“The Courage to Create”, Part II


Watercolor,” Dawn Mallards”, 2005, Jane Kohut-Bartels

The Courage to Create, Part II


I came across a part of Rollo May’s book, “The Courage to Create” that had a particular interest to a number of readers who were raised by narcissistic parents. I am posting Dr. May’s words here just for further contemplation and discussion. I find this idea of May to be intriguing and thoughtful.

It is a particular discovery concerning a class difference in the behavior or the result of narcissistic parents on their daughters. In my opinion, it is true and reveals the basis for the misery of many young women from the early teen years but with an interesting class difference. Readers can draw their own conclusions. I think Dr. May revealed something very powerful, insightful.

Dr. May was studying the issue of rejection and anxiety of young women by narcissistic parents, mainly the maternal rejection. (This made it into the book under the section: “Creativity and the Unconscious”) What was surprising to him was what he and other psychologists had assumed to be true, that they would be hardened, apathetic so that they didn’t feel the rejection?


“Where they sociopathetic or psychopathetic types who didn’t feel rejection? (these were young women who were unwed, pregnant and basically thrown out of their birth families, some the victims of incest) No, they weren’t.

As one, named Helen said: “We have troubles but we don’t worry.”

One day I was walking down the street, I was tired, and out of the blue, it struck me that all these women were from the proletarian class. And as quickly as that idea struck me, other ideas poured out.   A whole new hypothesis broke loose in my mind. I realized my entire theory would have to be changed. I saw at that instant that it is not rejection by the mother that is the original trauma which is the source of anxiety (in the daughters…); it is rather rejection that is lied about.

The proletarian mothers rejected their children, but they never made any bones about it. The children knew they were rejected; they went out on the streets and found other companions, (and I believe mother substitutes…JKB) There was never any subterfuge about their situation. They knew their world—bad or good—and they could orient themselves to it. But the middle-class young women were always lied to in their families.   They were rejected by mothers who pretended they loved them. This really the source of their anxiety, not the sheer rejection. I saw in that instantaneous way that characteristics, insights from these deeper sources, that anxiety comes from not being able to know the world you’re in, not being able to orient yourself in your own existence. “

Though Dr. May is talking about how concepts can be overturned, how the unconscious holding to something that might not be true in theory (what he was taught by his professors) there comes a point hopefully, where a radical rupture with what is ‘known’ is overturned and something new, a new development in theory …is formed.

I will just put forth my own speculation, and this is because of my own experience with a narcissistic mother and also from my own class position, or that of my mother. Middle class parents, or upper class parents have a social position to ‘protect’. They would be ‘shamed’ for outright rejection of their children, be ostracized by their peers, social class, IF they were open about their hatred, dislike, contempt, etc. of their children, and especially when the mother is the narcissist and a daughter is her scapegoat. They are protecting themselves, and hence the extended lies about their pretended love of their children. They will talk in ‘glowing terms’ (to outsiders) about the very children they dismiss, demean, abuse privately, but they don’t want to get ‘caught’ doing this by their social ‘club’. That would mean that they failed in some important way as a parent. Within dysfunctional families of a particular class, it’s all about protecting the ‘image’ of the family. Further, it’s all about protecting the narcissist.

I remember an incident in my ex husband’s family. The adult children were heavily involved in drugs. They were a prominent upper class family, with much social connections to protect. One of the sons wrapped his sports car around a telephone pole, and his mother said that “they had enough money to make anything disappear.” Again, it’s all about protecting image.

So, we have discussed this issue before of rejection by narcissistic parents, and our anxiety is never really knowing where we are in the family. We are kept unbalanced, anxious, by the (sometimes sociopathetic) behavior of narcissistic parents. Our anxiety comes from not being able to know the world we are in, not being able to orient ourselves in our own existence. “


And the narcissists in our lives take great sadistic pleasure in doing this, in increasing our confusion, our inability to know our place in the family. They depend upon this. And they up the abuse where they can, even when they are  ‘nearer to their God’. And others in the family fall suit because they are afraid of the Narcissistic Rage that will turn on them if they don’t obey the Chief Narcissist.  They are true slaves, although the ‘favorites’. 



For me, this above relates to what I wrote in the first part of this essay, that our creativity comes from our centeredness, knowing ourselves and believing, taking courage in our abilities regardless what and who are trying to throw us off our mark. When we attain clarity as to the functions of a dysfunctional family, or family member (and there usually isn’t just one….other members are impacted and take on the behavior of the Chief Narcissist) we can put these destructive people behind us and go on to developing our creativity and living a better and fuller life. They are only boulders in the road and we have to go around them.

