The Dark Side of Creativity is a topic that addresses the compulsion to create in those who live perpetually in a haunted internal world, after suffering early pre-oedipal trauma that prevents them from mourning and healing in their work. Their self, and the creative process, which defines them, become victim to the demon lover complex, which can be explained, in object relations terms, as a pathological mourning state, in which one is addicted to eroticized bad objects due to the lack of sufficient good object internalization during the first three years of life (when the self is first forming).
The repetition of trauma (rather than the resolution of mourning) has detrimental effect, when it is contrasted with creative people who reach the oedipal stage without primal trauma. The other side of the Dark Side of Creativity is related to blocks to creativity that can also involve trauma, but where repression is a major factor, beyond the splitting and dissociation that are seen in cases of the compulsion to create.
KEYNOTE PAPER: The Dark Side of Creativity: Compulsions, Blocks, and Creations. Presenter: Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NCPsyA, D.Litt. Contact hours: 2.0
Abstract: This paper presents the interplay of the compulsion to create and the demon lover complex in well-known women artists and writers who have suffered primal preoedipal trauma (such as Emily Dickinson, Edith Sitwell, Emily Bronte, and Sylvia Plath), and who manifest a developmental arrest that undermines a capacity to mourn primal loss without treatment. This contrasts with those who have a free motivation to create, and a capacity to mourn and heal themselves within their creative work (such as Charlotte Bronte and Suzanne Farrell). Poetic and biographical material will be offered to describe this contrast.
On the other side of the dark side of creativity spectrum is the syndrome of writing blocks. The last part of this paper offers some case process from a four times a week psychoanalytic patient, who gradually resolves a major block to creative self-expression, in writing, through mourning trauma, primal losses, and disillusionments within the holding environment and “container” of an object relations psychoanalytic treatment process. The point is made that repression plays a dominant role in creative blocks, while splitting and dissociation play the main role in compulsions within the creative process, where addiction to an eroticized internal “bad” object is symptomatic of a pathological state, consequent to primal trauma.
PRESENTATION 1: Talking colors: Seeing words/ Hearing images. Embracing the Double-Edged Sword of Creativity: Interpenetration of the Word and the Image. Presenter: Sandra Indig, LCSW-R, LP, ATCB
Abstract: Why does one do anything? Why does the desire to create beauty and truth seem to demand an unmeasurable price, and sometimes endless suffering, crippling illness, addiction, and even one’s life? This presentation on the dark side of creativity discusses familiarity with struggle, conflict, and accepting responsibility for stepping outside of the acceptable and predictable norm of behavior, striving to create an alternative reality, which is often helpful in clinical work. In order to facilitate the projection of internalized bad objects, the book Talking Colors includes the use of free association and empathic listening; making that which had been unthought – thought and unlived – lived. The magical transformation from the silent, non-verbal, shamed, blocked person/ patient to more accessible self-representation facilitates a creative process capable of embracing the dark side of creativity and its vicissitudes: symptoms/ pain/ pathology. By recognizing and accepting the dark side of creativity and its vicissitudes, the use of words and images in treatment vs. compulsive investments in unproductive thinking and loyalty to “bad objects” result in an increased plasticity in behavior in both, patient and analyst/ artist.
PRESENTATION 2: The Dark Side of Creativity in The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers and The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity. Presenter: Susan Kavaler-Adler, PhD, ABPP, NCPsyA, D.Litt.
Abstract: These two books by Kavaler-Adler, The Compulsion to Create: Women Writers and Their Demon Lovers and The Creative Mystique: From Red Shoes Frenzy to Love and Creativity, speak about the dark side of creativity in very vivid terms, by offering the psychobiographical histories of well-known brilliant and prolific women writers and artists.
The Compulsion to Create contains in-depth studies of such authors as Emily Dickinson, Emily Bronte, Edith Sitwell, Charlotte Bronte (higher level contrast), Virginia Woolf, as well as shorter studies of Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin. A clinical case of a developmentally arrested artist, who moves into self-integration (and depressive position growth) through successful object relations treatment, can be seen at the end of this book.
The Creative Mystique offers the theory about the creative process and psychic health, in terms of the love-creativity dialectic. It also contains in-depth cases of many brilliant and well-known artists, followed by two clinical cases. The artists in this book are Camille Claudel (Rodin’s muse), Virginia Woolf, Katherine Mansfield, Anna O., Anne Sexton, Diane Arbus, and Suzanne Farrell of the New York City Ballet, who had Balanchine as her demon lover, yet never succumbed to the demon lover complex due to her oedipal stage level of full self- and whole object development. Like Charlotte Bronte, Suzanne Farrell could mourn on her own, within her creative work. The others just repeated their primal trauma in brilliant new elaborations in their work, illustrating the pathological mourning arrest that drove the compulsion in their work, based on their demon lover addiction. The author’s theory of developmental mourning vs. the demon lover complex is demonstrated throughout the in-depth psychobiographical studies that are so rich in the literary and creative work of the women artists.
DISCUSSION PAPER 1: W. R. Bion’s Alpha Function, Transformation, No-Things, and Nameless Dread: Creativity in Its Presence and Absence in Darkness and Light in Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler’s “The Dark Side of Creativity.” Discussant: Stefanie Teitelbaum, LCSW, NCPsyA Contact hours: 1.5
Abstract: My patient, a creative and creatively blocked woman, lives in a field horror in which she is unrelentingly conscious of a lack of creativity in her personal relationships, her life’s work and her thinking. I use Bion’s term nameless dread to refer to a state of horror when the thinker who thinks the thought is absent and unable to access the creative force of alpha-function to think and name emotional experience.
“The individual who is able to transform such (an) emotional experience, by virtue of his alpha-function, into material that can be stored, communicated and finally published must belong to the category we loosely call ‘genius’.” W.R. Bion
The work of the negative, the creativity born in an encounter with absence of an object, depends on alpha function – an object itself – to name the dread. My patient is painfully aware that her dreams have lost their creativity. Perhaps within this quote of Bion lies a hint of her longing for and murderous envy of celebrity; an unconscious fantasy of feeding on the alpha function of talented others. This discussion will weave threads of Margot’s analysis, Bion’s theories and Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s presentation of the Dark Side of Creativity.
DISCUSSION PAPER 2: Fixing a Hole, the Catalytic Effect of Trauma, Loss, Pain and Suffering in the Search for the Creative-Reparative Motif: A Discussion of Creativity in Its Presence and Absence, in Darkness and Light, in Dr. Susan Kavaler-Adler’s “The Dark Side of Creativity.” Discussant: Jack Schwartz, PsyD, LCSW, NCPsyA Contact hours: 1.5
Abstract: The formative years of an individual are often fraught with a precarious quest toward the object attachment. Early and prolonged impoverishment, deprivation and suffering can be at the core of most psychological disturbance but paradoxically the wellspring of creative endeavors. Obsessions, compulsions and creativity are inexorably linked by the idea that all represent a form of search. The actualization of the search or at least the attempt at actualization of that search is the creative gesture, as seen in art, film, writing, music, painting and self-expression, especially in the realm of psychoanalysis. This presentation will expand on Dr. Kavaler-Adler’s thesis of the dance between dark and light in the creative process.