Creative Intensity Doesn’t Have to Be a Curse

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All of my life people have described me as intense. My family, my friends, perfect strangers that I’ve met at parties. I’ve been known to get really excited about a topic—like REALLY excited—without noticing the person that I’m talking to is backing away from me and trying to get out of the room. Don’t get me wrong, my intuitive people skills are usually pretty good. But when my creative faculties are triggered, everything else flies out the window.

I always assumed that this was a big defect, my ability to turn into a socially awkward nutjob at random times. It wasn’t until I started reading around online that I realized nothing is wrong with me. I just happen to be a highly creative person.

Highly creative people are intense.

Highly creative people are also likely to be: Emotional, restless, driven by curiosity, unconventional when it comes to social norms, eccentric in behavior, and extreme in mood and temperament. We have this inner compass that swings wildly back and forth, and because of the constant fluctuation it usually takes us a while to figure it out. Some of us never figure it out, in fact. The stereotypes of the incredibly talented rock star on heroin, or the genius writer drowned by alcoholism, exist for a reason.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. It wasn’t until I was 30 years old that I started to get a handle on my buzzing creative brain, and it took a lot of work and research and practice, but it can be done. I discovered the key to a highly creative person leading a healthy life is balance. And that because of our extreme nature, this is the thing that is also so challenging for us to learn.

For instance, when I was younger I would get so carried away by an idea, or a book, or a person—anything that I found fascinating and magical—that I would push everything else aside. I would work on that idea for hours, skipping meals. Or read that book for days, skipping sleep. Or become involved in unhealthy relationships, skipping myself. I had to teach myself that solid nutrition, regular sleep, and stable relationships are good for me, even if they’re not always fascinating and magical.

Another part of the process that changed my life was fully accepting who I am and how I work. For many years, I tried to downplay my weird streak and fit in. I tried to show interest in things I wasn’t really interested in, but most of my friends were. This resulted in wild outbursts of rebellious energy that exploded at all the wrong times. Because I wasn’t allowing myself to just be myself I constantly felt stifled and resentful on some level.

Functioning well as a highly creative person comes down to balance and authenticity. Our mental health is not precarious, as the myths of the mad artist would have us believe, it just needs mindful care and feeding. And the more authentic we are as creative beings, showing up every day in our own lives as passionate souls searching for meaning, the more positive people and circumstances will show up for us.

The last essential piece for highly creative people is that they must be creating things. It doesn’t always have to be a huge crazy project, little works of art can nourish us as well. What counts is that we’re making things on a regular schedule. Creative expression must take priority in our lives or we will suffer the dire consequences of ill physical health, and depression and anxiety.

To find out more about writers, artists and other highly creative people, you can read through some of my other posts on this topic:

9 Things Writers Don’t Talk About
What Every Writer Should Know
Discovering Yourself As a Writer
There’s Only One Way to Figure Out Your Value As a Writer…
What You Were Born to Do

Be yourself. Find your balance. Write like you were born to it.

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29 Comments

  • Reply Rachel Lugo 16 September, 2013 at 10:00 am

    Hi Lauren!

    Wait what? Are you talking about me? 🙂

    I was just telling my husband two days ago that creating and “building” is my passion in my work, and if I’m not doing that I’m bored out of my skull.

    What I call building could be anything; a website, a business process, a team, a system, framework, etc. Anything I can start from zero and make into awesome, I’m in….and I’ll get lost in it. I love that feeling!

    However I tend to kick my own butt when I get lost in my “building of stuff”, so balance is definitely key.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 September, 2013 at 10:30 am

      Haha! Yup, I was talking about both of us 🙂

  • Reply Setsu 16 September, 2013 at 10:42 am

    A number of writers and artists I look up to have found a partner that helps balance them, not only in a beta-reader capacity, but someone who can bring them back down to earth when they’ve strayed toward unhealthy habits. Do you think these relationships are necessary, or do creative types wind down as they get older from manic insanity to a kind of serene otherworldliness?

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 September, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Oh man, I would love to embody a “serene otherworldliness.” 🙂 But seriously, in my experience, I’ve sought out more people who “balance” me as I’ve gotten older specifically because I have learned how to balance myself. When I was younger, sometimes people in my life did try to bring me back down to earth but I fought them all the way. I wasn’t ready to ground myself at that time. I wasn’t ready to participate in balance. It had to come from within me first, and then I found the people in my external world who could reflect that new belief system back at me.

