Your creativity is deeply personal. It springs from your most private, intimate experiences. So, it’s no surprise that your creative expression is a reflection of the deepest parts of your being. It’s the birth place of your art, performance, writing, or other creative projects – all fueled by your passion and your life challenges. To show someone your art is to show them a piece of your soul.
With that in mind, it seems impossible to imagine that anyone could make and share art with anyone, never mind an audience of strangers – a big unknown. And yet, this is what you, a creative arts professional, do all the time. You’ve founded a career on making the most personal thoughts and feelings into something shared with the outside world.
As an artist, you must show up in the world and let yourself be seen. Whether it’s at an audition, a gallery, or pressing “send” and submitting your screenplay, your success depends on making yourself vulnerable to others over and over again.
The true value of your art and anything you create emerges when your work inspires someone to have an emotional, visceral experience. For this to happen, you need to feel there is a genuine connection with your audience. And, that’s why you dedicate yourself to creating a real relationship with those who will experience what you’ve crafted.
Though you may never meet the people who are touched by your art, you are creating a relationship across time and space. This connection through your art is what makes the creative process so meaningful and fulfilling.
It’s not always an ideal relationship, however.
To be an artist is to put the most precious aspects of yourself out into the world hoping to be understood, appreciated, and admired. But then, there’s always the risk that you and your art will be ignored, criticized, or mistreated.
To stay connected to your core artistic self as you develop and maintain a connection with those who are impacted by your art, can be challenging. You’re making yourself vulnerable in the most vulnerable possible way.
Your art is there for the world to respond to, but at the same time you need to stay grounded in your artistic confidence to continue to make art. This is a dilemma for many artists.
All too often, your audience doesn’t respond to you the way you need, hope, or dream. You may feel disconnected or as if you’re tangled in a one-sided, unfulfilling relationship.
This is a scenario that you, the artist, may go through time and time again:
Imagine you’re at an audition, pitching your screenplay, or acting out a scene. You feel in touch with who you are, a little scared, perhaps, but also excited for the new possibilities. But then, you hear a comment, or get an “I’m not interested look.” Or, maybe you just imagine “they aren’t impressed.”
Suddenly, you’re in a very different emotional place. Instead of gentle butterflies, you begin to feel all warm and dizzy. Your mind starts racing and you can’t seem to find clarity. You’re confused and scared. Your thoughts come so fast, you barely can pay attention to your surroundings. You disconnect from who you are as an artist. This moment no longer feels creative or like an opportunity to connect; it’s just something you need to survive.
Lost in fear and doubt, you feel disconnected from your audience and from your identity as an artist. You cannot access your artistic energy.You’re not connected to your talent and skills.
Why might this kind of rejection cut so deeply? After all, you’re an artist and you know that you constantly have to contend with how people receive and respond to your art.
Often, when you have this sort of visceral reaction to being misunderstood or rejected, it’s a sign that you are carrying around some unhealed emotional trauma. Some past wounds related to being seen and validated have been triggered and you can’t just decide “I won’t let other people’s unfavorable reactions get to me.” When those old traumas are activated, you lose control of how you feel and how you react. You’re swept into a spiral of emotion. You feel like you can’t stop or pull yourself back out.
There’s good news here: it is possible to work with your reactions to others and maintain your artistic integrity so you can continue to make your art and build your career.
How can you navigate the different audience reactions, maintain the relationship, and remain grounded in your creativity and artistic purpose?
1. Develop your capacity to tolerate challenging feelings
There are many different ways you can help yourself cope with feeling unseen, criticized, ignored, or shamed. Meditation, mindfulness, and journaling are all helpful. Psychotherapy is a powerful way to help you explore, expand, and tolerate your affective experiences. These practices can help you increase your ability to tolerate difficult emotions and develop self-awareness.
You can learn to stay connected with difficult emotional experiences now, in the present, instead of getting stuck in challenging feelings. When you master this skill, you’re able to access your creative reservoir and use your feelings to create even more.
2. Practice emotional differentiation between you and your audience
It’s possible to simply let others have their reactions while you stay connected to your own truth about your art. While you don’t have to like others’ feelings about your art, you need to let them have their own opinions.
The practice of emotional differentiation allows you to stay connected to your own emotional experience and your own mind no matter what kind of reactions you encounter from others.
Allowing others to have their own truth while you stay connected to your own truth fosters true connection and makes it possible for you to create your true art that speaks to your true audience.
3. Practice emotional boundaries with your art
You and your art are intimately connected. An intimate connection melts emotional boundaries, creating fluidity and flow. It’s the dance of intimacy, which allows you to connect with your creative energy and make amazing art. You can create from the inside out, in touch with your most unique talents and skills.
But there comes a time where you also need to have some emotional space and breathing room from your art so you can step back and be more objective about your work. When you can see yourself from the outside, you can make decisions about how you need to improve or deepen your skills.
Lose yourself in your art to create it, but also remember to step back and allow others to have their emotional reflections to your art. This practice can offer opportunities for growth so you continue to evolve as an artist and further your connection with your audience.
Yes, You Can Heal the Past Emotional Traumas that Make It Hard to Maintain a Relationship with Your Audience
Tolerating challenging feelings, practicing emotional differentiation, and setting boundaries can be challenging for anyone, but particularly if you have unhealed emotional trauma. Such trauma may not have anything to do with a particular moment of crisis, injury, or loss. Instead, emotional trauma can come up as a result of lack of support, recognition, and acceptance when you need it most.
As a psychotherapist who is experienced with working with artists and performers who also has the training to help you heal past traumas, I can help you heal and navigate your inner world.
This work will improve the most important connection – the relationship you have with yourself. And, by extension, will help you to create a healthier, more reciprocal relationship with your art and your audience.
Contact me to set up a free 15-20 minute consultation to see if psychotherapy can help you further your career and your personal life.
I am Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Doctor in Clinical Psychology. I help creatives and performers with their emotional trauma, depression, anxiety, performance anxiety, creativity, relationships, PTSD, and addictions – to become their own best version. You can read more about Therapy for Creatives here.