Are Creative People Less Sane?

Are creative people less or more sane than ordinary people? Creative types are unusually sensitive to the nuances in tone of voice, body language, innuendo, and so forth. They notice more than does the average person; they are perceptive. Regrettably, this ability has a drawback in that it means creators are more vulnerable. Already at risk simply because they are who they are, creators often have a hard life, which, being sensitive, they feel keenly. If their work does not sell, they may suffer poverty. If it challenges accepted views, it may attract enough opprobrium to diminish their self-confidence and dislodge their sometimes-precarious self-esteem. For these reasons, a creator may develop a set of psychological difficulties that resemble insanity. Yet in spite of this, creators retain their special ability with nuance. They remain better equipped to test reality than more ordinary types who, at least on the surface, appear much saner. That sensitivity to nuance, to subtle differences confers upon the creator a remarkable ability to see what others overlook. Those who see more understand more.

Man Woman Yin Yang Symbol

Creative people tolerate awareness of polarities and contradictions rather than trying to bury one side or the other. This can make them seem unpredictable. (Image: public domain.)

Creators’ sensitivity to subtle differences, to nuances, makes it more likely they will see both sides of a situation. They are able to walk the middle way and thus avoid buying into one extreme position or another. They are more likely to become wise. From these abilities come the well-known stories about the creator’s willingness to tolerate polarities, opposites, and contradictions. The down side of this wonderful open-mindedness is uncertainty, a mental state that can induce a great deal of anxiety and the depression it so often spawns. Ironically, being prone to anxiety and depression may once again make creators appear less sane than those around them.

Consider what we have seen so far. The key personality trait for creators is quite clearly the willingness to put up with negative life situations such as poverty and the disapproval of others, and with negative feelings such as anxiety and depression. They are willing (or are driven by inner imperatives) to soldier on in spite of faltering self-confidence and diminished self-esteem. Most people turn away when things go so badly, yet the creator stubbornly struggles on.

Why are creators like this?

The answer lies in the creative person’s authentic self. Embedded there are a particular set of “nuanced themes,” a cluster of powerful emotionally important ideas. These came into being when the creator was very young as their genes interacted with the world around them. As adults, creators feel the need to express their set of nuanced themes, just as they feel the need to reveal the nuances that others do not see in the world around them. The inner themes become the guiding light for the creator’s life. So powerful is the desire to express the themes, and so rewarding is the chance to do so, the creator will put up with just about anything to get the job done.

Author: Thomas Cotterill

I am a manic-depressive made philosophical by my long struggle with the disruptive mood disorder, during which I spent sixteen years living as a forest hermit. I write philosophical essays, fantasy, and science fiction. My attempt to integrate creativity, psychology, philosophy, and spirituality imbues everything I write. You will find hundreds of related essays and articles on my blog. I live quietly in British Columbia's scenic Fraser Valley, a beautiful place in which to wax philosophical.

10 thoughts on “Are Creative People Less Sane?”

  1. Dan, when I refer to creators or creative people I use the term in the simple way the creativity researchers do, that is, people who are accomplished and esteemed creators of something. These include writers, sculptors, poets, dancers, playwrights, inventors, scientists and so on. By “ordinary,” I mean those who are not in that exceptional class. This is the only way to avoid being caught up in ambiguous definitions that cannot be analysed by studying the work habits, lifestyle, and psychology of particular individuals.

  2. Who knows if they count? Until they prove themselves, they have no credentials. They are as you say, “wannabes.” They are ambitious and aspiring. They may very well be creative, but until they have accomplished something, no one is going to classify them as noteworthy creators. Why should they? Are people really creative if they regard themselves as creative, yet produce nothing? Or are they just kidding themselves? How can we know? As literary critic Harold Bloom has asked, “Are your thoughts of any value if they stay within you?”

    I think I can address your concerns as a struggling creator – specifically a writer. I’m going to stick to traditional publishing because the whole self-publishing thing is still a work in progress. So here goes.

    Writing has always been a game of self-definition. To become a writer you have to believe in yourself. At some point, you have to stop calling yourself a wannabe and start calling yourself a writer. You must do this even though you have yet to publish. No one else (except your Mom and a few writing buddies) is going to grant you the title of writer until they see something tangible. You know – or believe – you can do it. No one else does. All print authors have passed through this self-defining phase in their development. It is a centuries-old rite of passage. It is not easy.

    So ask yourself the big question. “Do I truly regard myself as a writer, or am I still viewing myself as a wannabe?” Then recognize that even if you have made the transition, it is up to you to prove to others that you are worthy of the title you have granted yourself. When you do, then other people will also regard you as a writer, and as such, a creator.

  3. I shouldn’t have said “wannabe.” That’s too negative. I meant to say “aspiring.”

    I write. I have written. But I haven’t published. Yet, anyway. Even if (when) I do, I’m not sure I’m less sane, though. I don’t know any professional creators, so don’t know if they are or not.

  4. I like to leave my posts open at the end; that is, I don’t often write a summary paragraph preferring instead to stop after some “pithy” thought-provoking comment. (I admit I may be thought provoking only in my own mind!) However, the post does present my view that creators are actually saner than ordinary people. I noted their ability to see what others overlook, their superior ability to see both sides of a situation, their skill in walking the middle way. I suggested that creative people are (or become) more wise. Surely, a combination of these things is why we value any particular creator. I took the “less sane” approach in the title because there is a tradition in literature and older writing on creativity that madness and great creative powers are somehow related. The idea is in the process of being exposed as largely (but not entirely) a misconception.

    As for not knowing any professional creators: read a few biographies.

  5. I have often questioned my sanity because my imagination is so vivid. I ought to keep a tight rein on it, but it’s such fun. I often have incongruous images playing out in my head which are imaginative to the point of insanity, for instance, I know a prissy woman called Daphne, and I often have a ridiculous image of her being pursued heatedly by Apollo and having to turn into a tree – that sort of thing
    it helps with the writing, but as for everyday life…

  6. Lucinda, people who question their sanity are never mad. Doing that is actually a sign of good mental health. A vivid imagination is a huge asset for a writer, and while imagination may get us into trouble in the everyday world, the creative benefits always outweigh the occasional drawback. Your little anecdote about Daphne reveals a great sense of humour as well. It’s one of the things I like best about your blog.

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