  • Reply huka 16 September, 2013 at 10:50 am

    Kia ora Lauren,

    Kia ora in te reo Maori, or the Maori language, means something similar to “be well”. We say kia ora when we greet people informally, but also as a way to say thank you in contemporary times, as in traditional culture we has no need for, nor expectations of politeness terms and phrases.

    Anyway, kia ora for your post. I really enjoy reading this post as I have been thinking a lot about the need for creativity in my life. It’s part of my identity and it enables me to perform an important social function. When I suppress my creativity I die a little.

    I found it interesting to read how you perceived creatively charged conversation as being something that can cause people to withdraw from you. I understand and relate to the intense space that comes with these types of conversation.

    Normally, I feel socially inept, however, when I am able to converse in social settings about creative thought, I feel completely empowered and able. When I converse from my comfort zone, my ability to communicate things that are abstract is the aspect of my identity that is highly seductive to others. Often, I feel I have to hide and tone down this aspect of myself because others become so seduced, that they become obsessive and demand more of my energy than is safe for me to give.

    Perhaps when you feel people stand back from you at these times, re-interrogate the social dynamics from another perspective. People might actually be stunned by your ability to communicate in this way, and hence are mesmerized and slightly fearful of your ability to manifest an inner beauty that most find hard to access.

    Nga mihi, greetings,
    na huka.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 September, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      I loved this comment SO MUCH. And I think you call attention to an excellent point. Maybe I am stunning people some of the time and I never looked at it that way before! I always assume I’m horrifying them in some way. Your comment made me really think about shifting my perspective.

      Thank you so so much for this wisdom today. I am truly grateful for it!

  • Reply Dover Whitecliff 16 September, 2013 at 12:26 pm

    Phenomenal post. Like you I used to downplay…thank heavens life begins at forty… I wasn’t bright enough to figure it out at 30…but since I started working with the wind instead of fighting it, life has been a much better and more rewarding place.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 September, 2013 at 1:24 pm

      Ah…”working with the wind.” I love the way you put that!

  • Reply Maria M 16 September, 2013 at 1:20 pm

    Hi Lauren,
    Thanks for putting up such a great post. I denied my creativity for years hid it, the result I was sad and miserable. I knew I looked at a tree and saw a hidden world there but couldn’t or wouldn’t allow myself to voice it much less write it. Now with my children grown, and unemployed I’ve thrown caution to the wind and write avidly, whenever I can.
    I do keep balanced courtesy of my husband, or hope I do.

  • Reply JD 16 September, 2013 at 2:46 pm

    It’s so nice to hear that other people have the same “problem”. I get the comments all the time “You’re too sensitive” or “You’re intense”. In fact, just this past July while speaking with someone I just met and discussing my older cousin’s living and health situations, I was told “Yeah, I can tell you’re intense.” I felt so bad.

    Your post helps. A lot.

    And I love your blog.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 16 September, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      I get the “you’re too sensitive” as well. It took me a long time to realize my sensitivity was also a gift.

      Thanks so much for reading, your comments are always so positive and help me to keep going with this blog!

  • Reply Diane Corriette 17 September, 2013 at 1:15 am

    “Emotional, restless, driven by curiosity, unconventional…” and intense…. me, me, me and me!
    Great post.

  • Reply Glynis Jolly 17 September, 2013 at 4:05 am

    I have yet to find my balance in life. This seems to be doubly true with my moods. I hope I will figure it out like you have.

    To you — Bravo!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 17 September, 2013 at 9:33 am

      Well, I’m still figuring it out. It’s definitely an ongoing process.

  • Reply Rachel Lugo 17 September, 2013 at 6:29 am

    Wow all of you are just awesome, I’m loving this whole thread of comments.

    I can relate to everything here. I’ve been called intense more times than I can count, it’s a bit of an emotional trigger for me. That and being told to “relax”…..ugh. The message I’ve always gotten by these comments is that I’m too much to handle, and that I’m not OK as a human being.

    And I too wonder sometimes why I seem to scare the crap out of some people, some are repelled by me before I even speak. But then complete strangers are drawn to me and want to tell me their life stories in the grocery store. It’s a weird way to live. I like your perspective on that Huka. I’ve always known intuitively that it’s an energy thing but I’ve never been able to put my finger on it of course.

