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Creative and Shy

In an interview when she was about 15, actor Claire Danes said, “I never thought of myself as shy, and then I realized I am kind of shy; I’ve just built defenses to hide it.” [Photo from her movie Temple Grandin.]

I have often been struck by how many apparently very self-assured performers and actors have been shy or introverted as children. Many still are, as adults.

Musician Gwen Stefani is another example. She was a “shy girl who spent most of her time in a bedroom plastered with Marilyn Monroe posters, who nevertheless assumed she was destined for greatness,” according to a UK newspaper profile.

[From my post Shyness and sensitivity – working it out on stage or off.]

Elaine Aron, PhD, in her book The Highly Sensitive Person, notes this term shy “has some very negative connotations. It does not have to; shy can also be equated with words such as discreet, self-controlled, thoughtful, and sensitive.”

But many of us have found being shy or “outsiders” to be at times a source of discomfort.

Danes said, “I did not perform well socially in junior high. I was a strange girl and I was in a lot of pain because of that, like most teenagers.”

But she found her series My So-Called Life (1994-1995) was “a forum to release my frustration and anger. It was an incredible gift. It was very cathartic.”

[From Sensitive and suffering as a teen: Claire Danes on being shy and high achieving]

Elaine Aron also notes: “Because HSPs (highly sensitive persons) prefer to look before entering new situations, they are often called ‘shy.’ But shyness is learned, not innate. In fact, 30% of HSPs are extraverts, although the trait is often mislabeled as introversion. It has also been called inhibitedness, fearfulness, or neuroticism. Some HSPs behave in these ways, but it is not innate to do so and not the basic trait.”

Research on shyness

One study (still referenced by newer research) “tested the hypothesis that shy people may be less creative than those who are not shy. Forty-two college women…wrote poems which were rated for creativity. Half of the subjects were told that they would receive evaluative feedback regarding the quality of their poems.

“The negative relationship between shyness and creative performance was substantial when the trait of shyness was salient, due either to the private self-consciousness of the subject or to anticipation of evaluation.” (Shyness and verbal creativity by Jonathan M. Cheek and Sherin S. Stahl, Journal of Research in Personality, Volume 20, Issue 1, March 1986)

Another study “indicated a positive relation between self-esteem and creativity, and a negative relation between shyness and creativity.” (Preschoolers’ Creativity, Shyness, and Self-Esteem, Creativity Research Journal, Volume 9, Issue 4, 1996)

But there does not seem to be a clear relationship between creativity and shyness – and other research shows that intrinsic motivation is conducive to creativity, while extrinsic motivation (such as being judged) is detrimental, which could pressure shy people to be less creatively productive.

Are we more creative if we are shy?

In his article Shyness – Another View, psychologist Maurice Turmel PhD declares that “the more shy a person is, the more creative they tend to be. A lot of actors and performers are shy people. Why? Because they are creative. So why do shy, creative people show themselves? Because the joy of giving, of displaying their special abilities far exceeds the limited payoff of staying hidden and allegedly safe.

“It’s a contradiction of course, but it is true nevertheless. Most shy people (not all) are creative, and most creative people would rather give of their talents than hold back.”

Maybe being shy encourages us to more deeply explore our inner lives and imagination.

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One of my related Creative Mind posts: Creative Performers: Both Extroverted and Introverted

Another post: Gifted and shy – Jane Fonda, Evan Rachel Wood, Nicole Kidman on acting

Creative and Shy

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2013). Creative and Shy. Psych Central. Retrieved on June 5, 2020, from


Last updated: 21 Aug 2013
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