By David Joel Miller, MS, Licensed Therapist & Licensed Counselor.
Are highly creative people, writers, and artists, also anti-social?
Some occupations require lots of time working alone. Artists and writers, in particular, need to spend a lot of time by themselves. Do these occupations attract people who want to avoid people?
Is there a mental health problem or personality type that is over-represented in the creative fields?
From a counselor’s perspective, people who work alone or prefer to spend time by themselves are not anti-social. We reserve the label of anti-social as in Anti-social Personality Disorder for people who have no empathy for others. An anti-social person takes advantage of others because they don’t care. They are the ones who get the label of psychopath or sociopath.
People who prefer to avoid others may have some form of anxiety as in social phobia or they may have an attachment style that results in avoiding others but neither of those personality features involves harming others on purpose.
An avoidantly attached person does not expect others to meet their needs and seeks to get their needs met by solitary activities. A creative person might be avoidant and prefer to avoid all contact with people but that is likely to be rare. To be successful at a creative activity as an occupation they will need to go out and spend time marketing and promoting their efforts. Avoidant people are not likely to be willing to do that and are likely to believe that others will not like them anyway.
Someone with social phobia would like to be around others but because of fear, they are unable to be in situations that trigger their anxiety.
Anti-social personality, avoidant attachments and high levels of anxiety are not conducive to the risk taking the artistic person needs to genuinely create something novel.
But an artist and those of an artistic temperament are more likely to have one particular emotional issue. Many artists are moody.
One mental health issue does appear to be correlated with creative temperaments. Kay Redfield Jamison in her book “Touched with Fire” describes the connection between Bipolar disorder and creative endeavors. Those episodes of above average energy and times when the person is “in the zone” fuel creativity. Uncontrolled these episodes can turn into manic or hypomanic episodes and result in the creative person losing control and engaging in risky dangerous behaviors.
There are plenty of stories of famous artistic and creative people who had periods of high energy sometimes coupled with risky behavior followed by periods of deep depression. The energetic periods may fuel creativity but in the full-on manic episodes, the person is no longer able to stay focused long enough to complete projects.
The artistic fields have had a disproportionate share of individuals with mood swings who became alcoholic, addicted or suicidal. The really productive artists, in the long run, learn to manage their moods with or without help and they keep their emotions in bounds.
See also posts on Hyperthymic Temperament, Bipolar Disorder, and Mania.
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