    My husband definitely keeps me grounded, sometimes too grounded though and I swing the other way. 🙂

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 17 September, 2013 at 9:34 am

      Oh, I get the complete-strangers-in-grocery-stores thing too. Luckily, I’m a writer and so I thrive on the life stories of strangers!

  • Reply Kimberly Hill 17 September, 2013 at 9:01 am

    Sounds familiar. I think I’ll make my fiancé read this later so he can stop thinking I’m crazy and realize I’m actually just creative.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 17 September, 2013 at 9:35 am

      Love it! And I’m off to check out your blog right now, I’m always interested in seeing the writing of fellow creatives.

  • Reply John L. Monk 17 September, 2013 at 3:01 pm

    What a wonderful blog. Great posts, beautiful artwork 🙂 Gonna look around.

  • Reply Margit Sage 17 September, 2013 at 4:18 pm

    Awesome post! And an excellent comment thread. When I started writing again, I started to feel like the puzzle pieces were finally fitting together. I’d tried other creative outlets (mostly fiber arts), but none of them allowed me to express enough of myself. When I talk about my writing, I’ve been told that I get very animated and interrupt other people. Most of the time I’m an extreme introvert who sits quietly in the corner, either observing everything, or thinking about my own little worlds.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 18 September, 2013 at 9:49 am

      Yep. I’m also the introvert in the corner, who lights up like a crazy person when I get to talking about literature, history, and writing. Sometimes I wonder what would happen if we got a bunch of creatively intense people in the same room together. Now there’s a party I would actually like to go to!

  • Reply Johnny Nguyen 17 September, 2013 at 9:24 pm

    This article is absolutely amazing. As an entrepreneur, I battled with the analytical demeanor usually associated with business, however, it is not until late I realized (more so allowed) my highly creative nature to breathe. It has made all the difference!

    Still satisfying my creative nature through design, cooking, and writing! Welcome anymore suggestion, for what seems to be an insatiable appetite!

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 18 September, 2013 at 9:53 am

      I really know where you’re coming from. I’ve worked in the startup world for the past six years as an assistant to CEOs and I see that all the time. Entrepreneurs are HIGHLY creative, but most of them also have that analytical side. They struggle with balance too. One side of them sees how to mechanically pick something apart and make it work, and the other side gets these brilliant flashes of insight that come from their strongly developed intuition. And on top of all that, they’re trying to figure out how to make it all work in the business world.

      I’d love to see an alliance between artists and entrepreneurs in the future. Some sort of organization that lets the two really benefit from each other on more than a purely professional level.

  • Reply hilarycustancegreen 18 September, 2013 at 12:11 pm

    I share many of the characteristics you have described, but can I put my hand in the air to mention that creative people come all mental shapes and sizes? I know some who are full of ‘serene otherworldliness’. There are people whose dynamo is internalised, so you wouldn’t recognise them as a creative type, yet their work is stupendous.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 18 September, 2013 at 2:43 pm

      Yes! So true. I’ve met creative people of so many different stripes. Thank you so much for adding this!

  • Reply Andrea Black 18 September, 2013 at 8:37 pm

    Hello Lauren,
    I just want to say thank you so much for your postings. This one came at a particularly good time. I am a holistic life coach (newly mended) working with people on authenticity and I am an artist, and as of recent I have been getting this reaction-the slow backing away or outburst of “I can’t do this anymore”…which is usually what happens with people I’m in creative endeavors with. I found myself saddened and feeling like there’s something wrong with me because, well, I am the common denominator. I am an INFJ 🙂 (read your other posting) and find myself better at being solitary for the exact reason of people’s reactions to me. Well. To make a long story short, I’m just glad I can relate to someone, so I don’t feel completely alone. So thank you, and thank you for your postings. They’re a breath of fresh air.

    • Reply Lauren Sapala 19 September, 2013 at 8:10 am

      I’m so happy to hear that my posts are helping you in some way. And don’t worry, you will find your groove. I’m a big fan of Steve Pavlina and he talks about how sometimes people or situations show up in our life that are only “partial matches” for what we’re looking for. Meaning they might be able to go with us halfway, but not all the way. The more you work toward your truth and life purpose though, the more you will see circumstances changing, and the people and situations willing to go ALL the way with you creatively will start showing up.

      Good luck and hope to see you back here 🙂

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