2014-05-29 / Guest Column

Some Thoughts on Childhood and Creativity

By Michael Feld, L.C.S.W.
Certified Psychoanalyst, Licensed Psychotherapist

Many psychotherapists have written about children, and what impacts favorably and unfavorably on their emotional and creative growth. Among them are D.W. Winnicott, Alice Miller and Karen Horney. What follows are my own beliefs influenced by my understanding of these theorists, especially Karen Horney.

To begin with, we become emotionally and creatively stunted because of disturbances in our earliest relationships, basically our relationship with our parents. These disturbances with our parents evolve into a general dissatisfaction with ourselves. We believe we are inadequate and unworthy the way we are. We look at the world as not being accepting of us and as having the potential for much hostility toward us. Hostility from others and our own angry feelings frighten us and cause anxiety. We try and behave in such a way as to avoid both hostility from others and our own angry feelings. We develop a way of functioning that allows us to avoid anxiety and feel safe.

Feeling safe means looking outside of ourselves to see how and what we should be like. We think that by pleasing others, we can avoid the anxiety of feeling alone and helpless. We try to be good little children, giving mommy and daddy exactly what they want. Hopefully, by doing what our parents want, we can attain a feeling of safety. Often, we don’t know what they want because they themselves are not sure. In our desperate attempt at pleasing them, we lose touch with what pleases us, and with our own wishes, dreams and desires.

What can we do for our children to foster their creative and emotional growth? Most importantly, we can provide them with an environment that is abundant in genuine warmth and affection. We can encourage their endeavors and recognize that the pleasure they receive from their play is the fuel for their continuing and growing creativity. We can encourage them in their playing by being supportive and by not interfering. The child’s play is for the child, not for the pleasure of the parents.

I am reminded of an adult patient of mine who, with much anger, recalled how his father mocked him during his childhood. It seemed that no matter what he was doing or how he was playing, his father always felt he was too old to do this or to play with that. The most familiar theme from this patient’s childhood was that whatever he did, it was not the right thing. All his efforts were wrong in his father’s eyes. Whatever he did may not have been right for father, but it was right for my patient, only he didn’t know it. What resulted was that his young child desperately tried to secure father’s love and approval. In looking for ways to please his father, he evolved and developed not into what he wanted, but into what he thought his father wanted. He was never able to truly please his father, since the signals his father sent him as to what he wanted were unclear and forever changing.

Fortunately, in adulthood, pleasing others or dancing to someone else’s music was no longer satisfying. Even though he did all the right things, the safe things, anxiety still set in. Today he is in the process of discovering his own desires and passions. In many ways, he feels like a child at play again. Or, in his own words, he is writing his own music.

This time however, father, in the form of his therapist, is providing an environment with genuine warmth and affection, allowing him to thrive and to experience his creativity.

Prepared as a public service from the office of Psychotherapist Michael Feld, L.C. S.W. (718) 444- 8560

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