Neurosis and creativity

Someone was talking to me yesterday about creative inspiration and how it can be blocked and this person paid me an important compliment. She said that the one thing she has noticed about me is that I never seem to struggle with blocked creativity. I had never noticed this about myself, but when I thought about it, I was delighted to realise that she was right. Of course, not everything that flows from my mouth or my keyboard (as a teacher and writer my creativity spills forth through those channels) has value for others, but it nevertheless seems to keep coming in an endless stream. For that I am extremely grateful.

However, I have been thinking about why that is. Why am I so fortunate? And some of the following thoughts came to mind. I have recently stumbled in my research across the work of a man named Otto Rank. He was a close associate of Freud until he developed a ground breaking theory that challenged Freud’s thought leadership. He suggested that the trauma of birth is as (if not more) important than the Oedipal complex. I am not enough of an expert to pursue the detail of that here, but I would like to focus on one of Otto Rank’s other ideas. He proposed that neurosis (or mental dis-ease) is caused by creativity that cannot be expressed.

Now, as most of my friends know, I have some profound neurotic tendencies. I suffer from massive anxiety about many things. I will spare you the details, but these days it is a source of much humour for my family. But, I have been privileged (and stubborn enough) to spend 15 years in therapy trying to figure out why I became so anxious. This process has meant that I have more answers than I started with and my anxiety is far more manageable than it used to be and that has been very useful. However, in some ways, a much more important consequence of all those years of self-analysis is that it resulted in the lifting of the flood gates of my creativity.  

I often have as many as five epic dreams a night, and new thoughts spill forth continuously. I cannot consciously make it happen, it just happens. And I think it is because the years of therapy allowed me to build the most important friendship of my life – the friendship with the part of me that houses and drives my unconscious mind. So, when that part speaks (as it does continuously through body symptoms, dreams, wayward thoughts, slips of the tongue, strange urges and impulses) all I have to do is listen.

The evolution of childrearing

I am doing research for my book on the unconscious and in considering the work of John Bowlby on attachment theory, I stumbled across a perspective that has horrified me.

The research about Bowlby indicated what a breakthrough his thinking provided. He emphasised the idea that children form an important bond or attachment to their mother or primary caregiver and that a disruption of this bond, in terms of sudden and/or prolonged separation, is detrimental to the child. He also talked about the idea that the effects of disruption in this important relationship transmit themselves over generations. These are ideas that I now take for granted. One of the personal facts about Bowlby is that he grew up in an upper class British home, where he only saw his mother for an hour a day. It was apparently felt that any more time with the mother could spoil the child. So Bowlby’s history explains his work. But, somehow it woke me up to the idea that my current perceptions and assumptions about children and childrearing are very different to those which have prevailed over the ages in many cultures.

The idea that children are precious and should be protected and nurtured is a fairly new one in many cultures. In many instances, what is now seen as child abuse was standard and accepted practice. I left Bowlby behind temporarily to investigate the history of childrearing. Google it. The information is terrifying. I will spare you the details. Suffice to say that it disturbed me greatly. But also, when seen in context, extremely hopeful.

Yes, we still neglect and abuse our fellow humans, particularly our children, in a multitude of ways all over the world today. However, gradually, over the ages, parents have tried to do less harm than their own parents, and have in many instances, succeeded. Many parents who suffered abuse and neglect at the hands of their own parents, have, like Bowlby, tried to and have done better, and even more, tried to teach the world about the destructive effects of the beliefs that prevailed at the time. As a result of Bowlby’s work, hospitals reconsidered their policies regarding the access of parents to their sick children. And as a result of all the other work done by parents and practitioners over the ages, my children and I live in a far more humane society than my ancestors did.