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’.