If you were in a relationship with a narcissist, would you go after that person with guns blazing? No, right? Because that would just drag you deeper into their drama vortex.
Seems to me in cases like that it makes more sense to elude their gravitational pull. Better to focus on your priorities – make side moves, act uninterested, walk away casually – while forming constructive plans to achieve your purpose. When dealing with controlling narcissistic personalities, we’re advised to become so boring, so nonreactive, so uninterested in the drama, that the provocateur chooses to look elsewhere for satisfaction. In some circles, this is called the Gray Rock method.
Like relationships with narcissists, creative blocks – or Resistance, to use Steven Pressfield’s well-known term – are inconvenient, distracting, enervating, frustrating, and soul-killing. So why, I’ve been wondering lately, are we so often advised to go after creative blocks with a murderous rage? To muscle our way every day against a promethean internal foe named Resistance? Are we at the mercy of a built-in enemy? Or are we capable of self-knowledge, of growth, and of a path toward equanimity?
I checked my sources. Maybe my memory of Pressfield’s famous book, The War of Art, had exaggerated things? Nope. I re-read the entire book, and page after page exhorted me to go into combat mode, every day, against my own inner fear-based saboteur.
Here are some representative samples. “The writer is an infantryman. He knows that progress is measured in yards of dirt extracted from the enemy one day, one hour, one minute at a time and paid for in blood.” Then there’s this: “The artist … has to love being miserable. He has to take pride in being more miserable than any soldier or swabbie or jet jockey. Because this is war, baby. And war is hell.” And this, and this: “When we fight [Resistance] we are in a war to the death.” “The battle must be fought anew every day.”
Do you live the life of an action hero? Me neither. Image from Pixabay.
Side note: The language of action heroes shows up a lot here. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never wanted to emulate an action hero. Once I took a course from a well-regarded expert on inner growth. One of the foundational exercises, to which we’d refer repeatedly as the course went on, required us to name the hero we’d been drawn to in childhood. I came up empty. The women friends whom I polled later agreed – they hadn’t had that experience either. I began to suspect there was a gender difference in my teacher’s basic analysis – a difference that left me and my life experience out of the loop.
Do you believe change is possible?
It comes down to belief. If believing in Pressfield’s bogeyman helps you get out of bed and into the chair to write, then I guess there’s nothing to fix because you have a belief system that’s working for you.
Like me, however, you might prefer to believe in the possibility of change. To separate creative energy from personality. To operate as though your creative output is up to you, not governed by a hardwired, implacable internal enemy who will ratchet up its opposition to you in proportion to your desire to make something new.
A coaching program I took calls this block the Saboteur – the inner part of ourselves that is motivated by fear and wants us to stay small and safe. It asserts itself by berating, diminishing, distracting, subverting, and otherwise derailing us from our purpose. To oppose it, we’re supposed to crush it.
What about the joy of making? What about the transporting pleasure of a good writing session? Does that only happen in the aftermath of a bloody battle with Resistance? Not in my experience.
I take the position that pitching daily battle against parts of ourselves is not a useful long-term strategy. Instead, we can commit to the slow, gradual work of integrating our various parts, consulting them for wisdom and guidance, and, with all the oversight we can muster, coordinating a unified response to our circumstances. (I wrote elsewhere about taking this approach with the Inner Critic, another familiar manifestation of our fears and doubts.)
To illustrate this idea, I rewrote some of the statements in The War of Art, wording them to promote a more integrated, less self-battling approach to an internal creative struggle. Pressfield on the left, Carley on the right.
“The amateur, underestimating Resistance’s cunning, permits the flu to keep him from his chapters….”
The integrated writer, when sick with the flu, accepts reality and demonstrates understanding and compassion.
“The professional knows that fear can never be overcome.”
The professional listens to their fear, welcoming its messages and wisdom, in balance with the wisdom of their other thoughts and emotions.
“To think of yourself as a mercenary, a gun for hire, implants the proper humility. It purges pride and preciousness.”
To think of yourself as a human, flawed yet capable of inspiration and creativity, implants a pragmatic approach, free from belligerence as well as preciousness.
“The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important its accomplishment is to the evolution of your soul, the more you will fear it and the more Resistance you will experience facing it.”
The more you love your art/calling/enterprise, the more important it is to support your intentions with practices and habits that provide for your needs.
Who needs this?
As a coaching colleague of mine reminded me recently, “the world needs your voice – now.” With all the barriers to creativity and completion already facing us, I just can’t see the point of manufacturing an endless struggle with an implacable and vicious enemy. Who needs that?
Tendon-side view of Achilles. Image from Pixabay.
We’re creative people, and metaphors can be powerful medicine. Does it have to be framed as a battle? Not for me. Use the martial atmosphere if it works for you. If, however, your tastes run more toward nurturance and equanimity, choose your metaphors accordingly. Feeling welcome to the page, not in a fight with your internal Resistance, can alter your entire creative experience on a given day.
We’re each unique. To the extent that I have felt and lived with resistance, I’ve come to see that, for me, rather than to launch a missile at the perceived enemy, the best way to keep going is to acknowledge whatever message my fear is sending, and to shift my focus. Like, for instance, unearthing a creative idea that I want to develop and craft into something new. Or recapturing the moment when I first glimpsed the possibilities of this project. Or embodying the sense of connection I got with the early readers of the most recent chapter I completed.
Just as with an annoying narcissist, the best response to Pressfield’s big bad Resistance can be indirection, or no response at all.
Boundaries, not combat
Instead of hand-to-hand combat, we can assert our healthy boundaries, limit contact with the aggressor, and save our passion for places where positive forward motion is doable and satisfying. We don’t need to let the malice of an imaginary wild-eyed, evil, controlling fearmonger get the better of us. It only has power if we hand it over.
Rather than go after the blocks with bloody-mindedness, we can give them the necessary modicum of attention and shift our focus instead to things that we can imagine, can do, and can complete.
Why would I want to give the block / the Resistance / the Saboteur the satisfaction of a fight to the death? That’s just feeding the beast with my attention, time, and energy. I lose – and it gains.
What do you think? What happens if you step back and redirect your creative energies when you notice a block? What happens if you try viewing – and treating – your Pressfieldian Resistance like it’s a toxic narcissist? Is it worth an experiment?
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