“Learning self-regulation allows creative people to visit those emotional extremes without getting stuck there.” Psychologist Cheryl Arutt
How do you work with your strong emotions?
Creative people experience a wide range and depth of intense emotions, and use that wealth of feeling to create art.
The idea of overseeing or regulating emotions is not necessarily about suppressing or stifling, but about staying aware and in control of our feelings, to live with a higher level of well-being, in order to be more creative.
Highly sensitive people have stronger emotional reactions
“The thing I love most about acting is that while I am doing a scene, I am allotted all of the freedom to feel.
“Sometimes, actually I find that most times in life, one is not able to fully express what one feels.
“And I am the kind of person that feels so much that if I didn’t have acting (and music), I would burst from all of the emotion inside!”
She has also said, “My sensitivity is my superpower.”
Many creative people are highly sensitive (HSP: for highly sensitive person or people) and psychologist Elaine Aron declares that at least one research study shows that HSPs are “more emotional” than others.
She explains, “Humans have to evaluate every situation for whether it is good, interesting, desirable, dangerous, sad, and so forth.
“If a situation has even a touch of these, it is processed further.
“This processing can lead to more emotion still.
“Hence emotion leads to processing and processing often leads to more emotion.
“Since HSPs process everything further, they have to be more emotional – emotion is initiating their processing and is often a consequence of their doing so much processing.
“By the way, being more emotional does not cause poor decision making.
“Most of the time emotions improve decisions–we can better appreciate the importance of something and are more likely to act.”
[From her Comfort Zone newsletter post: “Reflections on Research: HSPs Have Stronger Emotional Reactions.”]
Photo: actor Jessica Chastain has commented about crying easily – see more about this aspect of sensitivity below.
The neuroscience of what makes us more emotional
Julie Bjelland, LMFT is a psychotherapist specializing in highly sensitive people.
In an article on her site, she explains some of the neuropsychology of emotions and sensitive people.
“To put it simply, there are two parts in our brains: the emotional/ irrational brain (limbic system) and the thinking/rational brain (cognitive brain).
“When our emotional brains are activated, our thinking brains basically go to sleep.
“Research shows that most HSPs spend more time in the limbic system (emotional brain) than non-HSPs.”
Read more in article
Why are we more emotional as a highly sensitive person?
Julie Bjelland is author of the book and online course, “Brain Training for the Highly Sensitive Person, Techniques to Reduce Anxiety and Overwhelming Emotions.”
See her books, articles and programs at her site juliebjelland.com.
Facing our emotions instead of running away
Psychologist Sharon Barnes works with creative, sensitive, intense, and often gifted children and adults.
In an article, she writes about dealing with emotions. Here is an excerpt:
Pandora’s Box of Emotions
As you may recall, the myth of Pandora’s Box involved a Forbidden Box which was not supposed to be opened, but of course WAS opened, and then unleashed Evil . . . . and finally, Hope.
We each have similar boxes; ours are often boxes of emotions.
I remember standing with my father in his home office when I was a young adult.
We were talking about life, and coping with emotions.
I told him that getting in touch with my emotions had not helped me feel better at all!
Instead, getting in touch with my emotions was making me miserable and made my life more difficult than it already was.
He commiserated with me and went on to say that his experience had been similar, and yet in the end, he had found it worth all the trouble it was to learn how to truly feel his emotions and to deal with them directly.
Read more in article
Making Positive Use of Our Pandora’s Box of Emotions
Learn more about her home-study program in this article:
Of course emotions can inspire us to act and create.
But some kinds of emotion such as anxiety can and do interfere with our decision-making and other cognitive abilities.
Being emotionally out of control happens to everyone to some degree, at times.
Emotional self-regulation or emotional intelligence – managing our feelings in healthy ways – can positively impact how well we can use our wealth of emotions and ideas in creative expression.
As psychologist Cheryl Arutt points out:
“If you are an artist, you are your instrument. The greater access you maintain to yourself, the richer and broader your array of creative tools.
“Learning how to regulate stress and danger, especially how to recognize when we are safe allows us to maintain access to those higher order functions and flexibility of thinking.”
She adds, “If we’re lucky, these abilities may have been learned in childhood, but they can also be developed later on with the proper training.
“Rather than shutting down more intense experiences, these emotional ‘muscles’ and strategies provide the breadcrumb trail to find our way back from intense states, allowing us to visit certain states of mind for creative purposes (or to learn about ourselves), without finding ourselves trapped there.”
Photo: musician Sting commented in the documentary All We Are Saying: “Do I have to be in pain to write?
“I thought so, as most of my contemporaries did; you had to be the struggling artist, the tortured, painful, poetic wreck.
“I tried that for a while, and to a certain extent that was successful. I was ‘The King of Pain’ after all.
“I only know that people who are getting into this archetype of the tortured poet end up really torturing themselves to death.”