Jane Kohut-Bartels

Copyrighted, 2014






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14 Responses to ““The Courage to Create”, Part II”

  1. Caliban's Sister Says:

    “They were rejected by mothers who pretended they loved them. This really the source of their anxiety, not the sheer rejection. I saw in that instantaneous way that characteristics, insights from these deeper sources, that anxiety comes from not being able to know the world you’re in, not being able to orient yourself in your own existence. “ That’s it, in a nutshell, isn’t it? It’s the pretense of love, the protestations occasionally of “care,” when belied by behavior, that do so MUCH damage. They make you crazy emotionally until you figure out what these people are actually doing. They’re protecting their own self-images. Nothing more.


  2. ladynyo Says:

    It’s the constant lies that kill us. And the anxiety. When we realize the true basis of our misery, we can go on. But we must put these folk behind us. They are anti-creative, and destroyers.

    They don’t change because they can’t. But we are not corralled by their personality disorders. The world is FULL of good and decent people and we know this once we are far from the above.

    Love, Jane


  3. czbz Says:

    Your essay brings up an interesting thing that happened last week when I was visiting my parents. It’s a good example of the “lies” we’re encouraged to believe as children AND as adults. If we don’t sustain the lie, we’re threatened with rejection/punishment and so we choose to believe we are valued when in fact, we might not be. This is what happened:

    I was talking with my mother about the volunteer work I’ve done my whole life and the challenge it’s been raising my kids with a rat bazturd. She reminded me that I “should have” gotten my education and I “should have” immersed myself in a career and I “should have” waited to get married. I wish I could say that I didn’t react but I did. I said, “Mother, the problem is not the choices I made. The problem is the LIE we’re told. I now realize that what people profess to believe (the value of stay-at-home-mothers’ work) is a lie they tell themselves. The truth of their values is where they put their money. If my labor was part of the GDP, I would be earning social security, too.”

    “You can’t get social security”, she said, “because you didn’t work.”

    “But I thought you believed women’s work was the most important thing I could do? ”

    That’s right!” she said.

    Get the cognitive dissonance? I grew up believing what people said in my family, at church, at school—everyone insisting they valued women and their contributions to a functioning and healthy society. But when it comes right down to it, they do not. Instead, we are wedged between a rock and a hard place because no matter which choice we make, we’re wrong.

    This feeling of making the wrong choice (doublebind) and always questioning ourselves as being inadequate, stifles our creativity. We occupy far too much of our time thinking about where we went wrong and what we “should” have done, rather than immersing ourselves in life and just “being”. Finding a way to validate ourselves and become comfortable with the choices we make, is nothing short of Brilliant Creativity. I think the people who get seriously stuck are those who lack self-awareness and haven’t connected to their inner self. I think the creative kids are the ones who survive, having learned at an early age to immerse themselves in the artistic/creative process. I have wondered if this early training is why I’m instinctively drawn towards artwork when there’s a crisis of some kind. I learned to do that as a child when my self-worth was threatened. Well, whatever…I am grateful for the brilliance of the child, connecting me to my core self.



  4. ladynyo Says:

    I love it when people relate their DIRECT experience to illustrate their issues and anger…especially when it is related to narcissism. Thank you! You do good service to issues that we write so damn intellectually about, bypassing the experience that makes it real and stick-to-your guts.

    As for creativity…all children have it, but I don’t know that it’s accessed in all early on. I think with pathologically compromised parents, like narcissists for example, it’s pushed aside or squashed because to dwell in the creative means that a child has TIME and energy to do so…and parents that are ADULTS….functioning as adults and not expecting their children to be the adults. For me, my creativity came to an abrupt end around 16 when the turmoil at home with a drunk father and a hysterical mother (plus so many other issues…) and thinking back, I was constantly in tears: high school was misery as I started to feel and see the full brunt of a dysfunctional family. I remember sobbing so much that I couldn’t think straight in class. When I returned home? sooner or later the turmoil started up again. Holidays were full of trauma. Then a marriage at 22 to a entitled snot and also a narcissist not much different than my mother: oppressive, demeaning, a Nazi in a suit.

    You got it straight. We are fed such lies about the value and worth of women who stay at home to raise children and ‘keep’ a house. Unending toil. But we do it with fortitude because somewhere down the line we are told ‘this is the highest calling for women”. Shit. One of unending sacrifice to a lie.

