You’re Not Mad, You’re Creative

“Beth” courtesy of Michael Nye

‘”Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will spend its whole life thinking it is stupid.” Albert Einstein.

Ever been told you’re a perfectionist, too sensitive or that you dream or think too much?

To have a high degree of creative intelligence is a gift — but because our society, schools and workplaces privilege more conventional and conformist intelligences, it is not always experienced that way. If you, or your nearest and dearest, do not understand what it means to becreatively intelligent, in everyday terms, a great deal of suffering can ensue.

“In a society that doesn’t appreciate them, creative abilities are often labeled and experienced as liabilities,” says Mary Taylor, LCSW, of the Creative Intelligence Centre. “Highly creative people often face a lifetime of hardship and psychological pain because they do not see themselves or their abilities clearly.  The abilities of highly creative people are frequently hidden under…emotional, occupational andrelationship difficulties.”

While the [creative] person is all too aware of their problems, they are often unaware of their abilities.  This, allied with the fact that they live in a society that prefers linear, rational thinking and behaviour, makes them try to fit into situations that don’t suit them — and thenblame themselves when that doesn’t work out. Hence: “I’m too sensitive”; “I’m too much of a perfectionist”; “I think too much”.

These erroneous conclusions can do “major damage” to self image, says Taylor, and ”attempts made at correcting a problem from this vantage point are frequently unsuccessful because the initial interpretation was in error. Their deepest turmoil often stems from the fact that although they feel they are capable, they are unable to bring their talents into the world in a recognizable or tangible form. They often feel confused in their attempts to figure this ‘puzzle’ out.”

Over time, self-blame and lack of understanding leads many bright, creative people into marginalized lives as adults — underemployed,dissatisfied and often in tremendous psychological pain.

First Stage Problems (Issues that stem directly from the ability itself)

  • Depression caused by a lack of creative and intellectual fulfillment – environments which are creatively or intellectually under-stimulating.
  • Feeling overwhelmed by the difficulties of managing high ideaphoria and divergent thinking patterns – a high flow of ideas and the capacity to process thoughts on multiple levels simultaneously.
  • Sensory overload resulting in anxiety, irritability and fatigue brought on by the combination of strong sensory skills and environmental stimulation.

Significant questions in making an assessment of such problems include:

  • “Am I really ‘obsessive compulsive’ or do my finely tuned visual abilities mandate I create an environment of visual beauty and order?”
  • “Do I actually have a biochemical depression, or am I an imaginative person living among a plethora of concrete thinkers?”
  • “Do I have ADHD or am I attempting to physically keep up with my numerous ideas and interests through multiple projects and activities?”

Second Stage Problems (When first stage problems are ignored or misattributed).

  • Identity Problems – Many highly creative people accept mistaken notions about themselves including beliefs of being “too sensitive,” “too emotional,” “too much of a perfectionist,” “thinking too much,” and having “too many ideas.”  These negative descriptions can result in damage to one’s self image and failure to identify the raw ability that may behidden under the perceived problem.
  • Adjustment Problems – Many highly creative people struggle because they do not see themselves or their abilities clearly. This can result in the experience of going from job to job or relationship to relationship and wandering through life desperately looking for a purpose.
  • Academic Problems – Highly creative individuals often have aptitudes that lie outside the realm of standardized tests, which typically favour linear thinking and the logical/mathematical and linguistic aptitudes. Academic problems can also stem from a lack of compatibility between learning style and teaching style. For example, when a linear-thinking teacher expects a divergent-thinking student to solve a problem using a step-by-step approach, while excluding inductive and intuitive problem-solving methods.
  • Medical Conditions – “In my psychotherapy practice, I have witnessed a high correlation between individuals with multiple creative aptitudes and the existence of certain types of medical conditions, most often in the form of allergies, immune deficiencies, thyroid problems and metabolic disorders,” says Taylor.

First and second stage problems are not the result of something intrinsically “wrong” with the person, though that is how they are often experienced.  Rather, they are the result of the stress that accompanies living with unidentified creative aptitudes in a society that does not understand or nurture creative intelligence. “Since creative aptitudes are physiologically based and cannot be “turned off,” first and second stage problems are likely to be compounded over time if effective interventions are not employed.” Taylor says.

