Turning Adversity into Creative Growth

Not wanting to steal the following article’s thunder, but isn’t all creativity fueled by adversity? Aren’t our attempts to either escape or kick the crap out of adversity what being creative is all about?

Just asking.

creativitystuffby Scott Barry Kaufman, Pd.D.

“I create – in order not to cry.” — Painter Paul Klee

There’s little doubt that trauma can be immensely painful, often leaving deep emotional and psychological scars long after the stressful experience has passed. But can there be a silver lining?

In recent years, psychologists have become increasingly interested in the positive life changes that accompany highly stressful life events, such as being diagnosed with a chronic or terminal illness, losing a loved one, or sexual assault. This phenomenon has been referred to as posttraumatic growth, and researchers have discovered five particular areas of growth that often spring from adversity:

  • interpersonal relationships
  • the identification of new possibilities for one’s life
  • personal strength
  • spirituality
  • appreciation of life

A possible impact of growth in these domains is heightened creativity. Indeed, some of the most eminent creators of all time have noted overcoming adversity, using their negative experiences to inspire and motivate their work. Systematic studies have also shown a high preponderance of harsh early life events (e.g., early parental loss), psychological disorders (particularly among artists), and physical illness among eminent creators.

What about the rest of us? Can we all channel our trauma in creatively productive ways? Absolutely! Various forms of creative engagement, including art therapyand expressive writing, have demonstrated therapeutic benefits. Researchers have argued that creative expression offers therapeutic benefits because they increase engagement and flow, catharsis, distraction, positive emotions, and meaning-making. And now recent research also suggests a link between posttraumatic growth and creativity.

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