Life lessons from Sylvia


What I grasp as piece of advice from Sylvia Plath, the American poet who repeatedly courted death. According to Aristotle: “There was never a genius without a tincture of madness”. Sylvia was a prominent artist but became widely known because of her dramatic suicide. A failed marriage with Ted Hughes and an absent relationship with her father were her major wounds, which she mourned for at her poetry. Still, she managed to impose herself in a male-dominated society and  highlight the female writing voice. Even though Sylvia has concerned psychologists due to her depressive frame of mind, some of her words are worth remembering while on the skids.

1) “I have the choice of being constantly active and happy or introspectively passive and sad. Or I can go mad by ricocheting in between.”

We are our choices.Our mood is determined primarily by our self-talk, the perception of the world around us and our self-fulfilling prophecies. Understanding the power of choice and shaping our thoughts appropriately is the bedrock of cognitive therapy ; a glimpse at Aaron Beck’s theories would be extremely helpful. So, take control of your own happiness. You can’t stop things from happening, but you can definitely alter the way you let them affect you.

2) “And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.”

Do you face a writer’s block? Well, writing demands boldness. Like every form of art, writing is married with the courage of self exposure. If you constantly doubt your worthiness, you will never dare to show the world your authentic self. Consequently, either you will not create anything or you will create something phony. Creativity helps in translating everything to a personal form of expression. However, it requests independence and an eagerness to be different but all these can’t arise unless you have faith in your powers. “Letters to a Young Poet” by Rainer Maria Rilke must enter your first aid kit for creativity emergencies.

3) “I want to be important. By being different. And these girls are all the same.”

Undoubtedly, Sylvia wanted to leave her mark and she achieved it not only by her works but also by the way she lived and died. Do you feel different? No need to worry. We don’t need to be all the same, follow identical roads and be comfortable with similar decisions. The beauty of humans lies exactly on their colourfulness and their flaws, this is what Japanese people mean with their “wabi-sabi” aesthetic. I would suggest you to read “Daring Greatly” by Brene Brown.

4) “There must be quite a few things that a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.”

In Sylvia’s texts one can easily detect her sensitivity to the little things. A hot bath is remedy for the soul and repels stress. Oscar Wilde writes at “The Picture of Dorian Gray”:”“Nothing can cure the soul but the senses, just as nothing can cure the senses but the soul.”

5) “How we need another soul to cling to, another body to keep us warm. To rest and trust; to give your soul in confidence: I need this, I need someone to pour myself into.” :

Although the desire to have your personality absorbed by someone else approaches mostly the pathologic codependency rather than a healthy interpersonal relationship, we all deeply seek for a safe shelter to let our heart rest. Sylvia, having profoundly experienced a sense of abandonment from the dominant male figures in her life, apprehends the desire for meaningful relationships.

6) “My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.”

Sometimes the antidote for our sadness is to stop thinking about ourselves and concentrate on someone else. This will help us take a reasonable distance from our problems and realise their true dimensions. According to Eric Barker 100 hours per year is the most suitable time to dedicate in helping others in order to improve our lives.

7) “I love my rejection slips. They show me I try.”

M. Scott Peck has said “Everything that happens to us has been designed for our spiritual growth.” Rejections lose their influence as soon as we no longer seek approval from the others. Respect and praise must be derived from ourselves, if they are meant to be lasting and deep-rooted.

8) “Life has been some combination of fairy-tale coincidence and joie de vivre and shocks of beauty together with some hurtful self-questioning.”

Truths about life 101: Accept the fact that life can’t include only joy but also sadness. Ancient greeks understood that and supported a circular theory of life, where joy succeeds sadness in an infinite circle. Learn how to appreciate the pleasures and get the most out of the obstacles.

9) “I can never read all the books I want; I can never be all the people I want and live all the lives I want. I can never train myself in all the skills I want. And why do I want? I want to live and feel all the shades, tones and variations of mental and physical experience possible in life. And I am horribly limited.”

I frequently feel like Plath. There are so many wonderful things to do, to taste, to experience. Time is never enough and the anxiety of these infinite choices paralyses me. It is at this point that art becomes helpful. Because what else is the writer, the actor, the musician trying to do, other than to multiply the intensity of his experiences and live during a single life all these that normally would take more? Art allows us to change personas and reinvent ourselves. And if art doesn’t help, there comes on stage the difficult but at the same time necessary process of prioritizing. Since in life we can’t have everything, at least let’s concentrate on the important so that we don’t get lost.

10) “Winning or losing an argument, receiving an acceptance or rejection, is no proof of the validity or value of personal identity. One may be wrong, mistaken, or a poor craftsman, or just ignorant – but this is no indication of the true worth of one’s total human identity: past, present and future!”

Human worthiness exists de facto and we ought to untangle it of superficial indications like professional success or knowledge. Value yourself beyond artificial impressions. A person’s road per se is what gives meaning even to one’s mistakes and constructs one’s identity.


picture by Summer Pierre

Post Scriptum.
For psychology enthusiasts: In 2001, the psychologist James C. Kaufman published a theory that he called The Sylvia Plath Effect.
If you don’t have time to explore her oeuvre, take a fast look at Sylvia’s life watch the movie “Sylvia” with Gwyneth Paltrow and Daniel Craig.

Anastasia Siapka


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