Suffering from creative constipation …?

Blog awaiting imageI’m not quite certain if I first heard, read or spontaneously thought of the phrase ‘creative constipation’, but over the years I’ve made it my own. Often, when I first use it as a possible explanation for a feeling people are trying to express, it is greeted with a smile or chuckle before, on reflection, it begins to reveal its more serious nature in the therapy space.

The UK government reports that the creative industries are worth £84.1 billion a year to the UK economy, generating nearly £9.6 million an hour. Indeed, these have been a growth area of the UK economy as a whole: in 2014, they grew at almost double the rate of the rest of the economy.

While creative activity can be profitable, most people, at some point in time, decide they aren’t actually creative. Sometimes that moment of ‘discovery’ is quite clearly remembered. ‘My music teacher communicated to me that I was welcome to sing in the choir, just not on performance night’; ‘Our art teacher was a sarcastic man; he suggested to me that while the naive style was practised by many artists, first they had to learn to make it look like the thing they were drawing and then unlearn the rules. I never tried to draw again.’

While being creative is rightly connected with the arts, I tend to see it as a much wider human activity. Indeed, I’d boldly state that to be human is to be creative. While artists, musicians and actors are the creatives we think of most readily, teachers, builders and engineers, for example, can be hugely creative in all their various forms.

Creativity is an experimental activity. Small children do it naturally, acting out roles and bringing life to inanimate objects. But the socialisation processes of modern society, in the home, in educational settings, rarely stop to focus on the development and enhancement of the creative process. (I’m reminded of the lyrics of Harry Chapin’s ‘Flowers are Red‘.) And there begins the long constipating process. Life, vitality, energy, spontaneity can all begin to sludge up in our system when we abandon or refuse to see the creative spirit in human activity. When it gets really bad, even sex itself, the ultimate creative expression of human beings, can suffer.

Rather than a neat conclusion to this blog I thought I’d end this post with a challenge. How have you been creative this week?

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-place – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

The transient existence of meaning and belonging

Connection200

The transient existence of meaning and belonging

29 June 2016

The midsummer light has finally faded around the edges of the blinds and I am sat within 3 metres of two of the most beautiful voices imaginable. As the climax of the final piece fades and the last statement of the main theme rolls from the trumpet bell, it is possible to anticipate what is about to happen within the venue. Almost in slow motion an eruption of connectedness pushes forth as cheers, shouts and bellows for an encore assault the very oxygen of St George’s concert hall, Bristol. The Unthank sisters, singers of extraordinary presence and warmth, are clearly moved by the reception, and for a few minutes I know I am truly alive – in the moment with every one of the 500 humans emoting in the space.

It is several hours before I can settle, but as I drift off to sleep I am already beginning to think about The Unthanks experience in terms of the wider psychology of human beings. I realise that the gig, and my weekend visit to my home city of Bristol, was about meaning and belonging. Viktor Frankl, psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor, put forward the idea that humans are driven to find meaning in life.

While many men and women naturally discover meaning, our perception of how much of it we have and/or need appears rather variable and subjective. From the therapist’s chair I witness that believing one’s life lacks meaning is correlated tightly with a number of negative mental health issues including stress, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide. Conversely, through therapy I see that people often find their pathway to meaning, which brings with it positive inner feelings and good mental health.

Research frequently focuses on meaning and belonging in connected ways. Social bonds and attachments are clearly tied to this research and are undoubtedly important for humans – so much so that, at certain points, our very survival is predicated upon it. Men and women commonly associate their social relationships as something that creates meaningfulness in their lives, and this is reported in several pieces of research. However, this view of meaning and belonging invariably leads us too often to understanding these issues in relational terms only.

It seems to me that there are other important ways of finding and internally holding our connections of meaning and belonging as a human being. It might be no surprise that I put forward the idea that the arts are one way in which we might build such a sense of belonging and meaning in life; that said, there is also the need for being part of ‘tribes’ whether they are found in sport through supporting a team or the simple acknowledgement of where one comes from … And here I am back with the Unthanks’ songs, deeply rooted and evocative of a culture and geography.

Fast forward to a wet Monday morning. The weekend has ebbed but the music, art and culture of my home city has filled me with a sense of meaning and belonging. Although I must return to Cambridge, it is my connection with my tribe in the West that helps me fully to understand exactly who I am. Beyond the more normal way of viewing meaning and belonging within relationships, I recognise that I have both these things dynamically alive within an internal map of connections built across time, culture and geography, and however present but transient artistic and cultural experiences of meaning and belonging might be, I realise the richness, depth and importance of its touch on people’s lives.

Why not read: Crying has an upside – for men and women alike

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.

 

Crying has an upside – for men and women alike

Cryblogsmall9 November 2015

It’s 8am on a cold early November morning and I’m not expecting to cry any time soon. In fact, I’m sat inside an incredible structure made from discarded and dormant materials, which itself sits inside the bombed-out remains of the 14th century Temple church in Bristol. Among a small group of people – some clearly on their way to work – my wife and I are listening to a band, toyface, who are part of Sanctum, a 24 hour-a-day, 24-day-long performance.

Visiting the city I was born and raised in – and still feel deeply tribal towards – there are always emotional triggers from my past to be found; the song being beautifully performed by the band suddenly triggers a deep emotion in me. And I want to cry. Despite the distractions of the fluxing audience, the music and lyrics of the powerful quartet of musicians speak deeply to something at my core. And yet, I’m still coded to my childhood upbringing half a century ago: ‘big boys don’t cry’.

I know the ‘big boy’s don’t…’ myth well, as men commonly apologise when their emotions release and they cry in my consulting room.

Although little is in fact known about the function of crying for humans, it appears that, according to Professor Ad Vingerhoets, a world leading expert on crying, on average women cry 30 to 64 times a year in comparison with 6 to 17 times a year for men.*

While I cry at the lowest end of the parameters of the quoted figures, I have rarely cried as an adult in a public setting and yet everything tells me this morning that toyface could do me a favour and offer a very therapeutic tear to slip out and relieve me of a few thoughts that the weekend has imposed on me.

A recent study by Asmir Gračanin** suggests that crying might indeed go a long way to making us feel better. The research team examined both the immediate and the delayed effect of crying on mood within a controlled laboratory setting. Immediately after watching two tear-jerking films, 28 participants who had cried and 32 who hadn’t were asked how they felt. They also had to rate their moods 20 and 90 minutes later.

The mood of the non-criers was unchanged and unaffected immediately after seeing the films. However, the mood of the group that cried was distinctively low. After 20 minutes, it was reported that their mood had returned to the level experienced before the screening. When asked again, after 90 minutes, the group that had cried reported a better mood than was the case before the films started.

My own call to personal emotional catharsis, while sitting in the Sanctum space, finally caused my eyes to fill but not to spill. For that to happen, I needed to be a man alone in the company of the downloaded track and my own safe space. I’m adding the track Motherlover to my iPod emotional triggers list. I encourage anyone to experience the purgation of a personal cry list. Think how good you might feel in 90 minutes’ time.

*Professor Vingerhoets also claims that women cry for an average of 6 minutes, while men cry for only 2 to 3 minutes.

**Gračanin, A. et al (2015). Why crying does and sometimes does not seem to alleviate mood: A quasiexperimental study, Motivation and Emotion.

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Why not visit my therapy website – therapy-space – where you can contact me or find further information about the therapies I provide for women, men and couples.