Creatives, this week we will continue our discussion of the creative personality and the creative cycle. We are going to dive into the notion of “showing up for creativity.”
Let’s take one step back and revisit the topic of art process vs product. As we are learning how to make art, and again throughout our lifetime as artists, we are very product focused: how does our finished product look, represent our view, our technical skill, the marketplace, the art world, and more? In fact, without discerning between the two, our default view of our art form is likely to be product focused. This is valuable and important, but distinct and different from the process of making art. The process we engage in while making art is connected to neurological creative processes that are grounding, inventive, fulfilling, communicative and even cathartic. Becoming too product focused can disrupt the artistic process, and over investing in the artistic process doesn’t usually create your best product. Depending on the goal, it is useful to more heavily weight or balance these two elements. Assignment due? You are likely to be product focused. Doing art for the therapeutic value? You will need to invest more in the process.
The idea of “showing up for creativity” comes from a long held belief by creative people that the spark of creativity or inspiration isn’t constant (remember the creative cycle post?). Oftentimes between these moments of inspiration (which can range from less interest or energy in your creative work to being stuck or blocked creatively) we decide we will wait for that next creative wave to crest before diving back into our work. To “show up for creativity” is the idea that this is backwards: the spark doesn’t organically appear without doing the work. Rather, by continuing to produce work, you will build the momentum and energy back to the moments of inspiration and passion that creative people live for. In other words, the belief is: do not wait for creativity to happen, show up for it every day.
This is actually a commonly disputed belief, and unfortunately the evidence for or against the system is by necessity anecdotal. Essentially, like many things in the creative personality, whether or not it works for you to “show up” for your creativity and continue to produce work during inspirational lulls, depends on the unique factors that make you, you. What it does do is give us a concept by which to begin to explore and discuss your creative process, struggles and goals. I am interested in how the adage works for you.
How do your creative instincts, protective mechanisms and personal history respond to the concept of “showing up for creativity?” Dare you to test the theory? What I have said before and what my own psychological research has sustained, is that to be happy, fulfilled, resilient and their best self, creative people need to create. Regularly. All the time. This is perhaps one way to make this happen. Many creative people swear by it. So tell me, Creative. How does it strike you?
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
As artists, we have a unique way of viewing others and the world around us. We communicate this through our work, and it is as cathartic and fulfilling for us as it is exciting and enjoyable for our audience. As a fellow artist, I am interested in exploring this with you. As your therapist, I am also interested in how you view yourself in relationship to the world and others.
In psychology, we talk about a “mental map” as a sort of extension of cognitive mapping. In simple terms, we each have a mental map which we use as reference for how we interact with the world. It is comprised of rules, routines and rituals built from lessons we have learned, people we have interacted with, experiences we have had, and things we have gleaned throughout our personal histories. It is sort of like your personal belief system, but all encompassing, advising how and why each of your behaviors is chosen.
I want to take the concept of our unique mental map as a springboard for today’s concept- which I want to call a “referential self.” What I mean by a “referential self” is a version of yourself at a point in time in your life which is significant, and by which you define yourself. You may frequently go back to this version of yourself to assess progress, changes, relationships, decisions and other aspects of growth and development throughout your life.
These “referential selves” are frozen in your mind visually and characteristically. In fact, this is a good starting point for identifying what referential selves you may have. Without looking at yourself, imagine yourself. Not what you look like today necessary, but just “you.” How old are you? What are you wearing? Feeling? Can you pinpoint other details about this version of you? You may have more than one mental image which may mean several referential selves.
I wonder 2 things for you about these aspects of yourself: 1) what signifies the storage of this version of yourself (eg why this version of you?) and 2) how do you use/judge/see this reference? Take a moment to think about these questions. Is one of your referential selves captured at a moment when you fleshed out important pieces of who you are? Does this version of you have insecurities and flaws that you continue to cling to, even though they may be many years behind you? You may consistently judge yourself or identify yourself as this version of yourself no matter how much you have changed since then. I call this being “stuck” and it is a good concept to explore in therapy.
May I suggest the following exercise, as a continuation of self-portrait activities we have previously done together: use your chosen creative modality to explore one of your referential selves. Truly express who this version of yourself was- the good, the bad and the ugly. When you have finished, take a step back (musicians and dancers- you might record your work so you can replay and examine it fully). As objectively as you can, pick apart why this reference is captured and stored (question one above) and how you continue to identify yourself by this version of you (question two above). Go deep. Pull the thread. What did you find?
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
I have been wanting to talk about this for a few weeks, and today, the timing feels right: let’s explore the creative cycle.
Many things in life operate in cycles. Creativity does, too. In this case, as in many others, by identifying a creative cycle we are simply naming clusters of symptoms and behaviors that tend to occur together to understand them better. That means of course there is variation from person to person, and that the naming is more for communicating and understanding than diagnosing or labeling.
Anecdotally, I have observed the following tendencies and stages to be roughly cyclical in my creative clients:
Building up of energy
Making plans, generating ideas and designs
Completion and editing phase
Sharing and excitement phase
Deescalation of energy
Lowered creative energy/creative block.
This cycle also follows the model of diametrically opposed traits we looked at a few posts back (remember the pair of high/low energy?) Speaking of, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi also has his five stages of creativity:
Preparation (becoming immersed/interested in a topic or problem)
Incubation (subconscious marination when we make connections and work on the problem)
Insight (“AHA!” Moment)
Evaluation (is your newly birthed idea worth following)
Elaboration (the most time and energy is spent here- where you do the creative work)
Though named and grouped differently, both models generally outline the same cycle: germinate, build, produce, disseminate and ebb.
Thinking about this, take a moment to look at where your process might fit into these cycles. Have you been producing lots of ideas and work without a distinct direction? You may be generating/incubating. Landed on a concept but not sure how to produce? Maybe you have your idea and insight and need to push into creation to move forward.
If you know where you are in the cycle, you can more easily identify what to do next. You begin to understand and flesh out the nuances of your own creative cycle and therefore how to best operate within it. Start with the basic framework and let it percolate- what is your creative cycle like? Where do you spend the most time within it? What might you want to change about how you move through it? Come sit in my chair and lets explore, problem solve and keep you creating!
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
This week we will continue to explore traits that are common among creative people- these in particular are part of a category that scientist Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi believes exist in a uniquely, diametrically opposed way. What interests me in this research is partially these qualities as innate to the creative personality, but also this paradoxical tension between naturally occurring opposing forces within. The idea of this as unique to the creative personality speaks ultimately to the drive and power I feel when working with creative people. Without further ado, let’s explore the traits (adapted from “Creativity” by Mihaly Czikszentmihalyi):
So, creative, does any of this sound familiar? Most of it? All of it? Let’s talk more about how these qualities exist within you, and how you can harness them to create your best life.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
There are many of us for whom the Winter is hard. The days are short, cold and dark. We are probably inside more, seeing the sun less, and less active. These things can exacerbate or even resurrect mood symptoms that are challenging. Let’s take a few minutes today to talk about how Winter doldrums impact creative people.
We already know that creative people feel things deeply. That means you may feel the onset of a wintertime depression strongly. Creatives- something to remember when you are feeling intense emotions- an engine cannot run on full blast indefinitely. That is to say- the more intense your feelings, the shorter the duration: depressed mood is a wave that will crest and fall. I’m not minimizing the experience or telling you you will wake up one morning “all better.” I am saying stick-and-stay, practice good self care, be around your support system, and know that the pain will naturally ease up on its own a little bit- quicker, better and more completely the better you take care of yourself in the interim.
My clinical advice for the Winter doldrums: Dig the hole. Many of you have received this advice from me. Advice that another clinician gave me years ago, I pass along as sound counsel for fighting depression. It is referencing a person whose job it is to dig a hole. Professional hole digger. All this person has to do is show up to work, and the hole gets dug. If the worker doesn’t show up, it doesn’t get dug. This is the attitude we need when symptoms seem overwhelming. Ride the wave. Go through the motions. The more you can stick to your regular routine, implement your usual supports and coping skills and self care, the better you will be for it. I know when you are depressed it takes monumental effort to tie a shoe string. But do it. Go to work. Get to school. Get the kids. Get and do whatever you would usually do- dig the hole.
Need more support? Add therapy to help you through this Winter. It’s natural and healthy to add to your support system to counter-balance stressors, and Creatively is here for you.
And- don’t forget- 2 art workshops are available at Root Studio (starting soon!) scroll down to previous blog entries for details and offset your doldrums by boosting your creative energy.
(C) 2018 Creatively, LLC
Perfectionism. We artists know it well. When is a work finished? When is it ready? When is it perfect? This is unsurprisingly also a common issue brought to the therapy chair. The pressure to be perfect seems to be omnipresent in our modern lives. Artists feel this especially strongly when it comes to their work. Caution, creatives: perfection is dangerous, and nonexistent.
The reason perfectionism is nonexistent is because it is also relative. As applied to an art form, even more so. Ask yourself, who declares if something is perfect or not? If it is you, where did you get your standard of perfect? What is your reference as to what that means? There is no one perfect painting, dance, writing, or piece of music. The beauty of the creative arts is the variety, not the homogeneity that would be necessary to create a standard of perfection. By trying to achieve something as “perfect” you are limiting yourself and blocking your creative flow.
Accepting your art for what it wants to be is a powerful part of expressing it. Some creative therapists will talk about the “imaginal” quality of artwork. This refers to the work existing intrinsically, separately from our own standards, requirements or other cognitive interference. This approach suggests that imaginal work is some of the highest levels of creativity one can achieve. When you are making work, ask yourself what does the work want to become? How is it guiding its own expression in its creation? Does the work want to be more realistic, or more expressive? Does it want to be bold or subdued? Let your choices in creating the work be organically guided by your feelings and instincts as you create. This is the antithesis of the control and obsession of perfectionism. Focus instead on allowing the process to make the work its own. This is ultimate catharsis and expression.
I said that perfectionism can be dangerous. Maybe you are a perfectionist in your artwork, but not in other areas of your life (you don’t mind being five minutes late but the horrors if you hit an A if it should have been an A#). I contend that if you adopt a method of perfectionism in your artwork, it will impact other areas of your life, starting with your self esteem. Create art work and fail to meet an impossible standard (we already agree that perfectionism is impossible) and you tell your psyche that you have failed. That you are not good enough. This will also discourage you from being creative- and creating is your life force! Let go of the idea that your work has to be a certain way, and accept it for the way that it is. Then watch as you gradually start to treat and accept yourself in this same way. We are not homogenous, our work is always different, and all that uniqueness in its IMPERFECTION is what makes you (dare I say it) perfect.
Here is something to try. Of course, try it as part of your work in your therapy session (don’t exacerbate yourself without this extra layer of support!):
I challenge you to do something imperfectly. Not organically, but intentionally “wrong.” In art school I was working on an assignment and drew a life-sized, anatomically perfect, human skeleton. Imagine my shock when my professor told me to take a piece of charcoal and blacken the whole piece out. I want you to do something like this. Make something and then make a big SNAFU. Now breathe. How do you feel? How does your body feel? What are you experiencing? Discomfort? Anger? Anxiety? Breathe through and experience the moment. You did it! You made something “imperfect” and you are ok! After I blackened out my drawing, my professor told me to “push and pull” lightening and darkening the smudges over the drawing, to create a brand new piece. Take your “messed up” work and create something new and different. What does the new piece want to be? Pay attention to your reaction to this new process. Do you feel freedom? Satisfaction? Possibility? This is how creating should feel!
Come schedule a session and let’s talk about how you are impacted by perfectionism. Let’s get unstuck. Let’s get creatively free. Let’s create your best life.
