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Do Creative People Have More Anxiety?

Updated on September 11, 2017

The Study of Creative Personalities

Psychologists have been studying creativity since the early 1900’s. Throughout this time, it has been elusive to define the creative person. Definitions of creativity have constantly changed. Personality is a complicated subject. The creativity trait is even harder to define. Creativity is a multifaceted dimension of personality. In defining creativity with traditional psychological descriptions - creativity has two parts, functionality and originality. Creative people come up with something that has not been done before, and the idea has to be workable and useful in some way.

Two Types of Creativity

There appears to be two distinct types of creativity. People who are creative and use this in everyday problem solving are thought to be well adaptive to change, This actually is an indicator of good mental health. The other type of creativity is rarer and is results in the creation of something that impacts how people feel, think, and exist, usually seen in Nobel and Pulitzer Prize winners.

Additionally, a scientist and a painter can both create master works but it is their individual personality differences that lead each person towards particular inventions and ideas and their environmental constraints. Typical artists have less structure and may have more chaotic environments. Artists are highly expressionistic. Many studies have shown that there seems to be a higher correlation of mental illness and other psychological symptoms than is seen in the average population. The more expression and emotion in the work of art, the higher correlation there is to anxiety, and in some cases psychosis.

Examining the Creative Process

Seeing Things From a Different Perspective

Creativity is fostered in an environment that promotes freedom of expression and less inhibition so that they see things from different perspectives. High intelligence is a component of creativity, as is flexibility, being tolerant of unprectibality and ambiguity, and the satisfaction of exploring and creating newness. Creative personalities have a motivation to be creative which usually comes from a need for stimulation from something uniquely created, a need to express values and ideas, and a need to solve a problem.

Sensitivity Exposes Creative People to Pain

A creative person usually likes to experience the world in new ways with fresh perspectives, insight, and unique discoveries. Creative people change and add to what currently exists. A creative person may have two opposing traits. They are usually smart, but naïve. They have discipline to see a project through completion, yet they are playful. They are both responsible and irresponsible. They are realistic and may fantasize. They may have extroverted and introverted tendencies. They may be proud and humble at the same time.They may be passionate, yet objective. A creative person tends to have a very open personality, showing their own sensitivity, and therefore easily exposing themselves to pain, yet they are able to find great enjoyment in the things they do.

Most creative people have more adaptive qualities, which helps them achieve more positive outcomes in a multitude of situations. The mere act of doing something creative has instanteous positive psychological and physical effects leading to an intrinsic good feeling, a natural high, internal motivation, social bonds, and long term relationships. Happiness and positive emotions can help trigger creativity and creativity results in feeling happier and better about ourselves. Yet, creativity is often the result of some internal unrest.

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Imperfect Lives Inspire Creativity

Very often unsettling events motivate creativity in an attempt to change and transform the bad into something good. This is all mentally healthy. People who have a perfectly balanced life may not be motivated to tap into their creativity because they are not interested in making any changes, since they are happy with the way things are.

Using the Big 5 personality scale, many creative people score high on the openness scale. The openness trait is also correlated to psychoticism and sensation seeking.

Creative Personalities and Neuroticism

Researchers, Nelson and Rawlings sampled 100 musicians, actors, writers, and artists to chart aspects of their creative personalities and certain mental traits. It was called the Experience of Creativity Questionaire and measure loss of self awareness, a sense of force beyond themselves, and their confidence about their artistic activities. It also measured their sense of anxiety, their feelings of inspiration, their sense of control and power, their pleasure during the creative process, and what their artwork meant to them

Their survey found that the artists had higher rates of mental disturbances, neuroticism, and openness compared to the average population. This does not mean there is anything wrong with creative people, but that the creative personality has certain characteristics that may predispose them to some sensitivities, anxieties, and other emotional reactions, more so than the general population.

