Skip to main content

Verified by Psychology Today

Personalities at Play

Creativity coach Sharon Stratford provides top tips on the creative life.

Eric Maisel
Creativity Coaches on Creativity
Source: Eric Maisel

Many psychologists have posited the twin ideas of archetypes and subpersonalities. Jung investigated archetypes; the Italian psychologist Assagioli created a branch of psychology called psychosynthesis that uses the idea of subpersonalities as a core theoretical construct. World literature also concerns itself with these shadowy, often disowned parts of personality: for instance, the trickster figure who appears in the teaching tales of many indigenous cultures. Creativity coach Sharon Stratford dives into this territory below.

Sharon explained:

You might not always be aware it’s there, but on a sunny day, your shadow is with you. When you block the light, your shadow appears. Imagine if it didn’t, though. You would feel like some core part of you was missing.

I’m asking you to think of personalities the same way: as dynamic characters that have shadows too. Many of us recognize patterns of learned behavior or patterns of preferred behavior, but the tricky part is recognizing our "shadows," those personality traits that we try to keep in the dark.

Lily loves music and wants to be a musician. Her family loves logic and practical pursuits. She is told daily that performing music isn’t a "real job." Eventually, she surrenders her passion for music, denies her creativity, and secures a series of "real jobs." She wins the approval of her family—but what does she do with the rebel in the shadows?

Julio is an artist who enjoys his own complex inner world, letting his imagination loose to ride the universe of innovative ideas and knowledge. He brings a single-minded drive to his passion projects, unafraid to break rules or to risk disapproval on his quest for success. Energized by his preferences, he gets out of balance; and the shadow side of his personality causes him to question everything, including his creativity. He then spirals into apathy. How does he get back?

For one reason or another we all have parts of our personalities that we try to deny or that we can be unaware of, until they pop out of the shadows and claim their place in our lives. Think about it. How often has something "fallen out of your mouth" and caused a stunned silence? Perhaps your temper has flared, some hidden judgment about someone has slipped out, you’ve gone to the extreme to prove you’re right, or done something you didn’t want to and then wasted hours moaning about it.

Disowning our shadow side limits how we experience ourselves, how we experience our relationships with others, and our very capacity to live authentically—especially when we abandon our creativity to the shadows.

This is where the power of play comes alive.

Play empowers you to be creative, connected, and authentic. When you play, you give yourself permission to be a beginner, to experiment, to learn, to make mistakes and messes. Through play and creativity, we can demystify the shadow parts of our personality. We can recognize our "potential personality" and be inspired to design new thoughts and behaviors that will serve us and spark our growth.

So, learn to play in the shadows. Reflect, question, engage with the hidden parts of your personality and get to know them. Celebrate who you are. Accept that your personality is a work in progress: your own creative project. Then … play. Invite your procrastination to star in your short story. Fly a kite with your rebel. Ask your anger to show itself on the canvas. Take your creativity on a nature walk. Let your courage sing.

They may appear dark, but you can have a lot of fun with shadows. Dive deeply into your personality dynamics and practice the art of play every day.

More from Psychology Today

More from Eric R. Maisel Ph.D.

More from Psychology Today