The Complexity of the Creative Personality

By Douglas Eby © 2011

Creativity researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi includes descriptions of the multiple characteristics of creative people.

In a post of hers, Juliet Bruce, Ph.D. notes that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced me-high chick-sent-me-high-ee) wrote, “If there is one word that makes creative people different from others, it is the word complexity. Instead of being an individual, they are a multitude.”

“Like the color white that includes all colors, they tend to bring together the entire range of human possibilities within themselves. Creativity allows for paradox, light, shadow, inconsistency, even chaos –and creative people experience both extremes with equal intensity.”

Here are a few qualities he lists, as Bruce summarizes:

  • A great deal of physical energy alternating with a great need for quiet and rest.
  • Highly sexual, yet often celibate, especially when working.
  • Smart and naïve at the same time. A mix of wisdom and childishness. Emotional immaturity along with the deepest insights.
  • Convergent (rational, left brain, sound judgment) and divergent (intuitive, right brain, visionary) thinking…
  • Both extroverted and introverted, needing people and solitude equally.
  • Humble and proud, both painfully self-doubting and wildly self-confident.
  • May defy gender stereotypes, and are likely to have not only the strengths of their own gender but those of the other as well. A kind of psychic androgyny.

For more, see her post Understanding Creative People – and Csikszentmihalyi’s classic book Creativity: Flow and the Psychology of Discovery and Invention, plus his article The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality.

Do you relate to any of these qualities?

One of these intriguing areas is androgyny.

The photo here is actress Tilda Swinton, at the 2008 Oscars, where she won for her role in “Michael Clayton.” [Photo from]

Part of her power as an actor and many of her characters is in their androgynous looks and energies.

Swinton has said she is fascinated by the question, “How do we identify ourselves, and how do we settle into other people’s expectations for our identity?”

She once commented she is “very often referred to as ‘Sir’ in elevators and such” and that it “has to do with being this tall and not wearing much lipstick. I think people just can’t imagine I’d be a woman if I look like this.”

But androgyny is more than appearance.

Kathleen Noble, PhD, a professor and psychotherapist who works with many gifted clients, said in our interview, “Gifted women tend to be highly androgynous… they tend to combine qualities that we tend to ascribe to both genders.

“So for instance, you get women who are highly sensitive and highly empathic and compassionate (which are all components of psychic ability), combined with high energy and high drive, high independence and autonomy, which are qualities that the culture rewards in men but not in women.”

Ellen Winner comments in her book Gifted Children: Myths and Realities, “Perhaps because gifted children reject mainstream values, they reject gender-stereotyped traits as well. … Csikszentmihalyi’s talented females scored highly on achievement motivation and dominance, two traits associated with males, and rejected traditional feminine values such as neatness.

“The gifted boys in his study scored highly on measures of sensitivity and aesthetic values, two traits typically associated with females, and rejected the stereotypical male trait of bravado.” [Winner was referring to his book:  Talented Teenagers : The Roots of Success and Failure.]

Perhaps consciously expanding boundaries such as gender stereotypes can help people be more creatively expressive.


Douglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on the psychology of creative expression and personal growth. He is author of the Talent Development Resources series of sites. Also see his Facebook and Twitter pages; Profile on Google+, and . You can get a subscription to The Creative Mind for Kindle, and info about the Developing Talent newsletter.  Article reposted from PsychCentral.

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