Sunday, January 30, 2011

Understanding Creative People

More than ever before, our world needs people who are alive and inspired, who have new visions, new ideas for implementing them, and new energy. However, as much as corporations, classrooms, and clinical centers say they want to support creativity, they usually end up stifling it.

For one thing, creative people are often misunderstood as undisciplined, or misdiagnosed as having a personality disorder, when in fact they are absolutely healthy within a creative norm, and capable of brilliant work when recognized, nurtured, and supported in developing their expressive capacities.

In Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, creativity scholar Mihaly Csikszentmilhalyi developed a generic description of the creative personality. It gives teachers, therapists, coaches, managers, and co-workers an expanded framework for working with people driven by internal passions, visions, and values.

Csikszentmilhalyi wrote, “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude. Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos –and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”


CHARACTERISTICS OF THE CREATIVE PERSONALITY

1. A great deal of physical energy alternating with a great need for quiet and rest.
2. Highly sexual, yet often celibate, especially when working.
3. Both extravagant and spartan.
4. Smart and naïve at the same time. A mix of wisdom and childishness. Emotional immaturity along with the deepest insights.
5. Convergent (rational, left brain, sound judgment) and divergent (intuitive, right brain, visionary) thinking. Divergence is the ability to generate a great quantity of ideas, to switch from one perspective to another, and to pick unusual associations of ideas. Convergence involves evaluation and choice. Creative people have the capacity to think both ways.
6. Both extroverted and introverted, needing people and solitude equally.
7. Humble and proud, both painfully self-doubting and wildly self-confident.
8. May defy gender stereotypes, and are likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other as well. A kind of psychic androgyny.
9. Can be rebellious and independent on one hand, and traditional and conservative on the other.
10. A natural openness and sensitivity that often exposes them to extreme suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment. Despair alternates with bliss, despair when they aren’t working, and bliss when they are.

The most important quality among creative people, says Csikszentmilhalyi, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake.

Ask yourself how you can create classrooms, workplaces, families, and healing environments that value and support the gifts that the creative people you know have to offer.

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Maya Angelou: "There's no greater agony than carrying around an untold story inside yourself."

From a story perspective, the moment when life falls apart -- whether we are shattered by external events or bursting with inner yearning -- that moment is the call to life-changing adventure. Story structure provides a roadmap for navigating crisis that will bring about qualitative change in situations that seem intractable.

I maintain a private practice in New York City and a long distance one by phone/Skype with clients in other cities. The journaling, storymaking, and visual arts exercises I offer along with my creative approach are extremely effective in helping you:

~ Release toxic emotions associated with stress, anxiety and depression;
~ Take positive action in an unhappy relationship or job from a place of understanding and compassion;
~ Clear away buried childhood issues that may be contributing to financial and relationship difficulty;
~ Step up to personal challenges such as serious illness, divorce, or job loss with greater confidence in your ability to move through them successfully using the structure of story as a scaffold for change.

Working in right-brain expressive modalities helps you make quantum yet grounded leaps forward to the life you want more than anything to be yours. You go deep and you go fast -- and given my experience and skill, along with the creative and non-invasive structures of poetry, story, drawing, and other visual arts -- within a safe emotional container.

When you fully tell the story hidden in whatever is blocking you, the block dissolves. Creative, passionate life energy flows freely.

42 comments:

  1. wow. this post really says so much! 10 explanations of me.. thanks for posting this.

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  2. Hi Art (I believe that's your first name, right?)

    Thanks for your comment. I've received so many similar ones since posting this last week. There are a lot of creative people out there who feel misunderstood and lost in translation. I felt the same relief when I first read this years ago.

    Best wishes,
    Juliet

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  3. Don't you just love that about creative people, the joyous losing of self into the excitement of the project. I can see where it might be called narcissistic; but why medicalize when we can honor?

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  4. Thank you so much for posting this! This is how I feel about myself but could never find the words. I've always felt like I never 'fit' into the traditional 'labels' of society.

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  5. When I was in Marine Staff NCO Leadership training, they said "creative people are often a problem", reflecting what you said regarding corporate attitudes: "creative people are often misunderstood as undisciplined" - which was exactly what the Marine Corps was teaching at the time (1983)

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  6. Thanks too, Libramoon and Sonya. I really appreciate your comments.

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  7. I stumbleupon-ed this and it's a relief to know that im not alone. My question is how does a creative person cope with these multitudes of almost contradictory self identities.

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  8. Hi Kanoa,

    By creating something: writing, painting, composing, dancing -- something that externalizes the multitudes of characters and conflicts into a whole. Conflict drives creativity -- it means something new wants to be born.

    I appreciate your response to my article.

    Juliet

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  9. I'm a young filmmaker and I stumble'd upon this at a great time. The ball is beginning to role with my career, but I often entertain the idea of my lunacy, and it is encouraging to identify with these characteristics so exactly. Thank you for sharing this; I will surely pass it along.

    Drew Lewis

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  10. Juliet, thank you so much for posting this. It is like a lovely mirror where I see myself, my children and those closest to me more clearly.

