Creativity: Winning the Inner War

Health crises are often manifestations of resistance to an inner push for growth. The sicker you are, the more you may believe the illness happened to you. More likely, a fearful part of you is blocking the emergence of new life.

As Hippocrates said to his students about resistance, “before you heal someone, ask him if he’s willing to give up the things that are making him sick.” Seen in that light, illness is a way to get your attention.

A modern version of the Hippocratic oath includes the value of warmth, sympathy, and understanding as tools that “may outweigh the surgeon’s knife or the chemist’s drug.”  In spite of evidence that illness often has emotional roots, the impulse is to medicate symptoms, rather than use them as guides to self-awareness.

Resisting growth forces the creative self to do whatever it takes to break through self-denying habits, including bringing you low with illnesses. Habits can be unhealthy ways of relating to others and yourself, avoiding risks and putting your needs last.

Frustration of the creative force shows up in dreams as something that constrains or frightens you. If you are not taking the action you need to take, for example, a dream monster appears.

Monsters in dreams can represent the fear of your own healthy aggression. Perhaps you were taught it is wrong to go after what you want, or that you will always be defeated, so why enter the fray?

If you are wasting your time and energy on fruitless enterprises you dream about a thief who stole your wallet or car keys; you are in a worn-out car on roads that go round and round; you arrive at the airport, but you miss your flight.

When you take on more than you can handle out of a sense of obligation, you have dreams about rooms full of paper you have to sort, or other forms of slave labor. The dream maker is telling you to slow down and focus on your needs.

The Need for Certainty

You came into life with brains and instincts you have to use to get where you want to go. Finding your way is difficult, since there are no guarantees. And unless your caregivers had at least five years of therapy before you were born, they were a mixture of know-how and ignorance, especially when it came to beliefs about money and work.

Beliefs about money and work pass down through the generations like water over a dam. For centuries, work was what you had to do to survive; creativity was for the artist whose patron supported him. Being born into wealth was your only shot at having it. Along came the Industrial Revolution and capitalism, which created millions of jobs.

Then came the First World War, the Great Depression and the Second World War. Subsequent recessions continued to underscore the need for stable employment. For most people, a job put a roof over their heads and food on the table; work was not pleasure.

In our current century, technological innovation altered the world of work forever. Today, several careers in a lifetime are the norm, as is starting a business. Even so, most people feel disconnected from their work. Many are overworked to the point of burn out.   Others are chronically unemployed, in spite of job openings.

Intellectually, we human beings have progressed, but emotionally it seems we are still in the cave. We do not know what we feel, or what the feelings have to do with work or life. Reliance on the thinking function causes us to make dreadful errors of judgment.

In a culture where the intellect is overvalued there is a manic push for more and more status, money and possessions. No matter how much you have, it is never enough to fill the emotional void.

Focus on material achievement causes well-meaning (and some not so well m-meaning) parents to pressure children to worry about how they appear in the eyes of others.  The child learns to scan the environment for direction, rather than trust his instincts, and think for himself. The outcome is conventional success, and emotional failure.

As an example, when Work with Passion was published in 1984, reactions ran the gamut. Some critics said I was out of touch with reality. One said the book was California psychobabble. Another complained that I left too much to the imagination. (True!)

The anger I encountered when I appeared on TV and radio to promote the book startled me. One man drove off the freeway to call a talk show from a phone booth. (This was before cell phones).

“You should be ashamed for telling people such falsehoods,” the man said furiously, once he got on the air. “How dare you say I can do what I love for a living? I have a wife and family and a mortgage to take care of, what am I supposed to do, abandon everything? You have no idea what you’re talking about!”

After a brief pause, I decided there was no point in arguing with him. Instead, I said, “You’re right, there’s no hope for you.”

He hung up.

When we went to commercial break the host said, “I had no idea this topic would stir up so much hostility. It seems perfectly logical to me.”

“That’s because you like your job,” I said. “That man hates his job, and now he hates me because I’m telling him he has an option.”

This adversarial scenario was repeated so often I decided to begin my presentations with a statement about passion being a process, not an overnight event.