Don McLean Song About Vincent Van Gogh

Artistic People May Process Information Differently

It is believed that the abililty to be creative is connected with this higher than average measurements and that those who are less than creative have personality traits that score differently among the Big 5 personality traits. It is a fascinating aspect of personality to make associations between emotional reactions and creativity. There may be a biological level and genetic component to our personality that we have yet to understand.

Other researchers have noted that the combination of creativity, high IQ, and lower latent inhibition is connected with creativity. Lower latent inhibition is associated with not shaping events into categories. People who do not structure their experiences in their mind, show a greater sense of discovery and exploration, which seems to stimulate the creative process. This seems to intensify an experience and cause a heightened attraction towards openness.

Artistic people seem to process information differently than people who are not as creative. These studies are not saying that creative people have debilating mental illnesses, but there may be slight dispositions that point towards a difference in creative personalities from the rest of the population. And it may be these differences that enhance the creative process and bring about new perspectives than those who are less creative.

Higher Anxiety May Lead to More Creativity

Just as there are connections between people who are more emotional and those who show a higher tendency towards chronic ailments, hypochondria, and somatic illnesses, many different personalities will have characterisitics towards certain predispositions.

Creative people may struggle with more inner and outer conflict and their artistry and creativity is actually a healthy outlet as a way of dealing with their emotions. The more conflict, the more anxiety, the greater the creativity. They are trying to give their emotions meaning through expressions. A creative personality is actually channeling their feelings with a passion that gives release to their inner thoughts and conflicts.

An Outlet for Emotions

So while creative people may exhibit some emotional disorders, they are actually using constructive and positive actions to deal with their feelings. A creative person is giving voice to their inner thoughts and actually dealing with what could otherwise be destructive and compulsive emotions in a positive and healthy outlet.

Picasso used his artwork to deal with his angry dark emotions. Van Gogh was known to suffer from severe psychopathology and substance abuse. Many famous musicians, sculptors, inventors, novelists, actors, have shown to have varying degrees of anxiety and other emotional issues.

In Steven Speilberg’s movie, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, we see Richard Dreyfus’ compulsion to become a sculptor to search for a meaningful way to express what he envisions in his mind. He desperately wants to express in a physical form what is trapped within him.

Anxiety and the Creative Person

In therapy, a person learns to accept and become aware of their inner selves. Creativity is therefore a form of therapy, and a constructive vehicle to release inner turmoil. It is also helpful for a creative person to seek counseling to help enhance their self awareness, when there is more complications to the emotional turmoil within them.

Anxiety has been shown to be closely connected to creativity and may help encourage in some ways the creative process. Sometimes when people feel anxious, they may want to deny it or not really deal with it. Anxiety is connected to fearing the unknown and feelings of not having control. Some people drink, gamble, become sexually promiscious, and overwork themselves in order to avoid anxiety. A creative person uses these tensions to imagine something new.

A creative person channels their feelings of anxiety into expressions of art and ideas that are constructive and real expressions of their inner feelings. Creative people find an escape through their talents.

The Beauty We Enjoy from Creativity Helps Ease Our Own Anxieties

Anxiety is a form of inner conflict and creative expression attempts to resolve these conflicts in a positive and constructive way. When done properly, creativity can bring peace, joy, love, tranquility and a feeling of accomplishment that can be shared with mankind.

A creative person takes risks of failure, of rejection, of foolishness, to bring something unique and new into fruition which takes tremendous courage. It is usually fueled by the anxiety that person feels, and in certain ways the creative person is dealing with their despair, fears, doubts, and guilt and other negative emotions. By immersing themselves in a creative process and achieving success from their talents, they are dealing with their anxieties on a certain level and helping themselves resolve their inner conflicts. The creative person has liberated themselves from their anxieties and channeled their energy into something tangible and positive.

What would Become of Mankind Without the Contributions Creative People Have Given Society?

Through creativity we liberate ourselves, reaffirm our spirituality, redeem ourselves, and revitalize our energies. Creativity touches others and leaves an everlasting impression towards a future that provides fulfillment and everlasting change.

Everyone of us deals with a certain amount of emotional instability. It is not what we are dealing with, but how we are dealing with it.

