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!
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.
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.
It has been found that people who engage in everyday forms of creativity are revealed to be more open-minded, curious, persistent, positive, energetic, and intrinsically motivated by the act of creation. Research suggests that creative cognition draws on both the executive functioning that is tied to intellect and the associative divergence that is associated with openness (Nusbaum and Silvia, 2011; Beaty et al., 2014; Benedek et al., 2014; Jung, 2014) increases the probability that ideas will be original. Whether the idea is creative, however, also depends on the protective intellectual factors needed to steer the chaotic storm. Not surprisingly, then, individuals who score highly in daily creativity report that they have a greater sense of well-being and personal growth compared to their peers who engage less in everyday creative behavior
The act of creating can be therapeutic for those who are already suffering. For instance, research shows that expressive writing increases immune system functioning, and the emerging field of post-traumatic growth is showing how people can turn adversity into creative growth.
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