© 2017 Creatively, LLC
Let’s delve again into the world of self-care: the psychological concept of taking good care of- you guessed it- yourself. Today we will explore Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, and make some adjustments for your creative self.
Abraham Maslow wrote a paper in 1943 called “The Theory of Human Motivation,” in which he introduced a hierarchy of human needs. According to Maslow, there are five levels of needs: physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem and self-actualization. The levels are often depicted on a pyramid, with physiological at the bottom and self-actualization at the top. As the theory goes, the needs on the bottom level of the pyramid must be fully met before the next layer can be addressed, and so on. Importance is roughly associated with the needs at the bottom of the pyramid first and the top of the pyramid last.
As theorists do in psychology, they have debated Maslow’s ideas over the years, some agreeing, others disagreeing and most somewhere in between. In my experience, the top three layers of the pyramid (self actualization, esteem, and love and belonging) can overlap and change order depending on any number of personal variables. But, the bottom two, physiological and safety, stay fairly consistently primary needs that must be satisfied before the other three. Physiological needs are generally where I categorize some of the self-care fundamentals I teach my patients, like eating 3 meals a day, sleeping 7 hours each night, keeping your body healthy and active, and so on. In accordance with Maslow, I maintain that these needs must be met before much progress can be made anywhere else (need to improve a relationship? Make sure you are meeting your own basic needs first!).
Maslow’s hierarchy places creativity in the highest category of self actualization. In other words, Maslow essentially believed that physiological, safety, love/belonging and esteem needs had to be met and prioritized before creativity could be addressed and achieved. I can imagine circumstances in which this is true. However, I work with you, a creative person. My research and clinical practice tell me that if you place this level of priority on your creativity, you will suffer. Being creative for you, dear creative, should be in the same group as your physiological and safety needs. Seem extreme? Maybe- but probably also accurate. In session I will encourage you in the same breath as getting enough food and sleep, to be creative. Your creative soul needs to create to be well, be safe, feel loved, have self esteem, and self actualize!
In summary, do not underestimate the power and importance of being creative. Feeling down? Ask yourself how creative you have been. Think about some of your happier and more fulfilled periods in life- how creative were you then? Creativity is your superpower and your gasoline. In your next session, evaluate the level of creativity in your life and strategize how to use it to heal and be well!
(c) 2017 Creatively. LLC
Transference is a phenomena in psychology in which we project on people expectations and judgments based on past experiences. Sometimes it is age related, other times gender, it can be as simple as how someone looks or speaks, or something different altogether. It is something that, as counselors, we are very aware of and try to prepare for. Will we remind a patient of a significant other? An ex? A parent? A friend? Even though we know that you know that we are not that person, subconsciously, you may still treat us differently based on the transference. For example, I remind a child of an adult she doesn’t trust, so she is less likely to talk to me during session.
Transference is how you feel about me. Countertransference, is how I feel about you back. As human beings, of course we react to each other. You react to me based on your experiences and I react back to you based on mine. We both respond to our treatment of each other. Together, transference and countertransference can be both powerful tools or destructive forces in a therapeutic relationship.
Transference and countertransference exist in more than just a therapeutic setting. They are clinical-speak for how we all react and interact to each other every day. My new boss reminds me of an old boss so I’m cautious. A new friend reminds you of a bad relationship so you take your time. There are endless occurrences in our daily lives. I had an employer in my college days who explained to me his “Mirror theory,” in which he believed that generally people feel about you the way you feel about them. Thinking about transference and countertransference, this may often be true!
How do transference and countertransference apply to you as a creative person? Studies have shown that people are drawn to creative personalities. The unique ways of thinking and seeing the world that are innate to you, are attractive to others. This is a part of what draws people to your creative works as well. Additionally, research indicates that creative people, when in the presence of other creative people, can transfer creative energy to each other in a positive way.
So we see that our judgements about others are natural and based on our experiences. In turn, these impact their experiences of us and our relationships together. Creatively, our personalities are exciting and magnetic, and a good way to recharge those creative batteries is to get together with other creative people. Creativity isn’t just what you do, it is who you are! The more you learn about your creative personality, the more you will begin to understand the healing and positive impact it has on you and those around you. It is how you live your best life!
