At any stage of the life cycle we can have difficulties with our creativity. But especially during adolescence and into our early 30s, our struggles with creativity often collide with the normal developmental process of individuation, where we are developing our own voices and becoming our unique selves. During this time, we are emerging into the world, continually discovering and rediscovering who we are. We are finding our voices and developing a sense of how and what we can accomplish in the world. The ultimate task in this process is to become comfortable engaging the world with our full selves. When we can do this, we can set free our creative impulses.
If we think of creativity as deriving from our freedom to think, feel, and imagine without limiting ourselves, we can wonder about what might interfere with our ability to engage in the creative process. It is often the case that when we can’t motivate ourselves to begin our creative enterprise, we start to tell ourselves and believe that we don’t have what it takes to do it. Sometimes we get blocked even before we allow ourselves to imagine what we want to create. This is often a way to unconsciously avoid facing the fears or concerns about what we would have to experience if we really pursue our dreams. To conclude that we don’t have what it takes to do it, BEFORE we even seriously try, is not facing the real issues that we would have to confront if we try and unleash our creativity!
I have been very fortunate to learn from the people I work with in therapy. Speaking with many young adults, I have been able to hear how they get in their own way and allow their fears of being separate, individual selves in the world interfere with living the creative lives they want. I have learned about so many fears that interfere with creative impulses: fears of embarrassment, shame, failure, criticism, envy, being in the spotlight, creating expectations (to name a few). These fears are often based on a more all-encompassing fear: what others think and feel about us. These fears can be paralyzing. When we want to please others more than we want to please ourselves, we often end up keeping our unique selves hidden.
Becoming Comfortable With Our Unique Selves
Being comfortable with our unique selves means that we are at ease with our thoughts and feelings. It also implies that we are comfortable with and can tolerate the thoughts and feelings that others have about us. This is not always so easy. Many of us have grown up with parents who may not have been able to help us develop the ability to accept our own and others’ thoughts and feelings. So many well-intentioned parents don’t know how to help their children experience their own feelings as fully acceptable. For example, a parent may see his toddler struggling and getting frustrated trying to fit a puzzle piece in its place. Well intentioned, that parent may put the piece in place for the child. When this comes from the parent’s difficulty in seeing their child unhappy or frustrated (and if this is a pattern through the child’s development), the parent may end up communicating that it isn’t okay to have unhappy or frustrated feelings.
It is important that we acknowledge that we have difficulty in this area. When we can remind ourselves that we have trouble with frustration, or asking for help, or not feeling liked, or needing approval, we are taking a step to overcome our discomfort and anxiety in this area. It is often the case that when our creative impulses are blocked, we are in the midst of struggling with feelings (ours or others) that are frightening us. When we notice that we are feeling stuck with moving forward in our lives, when we start to wonder what we want to do with ourselves, when we feel we can’t do it, when we notice we are scared to try something new or think out of the box, it’s time to ask ourselves what we are afraid of.
Discovering Your Fears
How do you figure out what is scaring you and keeping you from being the creative person you wish to be? First, it is necessary to accept the idea that you are frightened of something that you don’t fully understand. Second, it requires that you commit to a process of discovery about what is interfering with what you want. This process starts with the question “What am I afraid of?” You must allow yourself to have all your thoughts and feelings about this. You don’t have to have the correct answer to this question. You are just exploring. You cannot answer “I don’t know.” Write down your answers. Look at your list. Explore every idea about what might frighten you. For example, if one answer is that you are afraid of failure, ask “What is so terrible about failure?” If your answers are “I think people will laugh at me,” “I will feel bad,” or “Someone will say I told you so, that was a stupid idea,” again ask yourself “What is so terrible about someone laughing at you?” “Why can’t you feel bad?” “So what if someone says I told you so?” And keep asking yourself questions. Remember, “I don’t know” is never an acceptable answer. The more you keep doing this, the more likely you are to discover that the terrible fears you imagine are more tolerable than you think. This is not an easy process. Try and find a way to do it. Make a game of it, do it with a friend. Do it.
The extra bonus from engaging in this process is that this kind of exploration is the very heart of the creative process. It is an opening to new ways of seeing things. It questions old assumptions and reaches out for new possibilities. This process mirrors the limitlessness and the freedom of the creative enterprise. As you explore and self reflect about your resistances to your creativity, you will be facilitating the development of your unique self and your power to get what you want in the world.
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