    My mother didn’t want me to go to college, and frankly only paid for the first semester. Then she said that “I would just get married and education was wasted on me.” I can remember when I came home from the last day that fall from college (which I took the school bus to…the very same one I sat on to grammar/high school)and she was hanging in the door frame….”My little secretary!”. THAT was what she wanted for me….and of course, it was lowered expectations. I was crushed. I was trapped in the lowered expectations of HER.

    And…there was no more artistic/creative expression for me until my 40’s frankly. A rotten first marriage, the RCP and struggling to work and feed both of us (because entitled snot refused to work…HE was a ‘revolutionary’…) took all my energy.

    Yeah, I get the cognitive dissonance. And the perpetuation of the lies….

    Well, I have seen your sculpture, and it is marvelous. It’s apparent that your creativity has never withered or died, and it’s something that is deeply yours.

    That ‘centeredness’ that Rollo May talks about in his book on creativity is the most powerful lesson I took away from it. There are so many people, relatives, institutions, etc. that will try to strip us from this centeredness….and we aren’t even aware of it or the necessity of it for life.

    I think that any art as a child is a refuge. I remember writing some poetry, and both my mother and father looking through the Readers Digest to see if I had lifted this poem. Shit! I could do so much better at 10 than the stuff that was in these books. And that was because the trauma of my childhood sent me into a much deeper place. And that is just about the only thing that is good about childhood trauma….if you can access that ‘space’ for creativity and contemplation.

    And….I am so anti-religion because of my experience with my siblings and their stupid wives. years ago, I did a semi nude and dared hang it in my house. My uneducated, pious sister in law said that ‘when I became a Christian, I wouldn’t paint nudes anymore.” I have resisted both religion and her form of creativity ever since!. LOL!~ Ignorance abounds with some people.

    It’s pretty cold where you are, CZ. Time to set up that kiln, right?

    Love, Jane


  5. czbz Says:

    My family “idealized” creativity so I was allowed to spend time developing my own interests. I know that other kids my age were not allowed to sit and draw pictures for hours, or tap-dance their way to sanity. My frustration with narcissism is “impossible expectations” that stifle creativity. Nobody’s perfect on their first sculpture or painting or performance and the shame of imperfection can ruin the child’s ability to fail. But I am grateful that my parents encouraged our creativity as kids. Being alone with myself was my refuge…where I started developing my “centeredness”, I think.

    I would fire up that kiln if my old hands could tolerate hours of shaping and smoothing and pounding clay. Arthritis has interrupted that outlet so the amazing thing about our desire to create is that other avenues open. As you say, there are no Chinese walls…



  6. ladynyo Says:

    It all makes sense: no one prefects on the first or 10th attempt at something. It’s a PROCESS! You are lucky with your parents attitude towards even ‘idealized’ creativity. My parents, my father a French Horn player, my mother a ballet teacher…well, and my siblings (brothers) both folk musicians, were cultivated by my mother. Me? She did everything she could to stop my music (I had a good operatic soprano…hence Westminster Choir College in Princeton) but she was terribly competitive.(an alto, no voice of much) I didn’t understand it..and she would go great lengths to degrade my attempts at voice. A person yelling in the next room “Jane, watch your vibrato!” doesn’t make for a relaxed approach to this. It took me years and some therapy to understand that HER mother was a concert soprano and she had this fucked up attitude that ‘no one can be a soprano in this family except my dead mother.” Or something like this…but really? She just wanted me to be ‘an artist’. That was my role for this screwed up narcissist.

    I was to occupy one box in her head, and isn’t this so much what narcissists do when faced with creativity that has arms and legs sticking out of that box? LOL!

    I think the problem for us who didn’t develop our ‘centeredness’ early on is that we carry over the messages and doubt from our childhood. I still hear her voice…and she isn’t dead yet….criticizing so much of what I was attempting to do in music, art, and especially literature. But I also refuse to allow her, when she is still breathing, to stop me anymore. I have found, after a meandering path, my ‘centeredness’…and frankly? it was more or less forced upon me by years of misery. It was something that just wouldn’t disappear. I didn’t recognize what it was called until reading Rollo Mays book!

    And perhaps this is what happens to so many of us? We stumble upon the name of this centeredness but we’ve been doing this for years as a refuge. It’s that place where we retreat and no one can touch or hurt us.

    As to your hands, I understand an I am a few years older than thou. I take an over the counter med for joints and it works. Mostly. But clay work is very trying on the joints like flamenco. But after seeing your pottery (really it’s more art than pottery) I was blown away. You are truly gifted.

