Unlocking Artistry and Creativity
Conforming, Neurodiversity, and Masking
Barriers to creativity, artistry, and genius go from very subtle to high-risk, life-threatening circumstances. Obstacles that amplify weaknesses and ignore talents and strengths must be recognized to enhance imagination and ingenuity. The alternative is a surrender to conformity, compromise, and avoidance of risk.
Fitting In and Conforming
Early in my psychiatry residency, I tried to fit in and conform as much as possible to what I thought expected. I diligently worked to master and remember as much as possible the new ideas and materials necessary for my new expected role when I graduated. One of my mentors was always trying to loosen me up from my serious and somewhat driven nature to be a success in my chosen medical field. He was a more creative Jungian psychologist who always liked to talk about imagination, creativity, and dreams. He kiddingly called himself a nature mystic, as everything seemed to fascinate him. I guess that included me. When I first met Norm, it was to see if he would be one of my mentors for my psychiatry training program. His office was very unusual, especially as it was off a hallway in a conservative psychiatric hospital where my residency program resided. His office was fanciful with colorful artwork, hanging mobiles, and images of unicorns and wizards.
I heard that my new future mentor and advisor was interested in dreamwork, so I almost immediately reported a most bizarre dream I had the night before. In the dream, I approached a most beautiful multicolored horse. It seemed unique and unusual as I didn’t remember ever having a technicolor dream. When I reached out to pet it, the horse exploded with bright colors splashing everywhere. Norm, with a smile, said, it probably is a message for me to be a little crazier. I understood his meaning was that I stifled myself too much by masking my true creative nature and overly conforming to what I had learned from my significant life influences.
Norm became a most valued friend and the best mentor ever during that year of my psychiatry residency program. Admittedly, I often forget those valuable lessons and fall back frequently to my old ways, including putting that mask of suppressing or holding my creative nature too much in check to fit in and meet what I think are others’ expectations. Dreamwork, journaling, and mindfulness have been a few of the practices to help get me back to my inherent creative flow.
Finding the Authentic Self
To fully blossom, a thorough search helps uncover weaknesses and strengths. Doing so is a starting point in finding help, support, and an appropriate setting for fulfillment. The investigation into personal characteristics brings a closer reality about ourselves and what our needs are to come to full fruition as an artist and creators. With our human limitations, we can only approach knowing the absolute reality of ourselves and our capabilities. Still, to navigate hindrances, understanding our abilities and limitations, as best we can, along with a realistic understanding of our circumstances and available resources, is a starting point. Any resources available to help with the initial discovery process may be a consideration when help is needed.
As innately built and functioning, people can only seek clarity and understanding of their creative process for knowledge and mastery. There is the potential for moments of enlightenment and revelation in heightened states of consciousness as that may occur spontaneously, with spiritual practices or exposure to psychedelics. Finding an approximation for which you search is probably better than remaining in the morass of ignorance and blind obedience to a state of limited perspective and knowledge. Acceptance in terms of our limitation and human frailty, with the challenges of doing the best we can, is perhaps a middle road or a compromise that works for most people in their life journey. So, with bravery and fortitude, we move ahead o improve our understanding of who we are and our needs to meet the obstacles and challenges of finding the best place and circumstance to express our innate nature, creativity, artistry, and abilities.
Restraint and inhibition in a person’s creativity are much influenced by the molding and influence occurring during the developmental years. Significant contributors are the imposition of societal constraints and pressures to adapt and fit into social expectations and demands. Efforts for restoration or return to the natural self are expressed as the person’s movement towards self-actualization, enlightenment, integration, coming out, and getting unstuck. The hope or goal is to blossom the true self, unleash creativity, find meaning, and purpose, return to fluidity, and flow like water in a river, moving around obstacles.
Inhibition of the True Nature
Suppression or inhibition of a person’s true nature, natural proclivities, talents, and abilities may occur from any background but can be more significant if there has been trauma, family dysfunction, disadvantage, poverty, or addictions. Often there is a history of substantial struggles to fit in, especially if a part of a beleaguered minority or if one feels different from most peers and significant others. There are many expressions related to blocking innate talents and creativity: not being one’s true self, self-deprecating, avoidant, defensive, guarded, stuck, fearful, inhibited, self-effacing, withdrawn, shy, inflexible, and rigid.
