What Is Creative Trauma and Why It Might Be the Cause of Your Creative Block

Picture this: You're lying on the floor in excruciating pain. You're pretty sure you've broken your leg. The pain is so intense, you think you might just pass out from it.

Now, here's the crazy part: Instead of calling an ambulance and getting the urgent first aid and medical care you need, you get up and ignore your broken leg. You simply decide to go about your day, week, or life even, ignoring the very serious injury you just sustained.

Seems absurd, doesn't it? Well, I see this happen time and again when creative people sustain a creative injury.

You see, just like our physical bodies can experience injuries, our creative selves can too. And guess what? Ignoring these creative wounds can be just as damaging.

Nearly ten years ago, I stumbled upon a TED Talk titled 'Why We All Need to Practice Emotional First Aid' by Guy Winch. In this talk, he delved into the importance of applying 'emotional first aid' in moments of rejection or 'psychological injuries,' as he calls them. This concept completely rocked my world.

At the time I was a very blocked creative. I was so weighed down by very specific moments of creative hurt and criticism that I had stopped creating altogether. So when I heard this concept of “psychological injury” and “emotional first aid” I knew it could apply to my own creativity. I felt very deeply that if I could learn to heal my “creative injuries” or “trauma” then I might not be so afraid to create once again.

The problem is that culturally, we have very little language around the concept of creativity, especially in the zeitgeist of the western world. This is slowly changing now that we have social media platforms where “creators” are beginning to take the spotlight, but I’d still argue that we're only just scratching the surface when it comes to discussing creativity and our creative well-being as openly as we do mental and physical health.

And herein lies the essential problem; when we lack the vocabulary and general language to discuss something, solving problems related to it becomes incredibly challenging.

To illustrate: In most cases of injury, assuming you’re conscious, you’d be able describe what happened, how it unfolded and where you’re experiencing the most amount of pain. Paramedics, or medical professionals in turn, would triage your injury accordingly. Failing this, it becomes extremely difficult for the paramedics to know how to help you.

This is exactly how most people struggle creatively. They often can't identify a creative injury when it happens or understand how to address it properly, which can lead to these "injuries" progressing and causing long-lasting creative side effects. When enough of these "creative injuries" are left untreated, it becomes increasingly challenging to function as a creative person, often resulting in a complete halt of creative activity or creative block. So how do we stop this from happening?

So how do we stop this from happening?

Well in order to do that we need to answer three questions:

  1. What is a creative injury?
  2. How can creative injuries lead to creative trauma?
  3. How do you treat creative trauma?
  4. How does the fit into the picture of creative block? 


1. What Is A Creative Injury?

To put it very simply…

A creative injury is a distressing or disturbing event or experience that affects one’s creative self.

For instance, picture yourself at a family gathering, eagerly discussing your latest creative project with loved ones. As you excitedly describe the artistic project that's been keeping you up late at night fuelling your thoughts, a family member interjects, "Why waste your time on that? You should be doing something more practical."

Their words deflate your creative spirit. You try to brush it off, but inside, your enthusiasm wilts. You quietly stow away your creative dreams, feeling misunderstood and unsupported.

Or imagine, you're sitting in a cozy cafe, sipping your favorite latte and engrossed in your sketchbook. The cafe buzzes and you're in your element, creating art that brings you immense joy.

A friend you haven't seen in a while walks in and spots you. They come over and peer into your sketchbook, wrinkling their nose. "You're still doing this art thing?" they say, a hint of condescension in their tone. "When are you going to get a real job?"

Their words hit like a gut punch. You hurriedly close your sketchbook, your enthusiasm fading. You make excuses to leave the cafe, feeling dejected and questioning your artistic pursuits.

Sound familiar? If so, you've experienced a creative injury.

Creative injuries can take various forms but typically involve subtle or overt attacks on our creativity by others. They are also the source of deep emotional pain that inflict feelings of rejection, shame and unworthiness. When left unaddressed, these creative injuries can evolve into something even more debilitating – creative trauma.


2. What Is A Creative Trauma?

Creative trauma isn't a term you'll find in medical textbooks, but its impact can be profound. I believe it can best be defined as an….

