Welcome Eric Maisel-creativity coach, therapist, and the author of more than 30 books, including Creativity for Life, The Van Gogh Blues, Fearless Creating, A Writer's Paris, A Writer's San Francisco and Coaching The Artist Within. He writes a monthly column for Art Calendar Magazine and hosts The Joy of Living Creatively on the Personal Life Media Network.
Creativity isn't a trait or a set of traits: it arises because a person feels the need to be herself, to know what she knows, to love what she loves, and to do what she needs to do. Children don't draw because they have fingers or sing because they have vocal chords. They draw because they have a giraffe inside that needs to get out and they sing because they are bursting with song.
What distinguishes the creative person from other people is the creative person's felt sense of individuality. Many people are born conventional and find it quite easy to follow the crowd; only a portion of our species is born with a strong desire to assert their individuality. All the personality traits that creative people manifest, the more than seventy-five traits that have been described in the creativity literature, flow from this single core quality: the need to assert individuality.
I am pleased to announce that CREATIVE RECOVERY: A COMPLETE ADDICTION TREATMENT PROGRAM THAT USES OF YOUR NATURAL CREATIVITY is now available. My co-author, the addictions specialist Dr. Susan Raeburn, and I have put together what we believe is the first addiction treatment program that takes into account the special risk factors of creative people and that presents a recovery program that makes use of a creative person's special talents and abilities.
Researchers who looked at the differences between highly intelligent adolescents and highly creative adolescents came to this same conclusion. Getzels and Jackson reported, "The high IQs tend to converge on stereotyped meanings, to perceive personal success by conventional standards, to move toward the model provided by teachers, and to seek out careers that conform to what is expected of them. The high creatives tend to diverge from stereotyped meanings, to move away from the model provided by teachers, and to seek out careers that do not conform to what is expected of them."
Holland echoed these findings, reporting that creative high school students were "independent, intellectually expressive, asocial, consciously original, and had high aspirations for future achievement." Hammer argued that highly creative art students placed an emphasis on "self-directedness, independence, criticality and individuality" and Trowbridge and Charles concluded that creative adolescents conform less and exhibit more self-motivation. All of the research confirms a basic point: the creative person is not more intelligent than her peers or more gifted than her peers, but she is more individual than her peers. That is the genetic orientation that she lives out and prizes.
A person pops out of the womb individual-and within just a few years of birth she will feel that difference as she looks around her and finds herself unable to understand why the conventional people around her are acting so conventionally. As a result she is likely to start to feel alienated, out of place, and like a "stranger in a strange land." Even if she trains herself to hold her tongue and engage in conventional work, she will already know as a young child that she can't really conform and that she wasn't built to conform. To call this budding creator a "nonconformist" is only to call her an individual. They are different ways of saying the same thing.
Such an individual feels her individuality in her bones and begins to recognize that creating, which is already starting to interest her as she falls in love with books, music, or the speed of light, is going to put her at odds with the conventional people around her. Her goal is to be individual, not oppositional; but because she must continually battle her conventional peers for her right to be individual, she becomes oppositional. A certain oppositional attitude naturally and inevitably flows from an individual's adamant effort to make personal sense of the world.
Arnold Ludwig, in his study of a thousand well-known creators throughout history entitled The Price of Greatness, had this to say about his subjects: "These individuals often have an attitude set that is oppositional in nature. It is almost as though this response set is part of their very nature. This antagonism to traditional beliefs, practices and established forms of authority assumes many forms. What distinguishes these individuals from others is that they do not simply rebel. These are not people who just see that the emperor has no clothes; they offer their own brand of attire for him to wear. They feel obliged to speak out, do what they believe is right, and pursue their own goals, even when they may be punished for doing so."
Popping out of the womb individual, needing to experiment and to risk as part of their individuality, and feeling thwarted and frustrated by the oh-so-conventional universe into which they have been plopped at birth, creative people move as fast as a ski jumper down a ramp toward reckless ways of dealing with the anxious feelings that this alienation and frustration produce. Nor is the image of a ski jumper racing down a ramp an idle one: the creative person is not only an individual, she is driven to be that individual, a drive that sets her off racing through life.
Nature makes the calculation that, for an individual to truly be individual, it had better invest her with enough power, passion, energy and appetite to manifest that individuality. Otherwise individuality would be a cosmic joke, and nature doesn't joke that way. So it invests this individual with extra drive. Just as it makes no sense to produce a creature that enjoys the leaves at the tops of trees without also providing him with a long neck, so it makes no sense to produce a creature that is built to assert his individuality without providing him with the energy of assertion. This nature does.
