Why would we feel guilty for self-expression?

My Relationship with Creativity

I have always had a turbulent relationship with being artistic. Waves of motivation and energy would get channeled into drawing, painting or writing, only to evaporate almost as urgently as they emerged. I started this blog with the intention to write at least once, if not twice a week. WordPress was kind enough to feature one of my articles, leading to a relatively huge influx of views and followers. I had no idea how challenging it would be  to ignore external validation in the context of such personal writing. My efforts increased after my mini surge in popularity, and promptly crashed after a few weeks of steadily decreasing attention. Despite wanting to write for my own self-expression and intellectual exploration, I felt completely distracted by the opinions of others. What’s my problem? Am I doing this for the wrong reasons or is there possibly another explanation?

Insights from a Psychoanalyst

Otto Rank, an Austrian psychoanalyst, introduced insightful theories about how we develop. He focused on the mother-infant relationship, suggesting we develop guilt and anxiety because we grow up and define our individual sense of self as separate from our mothers. I often hear Freud critics say these kind of theories reduce everything to issues with mom, but I think there is merit in processing this idea.

Firstly, Rank discussed creativity as a specific element in development that produces feelings of guilt. It is the creative person, an artist, who will constantly define and redefine their sense of self. If I am constantly producing and receiving recognition, not only am I constantly expressing who I am, but I am doing so in a way that makes me vulnerable. Much like infants are vulnerable at birth without their mother, the exposed creations represent my authentic self.


Rank would argue that the act of creating separates you by forcing you to define yourself, while also reminding you of the vulnerability you have in the world as a seperate being. We are essentially alone in the world and this produces feelings of anxiety. Not only do I feel guilt for defining myself, but I am anxious because I am now defined. Ultimately, Rank’s point is once you express yourself, you actually get closer to realizing your own mortality.

I guess I haven’t been writing this blog because I am afraid of dying? Maybe somewhere in the unconscious zoo that is my mind…it’s true.

Painting: Madonna by Egon Shiele (Austrian expressionist painter)


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