each of them. However, even though both individuals recognize the spiraling patterns, the situations keep repeating. They get trapped in the emotions and sucked back into their stuckness. It's important during these times that we slow down the interactions in the session so the emotions truly come to the surface and the other person can see and understand why his or her partner is responding in the way that they are. Actually talking about the emotions--often fear, sadness, embarrassment, shame--changes the conversation and all of the sudden the partners are hearing each other and experiencing each other differently for the first time.
In relationships we are looking for a unique kind of emotional responsiveness - it's a responsiveness that is key to lasting love for couples. Dr. Susan Johnson says that emotional responsiveness has three main components:
Just like I often ask in sessions - Are you there, are you with me?
1. Microcreate. Allocating regular time to create is vital, but we can also create in short bursts whenever windows of opportunity open. On busses or trains, for instance, we can do some mental practice or jot down ideas.
2. Be resilient. Given that creating involves experimentation and missteps, it takes mental toughness to keep pushing our limits. When problems arise, or if we receive criticism that hurts us, we need to be able to bounce back and press onward.
3. Create through turmoil. Life brings unexpected complexities. Instead of being derailed by disturbances, if we keep creating through tough times, even at micro levels, we support our motivation.
4. Refuse to procrastinate. Many would-be creative people put off starting or finishing projects. But such procrastinating behaviors are actually manifestations of angst that arises when we worry about rather than dive into artistic problems. If you tend to sidestep your creative work, take up some anti-procrastination techniques. For example, think about your creative work just before you sleep and then do some micro creating as soon as you wake up in the morning.
5. Collaborate. Creating with others lifts our artistry. But before we commit to collaborative projects, our partners and we should clarify our objectives and roles.
6. Counter negativity. If we find ourselves harboring toxic thoughts like, “I’ll never have new ideas,” we should respond by disputing the negativity, affirming our ability to create, and then getting to work.
7. Maintain energy. Creating takes a lot of energy. It’s important to commit to healthy lifestyles and also schedule restorative time. Especially when we wrap up large projects, vacations—even brief ones—ward off burnout and recharge our motivation.
8. Be accepting. Sometimes our creativity will soar; other times we’ll fumble. In order for our creative paths to continue to be open, we have to accept the bad days with the good. Ultimately, what matters most is that we are consistent in our work. If we do that, we liberate our creativity, and our lives are meaningful.
When experiencing creative block, it’s important that you don’t browbeat yourself. Lulls in creative energy are necessary to the overall creative process, and even though the lack of creative energy can be frustrating and psychologically painful, it’s important to move toward viewing these periods as times of growth. The in-between times is when creativity gets its start.
It’s important to have a lot of thinking time – and thinking time happens when you least expect it to happen. When experiencing a creative block, try these helpful tactics for working through it: