Many creative, sensitive, highly intelligent people may feel like misfits.
Lady Gaga has said she “felt like freak” in high school, and that she creates music for her fans who want a “freak to hang out with.”
She also said it took her a long time to be okay with how she is, and get beyond needing to fit in or be “like everyone else.”
She was identified as a gifted adolescent, and at age 17 achieved early admission to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.
From my article Identity and Being Creative.
Therapist Sharon M. Barnes works with children, teens and adults who are creative, sensitive, intense, and often gifted people.
She comments in an article of hers about some of the qualities and challenges she sees in her practice of many years:
“Creativity and creative expression can be fun but can also be a great burden.
“Creative ideas show up whether we have time to pay attention to them, or do anything with them or not.
“They also often arrive in tandem or multiples, and the creative person has to choose which idea gets to see the light of day.
“Being aware of things that most people are not may lead to exciting AHA! moments.
“At the same time it can create questions of what’s real and what’s not when no one else sees what you’re seeing.
“It may also carve a canyon of separation between the acutely aware person and others who are less aware.”
Being highly sensitive has many values, but also challenges
Barnes notes that “sensitivity is a double edged sword. High sensitivity…often brings a capacity for depth of feeling and thought along with a high level of conscientiousness, compassion and empathy.
“On the other hand, when seemingly simple things like sounds, light and textures create a high level of distress, dealing with them can consume great time and energy, leaving less energy and time available for the rest of daily life.
“When any of these are combined with high intelligence, each of these other traits are magnified and complicated.
“The more of these characteristics that a person carries, the more complex the interaction among these traits can become.”
Barnes notes some of the outcomes of living with these exceptional qualities:
“The cumulative effect is that many creative, sensitive, intelligent and/or gifted youth and adults feel like misfits, or as many have expressed, like aliens from a different planet.
“Although they may have learned to camouflage or try to hide it, they may carry within themselves a deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy, and may have concluded that they are defective in an irreparable way.
“For many, having an awareness of being profoundly different than others and then drawing a conclusion that ‘I’m defective‘ can come as young as ages 2-5 or even younger ─ at the very time that the foundations of the Self are being constructed.
“All too often this can evolve into a secret sense of alienation, and is often accompanied by anxiety, depression, anger, rage and a plethora of additional distressing emotional states.
“This eventually can lead to despair and deep discouragement.”
Here is a brief video about this:
Through her counseling and online programs – she details how gifted and creative people “can cope, heal and transform their perceived deep defects into their greatest gifts which, in the end, will enable them to make a unique, creative contribution to the world.”
But, she asks, “how do you do that?
“By first, last and always, understanding that YOU’RE NOT DEFECTIVE; YOU’RE DIFFERENT BY DESIGN!
“And what is it that makes this inner shift in perception and experience possible? Let’s look a little closer.”
Continued in her detailed article Different by Design: “Finding the MAGIC in Being a Sensitive and/or Gifted MisFit OR … How to MOVE From FEELING Defective to BEING Distinctive.”
Another video with Sharon Barnes:
Creative people feeling different and exiled
See longer video on her site about the Social-Emotional ACES Home Video Program to “help you become skilled experts in the Social-Emotional arena.”
Therapist Sharon Barnes works with creative, sensitive, intense, intelligent people, which she refers to a CASIGY (Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense and/or Gifted You-s) children and adults.
She uses several related “mascots” for creative people, based on the “famous, even legendary” Rudolf: the “Four-Legged-One-with-Antlers-and-a-Red-Nose.”
In an article on her site, she writes about using our “defects” to grow:
“Because of these differences ─ their red noses ─ our mascots and heroes rolled into one, were also ridiculed, excluded, ostracized, and eventually banished into exile.
“Later, they too, returned from exile when their ‘defects’ were recognized as their greatest assets ─ and ones that could help solve an important community problem.”
Also learn more about her home-study HSP-GT-2E Social-Emotional ACES Program – a “Social & Emotional Empowerment Program for CASIGY Families and Classrooms.”
“A 6 week Social & Emotional Empowerment Program for Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense and/or Gifted You-s to develop high level social & emotional skills.”
“My first negative experience of being too smart was in fifth grade.” Jeanette
Being exceptionally intelligent and creative has many pleasures and benefits – for individuals and society – but there are often challenges that go along with that exceptionality.
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel says that ‘smart’ people often experience characteristic challenges including “difficulties with society and the world, issues at work, challenges with your personality and your racing brain, and special meaning problems.”
From my article Intensity and Being Creative.
In his book “Why Smart People Hurt,” Maisel relates the story of a client of his, Jeanette, who recalled:
“My first negative experience of being too smart was in fifth grade. I had gone to a rural school (a tiny village on the Washington side of the Columbia Gorge) in a three-room school that combined grades since there were very few of us.
“I was in the largest class (five students). Whether it was intentionally progressive or not, we had stations and were free to roam the room and read or do arithmetic or work on puzzles as we chose. It was heaven.”
But, she continues:
“Then my family moved to a Portland suburb, and I was in a regimented fifth-grade class with a Nazi teacher who made us sit with our hands folded if we finished an exercise before the others, which I always did.
“I learned how excruciating boredom can be; I began to eat sugar to soothe myself, and I acted out. I was in trouble a good deal of the time from then on.
“I have always associated my intelligence with a propensity for boredom, for hypervigilance, for hypersensitivity, and a frustrated quest for meaning.
“Into adolescence, I learned that drama was an antidote to boredom, and then I discovered alcohol, and for the next twenty years, lived in drinking and drama as well as bad relationships that enabled both.
