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Creativity: Freeing Our Inner Demons (Part 4)

Submitted by on June 20, 2012 – 11:38 pmNo Comment

This is the final issue in a series of 4.

(Commentary and narrative by John Cane)

I had a discussion with someone last night regarding this series on creativity and freeing our demons.  He seemed concerned by the tone of his voice and the look on his face.  He responded, “What demons?”  The feeling I had from what I interpreted in that moment was not a good one.  The word “demon” seemed to have a different meaning to this person, as in evil spirit, devil, or maybe the opposite of “good”?  Especially in America it seems we strive so hard sometimes in the public eye to avoid being immoral, “bad”, etc. that ironically we may compensate with erroneous unexplained behaviors to protect our societal reputation—our egos, all because we are suppressing a natural instinct from a primal self to create; the natural process of the universe.  There is such a thing as taking something so far to an extreme that it can become a problem instead of a solution.  A saying which sticks in my mind from almost 35 years ago has seemed to hold true over a lifetime: “The vow that binds too strictly snaps itself”.

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.”

The last paragraph of the previous article is included because of the importance and complexity of the topic being discussed.

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.”

These “unacceptable” impulses come from a dark inner territory Jung described as “the shadow” and we more often than not dread looking “in there” or having impulses appear unbidden. “But if we can stand firm without running,” Diamond says, “tolerating the anxiety from these unwanted visitations, these ‘close encounters’ engender, we can begin to give them form and hear what it is they want of us.”

“Creativity comes from this refusal to run, this willing encounter with anxiety and what lies beyond it. It is an opening up to the unknown, the unconscious, the daimonic. And it can be terrifying. The real trick is learning to use the anxiety to work rather than escape. And all of this requires immense courage, the courage to create.”

“So anxiety stems from conflict — either inner or outer conflict — and creativity is an attempt to constructively resolve that conflict. Why do people create? We create because we seek to give some formal expression to inner experience. Certainly, that inner experience is sometimes joy, peace, tranquility, love, etc. We wish to share that experience with our fellow human beings.”

However, Diamond continues, “human nature being what it is, more often the inner experience is conflict, confusion, anxiety, anger, rage, lust, and so forth. So this is what fuels and informs the bulk of creative work, and it is what gives it its resonance, intensity, and cutting edge.”

Anxiety motivates most creative activity, Diamond notes, “it inevitably accompanies the process. This is because in order to be creative — to bring something new into being, something unique, original, revolutionary — 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.”

This is the reason “true creativity” requires and demands so much courage, he explains. “One can never know the outcome of the process at the outset. Yet, one is putting oneself on the line, fully committing oneself to the uncertain project. Hence, one is plagued by the demons of doubt, discouragement, despair, trepidation, intimidation, guilt, and so on. Who wouldn’t feel anxious?”

“Nonetheless, it is during this process — once we have decided unequivocally to throw ourselves fully into it, for better or worse, to completely commit to it — that there can be moments of lucidity, clarity, passionate intensity that transcend all petty concerns.  It is then — when we stop worrying about what others will think, when we stop trying so hard, when we relinquish ego control and surrender to the daimonic, when we relax or play — that what Jung termed the ‘transcendent function’ kicks in, and the conflict is resolved, the problem is solved, the creative answer revealed.”

So it seems that this kind of agreement or connection with the daimonic aspect of our “selves” is of insightful value.

Diamond writes in his book: “By bravely voicing our inner ‘demons’ — symbolizing those tendencies in us that we most fear, flee from, and hence, are obsessed or haunted by — we transmute them into helpful allies, in the form of newly liberated, life-giving psychic energy, for use in constructive activity. During this alchemical activity, we come to discover the surprising paradox that many artists perceive: 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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