Check out the article published on HealthPlace.com and let us know your thoughts.
Though it can be argued that obsessions can also generate positive behavior (such as in the case of a scientist obsessed with the discovery of a new solution), in this article we look at them as intrusive and unwanted thoughts.
Check out the article published on HealthPlace.com and let us know your thoughts.
Nothing pleases my academic side more than to come across a research study, published in a scientific publication, examining the connections between emotions and creativity.
In volume 7 of this year's journal of Aesthetics, Creativity and the Arts, Marie J.C. Forgeard examines whether or not posttraumatic growth (briefly defined as the positive outcomes resulting from an adversity) increases creative expression.
A very popular question in the psychology of creativity, is whether or not the stereotype of the "suffering artist" has some merit. This is not just a question of intellectual curiosity; it has practical implications about counseling approaches utilized when treating artists and creative individuals. As discussed in previous entries, the answer to this question is multi-layered. Forgeard's article, Perceiving Benefits After Adversity: The Relationship Between Self-reported Posttraumatic Growth and Creativity, sheds some light on the assumption that adversity (life events, psychological disorders, illnesses etc) may foster creative behavior or the subjective experience of increased creativity. In addition, it's one of the few times we have an empirical approach demonstrating that the ability to heal from trauma involves increased creativity.
Trauma can result in positive growth -one that makes us feel wiser, stronger and more appreciative of what we have- and it can also result in negative outcomes -painful ruminating, feeling stuck on the event, and unable to move past the distress. While the second kind can also give rise to creative endeavors (and, I believe, this is where the image of a suffering artist comes from), it is the first kind that makes people report an overall sense of creative growth and adaptability. Being flexible, open to new ways of thinking and quickly readjusting to new experiences, are all components of a creative mind and of posttraumatic, positive growth. There is a very close connection between having gone through some type of adversity and utilizing creativity, both as a way to relieve distress and as an outlet for these newly formed perspectives on life and the world around us.
I'm sure that there are many more approaches and explanations on this topic. However, I believe that Forgeard's article will be referenced many times in the future during such discussions. What are your thoughts? Feel free to write below!
Working with artists and being a performer myself, I was captivated by an extraordinary find on Netflix called The other F word (referring to fatherhood). Written and directed by Andrea Blaugrund Nevins, this documentary gives viewers a very revealing insight into some of the inner and outer conflicts experienced by punk rock musicians. It also tells their personal stories of the circumstances that led them to seek out a sense of belongingness in the world of punk rock and skater punk. The documentary focuses on how, ironically, the same performers who have developed their artistic identity around themes of anti-authoritarianism are seen trying to set rules in their own homes with their children.
A fascinating theme that came up, is that of maintaining the punk rock personality in an effort to continue to connect with old and new fans who have certain expectations about what it means to sing songs against authority, the system and the mainstream. In this documentary, there also seems to be a need to smoothen the transition from dad to punk frontman which, for some of the singers, is more easily achieved through excessive drinking or having to make more comfortable sleeping arrangements when touring.
Having to balance two contrasting worlds, the world of the eternal adolescent and the world of having to raise one, seems to be a source of tension that can potentially lead to creative blocks and band conflicts. The documentary ends with Jim Lindberg from Pennywise (who also wrote the book "Punk Rock Dad") quitting the band to spend more time at home. While watching the scenes with him pushing his daughter on a swing, I couldn't help but wonder how long he would be able to stay away from the world he had known for 20 years. One filled with the adrenaline rush of performing, the constant changes that come with touring and breathing and living music. It turns out, he is now back with the band and they are working on a new album and tour.
Overall, this documentary brings up many fascinating issues regarding the emotional needs met by the punk rock scene, the psychology of the performer, what happens when the "I don't care" attitude clashes with caring about one's own kids and keeping the spirit of punk young while growing up.
There is a relatively old entry on Athletic Insight, the Online Journal of Sport Psychology (September, 1999, Vol.1, issue 2) that recently got me thinking.
