“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive. To him… a touch is a blow, a sound is a noise, a misfortune is a tragedy, a joy is an ecstasy, a friend is a lover, a lover is a god, and failure is death. Add to this cruelly delicate organism the overpowering necessity to create, create, create – so that without the creating of music or poetry or books or buildings or something of meaning, his very breath is cut off from him. He must create, must pour out creation. By some strange, unknown, inward urgency he is not really alive unless he is creating.”

I have been sitting with this quote by Pearl S. Buck for a long time now. Most recently, I saw it lauded on social media, with hundreds of people chiming in that they felt understood and seen.

I will be totally honest: As a therapist, I found this worrying for more than one reason. Firstly because so many people, especially in the arts, still feel misunderstood and not seen (there is another blog post in there for sure). However, there was something else that didn’t sit quite right:

It was calling high sensitivity “abnormal or inhuman”

And one step further: That this didn’t seem odd to the majority of people.

It made me think how many people still believe that high sensitivity is “not normal” or somewhat “disordered”/pathological — neither of which is true. These beliefs have the potential to either make highly sensitive people feel like something is wrong with them, or as if being highly sensitive is a virtue that somewhat has to come at a cost. I think both viewpoints are problematic, especially if we look at how normalised they are.

Even we consider high sensitivity to be neurodivergent, it doesn’t mean that it is “abnormal”. It’s just that medical research was (and often still is) in the hands of mostly neurotypical white men who define/d what is regarded as “normal”.

Neurodiversity is not a disability by default

Which brings me back to the quote: Of course it was written in a different time. However, that we still think, today, calling neurodivergent people “abnormal” or “inhuman” sounds poetic or is meant to be empowering is worrying. It furthers the belief that they’re either

a) “less than” because they’re “not typical” or

b) “more than” by virtue of paying a price for being creative.

I wrote about the latter in detail before, so those of you who haven’t read “You Have to Suffer for Your Art” yet might find it interesting. In short: No, creativity is not linked to poor mental health per se, neither is poor mental health causative (or even strongly correlated) to high creativity, a few rare exceptions aside.

Highly sensitive people don’t “operate” as expected by neurotypical people. That is all. And this doesn’t just apply to artists, but we unfortunately still have a tendency to romanticise high sensitivity in the arts. It can help or hinder, but mostly, it just is…

© Petra Borzynski 2023

About Petra Borzynski

Petra Borzynski is a voice coach and therapist with special expertise in helping (performing) artists and creatives to overcome limiting beliefs and emotional blocks to perform better and without fear. She has helped hundreds of people to prepare for or sustain a singing career, find personal fulfilment through music and overcome limiting beliefs & performance anxiety. Her articles on singing, creativity and performance psychology have been featured in several publications.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Skip to content
%d bloggers like this: