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How creativity arises.

What moves us to creative action?

If we look at the question of why an individual becomes creative, that is, what motivates creativity, we find answers in psychoanalytic theories.

Thus, the father of psychoanalysis was already concerned with creativity. Sigmund Freud focused on the creative person, the personality of the artist, who seeks to satisfy drive impulses through sublimation. For Sigmund Freud, sublimation was a way to convert libidinous energies into scientific and artistic cultural development. In this way, the drives received social appreciation and became a part of civilized life (Freud, 1952).

For Hanna Segal and Melanie Klein, artistic creation is an attempt to restore the love object inside and outside the ego and thus to initiate a reparation process. In the artistic process, defragmentation and dissolution occur first, followed by integration and reassembly (Klein, 1995, pp. 210-218). The coronavirus fuels fear of the invisible destructive. We are confronted with our fear of death. If we manage to mourn the lost security, possibilities arise to deal with the grief and to use it creatively.

Winnicott describes creativity in general as liveliness. This does not have to be explicitly a work of art, it is rather about the creative process. Creative perception helps people see life as worth living. Winnicott’s thoughts fit well with new insights. Because what we experience, that writes itself down in our neuronal net and changes us. We are also changed on a neuronal level and new things are created. The curiosity for new things belongs to the human being and it forms the basis for our ability to learn.

The dopaminergic system is activated. By discovering something new, dopamine is released and ensures that action is rewarded and feels good. However, if our creative potential is not sufficiently utilized, then this system lacks the necessary impulses / experiences and begins to atrophy. This can happen when there is too much monotony or routine, or when uncertainty and fear activate the stress system. The human being switches to emergency reaction. The arousal is so strong that energy is available for attack or flight, but complex action-guiding arousal patterns can no longer be activated. Creative problem solving is no longer possible under these circumstances (Hüther & Schmid).

With creativity out of the crisis?

But what makes us creative? Is it the crisis, the inner conflict, the work of mourning that drives us forward and pushes us to new creations? Or are we creative when we feel good and playfully discover new things?

Positive psychology has dealt with the purpose of positive and negative feelings. It is events, encounters and thoughts that trigger feelings in us and feelings point us in the direction of our actions. Negative emotions make action urgent. When negative emotions are experienced, action is taken more quickly and obvious solutions are resorted to. In the case of fear, for example, energy is quickly made available to secure life through flight or fight. In contrast, the connection between positive emotions and action tendency is rather vague. The release of dopamine broadens thoughts as well as action repertoire. It seems that positive emotions would be to make thinking broad and flexible, expand attention, and integrate new experiences (Fredrickson, 1998, 2001; Fredrickson, Mancuso, Branigan, & Tugade, 2000). Joy, for example, creates expansiveness by awakening a desire for play and creativity and by challenging boundaries (Ellsworth & Smith, 1988). Interest provokes curiosity and intrinsic motivation (Csikszentmihalyi, 2014; Ryan & Deci, 2000).

Crises give rise to fears. That is why we want change. New things should emerge. But in order to dive into a creative process, people need good feelings. What helps us out of this dilemma?

Containing – the way out of the dilemma!

The term containing was coined by the British psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion in 1962. It refers to a process in which psychotherapists take in difficult, often projected feelings from patients and find words for them, making them accessible and manageable.

Mathias Lohmer uses this term in psychodynamic management consulting. Here, this task falls to the leader. According to Lohmer, people’s need to project unpleasant feelings such as fear, powerlessness and insecurity outward and thus get rid of them remains throughout their lives.

Especially in crisis situations, it becomes apparent in companies that fears or other unpleasant feelings are projected onto colleagues or leaders.

If the leader manages to absorb and endure these tensions without being immediately infected, then positive development and creativity can arise from this (Lohmer, 2008, p. 37).

This interpersonal interaction is supported and made credible when the corporate culture reflects that a company is not driven solely by economic rationality, but wants to help shape society in a forward-looking way. The people who make up a company are important, and so it is also important how they are doing.

In the economically successful Germany of the “pre-Corona” era, the rethinking was just taking place that values – such as an appreciative approach and a motivating, creative working environment – are important for attracting and retaining employees.

In a corporate culture where sense-making, enthusiasm and creativity are taken seriously, a holding climate is created in which change, transitions and creativity take place despite difficult feelings.

For people, culture provides the space in which communication takes place. Being able to use the symbols of a culture helps people to see themselves as part of a symbolic order. A container for feelings is created here as well.


Eva Weisse, coach at dynaMIND



Lohmer, M. (2008). Psychodynamische Organisationsberatung. Konflikte und Potentiale in Freud, S. (1952). Gesammelte Werke: chronologisch geordnet E R S T E R BAND

WERKE AUS DEN JAHREN 1892-1899 (Vol. 1.). London: Imago Pub. Co.

Klein, M. (1995). Gesammelte Schriften. Bd. 1 u. 2. In: Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt (frommann-holzboog).

Lohmer, M. (2008). Psychodynamische Organisationsberatung. Konflikte und Potentiale in Veränderungsprozessen (2. erw. Auflage ed.). Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel Verlag.