Sunday, April 1, 2012

Creative People Who Hate Themselves

"Making a piece of art may feel a lot like telling a family secret. Secret telling, by its very nature, involves shame and fear. It asks the question "What will they think of me once they know this?" This is a frightening question, particularly if we have ever been made to feel ashamed for our curiousities and explorations - social, sexual, spiritual.

"How dare you?" angry adults often rage at an innocent child who has stumbled onto a family secret. (How dare you open your mother's jewellery box? How dare you open your father's desk drawer? How dare you open the bedroom door? How dare you go down in the cellar, up in the attic, into some dark place where we hide those things we don't want you to know?)

The act of making art exposes a society to itself. Art brings things to light. It illuminates us. It sheds light on our lingering darkness. It casts a beam into the heart of our own darkness and says, "See?"

When people do not want to see something, they get mad at the one who shows them. They kill the messenger. A child from an alcoholic home gets into trouble scholastically or sexually. The family is flagged as being troubled. The child is made to feel shame for bringing shame to the family. But did the child bring shame? No. The child brought shameful things to light. The family shame predated and caused the child's distress. "What will the neighbours think?" is a shaming device aimed at continuing a conspiracy of illness.

Art opens the closets, airs out the cellars and attics. 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 artist's act, if often reacted to with shaming. Bad reviews are a prime source of shame for many artists. The truth is, many reviews do aim at creating shame in an artist. "Shame on you! How dare you make that rotten piece of art?"

For the artist 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 will be fraught with internal shaming.

Many artists begin a piece of work, get well along in it, and then find, as they 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 coping device employed to deny pain and ward of vulnerability.

Adults who grew up in dysfunctional homes learn to use this coping device very well. They call it detachment, but it is actually a numbing out.

"He forgot my birthday. Oh, well, no big deal."

A lifetime of this kind of experience, in which needs for recognition are routinely dishonoured, teaches a young child that putting anything out for attention is a dangerous act."

- Julia Cameron, 'The Artist's Way'

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