I’ve ask myself this question many times. Is creativity in my genes? To be specific I mean is the ability to create art in any type of media. Cause when I look at my parents, grandparents and sisters I am hard pressed to think so. Or better, why me? Don’t get me wrong I live to make imagery, to execute concepts, to come up with stories and characters that have never existed before. But, I wonder if it would be an easier life to love selling whether it’s insurance, cars or some kind of widget. It’s certainly a way to make more money on average if money is all that important to you. I must admit it is somewhat important to me but it isn’t the end all by any means. But I diverge.
I spent some time looking on the internet to see if I could get my question answered and I came to an article by Andrea Kuszewski. Here are a few excerpts that were enlightening.
The Essential Psychopathology Of Creativity
By Andrea Kuszewski | September 20th 2010
Andrea is a Behavior Therapist and Consultant for children on the autism spectrum, residing in the state of FL; her background is in cognitive
If we could identify a gene for creativity, let’s call it the “creativity gene”, you would be hard pressed to find very many people who would consider it a “negative gene” or a hazard to possess or carry. But what if, purely hypothetically, we could identify a gene for Schizophrenia? Or Bipolar Disorder? Or Depressive Disorder? Or ADHD? Would you select for those traits if you could genetically engineer your offspring at will? If you wanted to give birth to a creative child, the answer should be yes.
The very traits that make someone creative, passionate, and likely to achieve a high degree of success in their domain, are the same traits that define psychological disorders such as Bipolar Disorder, Schizophrenia, and ADHD. So what is the difference between creativity and psychopathology? Where do we draw the line between functional excess of extreme traits and the point at which they define a psychological disorder? Is there a discriminating characteristic that separates these two groups? Yes, there is, and it’s called cognitive control, or high executive function.
Ok so slow down…I call this controlled chaos. I’ve always thought of my own thinking and work as that. Jut saying…
An article in the NY Times titled, “Just Manic Enough: Seeking Perfect Entrepreneurs”, described individuals that were unnaturally creative, passionate, energetic, charismatic, and those most sought-after by venture capitalists as “hypomanic”. They go on to describe how these individuals, while successful and gifted at what they do, meet the criteria in the DSM as suffering from Hypomanic Episodes (one of the defining features of Bipolar Disorder). From the DSM:
DSM IV Criteria for Hypomanic Episode:
A) Distinct period of persistently elevated, expansive, or irritable mood, lasting throughout at least 4 days that is clearly different from the usual nondepressed mood.
B) During the period of mood disturbance, three (or more) of the following symptoms have persisted (four if the mood is only irritable) and have been present to a significant degree:
Inflated self-esteem or grandiosity
Decreased need for sleep (e.g. feels rested after only 3 hours of sleep)
More talkative than usual or pressure to keep talking
Flight of ideas or subjective experience that thoughts are racing
Distractibility (i.e., attention too easily drawn to unimportant or irrelevant external stimuli)
Increase in goal-directed activity (at work, at school, or sexually) or psychomotor agitation
Excessive involvement in pleasurable activities that have a high potential for painful consequences (e.g. engaging in unrestrained buying sprees, sexual indiscretions, or foolish business investments) Sound familiar?
C) The episode is associated with an unequivocal change in functioning that is uncharacteristic of the person when not symptomatic.
D) The disturbance in mood and the change in functioning are observable by others.
E) The mood disturbance not severe enough to cause marked impairment in social or occupational functioning, or to necessitate hospitalization, and there are no psychotic features.
F) The symptoms are not due to the direct physiological effects of a substance (e.g., a drug of abuse, a medication or other treatment) or a general medical condition (e.g., hyperthyroidism)
Now, I don’t know how many of you creative-types out there began to panic when you started reading this list of defining criteria, but I know I did. In fact, of all the creative people I know in various fields of work and study (and I know a lot), I don’t know too many who don’t meet these criteria. It’s called being In The Zone, or Flow, as defined by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. This is usually that happy-productive-place that we all love to be in, and don’t seem to get enough of. However, according to the DSM criteria, it appears if you are too intensely creative, you might very well be suffering from Hypomanic Episodes.
The Essential Truth of Creativity
The truth is, in order to be truly exceptional at something creative in nature, whatever domain it may be, you need to have those extreme traits that get you labeled by the DSM as meeting the criteria for some kind of a personality disorder. However (and this is the catch), in order to have those extreme, intense traits and not suffer from a disorder, you also need to have some sort of regulatory mechanism that helps to control those traits.
The psychologist interviewed for the Times article, John Gartner, and author of the book The Hypomanic Edge, essentially describes this type of excessively-creative-yet somehow-able-to-function-normally individual. He says that the “attributes that make a good entrepreneur are common in certain manias, but are harnessed in ways that are hugely productive.” That harnessing, or cognitive control, is the one thing that really separates extreme, yet functional traits from dysfunction and psychopathology.
I’m going to stop here and let those of you who want to read more click on the link. Look, no one ever said being creative was an easy way to live life. But a creative life well lived and explored is an adventure that can be satisfying and exciting. And if you manage to become successful at it highly rewarding monetarily. The bottom line is you are who you are so don’t fight it, enjoy the ride!