In this article, Tom Ferraro applies a psychoanalytic perspective on anxiety-related issues in athletes. Taking a different direction from cognitive-behavioral and relaxation training techniques, Ferraro looks at unconscious conflicts. In particular, he examines the connection between object-relations theories, the unconscious dread of success and the inner processing of the experience of winning. Some of his theoretical arguments discuss concepts of narcissistic disturbance when performing in front of an audience, the fear of separation from the "non-winner identity" when facing the possibility of winning, the negative associations one attaches to the exhibitionism involved in performing and the fragmented self-identity when under pressure.
Popular approaches to managing anxiety in athletes focus on symptom-relief, positive thinking, visual imagery, preparation and breathing. Many of my clients benefit from these approaches; but I have also found that, the more inquisitive ones, tend to ask questions. They want to know WHY certain automatic physical, cognitive or emotional behaviors persist. Recently, this desire came up with a couple of client-athletes I worked with. Drawing on ideas relevant to Ferraro's, sessions focused on some free association, and disinhibited discussion on what certain experiences mean or represent to my clients. For example, one basketball player revealed that the discipline involved in training, represents clear-cut, black and white decision-making; however, this athlete admitted to feeling uncomfortable with making and sticking to decisions. This general tendency trickled down to her approach on basketball training which, in turn, affected her ability to remain focused on her task. In this situation, apart from helping her create a training schedule she felt comfortable with, the goal was to explore and identify hidden conflicts about the pressure of decision-making, self-doubt and commitment to one way of doing things. By correctly recognizing the unconscious conflicts, and by making in conscious, it becomes easier to manage and respond to them.
Of course, no 2 cases are always the same. Still, I wanted to call attention to this point; perhaps athletes would benefit from a deeper exploration of their difficulties, anxieties and psychological obstacles.
When artists, who may often have erratic and inconsistent schedules, enter a period of low productivity they may also inadvertently enter a period of boredom and a sense of purposelessness.
George is a writer who has not been asked to contribute any articles for a while, and has not been contacted by a publishing company for his latest work. The previous year was very successful and busy, but this one is extraordinarily slow. He is feeling bored, unproductive and disinterested in everyday activities. In addition, since he had neglected his social relationships during the time he was busy, he is now feeling lonely and isolated.
The above vignette illustrates an example of how a period with little creative work may be a red flag for feelings of depression, low self-worth and a "creative identity crisis."
On the other hand, when artists are active, busy and productive they may often have difficulty setting limits. They may take on one challenging task after the other and neglect to find the right balance between work and other activities. This may trigger feelings of anxiety and of being overwhelmed.
Mary is a fashion designer who recently felt inspired to begin working on her clothing line again. She has started contacting old network connections, is staying up late setting up her website, ordering business cards and looking for fashion competitions. She is having difficulty managing her time, remembering the tasks she has signed up for and feels anxious. Her mind is in many places at once and she is having a hard time sleeping.
In this example, the artist's fear of not doing enough to guarantee work for herself in the future is interfering with her ability to manage her time and to prioritize.
It is difficulty to find the "sweet spot" where someone feels productive, challenged and creative but not anxious nor bored.
In our sessions, clients and I work on:
Do you have any insights on how to find the right place on the boredom--anxiety spectrum? When are things "just right"?
Excellent article on how to look at creativity by Branden Barnett. He suggests "not owning" creativity, allowing oneself to feel like creativity is not theirs. It's external, in need of a vehicle to express it. Check out the article here.
My thoughts are that by adopting this view, artists will be able to separate their identity as artists from their identities as beings. By doing so, there is decreased anxiety, less worry about failure and more focus on creating.
Counseling interventions for Performance Anxiety:
Unlike professions where being in front of an audience might feel like an occasional nuisance to some (think of an employee who might enjoy every aspect of his/her work "except for having to speak publicly") performers are faced with a task that is integrally tied into their artistic and professional identity. Performing artists are performers; no way around it!
To the best of my knowledge, there is a limited number of evidence-based counseling interventions for performing artists (if you have resources to any please feel free to comment below). Sport psychology, a neighboring field, has approaches of helping athletes perform well. But things become slightly different when a performing artist is expressing an inner state, or trying to convey a message to audiences, and not just trying to improve a skill such as speed, accuracy etc. Here's a list of counseling approaches one can take when trying to reduce symptoms of performance anxiety, and to maximize satisfaction deriving from self-expression.
