Creative blocks are often rooted in shame.
“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ~ Albert Einstein
I was 6 years old and was happily lost—buoyant—in creative flow. It was a rainy, summer day, and I sat at a long table in the Highlands Nature Center, coloring a rainbow trout I had drawn. I was delighted with my creation and worked with focus, ensuring each purple, yellow, red, green, and silver crayon brought life to each scale.
The tall girl from Florida, who was visiting the mountains for the summer, bumped the back of my chair as she walked behind me. She leaned over my right shoulder, peering down at my paper. Her long, straight hair fell forward and hung over my fish like a curtain. I was so proud of my picture, I shifted my shoulders to the left so she could get a better view.
“WHAT. IS. THAT?!!!!!”
Everyone at the table stopped working and looked up.
“I MEAN, WHAT ISSSSSSS THAT?” she hissed.
“A rainbow trout,” I said quietly, staring down at my fish.
I knew I was under attack. A torrent of flight chemicals pushed through my veins, firehose-style. I didn’t dare look up. I felt sick. And embarrassed. And sad—all at once.
“It’s RIDICULOUS!!!!! No fish I know looks like THAT!!!”
A sweet boy across from me tried to throw me a life preserver. “Sure they do! Rainbows are full of color. I catch ’em all the time.”
“Still ridiculous,” she huffed. She jerked her raincoat from the hook on the wall and walked out the front door where a car was waiting.
Dad was late picking me up, and I had time to replay the incident over and over in my mind. When his green Jeep pulled into the gravel, circular driveway, I was almost in tears.
“Hi there, Charlie Banana!” he beamed, smiling. “Oh, let’s see what you made!”
“It’s just a silly fish….”
“WOW! Would you look at that!!! I think your use of color is spot on. Great detail. Your work shows so much thoughtfulness.” He edged the Jeep toward Horse Cove Road and said while looking for traffic over his left shoulder, “Feel proud of your work. It is unique and beautiful.”
I looked at my paper on the way home and decided it wasn’t so bad, after all. Still, the tall girl from Florida had managed to set a small hook into my creative confidence, leaving behind shrapnel and a scar.
Every now and then, voices like hers (and those from others who have criticized a drawing, a story, an essay, or anything I have made) replace the sane, kind voices inside my head and create creative blocks. They gather in a circle, around a campfire of meanness, and chant a chorus of insults that result in creative blocks.
Best-selling author and researcher, Brené Brown, explained to Liz Gilbert (during an interview on Liz’s “Magic Lessons” podcast) that most likely, you, too, have been on the English end of an art- shaming incident. Brown notes:
“When I started the research on shame, you know, 13 years ago, I found that 85% of the men and women who I interviewed remembered an event in school that was so shameful, it changed how they thought of themselves for the rest of their lives. But wait – this is good – fifty percent of that 85% percent, half of those people: those shame wounds were around creativity. So fifty percent of those people have art scars. Have creativity scars.”
What are your creativity scars?
Let’s go back in time and bring up one of your most prickly, painful, art-shaming memories. Go back to the incident and bring it to mind clearly. Write it all down. Who was there? What happened? What did you feel? What did you think about creativity and your ability to create as a result?
Capture all the ickiness in its full, nasty, glory.
Now, let’s jump into a time machine together and rewrite history. Let’s write over your creative blocks.
How to Heal Creativity Scars
Study the details of your art-shaming story and immerse yourself in creating a brand new present and future. Decide what you want to think and feel now, all these years later. Begin with drawing a picture of the new vision. Get down as many images of your newly-desired state as you can.
Next, write/narrate the new vision as a re-enactment of the art-shaming incident. Go back to the past as the wise and strong adult you are today, and do things differently. Say things differently. Choose a different outcome.
Go crazy here if you want. You can choose to turn the painful memory into satire. Or, you can create a completely outrageous series of events, with you as the hero(ine) of the story. You can talk back to the bullies with eloquence and piercing humor, leaving the onlookers stunned by your courage and cleverness.
Transmute your trauma into a new energy. You are the writer, producer, and director of your life’s story. You can step into your time machine at any hour and fashion a narrative that heals, lifts, and emboldens you to return to your creativity. You can overthrow your creative blocks and transform your scars into bridges that take you and others safely across churning waters, foamy with shame.
As Meryl Streep says, “Take your broken heart and turn it into art.”