Within each of us there is a part of ourselves that needs to be aware of potential threats and dangers to our safety and wellbeing. Experiences in life that have elicited feelings of shame, fear and anxiety pull us back from contact with people or places. When the world seemed much bigger than us this was something that was inherently useful and necessary. People who are overly critical of others creative expression are often themselves tormented by strong inner critics. By projecting shame, fear and anxiety onto others they find temporary relief from this inner suffering. When we are able to stay with the belief that we are intrinsically creative that we allow ourselves to be less influenced by the responses of another. Through this belief and trust in ourselves coupled with a safe and supportive environment generates creative growth and exploration.
My experience of this occurred when I was punished at school and beaten with a cane at the age of twelve in front of my peers. I felt deep shame and for a long time afterwards, I withdrew from others, preferring to sit alone. What stayed with me was a reinforced idea that I was not to challenge authority, that to do so would mean that I would be punished for it. For many years later I believed to challenge, speak up and state a position then I would be taken down for it. Whilst studying Architecture at University I was presenting my design to my peers, I could see from the scowl on the face of my tutor that it was not being received well. She ripped the design to shreds and me in the process in front of my group, I felt shame and became angry but she me beat me down, I sat slumped in my seat wanting the earth to swallow me up, I hated myself and felt anything that I did was worthless, I believed that expressing my creative self was personally dangerous.
These two experiences had embedded deeply themselves within me, the part of myself that is there to protect me now had two mantras. One, don't challenge authority and two, don't express yourself as a creative . By exposing myself to situations where I am invited to do so could bring on feelings of shame and separateness from others, that I will feel alone and unloved. Since those two experiences, any criticism from others touched and reflected my shame and a grief for the loss of myself as a creative being. I would avoid playing music in front of friends, avoid opportunities to contribute to my Architectural profession, and avoided bringing my voice into the world when authoritative figures spoke to me. I became disillusioned and lost.
In therapy I began to realise that the experiences I had were a result of an environment that did not support me to grow in my capacity as a creative being. I also began to engage with a direct dialogue with the inner critic that developed out of a need to protect me from situations that potentially could illicit deep feelings of shame and inadequacy. My critic had became the dominant voice within that limited my ability to grow into my full capabilities. In seeking to understand this part of myself I discovered that I could negotiate with myself and find a way that allowed me to explore and to take care of myself at the same time. The tone of my inner dialogue changed from harsh to gentle as I acknowledged my need to find a safe and supportive creative environment before I am ready to grow creatively. That mistakes are just part of a process of exploration, and are useful signposts before I can recognise a sense of creative completion.
Richard Prince is a Sydney based Gestalt Psychotherapist in private practice. He works with clients that are interested in developing their inner wisdom, to create a life of meaning, purpose, and fulfilling relationships. He has trained in the United States and in Australia, completing a degree in Architecture, and holds Masters Degrees in Social Ecology and Gestalt Psychotherapy. He balances his therapy practice with life in the professional business world as a creative practitioner, as a father, a husband, and as a full time human being.