    Love, Jane


  7. czbz Says:

    You know, I think the secret to my creative success is “Low expectations.” When I received first place at a gallery, I was like, “Really??????????” hahaha…I’ll take a picture of that sculpture one day and send it to you. She stands in my office like a sentinel, reminding me to be true to myself.

    I’ve enjoyed our conversation, Jane…not sure I’m gonna enjoy your most recent entry about ropes and boxes, but I’ll TRY to keep an open mind.

    Have a great Saturday evening! Love ya, CZ


  8. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! Yeah, low expectations. All the successes we’ve had come out of the blue, with greatest of surprise. And that is because of our basic insecurities…but damn it, CZ. Look at what you have done and accomplished on the net. Jesus! Besides the other things you have done in your life.

    We get used to low expectations in others about us, but we should NEVER accept l.e. for ourselves. That just compounds the abuse. It’s akin to self-hatred.

    I really want to see this piece in your office, CZ…send me a pix. I was so astounded with your other work, but it’s not because I had low expectations of it: It was art that blew me away. Truly.

    About “Shibari Series”? It’s outrageous in one sense, but remember it’s about transformation….and compassion. stages expressed through the changing of the character through different species. Empathizing with a species not her own, and realizing the need for freedom…and transformation.

    I wrote it at a very strained time…full of great doubt and misery. Reading it today after a long time not….the undercurrents of it just astounded me. Nothing to be afraid of, but try to see what I was trying to express. It’s not easy and the ‘form’ I picked is because it’s so….outrageous. But it carries a message.

    Creativity must stretch the mind and hands. I believe that we can go beyond the safe and acceptable to themes that probably shock but there must be a message…something of value in what we produce.

    Although many terms in this series will be unknown to most readers, and I had to jog my own memory….I think overall it tells a story of compassion, empathy. Just because the form is unusual and probably something most people don’t know about, it still has value. It’s just a vehicle, remember. And I don’t push shibari because it’s a practice that has been abused and corrupted in the West. My experience and first introduction was through Japanese history. Very different than what it is used by many in the West. And I think, a perversion of a dangerous kind.

    Try to look for the message in these pieces, and have a great Weekend!

    Love ya back.


  9. TR Says:

    “it is rather rejection that is lied about.” Wow, this blew me away. I realized something about my anxiety that I hadn’t understood before. Thank you so much.

    With my mother although she outwardly showed how ‘loving’ she was, privately I was criticized and abused. She was overt in her abuse that into my teen years and then in early adulthood I understood that I didn’t feel loved and the rest were lies. I realize that I have less anxiety about seeing my FOO. My anxiety is still high for the visit and this is due to my interactions with my ILs. The covertness is still difficult for me to see because I really thought when I met them that they are a close and loving family. Now I realize the closeness and loving really mean enmeshed/engulfing family.

    I can clearly see how I have the same patterns that I did earlier with my FOO and now with my ILs. Letting go of that ‘perfect DiL’ and breaking this pattern with them from childhood trauma, so I am okay with myself and comfortable.

    This is really beautiful, “our creativity comes from our centeredness, knowing ourselves and believing, taking courage in our abilities regardless what and who are trying to throw us off our mark.”

    I really enjoyed these two articles, I am going to read the book! xx


  10. ladynyo Says:

    Hi TR! I am hearing some comments, experiences from people privately because these things are painful and many don’t want to either face them, or face them in public.

    The book really hit me hard too. These issues of rejection/anxiety/lies are so applicable to our own experience: yes, it’s the seat of our confusion and developed anxiety about what ‘love’ is. It’s something I think we can all keep writing about because it’s like peeling an onion: different layers mean different trauma, experiences and when we get to the core of the onion, we have hopefully a newly found confidence in where we ‘sit’ in the universe, and especially our families: when we can see the truth through the lies, we are wiser and more stable.

    Yep! I can relate to your mother was outwardly (to neighbors, other relatives, even strangers) praising you (and this I believe is a pretty universal trait of narcissists: they are protecting the family image, not praising us…) but the abuse and contempt continued in private. Same here. It is a terrible unbalancing, confusing behavior when we are young because we don’t know our place in the family and that is the point of the abuser/narcissist: it’s part of their power trip: they keep us confused and hoping that their lies about ‘loving us’ will come through. They never do, because that isn’t the objective of the parent-narcissist: and children are so vulnerable: we will do anything for the attention of the parent, for their approval. Our world when young is our parents.