As a result many creative people have more energy, bigger appetites, stronger needs, greater passion, more aliveness, bigger "ups," more adrenaline, more sex hormones, and more avidity than the next person. This is all the same idea and comes from the same wellspring. It is nature's way of fueling the individual so that he can be individual. It should also be clear how this extra energy and greater appetite often lead to conditions like addiction, mania and insatiability. How can you have an out-sized sex drive and not become obsessed with sex? How can you have a ton of energy and not court mania? How can you have extra adrenaline shoot through your system and not need to race a hundred miles an hour down the road or gulp more than several drinks to "take the edge off"? Nature, by fitting some individuals with enough energy to write symphonies and to penetrate the mysteries of the universe, inadvertently creates a driven, insatiable, addiction-prone creature.
One of the major unfortunate consequences of this extra drive-this extra ambition, egotism, energy, passion, and appetite-with which nature imbues some individuals, is that these particular individuals are hard-pressed-and often completely unable-to feel satisfied. A pressured creator eats a hundred peanuts-not satisfying enough. He writes a good book-not satisfying enough. He has a shot of Scotch-not satisfying enough. He wins the Nobel Prize-not satisfying enough. This inability to get satisfied produces a background unhappiness and tension in this creative person's life and makes him want some experience that will mask this feeling or make it go away. So he has another hundred peanuts, so as to provide himself with some relief; without, however, coming any closer to actually satisfying himself.
It is as if nature turbocharged some of its creatures and then failed to give them a decent braking system. It provided extra energy and with it a susceptibility to mania. It provided extra ambition and with it a susceptibility to grandiosity. It provided extra appetite and with it a susceptibility to promiscuity, obesity (or stubborn anorexia) and alcoholism. It provided extra adrenaline and with it a susceptibility to car wrecks. If all of these "extras" could be channeled and regulated, we might thank nature for its largesse. As it is, these extras make this particular creative person's life wild and unruly.
So nature creates an individual who must know for himself, follow his own path, and be himself, puts it in his mind that he is born to do special work, gives him the energy to pursue this work and the courage to stand in opposition to those who would prevent him from walking his idiosyncratic path, and then turns around and tortures him by doing nothing to relieve his core anxiety. Instead, it heightens that anxiety by giving him an existential outlook, making sure that nothing will ever satisfy him, pouring adrenaline through his system, and swelling his head just enough that he tips over, top-heavy, into self-centeredness. All of this makes the work of creating that much harder and life a series of frustrating struggles. To repeat, not every creative person resembles this picture: but many do.
At the same time natures produces a second creature, also born individual and creative, who is harmed, deflected, or thwarted in such a way that his individuality and creativity are prevented from manifesting themselves. These many thwarted creative individuals, tens of millions of them, know exactly how soulful, satisfying, and special it would be to write a novel, engage in fascinating research, or invent new technologies. But they are prevented from doing creative work and standing up for their individuality by the harm done to them. These are the world's world-be artists; or, as the psychoanalyst Otto Rank famously dubbed them, the world's artist-manqués. Their risk for addiction is heightened because of this core frustration, that they have been prevented from manifesting their potential. The working artist drinks because he is driven, the would-be artist drinks to drown his frustrations-and the typical creative person, who is sometimes effective and sometimes blocked, finds himself confronted by both reasons to drink.
It turns out that most creative people are a mixture of these two types, active, effective, driven, and creative in one area of their life or during one time period and passive, ineffective, unmotivated and thwarted in another area of their life or during another time period. A poet may have a fertile two years and then a stagnant five years. A researcher may delve deeply into a subject that interests her and then find no similarly engrossing subject for the next decade. The reality is that most creative people will experience both sets of challenges: the challenges that come as they try to manifest their individuality and the challenges that come from failing to express their individuality-and the extra risk for addiction that both sets of challenges bring.
Individuality adds to your risk for addiction-and so does suppressed individuality. The drive to manifest your potential adds to your risk for addiction-and so does tamping that drive down. Growing oppositional adds to your risk for addiction-and remaining too obedient and doing violence to your nature also adds to your risk for addiction. We are betting that this makes perfect sense to you and that it matches your felt sense of reality and the complexities that you know exist. Who wouldn't break free of an addiction if addiction were a simpler matter than this? But it is exactly this knotty.
Here are what folks are saying about CREATIVE RECOVERY:
"Creative Recovery is a boldly challenging, rich, and comprehensive guide to positive, healthy growth for anyone with creative talents or the desire to look inward for potential and possibility. This is a practical and useful guide."
-- Stephanie Brown, PhD, Director, The Addictions Institute, and author of A Place Called Self: Women, Sobriety and Radical Transformation
"Creative Recovery presents a rock-solid recovery program that anyone can use and that writers, painters, musicians, and other creative people will find invaluable and for some, even life-saving."
-- Bonnie Raitt
"Even seasoned clinicians working with individuals in the creative professions will appreciate the utility of the exercises and questions for cultivating new avenues of inquiry around the process of change related to addiction."
-- Nancy A. Piotrowski, PhD, President, Division 50 (Addictions), American Psychological Association
If addictions are even slightly a problem for you - and don't forget the "distraction addictions" like endlessly checking email! - I hope that you will take a peek at CREATIVITY RECOVERY, which is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookseller. We think it will help!