Fear and Creativity

Fear, anxiety, and creativity

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by Douglas Eby

In an issue of his Creativity Newsletter, Eric Maisel , PhD, wrote: "A creative person obsesses and compulses about her creative work. She is pulled in its direction, thinks about it, dreams about it, and wants to do it."

"It should follow that she would actually do the creative work that she is dreaming about and desiring to bring into existence. But only a small percentage of creative people work as often or as deeply as, by all rights, they might be expected to work."

"What stops them? Anxiety or some face of anxiety like doubt, worry, or fear. Anxiety is the great silencer of the creative person."

One of the main themes of her books on this topic is to "feel the fear and do it anyway" and Susan Jeffers, Ph.D. [pictured] has written, "So many of us short-circuit our living by choosing the path that is most comfortable. Realize that fear will never go away as long as you continue to grow. The only way to get rid of the fear of doing something is to go out and do it."

"Whenever we take a chance and enter unfamiliar territory or put ourselves into the world in a new way, we experience fear. Very often this fear keeps us from moving ahead with our lives."

In her book "Feel the Fear... and Beyond" Dr. Jeffers contrasts two qualities or parts of our being: "The Higher Self," she writes, "is the space within each and every one of us that is filled with all nourishing qualities such as joy, creativity, intuition, peace, power, love, compassion..."

"When you have been able to access this transcendent place within.. the fear and struggle were replaced by a sense that 'All is well."

"But the feeling never lasts," she continues. "Why? Because it is our tendency to revert to a more familiar part of ourselves that I call the Lower Self... filled with all negative qualities, such as anger, judgment, a sense of scarcity, helplessness -- and, of course, fear."

Another psychologist who counsels creative professionals such as writers, Robert Maurer, PhD, has described key skills of successful people, including "an awareness and respect for fear - a willingness to feel it and to reach for comfort."

He says successful people have a built in "nurturing voice" that automatically and compassionately "reassures them it is okay to make mistakes, okay to be afraid, okay to ask for help."

Based on behavioral science research and his experience as a therapist, Dr. Maurer notes there are both positive and dysfunctional responses to fear. "We are now learning how the brain builds into its 'software' an 'internal parent' that will either soothe us or paralyze us when we are afraid," he says, "depending on the healthy or unhealthy responses to our emotions that we experienced in childhood."

"Our inner emotional voice reacts to our fears or opportunities and either calms and inspires or responds with a specific painful voice, giving rise to worry, anger, or disappointment."

He thinks accepting and working with fear is an essential part of the creative process, and has commented, "If you find the right relationship, does fear go away? No. You publish your first novel, does that make fear go away? No.Ê

"So your skill at being able to nourish yourself and give yourself permission to make mistakes and learn from them is your single greatest attribute as an artist and as a human being."

Success, he points out, is being able to respond to larger and more complex fear-alarms without reacting with angry disappointment, or believing stories like "I don't deserve success" or "It's the same old plot that dozens of other scripts have used" or engaging in some other self-defeating behavior like drug use to anesthetize feeling.

In a recent article, actress Nicole Kidman commented, "Success, I think, breeds fear. You suddenly say, 'Oh, can I do it again?' And once you start to ask questions like that, you throw your creativity into the wrong sphere. So you just have to walk away from it. I've said, 'OK, that was that year, and next year's going to be completely different."

"Fear is good," Dr. Maurer has concluded. "As children, fear is a natural part of our lives, but as adults we view fear as a disease. It's not a disease. Children say they are afraid or scared, but adults use the clinical terms anxiety or depression. A writer should not view fear as something bad, but as essentially doing something right."

Suggestions for Further Reading

Author: Douglas Eby, M.A., is an interviewer and writer about psychological aspects of creative expression and personal achievement. Douglas Eby may be contacted at http://www.talentdevelop.com

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