In spite of the changes I made in how I presented my work, resistance to the concept of the book remained intense, to the point that I wondered if I had made a mistake in writing it.

I had spent three years working on drafts of the book in between appointments in my basement office in San Francisco. I was motivated by a desire to figure out why my clients kept returning with the same problems, even after they got new jobs. The answer came to me after the seventh rejection of the manuscript.

When I told a client the book kept getting rejected, he said the quick and easy title did not match the contents of the book. “You taught me how to do what I love for a living,” he said, smiling. “That is neither quick nor easy.”

“I know,” I said, excitedly. “I’ll call it Work with Passion, How to Do What You Love For a Living.”

“Now you’re talking,” my client said.

Intuitively, I knew enjoyment of one’s work was the key to a satisfied life. But part of me was afraid if I told people how hard that is they would not buy the book. However, once I had the right title, my current publisher accepted the book.

Nearly forty years later, the inner war between creativity and resistance rages on, as shown by the alarming increase in obesity, addiction and illnesses. In an attempt to escape the wrestling match many people live vicariously on social media, or get ensnared in family conflicts, resistance’s favorite strategy.

The Collective Shadow

Suppression of what we long for creates a shadow self that is at odds with the personality we present to others. Bringing the shadow into awareness allows us to become the whole individuals we were designed to be, humble and effective.

As an example, had the man who called the talk show read the book, he may have acknowledged the need for emotional connection. With integration of that value, he could make money and do the work he enjoyed. In that, he represented the collective shadow, the desire to work at a job that makes the best use of one’s talents.

Lopsidedness is a tipoff to the presence of a shadow. You see this in people who are critical of others in private, but overly nice to them in public. The workaholic manager who is angry with colleagues who take fun vacations has a playful shadow.  I represented the positive shadow of the man who called me that day on the radio. What infuriated him was his unmet need for freedom.

You can imagine the cost to family members who feel guilty about parents’ unhappiness in work. In Eric Berne’s classic book, Games People Play, this game is called “if it weren’t for you…” fill in the blank.

Parental Unhappiness

Parental unhappiness in work is a theme in many of my clients’ autobiographies. In most cases, the frustrated parent is the father. When the father is absent or ineffective, you need to find other examples of how to navigate the outer world.

In that sense, my work is a father replacement. As Jung would call it, the process I use is an archetype that fills the gap in my client’s development, and in the culture at large. This is also the case with how-to books, therapists and capable leaders in all walks of life.

Discovering Who You Are and What You Want

Getting to know and integrate the shadow is a gradual process. You may need professional help to release the energy held captive by faulty beliefs and attitudes. Examining what worked in the past will also offer clues.

In your journal or on your computer, complete the following sentences. Be spontaneous; don’t think too long about your answers. Often your first thought is the most authentic response.

  1. I felt good about myself when….
  2. I was most successful when…
  3. I felt appreciated when someone said to me that…
  4. The best thing that ever happened to me was…
  5. I was happiest when…
  6. I did my best work when…
  7. My biggest fear was…

Next, answer the following questions for each of the occasions you described above:

  1. Were you alone most of the time, with one person, or in a small or large group?
  2. Were you physically active or quiet – were you indoors or outdoors?
  3. What about the event is a pattern for you?
  4. What strengths were you using, such as communication (writing, editing, speaking or relating to others), leadership, intuition, honesty, empathy, mastering data or things?
  5. Was the process of learning more important that the outcome?
  6. What fear would you overcome if you do what you want to do?

A word of caution: Your answers to the above exercises will stir up the shadow. Be ready for the discomfort of suppressed feelings trying to break through resistance. Stay with the battle; don’t distract yourself. The greater the resistance, the better the outcome will be.


Nancy Anderson is a career and life consultant based in the Sacramento/San Francisco Bay Area. She is also the author of the best selling career guide, Work with Passion, How to do What You Love For a Living, and Work with Passion in Midlife and Beyond, Reach Your Full Potential and Make the Money You Need. Nancy’s website is


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