“In order to make it as a creative or performer, you may have found it necessary to hide behind an emotional armor to protect yourself.” Therapist Mihaela Ivan Holtz
Armor of the physical kind can be valuable, even life-saving. Emotional armor can also be protective, but also at times deeply self-limiting.
In the movie Black Panther, teenager Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, is the sister of the king of the fictional country Wakanda, and she is a genius at designing armor and protection devices.
Wright enthuses about her dynamic role:
“Shuri is into graphics and graphic designs and technology and science and creating cool armor. She’s all about how she can use her mind and how she can like just really help Wakanda to grow in an amazing way and protect it.”
[Letitia Wright: The Woman Behind Shuri, the Next-Level Disney Princess By DaVette See, Black Girl Nerds, February 9, 2018.]
We develop emotional armor for protection from other kinds of potentially deep hurts – shame, rejection, assaults on our self-esteem.
But a number of actors and other performers say one of the demands, even pleasures, of their creative work is to embrace being emotionally vulnerable.
Actor Lily Rabe said, “I can’t actually think of a job where I was relaxed the whole time.
“I don’t think I would want to do that job. When I break into a cold sweat when I’m reading, I think, ‘Oh good. That’s what’s supposed to be happening.’
“So, for the most part, I really like when I read a scene that scares me and makes me sweat a little bit, thinking about doing it.
“That’s usually a good sign to me.”
[Quotes are from her imdb page.]
Why do we want to avoid strong emotions?
Author and research professor Brené Brown notes:
“In our culture, we associate vulnerability with emotions we want to avoid such as fear, shame, and uncertainty.
“Yet we too often lose sight of the fact that vulnerability is also the birthplace of joy, belonging, creativity, authenticity, and love.”
From article The Power of Vulnerability.
According to Brown,
“Whether we’re fourteen or fifty-four, our armor and our masks are as individualized and unique as the personal vulnerability, discomfort and pain we’re trying to minimize.”
From article Taking Off Our Armor by Dawn Berkelaar.
Quotes are from a book by Brené Brown: Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.
“I don’t like emotions…
“For some reason I’m more comfortable in imaginary circumstances.”
– Actor William H. Macy
In his review of “Stumbling on Happiness” Malcolm Gladwell notes that “We’re far too accepting of the conclusions of our imaginations. Our imaginations aren’t particularly imaginative.”
From my article I don’t like emotions.
The harm we do ourselves in blocking emotions
She is author of the book Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work and Life.
Her interview with Rich Roll for his podcast Episode 356 is titled “Susan David, Ph.D On The Power of Emotional Agility and Why Discomfort Is The Price Of Admission To A Meaningful Life.
She says “When we block or suppress or push aside emotions, we actually stop ourselves from being our most effective, successful beings.”
Being effective and successful as an actor, performer or other kind of artist can involve many factors, including how well you understand and work with your emotions.
Mihaela Ivan Holtz, Psy.D., LMFT helps people in TV and film, performing and fine arts.
She also writes about the pleasures and emotional challenges of being creative on her site Creative Minds Psychotherapy.
Here is an excerpt from one of the related articles on her site:
Arts and entertainment careers can be so brutal.
In order to make it as a creative or performer, you may have found it necessary to hide behind an emotional armor to protect yourself.
This emotional armor has its value. It feels safer to take on the world behind that armor.
You feel like no one and nothing can hurt you, shame you, judge you, or mistreat you.
And yet, this armor doesn’t allow you to truly be a part of the world.
Your armor keeps you from putting yourself out there with all that you are.
Truly being a part of the world means you show up fully and freely participate in life with your real you.
That’s not something you can do when you’re hiding behind or within a shell.
Your Armor’s Protection Comes At a Price.
At some level, it makes sense to want take on the world feeling protected.
You feel safe behind that shield, but it’s actually an illusion of safety.
Real safety is rooted in knowing how to be a part of the real world, with all of its beauty and challenges.
When you really feel safe, you can embrace the good and the bad, and all the in-between as you navigate the world.
You can take in the greatness and the magic of life.
You can face challenges, inspired to turn them into opportunities for growth and success.
Creating and performing actually gives you a way out of this armor.
Your art gives you something you really need. It allows you to come out into the world as the real you.
When you step on the stage or when you create your art, your armor vanishes away and you come to life, in all your fullness.
You’re unafraid of expressing yourself. You become what you feel, what you believe, what you dream… You embody your life stories that make you shiver with love and passion, or give you chills of fear, or fill you with awe of inspiration.
You feel grounded in your own voice as an artist. You feel so real and alive.
You own the world from that stage, canvas, or novel…
Your art gives you the opportunity to freely be you. It feels good, it feels rights, and it feels empowering.
But then, when you step back into your real world, it feels too vulnerable to be the real you.
You return to your emotional armor.
When you move from being so present and alive on the stage or canvas to being an inhibited version of yourself in the “real world,” you are left feeling lonely, empty, and disconnected.
You may feel anxious or depressed as you seek a way to reconnect to yourself.
You feel incomplete and unreal when you’re not merged with your art.
Sometimes, you find yourself filled with a longing to come out and be you, not just in your art, but in your whole life.
Away from your art, something is missing…
You want to let go of that armor, but part of you wonders if you’ll still be a successful artist.
Read more in her article
Do You Hide Behind An Emotional Armor When Away From Your Art?