Halloween is just around the corner and I’m a big fan. Yes, the dressing up is fun, but it’s more than that—it serves to remind us that humans need outlets for our darker, distorted and dangerous sides. On October 31st, society gives us permission to show (albeit in a non-threatening, theatrical way) the parts of ourselves not usually let out to play in nice company.
When it comes to our creativity, it’s no different. We’re encouraged to focus on the “good” parts of our creative process, products and mindset and lock up our less socially acceptable feelings and responses away in dark cupboards. Door shut…end of story. Well, not quite. “Therapy 101” tells us that when they’re all locked up together, these nasties fester away and leak out through the cracks.
As a creativity coach, I hear a lot about people’s creativity monsters (although they rarely recognise them as such), and I’ve come to realise that the best way to defeat them is to identify and understand them—as they say, “better the devil you know.”
Meet Your Monsters
What creativity monsters are hiding under your bed? Here are some of the usual culprits who try to wreak havoc on our creative success.
Madam Fear, the Shape-shifter
This lady’s the leader of the gang and controls all the other monsters. She’s the ultimate shape-shifter and is super sneaky and hard to spot because she can look like any number of things. In your creative life, she often shows up as “bad stuff,” like procrastination, laziness, severe self-criticism, overthinking, controlling, denial, arrogance, perfectionism or addiction. At other times, she’ll morph into what seems like one of the “good guys”: virtuosity, sacrifice for others, martyrdom, and so on. But beware! These disguises are devious techniques designed to distract you from connecting with your creativity. Madame Fear cannot be vanquished, so you’ll have to get used to her presence…but her power greatly diminishes when you identify her and call her out on her tricks.
The Anger Banshee
Someone’s taken credit for your work? A gallery’s ripped you off? Your laptop was stolen and it had the only copy of your manuscript? You’ll probably be visited by the Anger Banshee. Unlike Madam Fear, there’s no mistaking this wild woman. You’ll recognise her the minute she enters the room because she screams in your ear and smacks you in the chest, leaving your pulse racing and your adrenaline pumping. If you stand your ground and don’t let her take over, however, she can actually be helpful because she reveals your values, limits and boundaries.
The Evil Jealousy Fairy
When you hear yourself thinking, “Isn’t Jane doing well with her business….why can’t I be more like her?” or “Why is Rachel getting noticed….my work is so much better than hers,” then you know the Evil Jealousy Fairy has come to play the comparison game. Her seemingly innocent whisperings in your ear are far from harmless because she never strays far from her mistress, Madam Fear (who’ll be creeping up behind you dressed as self-doubt and criticism). This insidious little imp is tricky to spot, but when you do, question her motives directly—she hates being confronted, and will quickly back down. Enough direct contact and this nasty little nymph can be transformed into a good fairy, supporting and guiding you instead of carrying out constant comparisons.
The Pain Zombie
Like the Anger Banshee, the Pain Zombie is also hard to miss; she’s not the most subtle of creatures. The Pain Zombie will shuffle (surprisingly quickly) into your life when you’ve experienced trauma or loss of some kind. It’s very difficult to ignore all her moaning and groaning and get on with the business of your creativity when it feels like parts of you are missing. As much as you’d like to, the Pain Zombie cannot be ignored. Gentle understanding, self-care and time is the way to help heal her broken body and soul and return to life and creativity.
The Guilt and Shame Ghost
This eerie spectre feeds on your past disappointments, regrets and mistakes. While she prefers to stay in the background, she occasionally comes out to rattle her bones and wail “Ooooooohhhhhhh” at your attempts to succeed creatively in the present and plan a creative future. She likes to remind you of past failures, and spooks you into thinking you’re future is chained down by these. Well, it’s not. As soon as you accept your skeletons in the closet for what they are (dusty old decaying remnants), then the Guilt and Shame Ghost loses her power. Let her howl away in the corner, but don’t let her haunt your dreams.
Manage Your Monsters
It’s tempting to keep the lid of our own Pandora’s Box firmly closed, but by doing this, we’re denying valid parts of ourselves that are crying out to be heard, and in turn denying ourselves opportunities to grow creatively. Any of your monsters have the power to shut down you down creatively; it’s up to you whether or not you let them do so. Here are some tricks (and treats…sorry, couldn’t resist!) to help you befriend the beasts.
Identify: As soon as you feel “badly” about your creativity, try to identify which monster(s) have come out to play.
Understand: Notice how this monster manifests itself in your creative life. What types of behaviours does it trigger in you? Are these behaviours helpful or harmful for your creativity and yourself? Are there specific people, places or situations where the monster is more likely to turn up? Consider what purpose the monster serves; are the reasons rational or ridiculous?
Acknowledge: Allow the monster to exist…but stare it down, severely reprimand it and send it to the naughty corner, where it can watch you paint or write or sing while it sulks to its empty heart’s content.
Self-care: Look after yourself. Creativity monsters feed off fatigue and neglect and grow weaker when you take time to nurture and centre yourself. You know what to do… exercise, sleep, healthy food, social support, mindfulness and creative play time.
Here are some more resources to help you manage your monsters:
▪ The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron
▪ Fearless Creating, by Eric Maisel
▪ The War of Art, by Steven Pressfield
▪ Living with a Creative Mind, by Jeff and Julie Crabtree
▪ Mindfulness for Creativity, by Dr. Danny Penman
Bronya Wilkins is a creativity coach and founder of Creative Cocoon, a coaching practice dedicated to helping people connect with their creativity to increase wellbeing and life fulfilment. Bronya is passionate about psychology, self-development and creative expression. Some of her creative hobbies include dance, graphic design, music composition and photography. For more about Bronya and Creative Cocoon, visit her website and Facebook page, or follow her on Instagram and Twitter.