Coping With Disengagement and Reentry
In this final chapter, Dr. Paris explains the causes of disengagement and moving through disengagement. You’ll recall that disengagement is what happens when we come to the end of creative immersion. It can be a positive or negative experience.
Causes of Disengagement
Dr. Paris describes seven factors that cause disengagement: external interruptions, running out of energy, problems or stumbling blocks, emotionally threatening artistic content, waiting, feeling overexposed, and criticism.
External interruptions are those breaks that result from demands of time on your schedule. This basically refers to those demands known as family, grocery shopping, laundry, caring for our parents, taking pets to the vet, parent-teacher conferences, and so on. You know, that thing called life that demands your time and that puts an artificial end to your immersive experience.
These interruptions are frustrating. We’ve all experienced them. We’ve all complained about them. And one of the best ways to work with these interruptions is to set boundaries when possible, set a schedule when possible, and accept that life happens.
Running Out of Energy
Another factor that causes disengagement is simply running out of energy. While creative immersion is energizing, it can also be emotionally and physically tiring. How often have you found yourself working in a creative flurry, losing track of time, and eventually realizing that you haven’t eaten all day. Or maybe you’re functioning on just a few hours of sleep.
When your physical and psychic energy runs out, disengagement is forced upon you. You.simply.must.stop.
How can you keep from running out of energy? You can stop at a point in the day where you are clear about the next step and can reenter the immersive phase with anticipation rather than apprehension.
Problems or Stumbling Blocks
Disengagement also happens when you run into a problem or hit a block in the artistic process. Have you experienced this? You’re working along, in the flow, and then you run into a problem. The once fluid relationship suddenly becomes frustrating. Maybe the problem causes you to feel inadequate or that you’ve lost control.
This is a defensive engagement, according to Dr. Paris, because we fear that our underlying fears of inadequacy will be confirmed if we continue to struggle with the project. It is during this type of disengagement that alternative forms of support (relationships, spirituality, etc) are essential.
Emotionally Threatening Artistic Content
Sometimes, disengagement happens when “the content of the artistic piece becomes too threatening.” That is, creating art may raise fears because the piece is an expression of deep emotions. When the artist fears becoming overtaken by his/her emotions, fears humiliation due to exposure, or needs to integrate this experience, the artist may need to disengage from the creative process.
Often an artist emerges from this experience transformed, but the breakthrough can be disturbing and frightening.
Waiting; waiting for feedback, waiting for an answer. Whatever we may be waiting for, it leaves us in a vulnerable state. When we’re waiting, support from others again is critical. It is essential not to withdraw from others during this form of disengagement.
This form of disengagement results when creative types suddenly realize that they have “opened and revealed their core self to others” in their art. In this situation, you suddenly realize that you’ve let down your “self-protective shields.” And then we may panic because we feel helpless to protect ourselves from the audience.
Our relationship with our audience and our past experiences with our audience will directly influence how we react in this situation.
This final cause of disengagement is a biggie. Negative feedback and criticism can cause an immediate end to creative immersion.
In an immersive experience, we feel connection to the artwork, we feel perfection. And then someone interrupts that connection with a negative comment and our “perfect union” with the art is shattered. We ask ourselves “Is what they said true?” “Is there something wrong with what I’ve done?” We may begin to doubt ourselves, lose trust in ourselves, and doubt our work.
Though Dr. Paris did not address the handling of criticism, I’m sure she would stress, once again, the importance of having a support network during this time.
Moving Through Disengagement
Our experience during disengagement and our ability to reengage with our artistic work depends on several factors:
Understanding How We Lost the Connection
When disengagement happens, we need to understand how we lost the connection with our artistic work. Here Dr. Paris refers back to the causes of disengagement described above and provides a detailed explanation of what an artist can do once we understand what caused the lost connection.
Understanding and Empathic Others
As creative types, we understand that aloneness is a great barrier to creativity. Dr. Paris defines “aloneness” as “aloneness in one’s inner world; that world where we experience breaks or fractures in our sense of self.” As she has reiterated throughout this book, it is essential that creative types have support networks where we can share our experiences with others. This support can come from loved ones, close friends, peer groups, online communities, and therapy.
Availability of Other Immersive Realms
When we experience disengagement, turning to other immersive experiences can be beneficial in restoring our energy and courage. As Dr. Paris explains: “Sustaining the creative process involves a continuous movement in and out of immersive states and realms. When disengagement occurs in one realm, immersion into a different realm can restore and strengthen the artist so he can reenter.”
Understand Your Underlying State of Self
There are two schools of thought on the “nature of the state of self.” One says that our experiences in childhood determine our strengths and weaknesses and that this is fixed and static. The other says a person’s self-state is determined by the current context of relationships.
Either way, artists bring a certain set of fears and coping responses to every artistic endeavor.
In a nutshell, experienced artists recognize and accept their individual tendencies and patterns. Recognizing and accepting these tendencies when it comes to immersion helps us accept times of disengagement.
Conclusion and Guides
Final disengagement comes at the moment of artistic completion. Here the gratification of perfect expression, reflected in the artwork, is the artist’s barometer of success. Following the experience of gratification, we begin to disengage from the artwork. The final disengagement is what allows us to sell our artwork and move on to our next creation.
If we experience a good relationship with our artwork, disengaging from it when it is completed is often easier. However, if our relationship with the artwork was difficult, disengagement from the artwork may be painful or avoided completely.
Dr. Paris offers two final guides:
1. Understand the type of disengagement you are experiencing, and
2. Stop pressuring yourself to reengage. Understand the reason for disengagement first.
At the end of the book, Dr. Paris includes an appendix of sentence prompts that focus on fantasies, self-perception, fears, and support structures. These prompts may be used to help creative types understand these areas on a deeper, more meaningful level.
Standing at Water’s Edge is divided into three parts with 10 chapters as follows:
Part II: Relationships
Chapter 3: The Need for Others
Chapter 4: Finding Strength in Mirrors
Chapter 5: Finding Inspiration in Heroes
Chapter 6: Finding Comfort in Twins
Chapter 7: Connecting with the Audience and Meeting Deadlines