Using negative emotions to fuel creativity

A stone is not polished without friction, nor a person perfected without adversity. 

                                                                                                                                                                     Ancient Chinese Proverb

©Leslie Owen Wilson

Using negative emotions to fuel creativity – How can we channel strong negative emotions and use them as creative fuel:

For some strong emotions can be great sources for inspiration. It goes without saying that most of us seek to have and sustain positive emotional outlets, experiences, and responses. We are all familiar with, and honor and value strong positive emotions like joy, love, comfort, belonging, happiness, elation, success, and so forth.

But it would be naive to dwell solely on the inspirational power of positive emotional experiences to feed our creative muses. Many highly artistic or creative endeavors, or unique concepts or products, also result from the channeled energies found in our responses to negative emotional experiences. Anger, confrontation, fear, loss, grief, frustration, and rage are all strong emotional responses that are uncomfortable for most of us. Often these cause us a sense of loss, disruption or disequilibrium.


In these instances the intensity of the negative emotional triggers may be the key to causing tension or stress in our lives. In trying to find relief for those uncomfortable sensations or discomfort, some of us seek to channel our emotions into some productive, memorable or consuming way. Thus, we learn to use strong negative emotional connections as focal points for relieving our senses of tension through creation. This form of inspiration allows the creative self to channel strong negative emotions into tangible, representative products or abstractions. Often these activities provide us with senses of momentary or permanent relief, or they may herald our progression toward the return of balance and equilibrium.

Within our Western social order the trick is in taking strong negative emotional responses and channeling them so that they are directed toward some external displays or positive actions rather than focusing them into something that becomes negatively internalized, harmful or damaging. The challenge is to turn something negative or stressful into a catalyst for something productive rather than destructive or paralyzing. There is a great difference between stress and distress; between anger or frustration. These are mild responses when  compared to explosive, uncontrollable rage, or to acts of horrid, senseless violence; or between deep sadness or grief and overwhelming despair. Channeling negativity into a creative response, product or action can be very cathartic.

Take for instance the efforts of mothers whose children were killed by drunken drivers creating the organization MADD (Mothers Against Drunk Drivers). Here is an example where profound anger, and senses of grief and loss were directed into something which could be perceived as socially beneficial. History is replete with examples where negative emotions like grief or loss or anger have been turned into some socially positive endeavors, or philanthropic gestures. Also, the annals of human history are filled with examples where negative experiences or emotions have been used as catalysts for great poetry, music, art, or literature.

This is not to suggest that we have to intentionally invite the muse into our lives through creating situations that are full of intensely stressful, negative experiences. It is rather a reminder that we can take deep emotional responses and deal with them in productive or focused ways, thus using them as primary catalysts of inspiration. In this way we retain the power to work toward regaining our senses of inner balance and emotional equilibrium. And, in this way we also honor the power of strong negative emotions to move us and inspire us rather than their power to consume us or overwhelm us.

Examine your lives to see if you are using negative emotions wisely. Teach your students and children to channel their negative emotions in productive and emotionally healthy ways.

No matter what life dishes out, remember, you are the one in charge of your attitude!         Leslie

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