(c) 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
It seems appropriate, during this time of year as we transition from Summer weather and schedules to Fall with a new school year and more, to discuss change. Specifically, dear creatives, how it applies to you and your creative personality.
Creativity has been heavily researched in recent years and is often divided into several categories of interest- one of which is the creative personality. Some of my favorite research on the subject is by Mihaly Czsikszentmihalyi. In his work Creativity: The Work and Lives of 91 Eminent People, published in 1996, Cziskszentmihalyi talks about personality traits of creatives. Many of the traits he lists exhibit a type of dual nature: e.g. being both introverted and extroverted, or both high energy and reserved. In this case, both averse to and seeking change.
For you, that means during a time of year such as this you may feel both energized and fatigued by change. Creativity is often related to novelty, and so it follows that change can give you new ideas and energy and be exciting. However, creative people tend to be very passionate people and so with change comes risk of new things that are either good or bad- and felt deeply in both cases. You may be excited for the changing seasons and new things this time of year may bring your way, while also feeling uneasy about the unknown.
What to do? Unsurprisingly, I will of course always encourage you to be creative. Make new work, engage in your creative process and express the new emotions and ideas that come with change. Capitalize on the new energy and use it to temper any more negative feelings. Be careful and don't assume that “bad” is always “bad”- things are rarely all-or-nothing and tend to fall somewhere in between- looked at the right way, most things for you can be inspiring. Do you know for sure something is coming up this Fall that you are not looking forward to? This is also a natural part of life that your creative personality has strengths to help you overcome.
Explore your feelings about change and this transitional time of year in your next therapy session, and learn more about how these themes apply to you!
(c) 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
There are many types of creative therapies: dance therapy, art therapy, drama therapy and more- this post does not summarize these approaches- rather it describes the uses of the creative process that research (including my own) has shown is important and effective in mental wellness and healing.
I have said this before- and I will say it more!- creative people need to create. It is your most powerful tool in life, and your most valuable asset in staying well. Creativity in therapy asks you to explore your own experience of things including your feelings, thoughts and imagination. The focus is on making and expressing what comes from inside you, rather than perfect depictions of what you can already see. Your creative process becomes a healing experience when used therapeutically.
Drawing, painting, dancing, writing and other art forms are powerful ways to communicate. They have been used to record human history, ideas, feelings, and dreams. They show a wide range of emotions from joy to sorrow, triumph to trauma. Creative arts have served as a way of understanding, making sense, and clarifying inner experiences without words. Used therapeutically, these are activities to soothe you, release stress and tension, give enjoyment and rise above troubling feelings.The process of creating may help you express fear, anxiety and other stressful emotions. It touches the soul or spirit. While family, work and other parts of life may fulfill you, creative experiences can help you express or understand parts of yourself that other activities and interactions cannot. Creative people usually feel better and happier about themselves and their lives during and after being creative. Creating helps you be more flexible in problem solving and makes you more insightful and true to yourself. Creating and communicating in a meaningful way are necessary for psychological, physical and spiritual health.
A common worry about creativity as therapy is that you are not creating something that is good enough. You may worry that if you don’t create a product up to your usual standards, creative therapy won’t work and you have somehow failed. The purpose of creativity in therapy is not to make great art: it is to experience the process of creating. This is likely a shift in how you conceptualize your creative experiences, and an important distinction. Remember, creative artist, that when you are creating therapeutically it is the journey and not the destination that is important.
There are many more words of wisdom on this topic- creative therapy ideas and exercises, creative personalities, creatives and mental wellness- more on these to come! Subscribe to the Creatively newsletter on the home page, and never miss a thing.
© 2017 CREATIVELY, LLC
The information provided in this blog is from my own clinical experiences and training. It is intended to supplement your clinical care. Never make major life changes before consulting with your treatment team. If you are unsure of your safety or wellbeing, do not hesitate to get help immediately.