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  11. Thank you for posting this Juliet! (And thank you Misha for posting the link to this blog too)

    This really explains so much about my every day life. As much as things can get so tumultuous, with a lot of ups and downs, I have to say: the highs make it all worthwhile.

    Yet I imagine the life of an academic, spending hours and hours doing research, enjoying the same sort of visceral satisfaction, as that experienced by more creative types, who get treated to "braingasms" (love that word!) when we finish a creative piece.

    So important to find, accept, embrace and work within one's passion, isn't it? I think a lot of us "go with the flow" along routes designed by others "for our own good" far too often. I think that's how so many of us age faster than we normally would.

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  12. Having a creative personality is living hell when it comes to fitting into society!

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  13. Thank you for this post. I work in an office full of creative people and shared it with them. Square pegs unite!

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  14. ..... seem to play on all 10 - can it be true?

    Thanks a lot for the necessary mirror in the face of creatives, who seldom get the chance to meet likeminded seeing the world in similar way. However - and that is good to hear, and see- the Web has been an accelerator to connect with folks around the globe (without even leaving the room, city, or country).

    Times are becoming great for the "Crazy Ones" :)

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  15. Thank you all your comments. I didn't realize that people were still finding that post from a year ago! How gratifying!

    I originally created that list for a workshop at a university, when I still had the idealistic dream of changing our educational and mental health systems to be more attentive and nourishing to the needs of creative people, like myself. (How I suffered in school and therapy once upon a time!)

    I just sent out my January newsletter, which has articles on story and other expressive arts, and which you can subscribe to on my blog: http://livingstory-ny.blogspot.com. I'm still working on my January post, on how story affects the brain.

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  16. As an educator and one of those "misunderstood creative people" myself, I found this post very reassuring! I am a strong proponent of Howard Gardiner's Multiple Intelligences Theory. At the moment, most conventional education systems only cater to very few learning styles. Creativity is not always highly regarded. Hence, those students who think outside of the box are not always recognized and frequently misunderstood. Sometimes, this leads to bullying. Often, it just leads to the feeling of "not fitting in". I should know. I lived that reality, and still do -- even with some teachers, to this day! Thanks again!

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  17. Thank you, A, for bringing up bullying. This is something that has to be seriously addressed, and for both bully and bullied, expressive modalities offer new possibilities. Bullies learn their behaviors from parents, older siblings, and pop/media cultures in the void where intimate and nourishing relationship with adults should be. If they could be directed early in life to expressing their aggression, frustration, insecurity, and anger creatively, everyone would benefit.

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  18. Really amazing written, thank you for the article, it is life changing. I just wrote an article on my blog and quoted your blog, really loved it.

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  19. I had just realized all this about me and was beginning to think something was "wrong" with me! It's nice to know I'm not alone and that it really all does make sense. Especially when a person does have a creative mind. Thank you so much for this blog post!!!! I can not go about my life and know I am not "Mad"!!!

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  20. I'll add my thanks to those of the other posters. I'm an extreme creative--hardly a moment goes by without a creative idea forcing itself to be given center stage and lavished upon. I am good at many, many creative things, and I know not ONE person like myself. I revel in the process of creating something--whether that process is just going on in my head or whether I'm physically creating something. One of the reasons I finally had to leave my husband was because he didn't understand who I was. I hope I'll meet someone someday who does understand and accept me in all my complexity.

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  21. Thanks for your post. I hope you meet that someone too.

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  22. Thank You Juliet, when I got to the Characteristics of Creative People and started to read I was blown away as I relate to them, but some never knew extensively, like left brain, right brain, I just observe, take a mental snap shot and then go from there and love doing it.

    I have a saying, if you are around me and hear me say something that you can make money from do. All I ask is if for 1% of your yearly earnings as 999% in my bank account and 999 friends are both good to have. Why bottle them up, share the wealth and it will return.

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  23. Thanks Juliet... this somehow feels that i am able to understand myself better now.. and all the confusions that I had about myself seems to be disappearing!

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  24. Thank you, Deepak. This gives me so much happiness to know that it helped you as it did.

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  26. You're definitely not alone, Kalila!

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  27. Wow that's unbelievable, I even understand myself better now Thank you :o) x

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  28. Thank you so much Juliet for posting this article.

    I am a very creative person. Growing up, I was always "different" compare to most people I know. Many thought that i was weird. I was always misunderstood.

    I grew up drawing pictures, dancing, acting, and writing. Thru art, I was always able to connect with people on a different level with the ability to "think outside the box".

    Now I have a better idea if who I am.

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  29. yes negative events ...despite being sensitive and my body reacts extreme to it (see point 10 I guess) ...spurs me on as well to create apart from the curiosity about things and the world/life ...but yes I heard many times that I am this or that, weird but most of the time never bothered me much or being on my own... but I can imagine people have a hard time understanding too, its in human nature to put things in a box and thinking they have a understanding of how things are ...or should be

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  30. Hi

    I am a extremely creative person/designer that recently discovered the true about my personality. I discovered that I am a "Highly Sensitive Person". The research behind this is relatively new. I can recommend all to read Elaine Aaron's book "Highly Sensitive Persons". I have also a high IQ and all 10 characteristics above fits me perfectly - also number 2 and 8, even though I am not that proud of them. You may even say I am a bit shamed about them. But I also suffers from great stress, depression and have had moments of thoughts of committing suicide. All because of great difficulties in fitting in a hard and cruel world! I am extremely proud of my creativity and personality, and they give me so much pleasure, but they also have their downsides as well.

