Ever experienced an event that was so painful, that even time struggled to heal the wound? In life, there can be events that shake you to the core, influence the way you think and feel, even change a bit of who you are. What if, when negative things happened, you could paint, sing, dance; create your way through the pain? Edward Sheffield, performed by Jake Gyllenhaal, in the film Nocturnal Animals (2016) directed by Tom Ford found himself in a similar position. In the process of grieving the end of his marriage with Susan Morrow, performed by Amy Adams, he authored a novel conveying the feelings he experienced during the demise of their union. Dedicating his book to Susan, he provides a copy for her read. Within the parcel he includes a letter that states, “You left me with the inspiration to write from the heart”. Edward transforms his grief, trauma, and vicious even murderous emotions into a creative, “beautifully written” according to Susan, manuscript granting him freedom from her and their marriage.

When the Sheffield’s began to experience challenges, Edward advocated for the couple to continue to work upon their alliance. Despite the frequent disagreements, he remained committed to the union. The affair that Susan engaged in cemented the deterioration of their marriage and resulted in a divorce. Though Susan was successfully able to emotionally move forward by remarrying and having a child, it is implied that Edward struggled to resolve his feelings.

The experience of infidelity creates a “breaking of trust” (Nelson, Li, Eckstein, Ane, Mullener, 2008 p. 375) within the partnership. When pained, “all people have thoughts and emotions that they wish they did not have” (Cohen, Kim, Hudson, 2014, p. 208). It takes emotional energy to manage negative feelings and continue to function with limited interruption at work, and with family and friends. To help ourselves cope during stressful situations, we use coping strategies or defense mechanisms, such as denial, repression and humor to name a few, to lessen discomfort. In order to gain closure, Edward relies upon an adaptive defense mechanism: sublimation.

Sublimation is a savvy defense mechanism that is used to help one cope with painful uncomfortable emotions while benefitting oneself and others. In actuality, sublimation is “the process by which people take forbidden or suppressed emotions and desires and channel them toward productive, often creative ends” (Cohen et al., 2014, p. 208). When one experiences a negative event, they are able to use an artistic craft to process their feelings and gain closure leading to a release of the negative felt emotions. As such, it is not uncommon to hear that a singer who recently experienced a negative event like a break up or response from their fans writes a song about their experience or a dancer may “dance their emotions”. Artists perform these works with passion using their sadness and upset to place all of themselves into their art. They produce an expression of their life experience and invite audiences to share their most intense vulnerable emotions and enjoy the art they observe. Though artists may have become accustomed to harnessing their feelings to create masterpieces; even we non-artists can use this strategy to manage negative feelings that inevitably arise. When hurt, dancing or picking up the laptop to write and relying upon your life experiences to inspire you is the use of the healthy defense mechanism of sublimation. In doing so, one can create while finding closure and possibly discovering the artist in you.


Cohen, D., Kim, E., Hudson, N. (2014). Religion, the forbidden, and sublimation. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23(3), 208–214.

Nelson, J., Li., C, Daniel, E., Ane, P., Mullener, W. (2008). Antidotes for infidelity and prescriptions for long lasting relationships: four couples’ activities. The Family Journal: Counseling and Therapy for Couples and Families, 16(4), 375–378.

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on January 25, 2017.

Originally published at medium.com