What is Creative Intelligence?

Creatively intelligent people don’t necessarily work as writers or artists or in any field labelled ‘creative’. Many work “regular” jobs and may not think of themselves as creative at all. Creative intelligence has little to do with particular activities and more to do with a way of meeting and understanding life.  I define it is “the ability to engage intention and attention in a way that goes beyond the given”.

Applying our creative intelligence invites us to keep both heart and eyes wide open to the emerging moment. We’d all be more creative if we paid less attention to the surfaces, our doings and achievements, our ambitions and desires; and more attention to the depths, the hidden forces and faculties that lie within ourselves and others, within all things and all experiences. We insist on burnishing our worries and wants and wishes, until we are blind to what’s in front of our eyes.

We insist on resounding our opinions, until we’ve drowned out  the whispers of  our hearts. So we fail to see the true visions, to hear the sound of other spheres. And the eternal stream folds back into the infinite nothing, from whence it came, having flowed past our skin instead of through our blood.

Are You Highly Creative?

Use the questionnaire below to examine more deeply how you have experienced this ability in your life — particularly when the ability has been labeled a liability.  What was going on in those times? Did you blame yourself?  If you look back through the lens of seeing yourself as a highly creative person, with an unrecognized gift, how does that change your perception of the event?

For best results, take a notebook and pen and F-R-E-E-Write your answers to those questions.

Do you feel different from those around you or that you are on a different “path” than most?

Have you been told you “think too much” or are “too much of a perfectionist”?

Do/did your schoolteachers berate you for daydreaming or staring out the window?

Were you told you were too ”giddy” or “disruptive” at school?

Do you experience a level of imaginative activity that few around you seem to understand?

Do you believe you have “too many” interests?

Have you been told you are “overly emotional”?

Do you go from project to project?

Do you carry a lot of unfinished projects in your mind?

Do you sometimes feel overwhelmed by the numerous ideas and projects you generate?

Are you more affected than others seem to be by environmental stimuli, e.g the weather, bright lights, loud music, other people’s moods?

Have you been told you are “too sensitive”?

Do you feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled in many of your relationships?

Do people frequently ask you for advice — while you feel there is no one who understands you?

Do you believe you are not achieving what you could be in your work, despite a high degree of competence, ability and experience (and perhaps achievement too)?

If you answered “Yes” to more than 3 of these questions, you are indeed highly creative.


Orna Ross is a novelist who promotes creative intelligence for writers, artists & everyone — through her books, speaking appearances and The Creative Intelligence Blog. Her most recent novel is “A Dance in Time” which mixes fact and fiction through the lives of two Iseults: one, a fictional contemporary writer, accused of killing her father, the other an actual historical character, Iseult Gonne– daughter of Maud Gonne, the famous Irish revolutionary and muse to the poet WB Yeats. Orna Ross is currently working on a new novel and a nonfiction book, ‘Go

Creative, It’s Our Native State’.

60 Responses to You’re Not Mad, You’re Creative

  1. Anastasia says:

    My yes answers counted 13 times in your list and I had pretty much figured as much!
    Just wondering, after realizing you are a highly creatively intelligent person, what do you do about it?
    How do you handle it?

  2. Emelie says:

    WOW! Great article! Someone has finally put words to my life long (I’m 25 years old) problem, which has already caused several depressions. So, now that I have reached awareness of my condition/gift(!) how do I find a way of using all of my potential and “a place where I can belong”?
    Once again, thank you!

  3. Sarah says:

    I totally relate to the article, and answered yes to most of the questions. I have pretty much the same question as one of the comments above, “Now what?”

  4. Rich says:

    Hi Orna,

    Great post! I have always maintained that creativity comes out of a fascination with challenging around you, and a failing to understand anything inside you!



  5. Hulbert says:

    Great post Orna. I liked the questions that you’ve asked us at the end. I’ve answered yes to at least three of them, and I think these questions do a good job of making us rethink about the potential amount of creativity that we may have. Sometimes we are so worked up by our daily limitations, that it can be hard to bring out the true creativeness that we have inside ourselves and out into the world.

