Bitterly Brilliant

Painting 2New, breaking research shows that over-thinkers tend to be creative geniuses. Although, in my mind, this study is hardly breaking unless it is breaking the mold that says enthusiastic extroverts are the highest performers. Or breaking the spirit of the insuppressibly happy. Or breaking the glass ceiling that prevents the bitter among us from rising to societal success (while we are still living, of course).

This study by Dr. Adam Perkins of King’s College London has found that anxious personalities plagued by negative thoughts trend toward greater creative problem solving than happy-go-lucky types. Although I appreciate when the scientific method is utilized to back up what we intrinsically know to be true, I think we can all look through history and acknowledge that the Greats of each era suffered for their genius.

Or we can just read through my old blog posts. Or talk to my mother. She has suffered my genius, lo these many years.

selfportraitVincent Van Gogh, iconic Post-Impressionist painter, suffered from severe depression and eventually committed suicide. He wrote to his brother, “I am unable to describe exactly what is the matter with me. Now and then there are horrible fits of anxiety, apparently without cause, or otherwise a feeling of emptiness… at times I have attacks of melancholy and of atrocious remorse.”

Sweden’s Karolinska Institute found that writers are 121% more likely to suffer from bipolar disorder and nearly 50% more likely to commit suicide than the general population. Charles Dickens, Leo Tolstoy and Ernest Hemingway all appear to have suffered from clinical depression. Charles is my gloomy groupie, Leo is my caustic comrade, and Ernest shares my melancholy mojo. We are indeed Brothers in Bitterness.

Open TabsThe Karolinska Institute also discovered that creative types tend to have higher levels of schizotypy. *Twitch, twitch* They are less able to ignore extraneous details; their brains do not allow them to filter. As a result, they take in more information than most, exhibiting keen skills of observation.

Think of famous fictional detectives: Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Adrian Monk and Miss Fisher. All of these champions in intuition share a remarkable attention to detail, and this characteristic, coupled with their ability to synthesize vast amount of information, is largely what made them brilliant.

SherlockMasterful detectives see patterns and connections that others miss. According to American psychologist Scott Kaufman, “It seems that the key to creative cognition is opening up the flood gates and letting in as much information as possible because you never know: sometimes the most bizarre associations can turn into the most productively creative ideas.” But the very attention to detail that makes these characters so great also lends itself to bouts of overthinking, anxiety and OCD.

Great inventors through the ages also frequently suffered from a neurotic fretfulness. HigherPerspectives writes, “In a sense, worry is the mother of invention. When you think about it, it makes sense. Many of our greatest breakthroughs through the years were a result of worry. Nuclear power? Worry over energy. Advanced weapons? Worry of invasion. Medical breakthroughs? Worry over illness and death.”

broodingDr. Adam Perkins explained his research, saying: “It occurred to me that if you happen to have a preponderance of negatively hued self-generated thoughts, due to high levels of spontaneous activity in the parts of the medial prefrontal cortex… that means you can experience intense negative emotions even when there’s no threat present. This could mean that for specific neural reasons, high scorers on neuroticism have a highly active imagination, which acts as a built-in threat generator. Cheerful, happy-go-lucky people by definition do not brood about problems and so must be at a disadvantage when problem-solving compared to a more neurotic person… It is easy to observe that many geniuses seem to have a brooding, unhappy tendency that hints they are fairly high on the neuroticism spectrum.”

Anxiety is linked to a stronger imagination. OCD is associated with concentrated skills of observation. Depression is correlated with deep thinking and heightened brain function. People with these traits often exhibit what are perceived to be negative personality patterns as a result of incredibly developed, creative brain function. Like so many things in life, this creative genius is a double-edged sword. “But he who dares not grasp the thorn should never crave the rose.” – Anne Brontë

Authentically Aurora

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7 thoughts on “Bitterly Brilliant

  1. So right about creativity. I’m constantly being barraged with fantastic ideas, many which will change the world, but am plagued with idiots around me trying to hold my ideas down. By the way, I feel like I am your brother of bitterness, so you would be my sister of sassitude? Solemnity?

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  2. A few weeks ago I heard a painter talking about “the muse.” He warned his audience that the muse cares all about the art but nothing about the artist. She is just using the artist to create art for her, and if the process destroys him, she doesn’t care.
    Soren Kierkegaard compared a poet to the victim of the brazen bull of Phalaris–the victim screamed in pain while being roasted to death, but the sound that emerged from the brazen bull sounded like music to the king and his guests
    Kurt Vonnegut takes this connection the opposite direction. He says that outsiders–including the mentally ill, Jews, homosexuals–are more creative than the average population because they are forced to look at things differently because of their outsider status.
    At any rate, the connections among intelligence, creativity, and mental afflictions (including anxiety, depression, being highly sensitive, OCD, bi-polar) have long been observed. As you say, this latest study is hardly breaking news. The question is, do the over-thinking creative types celebrate their successes or bemoan their afflictions? Why or why not? J.

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