Creative expression can be a very positive way of self expression and relief from inner conflicts. The creative personality has made their mark on the world. A creative person channels their anxiety through new and yet undiscovered inventions and innovation. They have influenced mankind, and forever touch the soul of another.

It is the creative mind that took us out of the Stoneage with the invention of the wheel. It is the creative mind that has added beauty to the world of music, art, and science. What would become of mankind without creative people and all they have contributed to society throughout time?

When we listen to a song, enjoy the beauty in a painting, and get swept away in a novel, we have reduced our own anxieties. Through the release of a creative person's anxiety, they have soothed and helped relieve our own.

© 2012 toknowinfo


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    • profile image

      Karina 3 years ago

      Absolutely loved this! Quote gold and 100% accurate.

    • profile image

      Stephanie Upham 5 years ago

      I 23 have been struggling with my anxiety since middle school. I love to write short stories and poetry and find i only can write through strong emotion. I think that i have different outlets for different levels of emotion. I find tranquility when I am on a potters wheel. The world seems to melt away at my finger tips. Its the ultimate painkiller for me. Unfortunately it is not an affordable trade for me. Im glad i found this thank you. It explains im not crazy after all. I need to make more of a point for self expression. My personal life suffers do to the lack of it.

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      Katie 5 years ago

      Really well written, really well captured. My heart goes out for the guy who chopped of his ear........

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Hi Stessily, It really is interesting to delve into the background of many artists. And like everything else there are so many we will never know about. But creativity and psychology are more closely linked than we realize.

    • profile image

      stessily 6 years ago

      toknowinfo, These lines in "Starry Starry Night" describe all too well the rejection with which creativity is oftentimes confronted: "They would not listen; they did not know how". Vincent Van Gogh represents possibly the most tortured existence known to have been suffered by an artist. But then, there are those whom we unfortunately have never known, those who destroyed their works, those who created in silence and isolation, those who, unlike Emily Dickinson, were not rescued from oblivion.

      Well done.

      It's great to be notified that you're writing again!

      Kind regards, Stessily

    • toknowinfo profile image

      toknowinfo 6 years ago

      Hi Amy, I am so glad you enjoyed my hub. You eloquently expressed what this article is about. It is also true that many creative people are afraid to lose their creativity by reducing their anxiety. There really is an association between the two. Now you know, at least that your expression through art is a constructive way to release your anxiety, and you truly have an ability to see what many of us can not. I appreciate your comments, and am glad this hub inspired you to share your thoughts. Keep up the creativity.

    • Amy Becherer profile image

      Amy Becherer 6 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      This is one of the most comprehensive, interesting, well written endeavors on this complicated topic that I have had the pleasure of reading. Thank you, toknowinfo. I must say the correlation between anxiety and creativity grabbed my attention. The anxiety I exist with inspires me and I would fear anti-anxiety medication, as I imagine it would tamp down creativity. I find I do my best paintings and writing when I am at a level of anxiety that some might find distracting. Crazy? Maybe, but my life would feel far less without the anxiety I co-exist with.

      I recently saw an episode of "Gifted", where the star (a doctor)needed to perform surgery on a patient with a benign brain tumor. As the tumor created pressure on his brain, his artistry became manic. He resisted the idea of surgery as he was afraid it would impact his artistic expression. He acquiesed as to refuse would have brought his early death. It did affect his way of seeing things, but at the conclusion of the show, he was exploring looking at things in yet a new way.

      My former workplace hired a consultant who gave employees the Myer-Briggs personality test. At one point, we were all shown a picture and asked to express what we saw. Everyone but me had one-word explanations, but I saw a whole story, which led to some interesting observations and explanations from the consultant. There was much eye-rolling from the other employees when she cited what she saw as "creativity" in my answer, but I felt validated and understood as opposed to "different" by the group. Not that it mattered that I felt different. For me, it was a good thing! Sorry I'm taking up so much space. I completely enjoyed your piece. It is beyond excellent...awesome!