By Alexander Polybinsky, playwright, psychologist, creative psychology researcher.
There is my favorite passage in the book Catching the Big Fish by the great American director David Lynch:
One day I went to a psychotherapist. There were events in my life that for some time began to repeat regularly, and I decided: “That’s it, I need psychotherapy.” Entering the office, I asked the doctor: “Do you think this process can harm my creativity?” and he answered me: “Well, David, I’ll be honest with you – maybe.”
I shook his hand and left.
In another interview, Lynch explained his decision by not wanting to know “too much” about himself and his desires, so as not to lose the ability to express himself creatively.
It is easy to see that this statement correlates with the cliché about a certain initial disorder and romantic madness of every creative person, which we can find in works of popular culture (the film “Obsession” will help you).
Let’s try to understand each concept separately, and also answer the question – will self-recognition interfere with the creative process?
Sublimation is one of the psychological defenses of the highest order, which Sigmund Freud interpreted as a change in the direction of sexual energy (libido) from the original, infantile to a “higher,” socially significant goal.
It is precisely a deviation from the original direction, and not a refusal. A complete refusal to satisfy sexual desires can result in various types of mental disorders.
However, in this context, the process of counter-cathexis is especially interesting, i.e. turning the initial drive against oneself, which is already characteristic of another psychological defense – reactive formation, which is often confused with sublimation.
What is the key difference between sublimation and reactive formation?
Sublimation is largely focused on the effect, the result of an action, while reactive formation is focused on the process.
Sublimation is spontaneous, reactive formation is compulsive.
As Wilhelm Reich wrote, the sublimating subject wants to work, the reactive subject must work.
Or it can’t help but work.
Turning further to a disparate set of concepts about creative thinking, we will highlight its key features.
Firstly, in terms of its result, creativity should be considered as going beyond the limits of initial knowledge, the creation of something new and original.
Secondly, Vladimir Bekhterev emphasized the key reflex feature of creative thinking: a problem-irritant causes the formation of a dominant, around which the stock of past experience, that is necessary for a solution, is concentrated. The creative solution seems to crystallize from the original data set, but does not repeat it.
Thus, creativity as a process aims to discover new ways of solving problems and new ways of expression, i.e. is a conscious desire to create something new.
Let’s return now to the David Lynch quote.
In my sincere conviction, they are a reflection of another very widespread stereotype, according to which the result of psychotherapy must certainly be getting rid of infantile impulses and, as a consequence, from creative energy itself.
In contrast, psychologist Nancy McWilliams emphasized that the goals of analytical therapy include understanding of all aspects of one’s self, including the most primitive ones.
In other words, we will not be able to abandon our infantile part, to become deaf to infantile impulses – they continue to exist in a mature subject.
The only question is how exactly we work with them.
And clarifying your hidden desires is unlikely to be a hindrance here.
Answering the question posed in the title – is all creativity sublimation – I will try to be delicate.
Most likely, yes, but only if this sublimation is spontaneous, conscious and result-oriented.
And also has human origin.
Still, who knows the future?