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Creativity: Freeing Our Inner Demons (Part 3)

Submitted by on June 20, 2012 – 12:16 amNo Comment

This article is Part 3 in a series of 4.

(Commentary and narrative by John Cane)

Have you ever wondered where some really “crazy” ideas come from or how a bizarre idea becomes a script and then into a movie?  Some people don’t know how to handle their unconventional or undesirable thoughts and ideas.  Different people do different things to either try and put the fire out inside or add fuel to a burning need to express themselves.  It’s paradoxical, indeed.  Oh what to do with this “gift”…or “demon” and relating to the “real” world?  This article may bring some relief if not give you added understanding to what you may already know.

In his book, “Anger, Madness, and the Daimonic: The Psychological Genesis of Violence, Evil, and Creativity,” Dr. Stephen Diamond explains that our impulse to be creative “can be understood to some degree as the subjective struggle to give form, structure and constructive expression to inner and outer chaos and conflict.”

Studies have supported that psychotherapy is at least as effective for treatment of some psychiatric disorders as psychotropic drugs, and the positive effects are more long-term! When therapy is done well, the patient becomes capable to include cognitive and other tools in handling their demons more constructively.  Some artists like Ingmar Bergman, have learned to live with their demons rather than trying to simply suppress or disconnect from them.

“In therapy, one learns to accept and even befriend one’s demons — the daimonic — recognizing that they not only make us who we are but that they participate in and invigorate our creativity.”

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke left therapy after only a few sessions, fearing, “If my devils leave me, my angels will too.”

“But that is a false fear as regards any therapy that respects, fosters, and cultivates the daimonic,” Diamond feels. “Still, many artists understandably resist therapeutic treatments aimed at toning down or suppressing the daimonic cognitively, behaviorally or biochemically.”

“Creativity can be simplistically defined as the constructive expression of the daimonic. When the artist gives voice to his or her darkest impulses in his or her work, the destructive impact is minimized and the daimonic energy positively informs the work. When the serial killer or mass murderer or terrorist gives voice to these antisocial impulses, evil is the result.”

For the duration of the creative process, Diamond finds, “one can enter into what I call a state of ‘benevolent possession.’ It’s like a trance. The artist allows themselves to be carried into the powerful current of primal images, ideas, intuitions and emotions coming from the daimonic or unconscious, while at the same time maintaining sufficient conscious control to render this raw energy or ‘prima materia’ into some new creative form.

“This kind of voluntary possession can be a constructive, integrating, even healing experience. But its inducement demands specific attributes, discipline and skills, including adequate ego strength to withstand and meaningfully structure (rather than succumbing to) daimonic chaos. The boundary between benevolent and malevolent possession is perilously permeable.”

“The insight, creativity, inspiration and ecstasy of voluntary possession,” he explains, “can quickly deteriorate into destructive, involuntary possession, otherwise known as madness or psychosis. This is the dark side of creativity. This is, for example, one way of thinking about mania in bipolar disorder, which has long been associated with possession, madness, and creativity.”

“Many artists with this syndrome welcome or seek to intentionally invite possession in order to enhance their creativity. Drugs and alcohol are often employed precisely for this purpose, a sort of chemical lubrication of the creative process. But such immersion in the unconscious can be dangerous, and the artist can be swamped, inundated and swept away into full-blown mania. Or the mood can suddenly switch to its opposite, triggering a major depressive episode. So this shows that creativity can also be a dangerous business.”

The idea of possession has been around for a while, Diamond says “it used to be believed — and still is by many people — that it is caused by entities of some kind, demons, devils and so forth.”

“Jung is the one who talked about it most. He said the shadow, and the unconscious in general, has the power to possess the individual due to its unconsciousness; the more unconsciousness there is, the more vulnerability there is for that kind of possession in the negative sense.”

“And he talked about complexes in particular, having the ability to take possession of one in a destructive way.”

An illustration is the Robert Louis Stevenson story “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” in which an unconscious personality, the shadow, has the power to take over, “because of its very dissociation: that’s what gives it its power. When Rollo May talked about it the daimonic, part of the definition is the potentiality to be possessed, to be driven by it unconsciously, for it to take over and usurp the whole personality.”

Anxiety (like anger or rage) is an additional experience closely linked to creativity. “It is true that not all creativity comes out of anxiety,” Diamond clarifies, “in the same way that not all creativity comes from anger or rage. But anxiety typically, to some extent, accompanies and spurs on the creative process.”

“Anxiety can be thought of as one of those demons we don’t want to deal with or even know about. So we tend to deny it, avoid it. Drinking, drugs, compulsive gambling, sexual promiscuity, workaholism — all are futile attempts to avoid anxiety. Anxiety is related to the fear of the unknown, of the unconscious, and of death.”

“Creativity requires making use of this existential anxiety. There are two fundamental ways of responding to anxiety: avoidance or confrontation. Creativity involves the confrontation of anxiety, and of that which underlies the anxiety, i.e., discovering the meaning of one’s anxiety.”

According to Diamond, anxiety can be a signal that undesirable (daimonic) urges or impulses conflicting with consciousness are “threatening to break through their repression. These impulsions can be profoundly threatening to our sense of identity, our ‘persona’ as Jung called it, or our egos.”


In tomorrow’s final Part 4 issue of Creativity: Freeing Our Inner Demons:

What Jung called “the shadow” and we typically dread looking “in there” or having impulses appear unbidden. “But if we can stand firm without running,” Diamond says…”

Using the anxiety to work rather than escape.

“So anxiety stems from conflict — either inner or outer conflict — and creativity is an attempt to constructively resolve that conflict.”

“Anxiety not only motivates most creative activity”, Diamond notes, “it inevitably accompanies the process.”

“…one must take risks: the risk of making a fool of oneself; the risk of being laughed at; the risk of failing; the risk of being rejected.”

What to do about, “the demons of doubt, discouragement, despair, trepidation, intimidation, guilt, and so on.”

“…there can be moments of lucidity, clarity, passionate intensity that transcend all petty concerns.

“…the conflict is resolved, the problem is solved, the creative answer revealed.

“That which we had previously run from and rejected turns out to be the redemptive source of vitality, creativity, and authentic spirituality.”


In his book, Diamond writes about a number of well-known and accomplished artists who show evidence of varying degrees of success in accessing and expressing their demons in positive ways.


About the Author

Stephen A. Diamond, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical and forensic psychologist (PSY11404) practicing in Los Angeles, and a former pupil and protege of existential analyst Dr. Rollo May.  In addition to specializing in providing existential and depth psychologically oriented psychotherapy to adult patients for the past 35 years, Dr. Diamond is a former member of the Forensic Panel for the Santa Clara County Superior Court and Approved Panel of Psychiatrists and Psychologists for the Superior Court of Los Angeles County (Criminal Divisions), conducting forensic evaluations and serving as an expert witness in various criminal cases.

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