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Unsticking Through Creativity

If you're a creative person, you have a perfect opportunity to feel into your stuck defensive energy and to begin to release some of it, climbing your polyvagal ladder and into your state of safety and social connection. I talk about this some in the podcast episode above, but as a piece of a larger discussion. I'll focus more on creativity and getting unstuck here.

paper, art, pencil, ink, pen
Blank canvas for your creativity

What is creativity?

I'm defining it as this - using your individual inner inspiration, motivation or imagination as fuel to bring something into existence. This can look a lot of different ways, here is a short list:

  • drawing/sketching/inking

  • coloring

  • painting

  • dancing

  • singing/rapping/beatboxing

  • podcasting

  • writing/poetry/spoken word

I kinda want to differentiate these various creative outlets into movement based or visual or audio and whatnot. But I think that focuses too much on the end result. When it comes to using creativity as a means to unsticking, the point is not the end result. It's the experience. It's the process.

If you're taking my Building Safety Anchors course, creativity might fall into the cognitive, body or maybe even the sensory anchors (heck maybe even the environmental too). Really depends on what your creative outlet is. If you're not taking the course, it's for anyone that needs to be more grounded in their bodies and in the present moment. It's 30 days of learning and doing. This blog would fall neatly into the spirit of Building Safety Anchors. I've got six learning modules that are not available anywhere else, in both printable PDF (with a few worksheets) and downloadable audio.

Experience vs Result

When we create, it comes from some sort of energy. It could be a lot of energy, like a sympathetic flight/fight energy. It could also be a very small amount of energy, like from a shutdown depletion. It could also be a joyful, happy energy, coming from the safety state.

Unfortunately, creators focus far far too much on the end result (and the anticipated reactions to it). Of course, if you're working professionally, the end result is pretty damn important. So maybe this is in reference to when we're creating just for the sake of creating. And if you're not doing so, then maybe this is a reminder to make the time to simply create.

When we focus on the end result, we lose the experience. We don't mindfully attune to the experience of creating. We're up in our heads, thinking about the result or the reactions or we're telling ourselves it's not good enough. All of this analysis comes from a sympathetic energy. Maybe some flight; maybe some fight. If you're attacking yourself and your skill level, it might be fight. If you're anxious about being judged, it might be flight; though shutdown could be a possibility.

You'll have to notice the energy that's underneath those thoughts. If you're more anxious while creating, that's probably sympathetic. But if your projections about the end result stop you from creating altogether, that could be the shutdown system keeping you immobilized.

Regardless, the experience is what matters. Feel into that energy level and then bring forth something into existence. Whatever it is and whatever energy is driving it. That means you have to actually notice the feelings and the sensations in your body.

What may happen is that the end result is something completely unplanned, completely spontaneous. It could very well be a true reflection of your polyvagal state. And maybe something that looks very different than your typical creation.

Feel and then climb

If you're feeling sad or angry or anxious or even happy, just let yourself feel it. Give yourself permission to simply feel the way you do, but consciously. Don't block it out. Don't minimize. Start with where you're at.

But take it a step further if you can. Realize that the feeling you have is not simply there on its own. It's connected to a polyvagal state. Here's a rundown of some typical states and their feelings:

  • Ventral safety - happy, joyful, awe, vulnerable, safe, trusting, connected

  • Sympathetic flight - anxious, nervous, worry

  • Sympathetic fight - angry, aggressive, dominant

  • Dorsal shutdown - sad, lonely, empty, numb

Step one is to recognize the feeling on an emotional level. Step two is to actually feel the feeling on a more somatic level. Notice where these feelings live in your body. Become curious about what those feelings look like, what color they have, what texture they have, what shape they have. Notice if any images pop into your mind as you feel these sensations. All of this can be channeled into your creation. You can create from that feeling and then put it into the world in whatever for feels right for you.

It's possible to climb the polyvagal ladder simply through creation. You can actually start at the bottom of the ladder and work your way all the way to the top. But you have to feel that shutdown stuff. The emptiness and the disconnection. Creating from that could be a slow movement. A small voice. Small steps. As you feel that smallness and slowness, you may notice some energy come into your body as some sympathetic energy returns.

At that point, you want to feel that sympathetic energy (fight and then flight as you go up) and create from there. Your movements or your voice may become louder and more purposeful. Don't be afraid of the power. Allow it and channel it into your creation. You may actually notice a shift from your fight energy into your flight energy. Fight might feel more purposeful and dominant. Flight will feel more anxious or evasive or jittery. It's not hard and fast, but you may experience something similar.

After you successfully channel that sympathetic flight/fight energy into the world, then you will feel your ventral safety pathways activating. You might notice that you become more playful and imaginative, willing to experiment and feel silly. Your breathing will become easier and you might smile. You'll look at your creation with curiosity and not evaluation.

We're all creative

The punchline here is that we're all creative people. I truly believe this. It might not look the same as someone else in your life, but I bet you have some sort of creativity within you. I've listed some back toward the beginning of this, but you might have something else that is a creative outlet for you (knitting, collage, calligraphy...).

Maybe you don't think of yourself as a creative person. That's not necessarily true. Maybe you simply haven't found your creative expression(s) yet. You won't know until you try, right? I highly recommend that you begin to wonder what might be a good fit for you. Don't compare yourself to others. Easier said that done, I know. Just be interested in what might work for you and you alone. And then allow whatever is inside of you to be created into the world. No one has to see it or hear it or read it.

Thanks so much for reading. I'd love to know what creative outlets you have in the comments below.

1 Comment

Matt Quist
Matt Quist
Dec 31, 2020

Thank you Justin, for creating a very accessible resource for polyvagal theory, and this post on using creativity to unstick from a rung on the polyvagal ladder. As for my creative outlet, I suppose mine are the art and craft projects that I help my kids with, so lots of crayons and stuff. I built a sweet pillow fort yesterday as well, I think that counts.

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