From her article: Affect Regulation and the Creative Artist.
Do highly sensitive people cry more easily?
Third photo above: actor Jessica Chastain has commented, “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.”
Her comment about “weakness or sensitivity” probably reflects the kinds of disparaging attitudes and criticism many non-sensitive people have about those who are sensitive and highly emotional.
Elaine Aron, PhD is one of the leading writers and researchers on the personality trait of high sensitivity (sensory processing sensitivity).
This trait is part of our identity for about 15 to 20 percent of people – and other animals, according to research.
She declares that HSPs (highly sensitive persons) “do cry more readily than others. It was a strong finding in our research.
From my post Jessica Chastain and High Sensitivity.
book: The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live — and How You Can Change Them by Richard J. Davidson, Sharon Begley.
“Davidson has discovered that personality is composed of six basic emotional “styles,” including resilience, self-awareness, and attention. Our emotional fingerprint results from where on the continuum of each style we fall.
“He explains the brain chemistry that underlies each style in order to give us a new model of the emotional brain, one that will even go so far as to affect the way we treat conditions like autism and depression.
“And, finally, he provides strategies we can use to change our own brains and emotions-if that is what we want to do.” [Amazon summary.]
“My whole life has been about trying to heal the rift between the two sides of my personality, the feeling too much and the knowing too much.”
That is a comment by Actress / Producer / Director Jodie Foster, from an interview about her film “Little Man Tate” in the book: Great Women of Film.
Her perspective is one I certainly can relate to – what about you?
The idea of “too much” – or at least unusually intense – thinking and emotion has been articulated by psychologist and psychiatrist Kazimierz Dabrowski, MD, PhD.
He described creative and high ability people having over-excitabilities or intensity in five areas: intellectual, psychomotor, imaginational, emotional, and sensual.
In her article Highly Sensitive Persons – High Sensitivity and Creative Ability, psychologist Susan Meindl, MA writes that the three areas of emotional, intellectual, and imaginational excitability “have been theorized to be most indicative of developmental potential and creative expression.”
But, she notes, “Sometimes over-excitability can cause difficulties.”
Giftedness consultant Lesley Sword describes Overexcitabilities as “an abundance of physical, sensual, creative, intellectual and emotional energy that can result in creative endeavours as well as advanced emotional and ethical development in adulthood.
“Overexcitabilities feed, enrich, empower and amplify talent.”
For more, see my information page Dabrowski / advanced development.
Optimal arousal and performance
One of the key concepts in sports psychology, the idea of optimal arousal has been widely applied in other areas of performance and health.
Psychologist Lucy Jo Palladino, PhD explains in her book Find Your Focus Zone that the inverted U diagram (such as this one) “illustrates the Yerkes-Dodson law… that performance (or attention) increases with arousal (or stimulation) but only up to a certain point.
“When arousal level gets too high, performance decreases.”
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“That Good Feeling of Control”
In her TEDx presentation on that topic, Dr. Cheryl Arutt notes a lot of people “think that creative artists have to be self-destructive, but I believe that if you are your instrument, the more access you have to yourself and your internal world, the greater range of motion you have as a creative person.
“So learning self-regulation allows creative people to visit those emotional extremes without getting stuck there.”
She also comments, “Self-regulation is so important that some experts like Dr. Allan Schore believe that every mental disorder involves some sort of problem with self-regulation.”
Dr. Allan Schore is on the clinical faculty of the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences, UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, and at the UCLA Center for Culture, Brain, and Development. [His website.]
He is author of a number of books including Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self: The Neurobiology of Emotional Development.
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“Sometimes you’ve got to let everything go – purge yourself.
“If you are unhappy with anything…whatever is bringing you down, get rid of it. Because you’ll find that when you’re free, your true creativity, your true self comes out.”
Helping ourselves get as free as possible to create can take many forms, of course. Including, for Tina Turner and many other people, getting out of a destructive relationship.
Psychologist Cheryl Arutt believes “the best way to protect the art is to protect the artist.
“Learning how to regulate internal states, how and when to use self-soothing techniques, and how to know when we are actually safe — these are key to emotional well-being for anyone, but for artists, they are especially useful.”
She adds, “The ability to self-regulate provides an all-access pass for traveling the internal world, allowing the artist to mine for the gems that can be found there… without losing touch with the light of day.”
From her article: Affect Regulation and the Creative Artist.
Psychologist Elaine N. Aron notes that “Emotional regulation” is a “fancy psychological term that refers to any method that you might try, consciously or not, to change the otherwise spontaneous flow of your emotions.
“By this definition, you might want to increase, prolong, or decrease a feeling.
“Because the human brain is designed to do this quite well, and the HSP’s [highly sensitive person] brain even more so, you already know quite a bit about emotional regulation, just by having lived awhile.
“But it never hurts to make it more conscious.”
