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Blocks To Creativity: Shame

“What will the neighbors think?”

We've all heard this phrase before, used by close family members or maybe in an unexpected moment by us, to us or others.

Shame is a sometimes-unconscious controlling device. Shaming someone is an attempt to prevent a person from behaving in a way that embarrasses us. Those of us who get put down by fear before action are usually being sabotaged by this old enemy.

To create as our true self may expose our personal secrets, and even deeper, some family secret too. "Stop it! They are looking at you!" when it's in fact the adult saying this who is feeling judged. “How dare you!” – Angry adults often rage at an innocent child whose curiosity has lead him to stumble onto a family secret. - “How dare you go to the attic? How there you open that drawer!” Etc. These are shaming devises that perpetuate the hurting.

The act of creating can sometimes expose society itself. “Art” for example, opens and airs closets. It brings healing. But before a wound can heal it must be seen. And this act of exposing the wound to air and light (the creator’s act) is often reacted to with shaming.

For the people who endured childhood shaming – over any form of neediness, any type of exploration, any expectation – Shame may kick in even without the aid of a shame-provoking review. If a child has ever been made to feel foolish for believing himself or herself talented, the act of actually finishing a piece of art, or any work for that matter, will be fraught with internal shaming.

Many begin a piece of work, get well along in it, and then find, as they are near completion, that the work seems mysteriously drained of merit. It’s no longer worth the trouble. To therapists this surge of sudden disinterest ”it doesn’t matter” is a routine defense device employed to deny pain and ward off vulnerability.

A life time of this kind of experiences, in which needs for recognition are routinely dishonored, teaches a young child that putting anything out for attention is a dangerous act.

Often we are wrongly shamed as creative. From this shaming we learn that we are wrong to create. Once we learn this lesson, we forget it instantly. Buried under “it doesn’t matter”, the shame lives on, waiting to attach itself to our new efforts. The very act of attempting to make something that could make us distinctive creates shame.

How to deal with it?

1. Be self –protective

We must learn when criticism is appropriate and from whom. Not only the source but also timing is very important. The early stages of a work may still be finding its reason, its purpose, its form, when exposed to a harsh, inexperienced, critical eye, rather than nurture the creation, the project may face annihilation instead.

2. Talk it off

We cannot make our professional critics healthier or more loving or more constructive than they are. But we can learn to comfort our creative persona over unfair criticism; we can learn to find friends with whom we can safely vent our pain. We can learn not to deny and stuff our feelings when we have been “artistically/creatively” savaged.

We do this by sharing with a trusted one.

3. Recognize that some stuff is yours and some is not

We must learn that when our art/acts reveal a secret of the human soul, those watching it may try to shame us for making it. “It’s terrible!” the may say, attacking the work when the work itself is actually fine. This can be very confusing. We must learn to recognize this shame as a re-creation of childhood shames evoked in you and/or in others.

4. Don’t doubt, don’t stop

Be very firm with yourself and don’t pick up the first doubt

The effects of taking in the first doubt could be like picking up the first drink for an alcoholic. It can start a chain of self-sabotage acts like discontinuing the work we were enthusiastically creating, releasing the grip on self-confidence and falling pray to the overgrowth of our inner critic. The continuous practice of our craft, or work, when focused, is a steady and calming remedy for the raving negative self-talk.

5. Acceptance of oneself

The antidote to Shame is Self–love, more than self-praise, learning to embrace the whole of us unconditionally is the key and this is an act of choice. Let go of the grip of our inner critic by becoming aware and confronting it asking questions like:

Is it really true? Who’s really talking? Is it objectively me? Or is it an appreciation from the past? Who can I become if I let go of this belief?

Doubting thoughts can be stopped, but it takes vigilance to do it…. So once it hits you, better have in handy the strategies to immediately shake of the dust and get back on the horse.


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