Theories in psychology look at such things as anxiety, suppression, repression, inhibition, and over-conformity, which block innate creative and artistic abilities. Some simply say that people gifted with creativity and artistic skills have special endowments or genetic traits. There may be some merits to this point of view, but there are critical issues that restrain people from expressing their abilities and innate talents. The restraining factors that come to mind are fear, anxiety about failure, and inability to survive, especially for one already traumatized or bullied growing up. Other contributors might be emotional, behavioral, physical, or performance distinguishing characteristics that lead to the experience of rejection and non-acceptance by peers, teachers, and parents. The identified or targeted person might feel rejected, ashamed, inadequate, or lacking something that the others seemed to have to fit in, be popular, or be successful.
The pressure to conform and fit in starts in early childhood. In most societies, parents have valued the role and duty of raising children to succeed in their expected societal responsibilities. The belief is that a parent’s success in adequately raising their offspring will lead to their children being successful contributors with the skills to function, succeed, and be accepted. Problems occur where a wider gulf exists between a person’s unique abilities, functioning, and talents compared to their peers. Significant differences make it more of a challenge as they struggle to conform to the expectation set by their families, significant others, and culture. In social, academic, work, or other competitive situations. Individuals with more challenges in hiding functional, physical, or developmental limitations are hindered in gaining acceptance, support, or the opportunity to participate. Their hidden abilities and talents go unnurtured or ignored. There is a felt failure in not meeting the expectation of others as parents, peers, teachers, or employers. The challenge of belonging may feel like an insurmountable burden.
All adaptations and compromises can focus on meeting basic needs to survive. People can be disadvantaged because of environmental circumstances, such as inadequate natural or local resources. In drought areas of the world, poverty and starvation might threaten life. However, even in dire circumstances, individuals surmount difficulties in surviving and live by their creativity as artists and craft makers with scant resources.
Biodiversity and Neurodiversity
There are broader characterizations of people’s differences according to natural diversity. The term biodiversity refers to the variety, colorful display, and enormous variability of life in the Earth’s natural world. In scientific use, biodiversity examines life’s variation at the genetic, species, and ecosystem levels. Biodiversity includes all living things, including plants, bacteria, animals, and humans.¹,²
Neurodiversity is a term popularized by Judy Singer in the late 1990s. There was a growing awareness that labeling or stigmatizing specific individuals or groups in the population was inappropriate as they all could be considered naturally different in terms of their neurocognitive functioning — not flawed. The enlightened view was that it was acceptable to have brains and mental functioning that operated differently from others in our diverse population. Uniqueness in cognitive functioning, brain operations, and behavioral characteristics is to be celebrated and appreciated rather than labeled, excluded, and targeted by discrimination. The hope was to promote inclusiveness and fairness and to make life, education, and careers more accessible. Integrating the exceptional talents of those often excluded and not given equal opportunity was the emphasis and goal.
In testing, the most significant percentage of the population appeared to have a similar brain (neurocognitive) functioning and information processing abilities. All in the larger category were deemed average, “neurotypical,” or normal. The smaller percent of populations studied and tested who showed a difference in the brain, behavioral functioning, and data processing were considered “neurodivergent.” Unfortunately, those who deviated from the more significant percentage of neurotypicals became deemed abnormal or flawed. Diagnosis applied included autism, autism spectrum (Asperger’s Syndrome in the past), ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette’s, and other labels from psychology, medicine, and psychiatry.
Neurodiversity can be an asset when the person is in the right environment, where support and accommodation are provided so that their talents and strengths flourish. Appreciating and advocating for an acceptance of neurodiversity promotes better access to many areas of life previously made difficult and allows better integration of people with neurodivergent differences and creative thinking skills into positions important for our society and industries. The neurodiverse minority segment of the population often fills the ranks of our creators, artists, scientists, and specialists in the medical and scientific field and are often leading problem solvers.
Neurodivergent people often experience challenges, especially when having to function or interface in settings or environments optimized and advantageous for neurotypical people — the people with the generally accepted skill-sets. The struggles to compete and fit in such a setting require extra work and time even though skills, talents, and intelligence are comparable to or exceed that of their neurotypical peers.
When accommodations and support are critical, as in a school or the workplace, a diagnosis of a disability may be essential to protect the needs and requirements for a person to fairly compete and succeed in an academic or workplace setting. A disability determination may allow a person who has been unemployable or unable to achieve in an educational or training environment to be protected with needed support and accommodations to succeed. Everyone that is unnecessarily disadvantaged with neurodiversity and the challenges of being a minority with a different skill set and talents deserves support and accommodations to have fair access to school, community resources, and jobs.³,⁴,⁵,⁶
Masking and Covering-up to Pass or Survive
The behavior of trying to copy or emulate the prized behavior of successful others is a losing strategy. Acting like or pretending to be another frequently overwhelms and exhausts, ultimately leading to failure. The more people try to hide or mask their natural ways of doing things, the more they feel like an imposter. The fear is always there of being caught with resulting severe consequences. Masking, covering up, or trying to pass undiscovered, throttles creativity, artistry, and original expression. The energy spent and emotional toll in the workplace or school can lead to burnout or significant anxiety and depression.⁷
The remedy might be getting assistance, counseling, considering a job or career change, or finding a more suitable setting with support and accommodation. When declining emotional and mental health occurs, seeking a mental health counselor or therapist is a good consideration.