  6. OrnaRoss says:

    @rich — thanks rich, good definition. what are you creating?
    @anastasia, emilie, sarah —
    now you know you are creative, that this is an ability, not a liability as some might have you believe.
    So… here’s some pointers for a kickstart:
    1. what do you want to create? don’t think (only) about writing or art. think relationships, great work etc. too. Think food, image, your home… be creative about what you want to create :) Write it down. I want to create (more)……. in my life.
    2. when will you do the work that will be necessary in order to bring it into being — sort out some time and space
    3. what materials will you need?
    4. who will support you in this? if you don’t have supportive poeple around you, find them somewhere else.
    Repeat as required/desired!

    Further advice/general information on how to access/develop your creative intelligence at

    happy hatchings!

  7. Wow, Oma. This was a hell of a post. I can’t find anything to add to it, it was that good. This makes sense, considering I answered yes to all but one of the questions at the end of the post… Turns out I’m really creative.


  8. OrnaRoss says:

    @hubert – absolutely. I call these our ABCDEs – attitudes, beiefs, concepts, denials, expectations. We all have ’em and need to be rooted out of them where possible.

    @ brett – thanks so much for the appreciation.

  9. Patrick says:

    Hi Orna

    I really liked that.

    Im in a funk at present about what I should be doing and trying hard to pursue a creative endevour.

    And as much as I liked that article, Its just given me even more justification for never being able to hold down a regular 9 to 5. Ive had plenty of them , but like you said project to project etc.

    Its making that jump from what you know in your heart you should do, to telling the people around you. A quote’s escaping me, about never relying on your friends for support when its something seemingly irrational.

    So although im living at a friends grace at present, trying to covertly pursue a new career,I just feel like now im living another lie.


  10. Fawn says:

    Great post, Orna. As others have mentioned, you were so thorough I can’t think of anything to add. I enjoyed the questionnaire and giggled through all my “yes” responses. I watched a great presentation on called “Ken Robinson says schools kill creativity,” a highly entertaining bit. Fascinating stuff.

  11. sandy says:

    creativity is a great energy source.
    when creative people try to block the coming energy, they need equal great energy to resist. and that’s usually tiring people a hell. when they just allow themselves to be creative, use the energy positively, they will enjoy being powerful :)

  12. OrnaRoss says:

    Patrick, are you reaching high/far enough? it is my experience that when people find themselves in your situation, they’re compromising. What you need to create will require you to strrrrrretch yourself. It will also ask you to liberate yourself from the opinions of others.
    Do get in touch directly with more details if you wish.

  13. OrnaRoss says:

    @ fawn, @ sandy — thanks for the appreciation & again, happy hatchings!

  14. askcherlock says:

    Some of the most creative people in history were considered quite mad by their peers. Turns out they were quite creative. Some madness may be good for the soul.

  15. Jim Grant says:

    Wow, every so often someone has told me something about how they see me that flabbergasts me. This article had the same feeling as some of those instances. I do consider myself somewhat creative and intelligent, but I never attributed the sorts of problems or issues I have with that, I figured that they were simply personality flaws or characteristics that were unrelated. Maybe knowing will help.

    Years ago a person I reported to where I worked surprised the heck out of me when I was complaining, during a performance review, about office politics. He floored me when he said: “but Jim, you are the most political manager on my team, anytime I want something handled with political skill I send you”. From my point of view office politics were annoying, disruptive and a waste of mine and everyone elses time and I always just tried to pretend it wasn’t there and get the job done. However the politics was always a source of extreme stress for me and caused sleepless nights as I tried to figure out ways of disarming it at the next meeting or with the next email to the group.

  16. Astha says:

    Hello ma’am..
    I was going through your article and I liked it!
    I appreciate the way it is presented..
    I am a student of Psychology, have written an article “When Madness Happens..”
    it also talks about creative element we all possess and how we unleash some bits of it in our lives…
    It is available online, if you could look , i ll be thankful!

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  18. creativity is a thing which directly come up from mind and touchs others heart

  19. Jrbmangus says:

    Thank you for writing this post.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I’ve never read anything so close to who I am as this one. Amazing.

  21. Garimarazdan says:

    thanks for posting is so close to who I am.

  22. Garimarazdan says:

    thanks for posting is so close to who I am.

