This is too hard.
I thought I'd be farther along by now.
I'm not as good at this as I first thought.
The economy will not support what I'm trying to do.
Do any of these emotions sound familiar to you? As someone whose personal growth began while ensconced in an emotionally abusive relationship, then tried to heal from her husband's suicide while powering up a creative writing career, I've adopted a few strategies for engaging with negative emotions.
1. Allow yourself these feelings. I'm done with people telling me that what I feel is wrong or unimportant—and that includes myself. Denying my feelings only separates me from my personal truth. Remaining optimistic isn't about hypnotizing yourself into always thinking good thoughts, it's about being able to regain your equilibrium once bad thoughts try to knock you down.
2. Change the script. As with all feedback, creative perception can help us transform discouraging words into something that's helpful to hear.
This is too hard = I need rest or some additional skills to face this challenge.
I thought I'd be farther along by now = I must reinvigorate those things I can affect—my attitude and effort—and stop focusing on what I can't control.
I'm not as good as I first thought I was = I need to take stock of the ways in which I've made progress.
The economy will not support what I'm trying to do = All of us are struggling within the same conditions, and together our struggle can change the world.
3. Thank negative emotions for the information they bring. When I was a choreographer, the start of each new dance felt like a love affair. But the initial euphoria of creative expression was soon supplanted by the doubt that I could ever master the skills needed to complete the task. Two-thirds of the way through, quite predictably, I tired of it. I failed to believe in it. Convinced myself it was drivel.
I've interviewed many artists who feel the same way, during the difficult yet critical transition from initial inspiration to full creative birth. A comparison to miscarriage is apt, since most miscarriages occur after hormones alone can no longer support the pregnancy and before the sustaining connection to the mother is yet established. We need not allow emotional shifts to end our work. We can expect them, thank the negative emotions for the information they bring, and send them on their way.
4. Embrace negative emotions for all they're worth. Abraham Lincoln said, "The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend." As creative individuals, our negative emotions can seem like enemies—but they're crucial. Befriend them. If you've never lived conflict, and experienced heartbreak, how can you write, or sing, or paint of it? This is the material that drives creative effort. Thank God for our trials and our missteps!
Embracing negative emotions can nurture sustained artistic endeavor. More on that in my next post.