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  31. Wow. It's amazing how we stumble and fall and trip all over ourselves while at the same time we're taking giant leaps forward out of the darkness and into the light only to go around again. Guess this is my circle of life. Anyone can try kn a new coat and say it fits...until they get it home? Now it doesn't look as good. Or does it? Those 10 characteristics all fit the 1st time i read em...then they didn't. Guess it's true what they say: we do always see things for what they are. We see them for what we are at that moment. What a dpin that was on life the 1st

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  32. Anyway I'm really glad i stumbled on to this article and all the great intelligent responses people wrote. After facing one of life's most devastating losses 3yrs ago it's been a creative awakening which has changed my life in ways i could never have imagined. That list of 10 really bailed it. A simple understanding of who I am.
    All the drugs and therapy were a futile attempt at rebuilding my spirit. It was this discovery of a creative inner self which had been dormant all my life which really helped turn my life around. . It's amazing how we stumble and fall and trip all over ourselves while at the same time we're taking giant leaps forward out of the darkness and into the light only to go around again. Guess this is my circle of life. Anyone can try on a new coat and say it fits...until they get it home? Now it doesn't look as good. Or does it? Those 10 characteristics all fit the 1st time i read em...then they didn't. Guess it's true what they say: we don't see things for what they are. We see them for what we are at that moment.
    What a spin that was on life the 1st Time i read that.
    Now it's painting, drawing, learning to play and create music in my own. It's all so amazing to me to find myself on such a path. A shame it took tragedy to get me here.
    I will never get back what I want most, but a merciful god has given each of us everything we need to live a fulfilling life. And it doesn't require a prescription.

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  33. Anyway I'm really glad i stumbled on to this article and all the great intelligent responses people wrote. After facing one of life's most devastating losses 3yrs ago it's been a creative awakening which has changed my life in ways i could never have imagined. That list of 10 really bailed it. A simple understanding of who I am.
    All the drugs and therapy were a futile attempt at rebuilding my spirit. It was this discovery of a creative inner self which had been dormant all my life which really helped turn my life around. . It's amazing how we stumble and fall and trip all over ourselves while at the same time we're taking giant leaps forward out of the darkness and into the light only to go around again. Guess this is my circle of life. Anyone can try on a new coat and say it fits...until they get it home? Now it doesn't look as good. Or does it? Those 10 characteristics all fit the 1st time i read em...then they didn't. Guess it's true what they say: we don't see things for what they are. We see them for what we are at that moment.
    What a spin that was on life the 1st Time i read that.
    Now it's painting, drawing, learning to play and create music in my own. It's all so amazing to me to find myself on such a path. A shame it took tragedy to get me here.
    I will never get back what I want most, but a merciful god has given each of us everything we need to live a fulfilling life. And it doesn't require a prescription.

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  34. It was a pleasure to find this article; I was in trouble because no one seems to understand me, while all the points here are right. I used it to let people I love understand me, even a little, and I definitely feel less alone.

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    World Records List

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  37. Interesting. I am a librarian and love to read. I understand mathematics intuitively and always got high marks in it. On the flip side, I am very artistically gifted and am also musically inclined. I have always gotten a little annoyed by people who assume that you cannot be left brained, but an artist as well...or vise versa. You know that twirling ballerina test that supposedly determines right brain/left brain dominance? (Google it if you don't know what I'm talking about) I can see her twirl to the left or the right. It all depends on the mood I'm in or what side of the brain I've been feeding most recently.

    Thank you. I'm not so weird afterall!

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  38. Also...I have experienced major trauma in my life. Telling my story is therapeutic. Sometimes when I am stressing over traumatic memories, I actually will retell the story silently to myself. I've written it out in a secret blog visible only to myself. In "real life," the one where I am interacting with family, friends, and acquaitences, I cannot tell this story too many times. It would be appropriate. There is a certain someone from 30 years ago that I wish I could tell it to, however. There is power in story telling.

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  39. This sounds so much like me living with bipolar!

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  40. I am only just now discovering some of these things about myself, a few months before my 47th birthday. If only someone had explained me to me this way twenty years ago...I once tried to join EHarmony and at the end of the grueling process of filling out all the questionnaires, I got a message that said it would take them a long time to find a match for me because I had so many idiosyncracies, then it suggested that I get therapy to work through the conflicting points in my personality. I was, at the time, running a counseling center...About two years ago I went to my social worker friend and asked her to please tell me what my problem was, psychologically. I figured that there must be something REALLY wrong with me because I have never been able to settle into the right relationship. She very frankly told me that I am not crazy and not disordered. I'm just different. That didn't make me feel any better, but this somehow does. I don't fit all these descriptors but I do fit many of them.

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