“However, I do credit my intelligence with helping me to be a highly functional drunk (graduate school, PhD, jobs as a professor, and an ability to look good while under the influence).”
From book: “Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative.”
“Smartness is a smart person’s defining characteristic.
“Everything she thinks about the world—how she forms her identity, how she construes her needs, how she talks to herself about her life purposes and goals—is a function of how her particular brain operates.”
One of the testimonials:
“This is a wise, insightful, and compassionate guide for bright, sensitive, and creative people. If you’re smart, you’ll get it.” —Michael J. Gelb, author of “How to Think Like Leonardo Da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day.”
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Audio excerpt from video: Eric Maisel “Why Smart People Hurt” Interview by PMintheAMBoston (WXBR).
Dr. Maisel comments:
“I think that a lot of problems that we experience, things that we call depression and what-have-you, may in fact be the challenges of being smart – running up against the smart gap, and doing all sorts of things that have something to do with our intelligence, and that we’re mis-naming mental disorders.
“So I think one of the headlines of the book is, if you’re smart or if the challenges speak to you, you need to look to make sure you’re not labeling yourself with a mental disorder, when in fact it may just be the natural challenges of having a reasonably good mind.”
See more excerpts from his book in my article Brainpower and The Smart Gap.
Also in his book Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative, Eric Maisel has a chapter on Thinking Anxiety, which includes these perspectives:
“People who perform tasks known to provoke anxiety are obliged to deal effectively with that anxiety if they want to perform that task well.
“Dancers, singers, actors, and other performers have to deal with performance anxiety.
“People who must fly for a living — including pilots and flight crews — have to deal with their fear of flying if that fear afflicts them.
“And people who think for a living or who regularly employ their brain must deal with the real, undeniable, and often severe anxiety of thinking.”
[The photo above – guitar boy – is from article: Overcoming Performance Anxiety Course.
Gifted and stressed
Deirdre V. Lovecky, Ph.D. is Director of the Gifted Resource Center of New England and a psychologist who specializes in working with gifted children.
She mentioned in an April 2014 edition of the CGEPNETWORK list (American Psychological Association Center for Gifted Education Policy) that she “often uses HeartMath with anxious children in my clinical practice.”
From article: HeartMath Tools for Emotional Balance.
[Photo: student-test-takers-Spain, from my article Talented People, Stress and ChokIng.]
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“How to Create Fearlessly with Dr. Eric Maisel” was one of his classes for the en*theos Academy for Optimal Living.
From ‘The Top 10 Big Ideas’ of the class:
“How you speak to yourself determines whether or not you will create. If you tell yourself that you have no talent, that you hate mistakes and messes, that you have no imagination, or that you’re too far behind and maybe even ruined, you won’t create.
“You must change and improve how you talk to yourself to have any shot at creating regularly and deeply.”
Do you engage in perfectionistic thinking for example? That may be another aspect of a smart mind for many people.
Jeanette related above that she “discovered alcohol, and for the next twenty years, lived in drinking and drama…” – this may be another challenge for many high ability people.
In my article Addiction and Creative People, I note there are many forms of self-limiting addictive behavior that can interfere with realizing our creative and other talents.
A number of people with exceptional abilities have used drugs, alcohol and other substances – perhaps as self-medication to ease the pain and overwhelm of their sensitivity, or perhaps as a way to enhance thinking and creativity.
Beethoven reportedly drank wine about as often as he wrote music, and was an alcoholic or at least a problem-drinker. See comments about Bette Davis, Robert Downey Jr., Michelle Rodriguez and others. Sometimes we risk addiction by using and abusing drugs and alcohol. Certainly, we limit our health and mental clarity needed for creative excellence.
Underutilized Talents, Too Many Aptitudes – “The difficulty for me is that I’m interested in so many different things. I could never really imagine myself doing one thing.” Emma Watson
One of the myths of high ability people – fueled in part by media coverage of those who are notably successful – is they can almost magically choose whatever personal and career path they want, and realize their multiple potentials without hindrance.
It doesn’t exactly work out that way for everyone – perhaps even the majority of high ability people are restricted by both psychological and circumstantial impacts.
Brainpower and The Smart Gap -It may be natural to feel frustrated at not being able to solve a math problem or some other challenge when we are growing up, and still learning – but how do you feel about your abilities and your self, your identity, when you confront a deep gap between what you would like to accomplish, and what you believe you can?
Psychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel describes this kind of pain: “It is a poignant feature of our species that we can contemplate intellectual work that we can’t quite accomplish.”
Eric Maisel on investing meaning in our life and art for mental health – Eric Maisel, PhD is author of “The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person’s Path Through Depression.” In our interview, he addresses some of the meaning and mood issues facing creators, noting that when we consciously make meaning, we improve our lives and mental health.
Intensity and Being Creative – A personality trait that may often accompany high sensitivity (experienced by many, or most, creative people) is high intensity.
This is another trait that earlier in my life led me to think I was “crazy” – partly because it was an inner experience I had not read about or heard others talk about, and it is in many ways private. [Photo: Jodie Foster once commented about Russell Crowe, “He has that glacier intensity.”]
Multipotentiality: multiple talents, multiple challenges – Gifted education specialist Tamara Fisher quotes Bryant (a pseudonym), a graduating senior who lists his possible future careers as “applied psychologist, scientific psychologist, college teacher, philosophy, mathematics, architect, engineer.”He says, “I find it difficult to choose between careers because I fear how large the choice is. Having many options available is pleasant, but to determine what I will do for many years to come is scary.”
Fisher notes, “Multipotentiality is the state of having many exceptional talents, any one or more of which could make for a great career for that person…This can be both a blessing and a curse.”