1. Body mindfulness: Using the principles of mindfulness we help performers use conscious attention and awareness as a way of centering and grounding oneself. When disconnected from the process of performing due to anxiety, negative thinking or lack of confidence, performers are encouraged to try sharpening their skill of body-part mindfulness. By doing so, the body relaxes and we feel connected to what physically contains our thoughts in the present moment.
2. "Who am I doing this for" exploration: Clients may often lose sight of why their are performing and who they are doing this for. The motivation behind performing may start with a heartfelt "this is what I love doing" and turn into a pressure to satisfy audiences, to prove something to someone, to make a living, to please, to provoke etc. In therapy, we may explore what connects the performer to what they are doing and what they are attempting to express; we find the fundamental essence of the driving force motivating someone to want to perform.
3. Emotion-magnification: Inspired by the Gestalt approach performers are encouraged to try magnifying the emotions they typically try to hide while performing (this should be done off-stage). For example, actors trying to hide a shaky voice, singers trying to hide shortness of breath, dancers trying to hide low energy etc, are encouraged to exaggerate these behaviors/feelings during practice, and to alternate between the two extremes. This is a way of getting used to "dialing them" up and down and acquiring some sense of control over these involuntary behaviors and emotions.
4. Goal-setting: Another counseling intervention used with performers is to predetermine a goal for every time the person is about to perform. This may look something like: "today my goal is to hold this note until the end" or "next time my goal will be to make more eye contact with the audience" etc. This helps performers break down the parts they want to work on or achieve rather than holding onto a vague and abstract pressure to perform well.
5. Embracing the feeling: The process of performing involves artistic expression and the display of an inner, emotional or cognitive process. A performer may often feel like their emotional state ought to be suppressed because the audience expects to see a performer who is calm, confident, angry, or expressive etc. Working on counseling for performers often involves identifying the genuine, authentic emotions one is having at the moment, embracing and releasing them during the performance. Thus, instead of fighting sadness I allow it to become part of what I'm doing. It may not be what the audience expects or is used to, but it's genuine and creates less anxiety for the performer.
These are just a few interventions or clinical approaches that can be used when working with performers. Feel free to comment below or to add your thoughts.
Many people believe that self-esteem has a lot to do with "being great" or "the best at something" or "recognized for something important." The assumption is that one's self-esteem will go up once he/she has perfected something about their appearance, their skills, their personality and so on. In doing so, the person internalizes the message that there is something wrong with what's already there. That the only way one will like himself/herself is if they change and become perfect.
However, this is not what having "high self-esteem" is all about: Self-esteem has to do with self-acceptance and self-love. It is a long-lasting, positive relationship with myself, that exists despite knowing that I'm not perfect. Despite acknowledging that there might be room for growth in many areas of my life (my appearance, my behavior, my performance in certain skills etc).
Self-acceptance is the notion that my worth as an individual does not depend on my talents, my skills, the color of my hair, the size of my nose, the number of degrees I have, etc. My worth is an absolute, constant factor and is the foundation onto which I build my efforts to improve. Many clients wonder "does self-acceptance mean I accept things I dislike about myself without trying to improve?" No. Self-esteem that is based on self-acceptance leads me to want to improve BECAUSE I love myself, not IN ORDER to love myself. However, when it's the other way around and when my self-love depends on how good I am at something, I will always find myself seeking to perfect something even though perfection is unattainable.
Once I've developed a strong sense of self-worth, that is solid and constant, I will find myself wanting to become better, to take care of my appearance, to learn more things, BECAUSE I love myself and want what's best.
Therefore, when working on improving self-esteem, the most important thing is to start by working with the idea of self-acceptance, self-love and self-worth.
The verdict on the relationship between creativity and mental illness is far from conclusive. There are conflicting beliefs, ambiguous accounts of personal experiences, limited studies, and even doubts about the usefulness of even exploring such a connection. However, whether it's in casual discussions among friends following an art show, in news reports analyzing famous musicians' mental illness and substance abuse history, or whether it's in commonly used phrases such as “tortured artists”, we often get exposed to ideas linking mental illness and creativity. This article draws attention to some of the research, personal accounts, and theoretical approaches regarding the question of whether or not having a diagnosable mental illness can be associated with increased creative expression and, perhaps, even success in artistic endeavors.
