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The Highly Sensitive Creative Person

Yo‑Yo Ma

Are creative people more likely to be highly sensitive?

Writer Carolyn Gregoire in an article on the topic thinks one reason highly sensitive people may be so creative is an unusual depth of feeling – part of the personality trait of high sensitivity that psychologists and many creative people find supports creative exploration and expression.

Gregoire writes in the article that “Mark Salzman, a friend of the great cellist Yo‑Yo Ma, describes Ma as one of the most joyful people he’s met.

“But he noted that the musician isn’t always cheerful — he also experiences negative emotions as deeply as he does positive ones.

“Yo‑Yo is so responsive to what is going on around him … If you put him in a room with people who are grieving, he will be as sad as anyone,” Salzman said.

Gregoire continues, “This depth of feeling almost certainly explains how we feel when we hear him perform. Many audience members at Ma’s concerts are left, as Salzman puts it, “excited to the core.” He writes, “You find yourself paying more attention to the person you’re with, more aware of the rain on the windshield on the ride home. You feel more grateful just to be alive.”

“It’s easy to see how one trait feeds into the other: To both the highly creative and the highly sensitive mind, there’s simply more to observe, take in, feel, and process from their environment.”

From Why So Many Artists Are Highly Sensitive People by Carolyn Gregoire, HuffPost, 12/28/2015.

This article is adapted from the book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind, by Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire.

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Jessica Chastain“I’m very sensitive in real life. I cannot not cry if someone around me is crying…even if it’s not appropriate. I have that thing in me, a weakness or sensitivity.” Actor Jessica Chastain

[From my post: Jessica Chastain and High Sensitivity.]

[Photo from Facebook/Jessica Chastain]

A number of creative people I have quoted over the years also talk about the kind of depth of feeling Gregoire mentions.

In her article, she quotes Pearl S. Buck:

“The truly creative mind in any field is no more than this: A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.”

Buck’s novel “The Good Earth” won the Nobel Prize in literature in 1938. Maybe writing so many years ago, she had a different sense of what is “abnormally, inhumanly sensitive” – but to me that phrase sounds like calling the trait strange or pathological, even though psychologist Elaine Aron and others consider it to be part of the personality of about twenty percent of us.

Many of the posts I see on the Internet have a tone that highly sensitive people are “weird” or at least out of step with mainstream extroverted society; yes, many of us are in some ways – and gladly.

But that tone may be one reason Chastain and other highly sensitive artists and other people may think of sensitivity as a “weakness.” I did as a teenager, not knowing how to make sense of that part of my psyche which included such strong reactions to events and other people, to life.

Creativity coach Lisa A. Riley, LMFT notes:

“Throughout my practice, I have encountered a connection between highly sensitive people and their own creative impulses.

“This characteristic does not discriminate between painter, actor, or musician—they all appear to have one thing in common: they experience the world differently than the average individual.

“Creatives often feel and perceive more intensely, dramatically, and with a wildly vivid color palate to draw from, which can only be described as looking at the world through a much larger lens.”

Those are some excerpts from one of my books: “Being Highly Sensitive and Creative” – see more quotes in the post Being Highly Sensitive and Creative.

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Business Miracles - Highly Sensitive EntrepreneurOther areas beside art in which highly sensitive people can use their creativity include coaching and business.

Entrepreneur and mentor Heather Dominick notes a person with “highly sensitive abilities” can choose “to utilize these special traits within the world of self-employment” – as a “Coach, Healing Practitioner or Creative Entrepreneur.

“Most likely, if you are highly sensitive, you have been given the message over time that your traits are not assets but hindrances. Perhaps you heard things growing up like:
~ Stop being so sensitive.
~ Cry baby!
~ What’s wrong with you?

“But in truth you are coded to be extremely successful within the world of self-employment in what according to Dr. Elaine N. Aron, one of the primary researchers of the high sensitivity personality trait and author of the book Highly Sensitive Person, refers to as ‘advisor role’ within society.”

This image is from a self-test for sensitivity on her site:
Business Miracles – Highly Sensitive Entrepreneur.

Another article of mine: Your Sensitivity Can Make You a Strong Personal Coach.


The Highly Sensitive Creative Person

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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Some excerpts from The Creative Mind are included in his newsletter .
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2016). The Highly Sensitive Creative Person. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 14, 2020, from


Last updated: 8 Jan 2016
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