  23. Garimarazdan says:

    thanks for posting is so close to who I am.

  24. Rudeboi71 says:

    thank you very much, i almost cried, for once. i ticked 10 yes’s to the listed question.
    now i know i’m fine. 

  25. Rudeboi71 says:

    thank you very much, i almost cried, for once. i ticked 10 yes’s to the listed question.
    now i know i’m fine. 

  26. Kathleen says:

    WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! this makes me CRY!! I Always feel: Misunderstood, Different than others, I don’t fit in, ALWAYS there for others…NO ONE EVER understands me, NOT even my so called family!!!, Seriously…it’s hard being me, I feel like an Alien!!. What too do????????????

  27. Kathleen says:

    By the way… I answered YES.. to 13 of the questions. :((

  28. Tammy says:

    This just described me perfectly.

  29. Tammy says:

    This just described me perfectly.

  30. Tammy says:

    This just described me perfectly.

  31. Tammy says:

    This just described me perfectly.

  32. Erica says:

    OK.  just because you are weird and hipster does not mean you have creative intelligence.   And if you answer yes to so many you may just have stupid friends.  If you hung around people where your “creative ideas” were passing thoughts in 5th grade you would think yourself less creative.

  33. Chelxpandapolar says:

    At least I am not alone feeling this way. Thank you.

  34. Chelxpandapolar says:

    At least I am not alone feeling this way. Thank you.

  35. Fiftiesgirl13 says:

    There is a lot of us out there obviously that feel the same way, that think the same way and are just as creative so we’re not so weird.

  36. Jereepetrie says:

    Boy, did I need to hear this. I’ve spent my life feeling like I’m living amongst aliens and being reacted to by others as if I’m a Martian. You try to fit in, try to have the same values and attitudes as more materialistic people, but you can’t hide who you really are and you can’t be what you’re not, so you just chug along feeling like a failure and a misfit.
    I think we could do with a website that gives a daily dose of encouragement and emotional support to creative  and sensitive people and more articles like this one. We really need to be able to accept that there is nothing wrong with us, and to know that we are not alone!
    Many, many thanks. You’ve done me a world of good.

  37. creativebeing says:

    all of the questions were absolutely right and for me its a very yes to all the questions.damn! what is the solution but?

  38. creativebeing says:


  39. Jakarredavis says:

    never read anything like this,this is close to who iam, i mean wow!

  40. BluEyedGaze says:

    I’ve always been told that I think WAYY too into things, whether it be something I read, heard, or other’s actions. I stress soo much and I feel so out of place and confused a lot of the time, it gets me depressed. I honestly was looking into counseling about this until I ran into this and I feel like a lot of my questions have been answered. But should I still look into getting help? I can’t stand how stressed or depressed I get over things. Majority of the time I can’t help but cry. I took the test and answered yes to every question and I’m not sure how to take it. Is it good or bad? How should I react? What do I do now?

  41. Lfrohling says:

    Great. Now what do I do about it??????????

  42. Ambiha Sivan says:

    i jst got only 2 NOS..and all other YES..actually i always wanted an answer for why i am and what i am…i think u wont mind me giving me suggestions about what i can or should do with it…i cant complete a task…my mind is racing…how can i control it and use this valuable gift…if i cant it would become a waste….thank u actually….

  43. Thranastasia says:

    I definitely answered yes to more than three questions! Now the greater question: where do I go from here? How do I branch my tree?

  44. Walker8676 says:

    Wow.,that is me! Now i understand! Thank you for your post.

  45. Walker8676 says:

    Awww i feel the same! Yesssss I’m not weird!

  46. Brian says:

    I once asked my dad if he built things in his mind, all the time?  Like what, he asked?  Everything I said, submarines, buildings, cars, wood chippers, kitchen designs, etc.  He simply looked at me and said, NO.

    It is very difficult for me to complete a project because I will bore of it before I am finished.  Usually it is because I have dreamed up another project that is even more exciting and off I go…I call it my butterfly syndrome, bouncing from one flower to the next.

    I had a chance to see a management review from many years ago.  It was embarrassing with how complementary it was of my skills and my knowledge of the subject and how kind I was to people who needed help.  It went on for a full page and then the very last sentence it said, “However, I don’t thing he takes this job seriously, he is always joking and playing around.”