Stage fright: treat it RIGHT!
Having an audience often triggers a wide range of uncomfortable feelings and physical sensations. Performance anxiety is a reaction to the perceived threat that we will be negatively evaluated by others (or sometimes by ourselves, such as in fear of being in front of a camera). The greater the perceived threat (i.e. if it's a final examination, if we are performing in front of someone we consider important) the more anxious we will feel.
Some start to feel "stomach butterflies" hours or days before the performance, others shake and sweat, others experience nausea and diarrhea and others even get panic attacks! The result is often to develop an aversion to performing which hinders your growth as a performer and your chances of succeeding in what you do. What makes this particular type of anxiety so important to overcome is that it is integrally tied into an experience that would otherwise be meaningful, exciting and fulfilling! The goal is to find out how to handle our brain and body's reaction to the perceived threat. We will examine 4 simple ways to decrease the frequency and intensity of performance anxiety.
1) The 3 Ps: Prepare-Practice-Perform: Before hitting the stage, it is very important that you feel confident about what you are about to do. This is because during moments of intense anxiety we may be consumed by worries about how we're doing, what people are thinking, how we look etc. When a speaker has practiced the speech many times, he/she will be on "autopilot" and will be able to think about relaxing rather than what he/she is saying during the speech. The focus moves from getting it right onto "nailing it"! Prior to practicing however, there is another extremely important stage: the stage of preparing and caring about the content of your work/art. If you hate blues and you are about to perform a blues song in front of blues fans your anxiety level may increase as your level of personal satisfaction is reduced. Of course, there are times when a performer has no choice over what they will be performing but the more comfortable you feel with the content of the work you are about to showcase, the better it will feel while you are doing it.
2) What are you telling yourself? The second part of managing performance anxiety is learning to identify "negative self-talk" during stressful times. Self-talk is our inner dialogue, our thought process. Many of these internal dialogues are so quick and automatic that we do not pay attention to them. Some have been shaped through early experiences and messages we receive from our environment. For example, if we grew up being told that showing emotions is bad we might experience some discomfort when performing a piece that requires emotional expression. The 1st step is to learn to identify such thought patterns and the 2nd step is to learn to challenge and dispute them.
3) Who are you trying to impress? The next topic has to do with our own unique relationship with the process and experience of showcasing our work. We tend to focus on others' judgement and we develop a skewed perception of the performing experience. One that asks the question "what will they think?" instead of "what do I think?" When you're about to get on stage and begin performing you want to ask yourself the following questions: Why am I doing this? What do I hope to get out of this performance? What do I find fun and rewarding about this? When we perform we often have the underlying assumption that the only goal is to impress and satisfy others. Naturally, this kind of thinking creates a lot of unrealistic expectations as it is impossible to always count on a positive reaction from our audience. Once the emphasis is placed on what we are getting out of it, then we feel more confident.
4) Breath-Relax-Visualize: Let us assume that a writer is about to present her book in front of hundreds of people. She is impatiently waiting to be notified to get on stage. If the writer knows her body and signs of anxiety, she will immediately become aware of her dry mouth and will begin to monitor any negative thinking. Then, as she reminds herself that anxiety will quickly reach its peak and begin to diminish, she is calming herself down and reassuring herself that "she will be ok". She will start taking deep breaths to ease physical tension and shortness of breath. She will imagine that her stomach is a balloon that inflates and deflates with every inhalation and exhalation. She will visualize a safe space around her; one that is filled with positive thoughts, images of comfort and self-affirmations. Repeating this 4-5 times reduces the threatening interpretation of the moment and increases comfort and positivity.
Hopefully the above tips will help you enjoy the process of performing to the fullest!
Olga Gonithellis is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor living in NYC. She specializes in the mental health of artists, performers and creative individuals (creativity blocks, stage fright, low motivation and creativity, stress related to entertainment industry and more).