    This ‘centeredness”? Dr.May writes that this is the refuge for the creative psyche when all Hell is loose. I believe it. I think we all have something of this in our background, but I just didn’t have a word for it: and when I withdrew, I was criticized as ‘being withdrawn and absent from the family…difficult.’ No, I was protecting myself in this refuge…in the mind. The assaults from narcissistic parents are constant, and sometimes physical, but mostly emotional. The only place a child can go from the trauma of a dysfunctional family is inward most times. So I understand. Now I have a word for it!

    After years of going into ‘that place’ that centeredness, we realize its importance and our necessity for survival…at least emotionally and also intellectually.

    I am glad you are going to read his book: I haven’t even finished but was so inspired by what I was reading that I wanted to sum it up and also throw it against my own experience. I am presently reading his 1969 book: “Love and Will” and that is also a ground breaker. This “Courage to Create” was written in 1975 but you can see the bones in the earlier book. He’s a brilliant thinker and writer and not obscure at all.

    Thanks, TR!


  11. Fred Says:

    I’m glad to see such an active dialog going on here. I’d like to chime in to say that we should strive to achieve what makes US happy. So many are stymied by opinions of others, it stifles our own creativities. If we look back on some of the masters, we see ones who were so “outside thsee box” they were labeled as “nuts”. Did that stop them, NO. They were creating for themselves. They pushed the limits and “dared to be different”. Some were tolerated, some achieved great followings.
    In this day and age there is so much diversity that just about anything can be construed as art. I say be proud of who you are and damn those who can’t recognize talent when they see it just because it doesn’t “fit in” with their narrow concepts. Be true to yourself. You’ll sleep better. Thanks, Fred


  12. ladynyo Says:

    Thanks, Fred. For those who don’t know, Fred is my long-suffering husband of 30 years. He has gone through the ringer with family and others who are narcissists, and he has stuck by my side when I thought I was going crazy.

    It’s true. Creating for themselves. It is of first importance to create from yourself and for yourself. I have another “Courage to Create” essay coming up, that talks about the struggle with oneself as an artist and where these concepts, original ideas come from. That split space between the conscious laboring and that ‘rest’ where you walk away and suddenly the ideas are there.

    Narcissists are more than a pain-in-the-ass. They stop creativity with their moralism and their narrow concepts of what creativity is and where it comes from. I have heard enough about “God” from fundamentalists who DON’T produce a damn thing except flap their mouths. There are deeper solutions to our responsibility to ourselves and creativity. Picasso was a HUGE narcissist, and produced a world of art, but he also was jealous of other artists and especially the creativity of women. As artists we should avoid this. it narrows down the possibilities of new art. We should embrace the new and sometimes uncomfortable art. Misogyny and narcissism seems to go hand in hand.

    More about this, but later.

    Thank you, Fred for your years of support. Now, finish that drywall.

    Love, Jane


  13. czbz Says:

    LOL…Fred’s comment showed up in my email and I stopped by your blog again, just to say “Thanks, Fred!” only to find out he’s your husband. So “double thanks, Fred” for loving my daffodil-growing, red-shoe-tapping, prune-treat-making friend.



  14. ladynyo Says:

    LOL! God…talk about cross pollination! LOL!

    I still want to send you some daff bulbs, but we will have to wait until spring,because they’ve disappeared…..I’ll pull some fresh bulbs when they show above ground and send…

    Oh, I have a great Kyflie recipe if you want. Kyflie is a Hungarian term, and probably Polish, Russian, etc….for a wonderful and EASY pastry that I make during cold weather and holiday seasons; I got the recipe probably 40 years ago from my dear Aunt Jean and Aunt Pauline. Pauline’s is easier. (She’s dead now, too…a sweet woman who only wanted me to call her ‘mother’.)

    Kyflie Recipe…you can double or triple the ingredients to make more batches.

    2 cups of unbleached flour (all purpose, without the baking soda, etc. I forget this…I use King Arthur’s Flour and it’s great for this)

    2 sticks of Butter: salted is fine.

    1 8 ounce package of Cream Cheese.

    Combine well (I have Fred sit watching TV mixing the dough. Don’t worry about over mixing) You can use a Kitchen Aid or food processor…easier.


    1 bag of prunes, or apricots, or Lakvar (walnut paste)

    Boil the prunes and apricots separately and cool…mash to a pulp or paste….Roll out the dough (refrigerate it for a while for easier rolling but you know this, You Baker You)

    Roll out dough into 4 inch squares and place a teaspoon of filling in the middle : fold over two sides (diapering?) and squeeze close…BAKE in 375 oven until done about 25 minutes. Don’t let them get brown…when cooler, sprinkle with conf. sugar. Wonderful pastries and EASY!

    Love, Jane


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