    Thanks for the article.


  47. Lol123 says:

    this is so cool !! seeing how people are like “this made me cry” because i teared up a little…thank you so much for writing this because i now see what others don’t see. I feel SO unfulfilled and i know now why, because I have nothing satisfying my creativity. It’s a blessing and a curse because this world makes our lives so hard as “the starving artists” and what not. But my dream is to put my art (paintings, music, design, film) w.e. it may be, out there for people to FEEL and expand their own minds

  48. Jeremiah Downting says:

    I still kind of think I’m crazy. But maybe not as much now. Thank you, this 100% describes me – in a way that no one else has been able to do. A way that not one other has been able to understand, including myself. I’ve read thousands of pages of psychology, blog posts, philosophy, etc., but this one describes me best. The question is, where do I go from here? I guess I’ll look at your blog to find out. I’ve already moved onto third stage problems, so I hope my answer is. Grazi!

  49. Jeremiah Downting 2 says:

    Yup! I feel like I should be living on another planet.

  50. JeremiahDownting3 says:

    Me too. That means we’re not alone! 😀

  51. Jeremiah Downting says:

    Sounds like you’d be good at designing really cool stuff

  52. Devon says:

    The true question you should ask at the end is how they reacted to each question. while going threw the list i said yes to more than half of those. but i also explained and talked threw why this question is to narrow to the assumption and i believe that this makes people believe everything that you stated above the list. (the essay on creativity). I think that some one such as me would use most of that info in order to answer those questions. not until they are realizing this they already think that they are creative. you should put the list above the info that you’ve gathered for this. that way its 100% the readers personality coming out and not what you wrote. any who, nice article!

  53. Kayla Beebe says:

    I feel the same…but now that we know that we’re highly creative…what are we suppose to do?

  54. ZeigerDRB says:

    Good read. Although I don’t see myself as an artist I do generate a ton of ideas that I can never launch. Not so much a fear of failure, just can see how to make them reality. I haven’t felt failure because I haven’t put anything out there. It is a source of frustration to not be able to even try. I have learned to ask for help in areas where I am weak. I have been slowly chipping away at my photography business which has been the only real outlet and marginal success.

    I have been trying to understand why I have this creative drive. Is it just the need of a creative person or is it to leave my mark on this world? Don’t know! I guess time will tell!

    Thanks for the writings I enjoy the blog!

  55. ZeigerDRB says:

    I am like you I dream of ideas to build (a lot are cars) but once I sit down to think it out or I tell someone the idea loses momentum. I cannot find that one idea and run with it.

    I went to a seminar one time and they talked about personality types and I fell into the category of the guy who is always waiting for his ship to co e in and it never does. My personality type is also called the teddy bears because we always want to help and make people feel better. These two statements still haunt me!

    Nice to know there are others out there. How do we fix it?

  56. Melody says:

    I replied yes to all of these questions and I’m in tears.

  57. Annilda Esterhuysen says:

    I am in tears! Finally someone who seems to ‘speak’ my language. I answered ‘yes’ to ALL the posed questions. I must state that my sessions with my kinesiologist has helped me a great deal in dealing with the emotional turmoil (and its physical manifestations on my body) caused by years of societal rejection. I am an accountant by occupation, poet by heart. My therapist has now come to the point of urging me to find another job, as my current employment is draining me, physically and emotionally. I have been told by people that my constant dreaming will eventually cause me to end up alone and miserable. Thank you for writing this article. I no longer feel so alone in what I am going through.

  58. Nurokhim Budiyono says:

    13 “Yes”, but I still don’t understand what should I do next ? :/

  59. carnet says:

    On a whim, I’d decided to google “highly intelligent creative jobs”, found this, and like everyone else posting, am deeply moved. I said yes to most of those questions as well. I wonder, maybe we should make a forum. We all feel like we’ve been alone, and now we’ve found a group that shares our experiences and pains. So… why not?

  60. onetoedsloth says:

    So how do we address this in society or in our personal lives? Identifying the problem with no solution is just as bad as never identifying the underlying problem to begin with.

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