In trouble? Use Childhood Creativity – Shepherd Express
When mental health experts list the attributes needed to deal with life’s many challenges, they usually refer to resilience, realistic optimism, self-compassion, and emotional intelligence. Indeed, these qualities clearly help us adapt when fate hits us hard with loss, pain, and trauma. However, there is another little-discussed attribute that proves to be just as important, especially when it comes to disruptive emotional and interpersonal issues. Creativity. The good news is that even those who don’t consider themselves creative can become one, largely by adopting a mindset they had as children.
Unfortunately, when grappling with psychological puzzles, clients and their therapists may exhibit a lack of creative thinking. When we get trapped in a mental or behavioral rut, we often fall prey to Einstein’s oft-quoted assertion that insanity means doing something repeatedly despite the same undesirable outcome. Or as John Grinder of the famous Neuro-Linguistic Programming said, “If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” Thus, responding effectively to a personal dilemma often requires thinking and acting outside of one’s pre-existing adult boundaries.
Frequently, people who come to therapy have already unsuccessfully experimented with a myriad of “fix me” approaches, so it is not for lack of effort that they remain mired in the mental muck. Rather, it is due to the lack of an imaginative approach. Now, the prescriptions for amplifying one’s creativity are legion, populating books, podcasts and workshops. Can we draw inspiration from these methods and apply them in a therapeutic or mutual aid context to meet personal challenges? Not as much as one might suppose. Instead, there is another often overlooked resource in this regard.
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Studies show that the best models of creativity are children. They benefit from what we call “beginner’s eyes”, that is, they have not accumulated enough life experience to be fixed in their ways of thinking and acting. Usually, the modus operandi of their creativity involves storytelling. They create fantasies that push the limits of the possible. As a child, I spent hours writing stories, illustrating them, and sometimes acting them out through play. That is, until the drumbeat of rote learning at the school is slowly indoctrinating me and most others to paint inside the lines, so to speak. Studies show that creativity in children declines rapidly in many traditional educational settings.
Recent research suggests that this childlike narrative approach helps adults reframe their view and approach to personal issues. Ashley provided a concrete example. Plagued by social anxiety that bothered her at work and in her personal relationships, she had gone through the full gamut of orthodox treatment, but to no avail. She loved to read fiction and regularly wrote about her experiences in a journal, so my suggestion that she start composing fantasy tales about herself and her riddle didn’t sound off the beaten track. The format went like this:
- Changing Context: Ashley wrote fantasies in which she explored different and wild social contexts, ones she would never actually experience. The office became a playroom, or a dinner party was held on top of the clouds, and so on.
- Altered Perspective: In her writings, she created and inhabited different characters, some quite whimsical and even outrageous. Again, these alter egos were way outside of what was possible for him in real life. Yet, it helped her embrace different mindsets and emotions.
- Modification of actions: In her fantasies, she behaved in a way that was well outside of her existing behavioral boundaries. In doing so, she felt the freedom to imagine scenarios she would never consider in real life.
The result? Ashley reframed a rigid mental script that made her anxious when entering social environments. Gradually, his anxiety about social situations turned into curiosity, a tendency joined at the hip by creativity. How is it possible? Well, as Buddha said, “We are what we think, having become what we thought.” And when that thought is too self-defeating or compelling, it needs to be diluted or replaced with the childlike mindset of storytelling and fantasy. How we think becomes what we feel, and what we feel generates how we act.
When emotionally blocked, our old thought patterns function like a cage, constantly reminding us of what we cannot feel or do. Creative storytelling pushes against these mental barriers, making liberation possible.
Philip Chard is a psychotherapist and author specializing in lasting behavior change, emotional healing, and coping with health issues. For more information, visit philipchard.com.