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I’m Geena Matuson,
arts technologist, educator,
author and speaker.

A multimedia storyteller, I use print, digital, web, video and social to tell cohesive stories that prioritize relationships.

Trauma as a tool for creativity

Trauma as a tool for creativity

Three-channel video by Geena Matuson (@geenamatuson), 2011.

Three-channel video by Geena Matuson (@geenamatuson), 2011.

“People think that being an entrepreneur gives you anxiety, but what I've found is that people with anxiety become — or, are — entrepreneurs,” I said to Ben. “I find that a lot of that anxiety comes from fitting into someone else's idea of value. Not knowing your own value, you pressure yourself when trying to fit into these perceptions in order to please everyone around you for validation.”

I took the ideas from my recent conversations with Patrick and Ryan to my Monday call with Ben Red. Ben and I often talk about finding happiness and aligning our goals with our personal value systems, rather than the value systems of others.

I'd had more interviews and calls with other self-identified “creatives” (as many also held disdain for the term “artist”) and entrepreneurs by this point, and found that each had a traumatic life event that led them to create. Whether childhood or early adulthood, this trauma ranged from near-death experiences to suicides, experiencing isolationism due to culture shock and abusive romantic relationships that mirrored abuse by parents. I noticed another common thread: trauma-induced anxiety.

“I think it stems from a sense of control,” Ben said. I agreed, and he continued, “I can't say this for all of the entrepreneurs I know, but I've noticed that a good deal of them seem to have some sort of traumatic upbringing where they were ‘out of control.’ So being an entrepreneur and being ‘in control’ of something shapes their identity; it's the way they've found security in the world.”

I agreed, adding that entrepreneurs create something external to shape their internal identity, which still leaves them feeling empty. When you're out of control in your life, you don't have that sense of self; you're just struggling to survive in chaos and inconsistency in order to find some sort of stability. What many in this situation believe is “stability and sense of self” is actually “control through external validation,” whether they seek this in relationships, or by creating their own external structure for validation, such as a business.

I find entrepreneurs are always the people saying “what can I do for you?” They offer a product that “serves” people to show how valuable they can be to others. They over-perform, exerting their energy for continued external validation because, still, they do not feel valuable or happy. We need to connect with others, but are conditioned to think “serving” others is that connection.

In reality, you have presented yourself as a product, and the other party is engaging with you as a product. This means the only value in this situation is one, potentially, of monetary or other external value. It is not internally valuable, and you both feel empty. This leads the entrepreneur into an endless cycle of over-performing in order to satisfy this emptiness through external validation, which has been confused with a feeling of internal value.

At this point, I started to bridge the gap between those who self-identify as “artist,” and those who identify as “entrepreneur.” Often considered the most creative types of people, a deeper look exposed the why: trauma. This trauma acts as a catalyst to create and communicate in variety of ways.

Now, I wondered, what are the differences between each “side” of this creative spectrum, and how can we meet in the middle to find a balance and, ultimately, happiness?

I’m writing a book on creativity and entrepreneurship, personal value, and happiness. Follow my journey by subscribing to my newsletter and reading past posts.

Bridging the gap: our neurological need for connection

Bridging the gap: our neurological need for connection

Creativity is a spectrum: everyone is creative to varying degrees

Creativity is a spectrum: everyone is creative to varying degrees