The Crushed Spirit: The Highly Sensitive Comics Creator

Crushed ArtistIt is said that J K Rowling’s Dementors are a metaphor for depression. Indeed, these “foulest [of] creatures” are described in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in the following way: “Get too near a Dementor and every good feeling, every happy memory will be sucked out of you… You’ll be left with nothing but the worst experiences of your life”. It can also just as easily be said that this is the common experience of the Highly Sensitive Artist – the comics creator, the performer, author, illustrator or other creative – who can in mere moments go from stoic and strong to a crumpled lump on the floor when they receive negative feedback about their work. This reaction does not manifest from the domain of their ego. Nor is it their inability to receive criticism. Instead they are so vulnerable that they feel as though someone has just stomped on and obliterated their spirit. They are left feeling like husks of themselves, and whatever joy they possessed, whatever their reason for existing, whatever positive attributes and personality traits they celebrate seemingly vanish, leaving behind such anguish that they do not know whether they can continue to exist. Most Highly Sensitive Artists do invariably recover, but it can some time to process the darkness out until they find their equilibrium again.

In her book The Highly Sensitive Person: How to Thrive When the World Overwhelms You, psychologist Elaine N Aron, PhD estimates that 15 to 20 per cent of the population are classified as highly sensitive—that is, they have an acute awareness of their surroundings and can easily be overwhelmed with sensory input when placed in a highly stimulating environment. Furthermore, the Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) absorbs and processes more sensory information from the external environment into their internal world than the average person. They are also more likely to be introverts rather than extroverts, and they love learning and are seekers of knowledge. Among the creative community this percentage of HSPs is believed to be considerably higher.

The Highly Sensitive Artists (HSA) experiences the world differently from so-called “normal” people or indeed other “normal” artists. They feel emotions more profoundly and intensely, and often possess messy disorganised minds. Scott Barry Kaufman and Carolyn Gregoire explored these aspects in their book Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind. They identify a number of contradictions about the HSA in that two extremes can occupy the same intellectual and emotional space—that is, they can be both open and sensitive, seek solitude but can be excellent collaborators, can be both serious but also playful, can be quite adult but also childlike, and can practice mindfulness by being in the moment yet also daydream.

The downside is that HSAs can:

  • Be easily overwhelmed
  • Be sensitive to loud noises and bright lights
  • Live in chaos and clutter
  • Be erratic in their productivity
  • Be unsociable because they can easily absorb the feelings of others to the point of being drained, which is why they avoid crowds
  • Be vulnerable to anxiety and depression, which thwarts their ability to deal with stress and life’s obstacles and challenges
  • Find it difficult to relate to “normal” people and visa versa
  • Be misunderstood and categorised as “eccentric” by so-called normal people
  • Be easily traumatised by violent images or scenes from TV, film, or news reports especially in regard to abuse towards children and animals, and

The upside is that HSAs can:

  • Be profoundly creative, and have a rich inner life and imagination to draw on for their creative works
  • Can exorcise their demons by channeling their emotions and energy into their creative medium, thereby releasing their inner world into a physical form in the outer world
  • Can make order out of their chaos
  • Can perceive colour in all of its brilliant hues
  • Have the ability to touch their audiences’ hearts very deeply
  • Be exceptional observers of life and people—they can pick up subtle cues that others often miss such body language, micro expressions or feeling energy shifts in the atmosphere
  • Recognise patterns and make associations from seemingly random things
  • Find meaning and metaphors in the “small stuff” of every day life
  • Be highly intuitive
  • Be highly empathetic
  • Have sensory sensitivity—that is, acute sensitivity to tastes, smells, touch, sound and imagery
  • Have a strong connection to art and music
  • Contain complex layers of depth and contradictions.

In addition, these personality traits can overlap with spirituality, and having experiences that are usually described as “mystical”.

In her article “Highly Sensitive Personality and Creativity” Lisa A Riley says, Without a substantial filtration system firmly in place to screen out most of the busy noise, these people tend to receive a far greater amount of stimuli directly into their psyches.”

If you identify as a HSA, then here are 7 tips to help you balance your highly sensitive nature:

  1. Seek solitary time– it is vital for highly sensitive comics creators to have alone time during their day to recharge and to block out the world for a while so spend time reading, watching movies, taking a bubble bath, checking into a luxury hotel room for the night and ordering room service or whatever qualifies for solitude and self care.
  2. Spend time in and around nature – ground yourself by walking on grass, hugging a willow tree, meandering through the bush, swimming in the ocean or a river, standing under a waterfall, stroking your cat or playing with your dog.
  3. Focus on strengthening your tenacity – learn to understand how your inner world operates and what you feel like when you face rejection or want to give up. Conversely understand your process of recovery. Also watch others who exhibit the core value of perseverance and then mimic what they do… remember the old adage: “Success leaves clues”.
  4. De-clutter your life – de-clutter your relationships, internal environment (inner self), external environment (personal and professional space), health, and finances. Ensure you restrict your visual (eg. electronic devices) and auditory (eg. heavy metal music) input.
  5. Manage your physical and emotional energy – get a good night’s sleep every night, exercise every day, create daily structure in the form of a routine so you can enhance your productivity (a time sheet is good for that), decrease sugar and caffeine consumption.
  6. Nuture your creativity – read, watch movies, day dream, pursue knowledge, work with a creativity coach (check out Julie Regan at Creative Coaching Options), meditate or learn self-hypnosis.
  7. Set boundaries – Learn to say ‘no’ to people, projects and social activities that might sap your creative energy or work time. Put time constraints in place to limit contact with people who talk too much or who need constant therapy and advice from you, and demand your attention without redressing the balance. Explain to your family and friends how you operate so they don’t  misinterpret the situation or your reactions or coping / energy management mechanisms. Conversely, surround yourself with positive people with whom you have a great personal or professional connection.

Finally, reframe your highly sensitive nature and abilities as a gift rather than a burden and make peace with yourself and practice self care. Once you understand how you operate within then you can operate functionally within the world and manifest your creativity in published projects all its complexity and glory.

To discover if you are a HSP check out the following test:

© Julie Ditrich, 2016

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