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Creative people feeling like misfits

Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen (2016)

As a sensitive, creative person you may have felt like a misfit or outsider early in life – many of us did, and even still do.

One example of this is musician and actor Lady GaGa, who has said she “felt like freak” in high school, and that she creates music for her fans who want a “freak to hang out with.”

She has said it took her a long time to be okay with how she is, and get beyond needing to fit in, or being “like everyone else.”

She was identified as a gifted adolescent, and at age 17 achieved early admission to New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.

From my article Identity and Being Creative.

Being introverted – often along with highly sensitive – is an experience for many of us, and can be another influence on feeling like an outsider.

But we may come to embrace it as a valid and valuable trait. Author Susan Cain writes and teaches about the positive qualities for creative people – see quotes in one of my posts: Creative Thinking and Being Introverted or Highly Sensitive.


Jessica ChastainActor Jessica Chastain has commented about her time as a Juilliard student:

“I’m not the girl at the club on the table. I’m going to be the one in the corner, quiet and so I don’t call attention to myself…

“I was the girl who cut school to go to the park, and the other kids would be smoking and drinking and I’d be reading Shakespeare.”

From Jessica Chastain, High Sensitivity, Crying and Creative People.


The photo at top is Hailee Steinfeld in The Edge of Seventeen (2016), as awkward and “angsty teenage misfit” Nadine, who is also emotional, perceptive, bright and sensitive.

Steinfeld, almost as young as her character, was homeschooled and said in interviews that “In some ways, not being in high school or not having experienced that traditional high school experience worked to my advantage” and helped her “Sort of feeling like a true outsider.”

(From article: ‘The Edge Of Seventeen,’ Hailee Steinfeld Is A 21st Century Holden Caulfield by Kristin Iversen, Nylon.)

You can see a trailer for The Edge of Seventeen (the Comedy/Drama is rated ‘R’) at Amazon.

But this is a movie – although praised by some reviewers for its authentic depiction of teen life, how do real creative people experience being outsiders or misfits?

Sharon M. Barnes, MSSW, LCSW, Therapist For Sensitive And Gifted, works with children, teens and adults who are creative, sensitive, intense, and often gifted people.

She comments in an article of hers about some of the qualities and challenges she sees in her practice of many years:

“Creativity and creative expression can be fun but can also be a great burden. Creative ideas show up whether we have time to pay attention to them, or do anything with them or not.

“They also often arrive in tandem or multiples, and the creative person has to choose which idea gets to see the light of day.

“Being aware of things that most people are not may lead to exciting AHA! moments. At the same time it can create questions of what’s real and what’s not when no one else sees what you’re seeing.

“It may also carve a canyon of separation between the acutely aware person and others who are less aware.”

Being highly sensitive

“Likewise, sensitivity is a double edged sword. High sensitivity, also known as ‘overexcitabilities’, often brings a capacity for depth of feeling and thought along with a high level of conscientiousness, compassion and empathy.

Times Square“On the other hand, when seemingly simple things like sounds, light and textures create a high level of distress, dealing with them can consume great time and energy, leaving less energy and time available for the rest of daily life.

“When any of these are combined with high intelligence, each of these other traits are magnified and complicated.

“The more of these characteristics that a person carries, the more complex the interaction among these traits can become.”

She notes some of the outcomes of living with these exceptional qualities:

“The cumulative effect is that many creative, sensitive, intelligent and/or gifted youth and adults feel like misfits, or as many have expressed, like aliens from a different planet.

“Although they may have learned to camouflage or try to hide it, they may carry within themselves a deep sense of inferiority and inadequacy, and may have concluded that they are defective in an irreparable way.

“For many, having an awareness of being profoundly different than others and then drawing a conclusion that ‘I’m defective‘ can come as young as ages 2-5 or even younger ─ at the very time that the foundations of the Self are being constructed.

“All too often this can evolve into a secret sense of alienation, and is often accompanied by anxiety, depression, anger, rage and a plethora of additional distressing emotional states. This eventually can lead to despair and deep discouragement.”

Here is a brief video about this: “Something wrong with me – Emotional characteristics of creative people”

In the article – and through her counseling and online programs – she details how gifted and creative people “can cope, heal and transform their perceived deep defects into their greatest gifts which, in the end, will enable them to make a unique, creative contribution to the world.”

But, she asks, “how do you do that?

“By first, last and always, understanding that YOU’RE NOT DEFECTIVE; YOU’RE DIFFERENT BY DESIGN!

“And what is it that makes this inner shift in perception and experience possible? Let’s  look a little closer.”

Continued in her detailed article Different by Design: “Finding the MAGIC in Being a Sensitive and/or Gifted MisFit OR … How to MOVE From FEELING Defective to BEING Distinctive.”

Also learn more about her HSP-GT-2E Social-Emotional ACES Program – a “Social & Emotional Empowerment Program for CASIGY™* Families and Classrooms” (*CASIGY™ = Creative, Acutely Aware, Super-Sensitive, Intense and/or Gifted You’s).


Creative people feeling like misfits

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. (2016). Creative people feeling like misfits. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 1, 2020, from


Last updated: 5 Dec 2016
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