The Highly Creative Person
The story of the highly creative person is one that found me. Although I spent the first part of my life in the performing arts, my subsequent experiences with creativity emerged only after I left ballet and the violin for a career in clinical social work.
As I began to work as a psychotherapist, I started to identify some themes and recurrent ‘patterns,’ in the form of certain problems and issues, which clients brought into session.
The recognition of these themes helped me to see that many people entering therapy were actually suffering from two sets of problems – the initial problem, which brought them to treatment and those which stemmed from having unidentified or underutilized creative abilities.
I could feel the pain of the individuals I worked with, including their frequent inability to articulate the underlying cause of their suffering. I saw some of my own experiences mirrored in their stories as well. I was dismayed by their experiences – submerged talent and lives that languished. The overall phenomena of unidentified creative intelligence did not appear to be recognized by anyone in my immediate surroundings.
I began to realize that gifted and talented individuals became marginalized when the conventional mental health care system did not understand their abilities. Aptitudes, personality types, creativity and the impact of physiology on mental health were not being given sufficient consideration within the usual process of mental heath treatment thereby causing many highly creative individuals to remain unidentified or under attended to, and thereby at risk for multiple problems and difficulties which often worsened over time. Many of these difficulties derived from an inability to identify, understand and manage the existence of their creative aptitudes – not from having an actual mental illness per se.
After repeatedly witnessing the fallout that occurred in the lives of numerous gifted and talented individuals when they were unable to identify and live from their creative identity or cope with the expectable challenges that accompanied their abilities, my focus of professional attention was directed to the task of assisting creatively-gifted individuals to recognize and work more effectively with their abilities in order to achieve personal fulfillment and professional excellence.
In addition to the specific issues, which subsequently became the content of the Self-Test, Consider these Questions, I noted the existence of several, major overarching themes, which seemed to have a bearing on the lives of many highly creative individuals, whether one was consciously aware of these themes or not:
- Highly creative individuals and their aptitudes can be easily overlooked, particularly when one has an occupation unrelated to the visual or performing arts. Yet even those of us who already identify ourselves as ‘creative’ often need additional resources to meet the challenges that accompany our abilities and other challenges inherent within the creative process.
- Creatively-gifted individuals can more readily be identified through the presence of several, specific aptitudes, most notably:
High ideaphoria – a naturally rapid flow of ideas;
Divergent thinking – a natural inclination for simultaneous and multifaceted thinking, used in addition to linear thinking.
Acute sensory skills – in one or more of the five senses, most often exhibited in terms of having strong sensitivities to light, sound or visual images;
Strong intuitive capabilities – the experience of ‘knowing’ something is true and being highly accurate without relying on concrete, factual information, or as C.G. Jung would say, “direct perception through the unconscious.”
Analytically–heightened consciousness – great clarity, accuracy and precision in thought and language;
Empathically–heightened consciousness – an acute awareness and understanding of one’s own feelings as they occur and the ability to be highly attuned to the emotions of others, accompanied by an innate capacity to experience one’s emotional life to great depth along with a values-centered awareness.
These aptitudes, when experienced in combination, give rise to creative intelligence – a superior talent for making meaningful connections, even among seemingly unrelated elements and in so doing, bring forth new and valuable ideas, discoveries, inventions and works of art into one or more pre-existing or even new domains.
- Creative aptitudes can be experienced as both gift and challenge. Specific challenges usually correlate with specific aptitudes. This phenomenon may be considered the ‘double-edged sword’ experience that accompanies the existence of creative aptitudes.
- Creative aptitudes often remain hidden beneath an easily recognized problem in daily life. Some problems are actual challenges posed by creative abilities, while others exist ‘in the eye of the beholder.’ While everyone is usually aware of the problem, whether actual or ascribed, the ability may remain indefinitely obscured, especially when it is only viewed as a ‘problem to be corrected,’ i.e., being seen as “too sensitive,” “too much of a perfectionist,” and so forth.
- Within the experience of creative abilities exists an apparent paradox. We may flow with complex ideas and concepts in a relatively effortless manner, yet experience more difficulty with routine tasks and the tangible sides of life. We feel a certain amount of confusion about why this is so, since we know that such ordinary, concrete tasks are not objectively difficult.
- When our abilities, experiences and perceptions have been insufficiently acknowledged, or outright maligned, we may experience the effects of psychological and emotional trauma. These traumatic effects can be triggered on a recurrent basis when others do not appear to appreciate or sufficiently understand our perspectives, or the underlying meaning of our efforts. As a result, many of us may come to believe that our way of seeing and doing things is somehow not valid. If noticed at all, instances of feeling traumatized may not be considered legitimate as such, for example, feeling devastated by a seemingly offhanded critical remark, when the experience does not match conventional criteria of what constitutes a ‘real’ trauma. With our perceptions rejected and judged, we may retreat in fear and isolation and experience unresolved emotional trauma over a long period of time.
- We may face a lifetime of hardship and psychological pain when we do not see ourselves, or our abilities clearly. As a result, we may fit ourselves into situations that are personally unsuitable without consciously realizing we are doing so. We can experience deep anguish when we are not able to actualize our talents in a recognizable or tangible form, even though on some level we may realize that we are, indeed, capable. We may feel confused in our attempt to figure this ‘puzzle’ out. When mainstream images of daily life do not feel compatible with our own values and interests, we may feel particularly marginalized. This experience can lead to a feeling of being psychologically ‘homeless.’
- Mental health providers, who remain under-informed about the characteristics of ‘gifted and talented’ individuals, may offer an inaccurate or inappropriate mental health diagnosis. The experience of receiving an inaccurate diagnosis can lead to ineffective treatment, and compound any pre-existing difficulties that might exist.
- Driven by a need to discover what we are meant to do in life, we notice a strong desire to respond to a ‘calling,’ though we may not know our direction yet. The need to attend to a calling can be pushed aside for a while, but cannot be avoided indefinitely without incurring some sort of psychological and/or concrete cost. After a time, many of us realize it is best to accept the appropriate sacrifices that accompany a vocational imperative, rather than the costs incurred by continuing to engage in creative avoidance. Even when other things in life are ‘good enough,’ the recognition that there is no replacement for the fulfillment that comes from responding to a our life’s work is seen as a centrally important form of acceptance in coming to terms with exceptional creativity.
- Underneath the satisfaction that comes from creative fulfillment and outer accomplishment is often a deep desire for something more: Self-mastery – experiencing our self as becoming more fully able to strengthen our weaknesses, flow with our abilities, and in so doing express and assert our intention in the world.
The recognition of these themes, prompted me to engage in the ongoing process of refining a professional philosophy and developing a methodology that would effectively target the personal and professional needs of the highly creative person.
If you have any ideas for specific articles you would like to see about the experience of being highly creative, please feel free to offer your suggestions via email.