1. If parents notice early difficulties in their infant or toddler regarding development, mental or behavioral functioning, speaking, reading, or information processing, check with your doctors, a child developmental or early learning specialist, and school or local community resources. Early identification is critical as remedial or skill training is more beneficial when the formative brain and nervous system are more pliable and adaptable.⁸
2. At any life stage, if awareness grows that your talents and individual differences are not succeeding or you feel constantly rejected, threatened, or under attack, it is time to investigate to the fullest extent possible. Get help from any resources you can identify in your community or reputable organization that can offer you the education or support from which you may benefit. If mental or emotional health issues are a problem for you, seek a counselor or mental health services available to you in your local area.
Other experiences and feelings that may be a tip-off to take action are the constant experience of not accomplishing things or staying focused, feeling stymied, disadvantaged, bullied, rejected, increasing anger and frustration, feeling like an outsider, or not fitting in, and so on. Look into it, investigate, and reach out for help. If abuse or harassment is occurring in a workplace or academic setting, seek out help from human resources, an appropriate administrator, or even an attorney specializing in discrimination and unfair practices in organizations.
3. Learn about neurodiversity, your needs, and all you rightly deserve to receive. If difficulty reaches a level of significant impairment, applying for disability may be an option for you to get services and support for services, schooling, jobs, and financial assistance⁹.¹⁰
4. If creativity or artistry seemed to shut down, blocked, suppressed, or repressed, investigate or reach out to others to get the assistance you may need to overcome obstacles, challenges, or unfair settings that discriminate or are unsupportive of your needs, talents, and abilities.
5. However you feel about yourself, your uniqueness, or your differences — you are not alone. So reach out to find others who share your likenesses, creativity, talents, and struggles. Support groups or organizations that can assist you and link you up with others with whom to network and gain support. Doing so can be invaluable. If you are neurodiverse and feel to be on the autism spectrum, organizations can be helpful like Autism Speaks¹¹ or AANE.¹²
6. Find a few practices that help you get back to your creative flow and do them regularly. I find that dreamwork, journaling, yoga, the practice of mindfulness, and regular exercise as walking and swimming free me up from some insecurities, overthinking things, perfectionism, needs for acceptance, and approval — all the things that block my natural creative flow.
7. Understanding, accepting, and respect for everyone’s individuality, as a valuable part of the whole of humanity, is critical for the welfare and survival of all in our communities and planet. The message is that our diversity, variation in our characteristics, and ways are a call for celebration and appreciation rather than putting demeaning or divisive labels on ourselves or others, causing exclusion and discrimination.
8. The hope is for respect for neurodiversity and our universal innate differences. The intention for everyone is to promote inclusiveness and fairness and to make life, education, and careers more accessible — to integrate the exceptional talents of those often excluded and not given equal opportunity to be the true expression of themselves and a chance to contribute to their natural ways.
Look out for my related article, coming out soon — Masking, Neurodiversity, and Suppression of Creativity, Part Two.
3. What Is Neurodiversity? https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-neurodiversity-5193463
4 What does Neurodiversity mean? https://www.geniuswithin.org/what-is-neurodiversity/
5. Harvard Health Publishing — What is neurodiversity https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/what-is-neurodiversity-202111232645
6. About Neurodiversity https://www.neurodiversityhub.org/what-is-neurodiversity
7. How Can I Tell if I’m depressed or burned out and what to do? New York Times article by Dani Blum, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/08/23/well/mind/burnout-depression-symptoms-treatment.html
8. Neuroplasticity — Recovery & Transformation https://www.inmindwise.com/p/neuroplasticity-recovery-transformation Recovery and Transformation are often felt to be impossible for individuals with addictions or mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and other stress or painful conditions. There is new hope with the advances in neuroplasticity, neuroscience, and its technology to identify, modify…
9. Seeking an Autism Diagnosis? Here’s Why You Might Want to Rethink That. Know the costs — and the legal risks. https://devonprice.medium.com/seeking-an-autism-diagnosis-heres-why-you-might-want-to-rethink-that-530e79c272a0
10. Unmasking Autism: Discovering the New Faces of Neurodiversity Hardcover — April 5, 2022, by Devon Price https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0593235231?tag=randohouseinc7986-20