Prince - Part Three: The psychological reasons for Prince’s exceptional creativity, drug addiction and untimely death

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In the first two articles, we explored the framework to Prince’s exceptional creativity as well as the environment which turned that creative potential into success. In this final article, we explore the psychological Achilles’ heel which created a vulnerability to addiction and likely led to his untimely death.

As a reclusive lone male, without a family of his own, we might predict that Prince’s sense of self worth would build from where he derived the greatest appreciation and validation, namely, the area he truly excelled at, his work. Without ‘normal’ protective developmental factors growing up, and therefore left with a fragile core sense of self esteem, we might predict a dependency to feel loved by others.

Any vulnerability to low self esteem would persist past Prince’s artistically acclaimed decade. However, Prince’s unique creativity, like any artist’s, would only have a certain bandwidth. Beyond its limits, we might nonetheless find a tendency by Prince to create and recreate external conditions of validation and praise, but with increasingly diminishing returns. This would produce the Achilles’ heel for Prince, manifesting in his workaholism as an apparent conduit for success and happiness.

As a workaholic for over forty years, infamously recording music around the clock (often without sleep or food), Prince would later develop symptoms of chronic physical pain. Against the backdrop of a pharmaceutical industry able to profit within existing regulatory healthcare from the sale of painkilling drugs (despite known addictive properties), Prince would eventually only feel able to continue working by using such legally prescribed medication. Psychologists might consider Prince’s inability to overcome his principal addiction (to work) as an issue of esteem. However, there are other angles to consider, including a spiritual one. From Prince’s viewpoint, to work was to be at a higher state of consciousness - to serve God.

In the end, Prince’s psychology would prove to be that of an exceptionally gifted young boy who would develop a chronic working life as a means to escape the pain of his childhood, and that is perhaps the most poignant aspect of his very human story. Honorary Professor at New York University, Amir Thompson, would sum it up most aptly, “Sometimes I think that the thing that Prince shared with other geniuses - Ray Charles, Bessie Smith, and James Brown - is that they were abandoned, at some level, by their mothers. Many artists in black music were abandoned by fathers, but an absent mother creates a faultline that runs much deeper.”

Without the early stability of a loving family home, Prince would return time and time again to seek refuge and sanctuary in God’s grace. We might conclude that this young boy, known to his mother simply as 'Skipper', quietly managed to craft a way back home.