She notes that emotional regulation “is a broad topic, as almost anything can increase, prolong, or shorten an emotion.”
This is a helpful point: to be creative, we want to be aware of feelings, and do something about ones like intense anxiety or anger that can interfere with our lives (both inner and outer); we may also want to increase positive feelings, or change our attitudes about so-called “dark” emotions.
For more, see my posts:
Dr. Aron writes, “To increase or prolong an emotion, mostly we need to continue to think about or stay mentally or physically near what started it. Keep mulling it over. It also helps to be feeling it with someone else who also wants to increase or prolong it, as when we are laughing together or crying together.”
She adds, “The most familiar ways for decreasing emotions mentally are distraction and redirecting or reframing your thoughts about what is happening. Almost any physical change, which changes your bodily state, changes your emotions: meditation, exercise, eating, drinking or taking other ‘mood altering’ medications and substances.
“You can and do use social means as well: Telling someone else how you feel often decreases the feeling in the long run, but so does deliberately going out among people with whom you habitually hide your deeper feelings. It’s a long list, but since stopping certain emotions is frequently our desire, there are always more tricks to learn…”
Read more in her newsletter post A Few Suggestions for “Regulating” Fear, Grief, Anger, and Joy.
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Doc Childre, founder of the Institute of HeartMath, thinks “Emotions are the next frontier to be understood and conquered.
He is co-author of the book Overcoming Emotional Chaos – “Emotional stress is not going to go away. We need to raise our emotional set point – our threshold of emotional overreaction – and we can, once we understand how.”
“To manage our emotions is not to drug them or suppress them, but to understand them so that we can intelligently direct our emotional energies and intentions…
“It’s time for human beings to grow up emotionally, to mature into emotionally managed and responsible citizens. No magic pill will do it.”
The Institute of HeartMath developed the biofeedback program emWave Desktop Stress Relief System.
It is available at Amazon.com and at the HeartMath site, which has other products and research reports etc.
I used biofeedback a number of years ago, when it required more elaborate and expensive equipment.
The process basically involves using a device to detect physiological states such as brainwaves, muscle tone, skin conductance and heart rate, and display those states using sound and/or images, allowing you to more consciously control these reactions, and thus reduce anxiety, for example.
For more information, including videos, about these devices, see the article Biofeedback and Wearable Tech for Stress, Meditation and Fitness.
“Snap out of it. There’s a name for this – it’s called guilt, and it’s important – but it’s only a feeling.”
– Willow [Alyson Hannigan, at right] to Buffy [Sarah Michelle Gellar] in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (TV Series 1996–2003).
Jonathan Kaplan PhD notes “Mindfulness can help us navigate through troubled emotional times. We develop an ability to watch and observe our feelings without getting caught up in them.
“We can identify the external cues associated with a particular emotion as well as our internal experience of it. As we become aware of the thoughts, actions, and physical feelings associated with an emotion, we also cultivate our ability to get some distance from it.”
From his post Mindful in the City.
He is author of Urban Mindfulness: Cultivating Peace, Presence, and Purpose in the Middle of It All.
Meditation for Emotional Health and Creativity
“Mindfulness meditation can have benefits for health and performance, including improved immune function, reduced blood pressure and enhanced cognitive function.” Includes quotes by Anderson Cooper, Kerry Washington, Emma Watson, Kate Hudson, Moby, creativity author and teacher Orna Ross, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman and others.
Article: Psychotherapist Sarah Chana Radcliffe on technologies for growth – She talks about approaches including Tapping or Emotional Freedom Techniques (EFT), and Holosync audio CDs.
Book: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, by Daniel Goleman — “Marshaling emotions in the service of a goal is essential for paying attention, for self-motivation and mastery, and for creativity. Emotional self-control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness – underlies accomplishment of every sort.”
In his book Mastering Creative Anxiety, Eric Maisel, PhD suggests several affirmations or “thought substitutes” such as: “My body may be acting up, but I am all right; My emotions may be acting up, but I am all right; I write, but I am not my current novel; Whatever happens, the essential me will be fine.”
Article: Emotion Regulation: The 25th Character Strength, by Laura L.C. Johnson, from Positive Psychology News Daily. – “Your interpretation – either positive or negative – can influence your emotions and aftereffects, physical sensations and behaviors. One way to regulate your emotions is to be mindful of how you interpret situations.”
CD program: Mindful Solutions for Stress, Anxiety, and Depression — Author Elisha Goldstein, PhD notes: “With things like depression or anxiety oftentimes people have certain styles of thinking, like catastrophizing, which is this idea that we are always expecting disasters, something terrible is going to happen from some little event that happens. We really blow it up and magnify it and this tends to amplify our anxiety.”
Emotional Health Resources
Meditation programs, biofeedback devices, stress relief products
YouTube / Mental Health – Emotional Health videos
Facebook / Emotional Health and Creativity videos
Anxiety Relief Solutions site