How Creative Shame Dampens the Spirit and Ways to Shake it Loose

creativity, create, creative shame, creative block

When creative shame is lurking, it can suck the creative force right out of you.

Creative shame is an extremely powerful emotion but one of the least talked about, especially when it comes to how it interferes with our creative spirit. Behind the scenes, the little negative voice in our head remains a private matter, directing us to choice points or talking us out of our awesomeness. Soon it’s easy to see how the world is reflecting back to us various challenges, “proving” the voice is right, but in reality, it’s just unacknowledged shame in the background pushing the right buttons.

And sometimes it can feel like the creative shame is winning.

One of the thoughts people often share with me is they are not, in fact, “creative”. Given that creativity includes a range of expressions, innovations and sources, it’s hard to believe they don’t feel creative at all. What they may not realize is they are really feeling shameful around the fact they don’t fit their own inner definition of creativity, and therefore, a creative block of shame forms around it.

So if you don’t personally connect with a definition that feels good, think about this; creativity is anything you create personally, professionally or otherwise that comes to be in your life. It’s not relegated to arts, crafts, music, acting or cooking. It’s how you show up and create the next step in front of you every day with your thoughts and actions. For example, if you like having a clean car, and make a plan to hand wash your car once a week on a particular day, you are doing your part to create a clean car. The same goes for anything else.

This approach doesn’t mean things are always going to unfold according to the plan in your head, but by taking action in a direction that supports what you want, you are being creative. The rest is up to how life unfolds on it’s own.

In the Creative Shame Game, Everyone Loses

Shame works in the most subtle ways. Fear around a new opportunity. Avoidance of a project or person. Never trying something you really want to do, and then never talking about it with anyone. Feeling like everyone is doing something amazing except for you. Fear that if you showed your real, true self, you would immediately be friendless, penniless and laughed at for ages. Of course let’s not forget the biggie — a huge aversion to being vulnerable.

For each of us there is some shred of these or similar shame themes playing out in our lives (and even if you aren’t willing to admit it, I will). You’ve probably also tried a variety of tactics to drown out the needy, shameful voice out; distractions, workaholism, an overly social calendar or zoning out with drugs or alcohol. Not because you don’t sense the shame is there, but because you have no idea how to connect with it in order to find out WHY it’s there’ in the first place.

According to Psychology Today, we can get a better view of the intense power of shame when it’s related it it’s close cousin, guilt. Comparably, guilt is viewed as a more socially accepted emotional state because it’s perceived as something you feel based on a specific action you feel badly about and wish to make amends over. With shame, people are unable to distinguish the action from the self; the bad behavior or feelings are seen as a direct reflection on the truth and value of the person. A situation, real or imagined, has the power to trigger a shame response.

That means understanding the source of the limiting thoughts and judgments about your creative abilities gives you a clearer picture behind how creative shame is dampening your unique expression, and offers clues on how to reframe it.

Redefine What Creativity Means to You and Shake Shame Loose

Finding ways to reflect on your own approach and definition of creativity is the best way to see where shame may be kicking in. Here are some suggestions that might help:

  1. Pick one day or time a week where you spend an hour creating whatever you want, no limitations. Don’t think of it as a task but a way to spend some time with your creative self. Split it up into 2 half hour time slots in a week if that’s easier to manage. At the end of that time, be OK with whatever you noticed, created or didn’t create. With practice, it will get easier.
  2. If there is something you’ve always wanted to try but avoid, make a list that highlights the pros and cons of following through with it. Then review the answers and ask yourself why they are true for you. If no answer comes to mind, there might be a shameful response getting in your way.
  3. Make a list of the supportive people in your life you really trust. The next time you have an idea or thought you immediately talk yourself out of, reach out to one of them and talk about how you feel, and where some of your fears may be holding you back. If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out, simply ask yourself and write down your responses.
  4. Practice saying “Who cares?” and mean it. Been walking around with toilet paper stuck to your shoe all day? Forgot an important client’s name? Ran into that person you blew off a few weeks ago? WHO CARES. There are better ways to spend your time than creating more needless creating worry and shame.
  5. Keep what you create to yourself if you want to. You don’t need to show everyone your creative expressions for it to be meaningful. Given how prevalent social media is as a way of life, it can feel like you need to share it or it doesn’t mean anything — and that’s simply not true. How and what you choose to share is strictly a factor of your desire to do so, and a willingness to remain unattached to how it’s received.

So to tie up today’s post, (I know it’s a bit on the long side) I slightly modified this quote from It highlights the power integrating the shameful parts of ourselves to move towards true inner healing. “Creativity heals by mending the split between what to hide and what to reveal, by uniting what is shameful and what is beautiful, making all of your expressions, good and bad, equal in weight and meaning.” If you can tap into owning your self-expression and the shame bit by bit, creative shame just turns into somebody that you used to know.

For more insights on vulnerability and creative shame, check out Brené Brown’s experiences, or watch her TED talk.

Photo credit: Sister Rye on Flickr