Ongoing emotional response to an unresolved creative injury, which can lead to a suppression of creativity and the onset of creative block.

Think of it this way: Remember our opening scenario with your untreated broken leg? If your leg wasn't set correctly and you didn't receive proper care, you might struggle to use it fully again. Ongoing complications could arise, severely limiting your mobility, or even causing physical disability.

In a strikingly similar manner, if you don't address your creative injuries when they occur, creative trauma can set in. This unresolved emotional response may hinder your ability to fully utilise your creativity. It can lead to significant limitations in your creative output or, in severe cases, even render you creatively "disabled."

So, what does creative trauma look like in your day-to-day life?

While each person's experience of ceativr trauma may manifest differently, it often follows this pattern: avoidance of all forms of creativity or a significant reduction in creativity. As a result, you may feel creatively numb, disinterested, stagnant, and afraid. You may lack confidence in your creative ideas or abilities and fear the blank page. You may have gone months, years, or even decades without creating. You may even feel creatively dead inside.

Alternatively, you may desire to create but feel deeply distressed that you cannot bring yourself to do so. You may feel frustrated and deeply unsatisfied with life and have a profound sense of misery. You may hold a critical view of your creative abilities and projects and even sabotage your attempts at creativity without realising it.


3. How Do You Treat Creative Trauma?

Treating creative injuries and trauma often requires the application of what I like to call "Creative First Aid." Just as physical first aid is the primary medical intervention after a sustained injury, creative first aid plays a similar role in addressing creative wounds. This involves the following three steps….

Step 1: Immediate Response

The first step in Creative First Aid is an immediate response to the creative injury or trauma, similar to cleaning and dressing a physical wound.

Acknowledge what happened and how it affected you. Allow yourself to feel the emotions associated with the experience. This step is about recognising and validating your creative pain, which is essential for the healing process. You can do this by journalling, talking to a trusted friend, a therapist or creative mentor.

Journaling is a personal favourite of mine when I encounter a creative injury. I write down what I’ve experienced, and in a written conversation with my my creative-self (or inner creative child) I validate the pain I’ve experienced. I also promise to protect them in the future when anything like this happens again.

Step 2: Self-Compassion and Self-Care

Just as physical injuries require rest and care, creative injuries and trauma benefit from self-compassion and self-care.

Be kind to yourself. Understand that it's okay to feel hurt, disappointed, or discouraged. Practice self-compassion by treating yourself with the same gentleness and understanding you would offer to a close friend facing a similar situation.

Engage in self-care activities that nourish you creatively. Whether it's spending time in nature, practicing mindfulness, or immersing yourself in inspiring art, self-compassion and self-care act as the emotional bandages that facilitate your healing process.

Step 3: Reconnect and Rekindle

The final step is to reconnect with your creative-self and rekindle your creativity. Just like physical rehabilitation after an injury, this can be a gradual process.

Start with small steps, such as revisiting a creative project you've put aside or experimenting with a new creative outlet. Surround yourself with a supportive creative community, whether online or in person, to reignite your creative spark.

Remember that creative injuries and trauma may leave scars, but with persistent care and attention they can fade away over time.


4. How does this fit into the picture of creative block?

I firmly believe that previously sustained creative injuries and trauma are one of the biggest roadblocks on the roadmap through to creative block. The thing is it's the creative injuries and trauma that are often the initial cause of creative block and as a result should be one of the first to be addressed. After that I believe the journey through our creative block requires us to address our inner critic, our go-to and sometimes barely cognisant self-sabotage as well as a plethora of other blocks.


Let's Recap:

  • Creative injuries are distressing events or experiences that affect your creative self negatively.
  • Creative trauma and creative block develops when these creative injuries are left untreated.
  • We use creative first aid, centred on validation, self-compassion, and reigniting our creativity.
  • Creative injuries and trauma are often the first roadblocks on our journey through creative block back to daily creativity.


What's Next?

1. Download your free PDF Roadmap Through Creative Block.
2. Unlock access to this and other free resources by joining "The Creativity Cafe". 
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3. Watch my free creative block masterclass here. 
4. Get on the waitlist for my upcoming sketchbook workshop here.


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