Typical ADHD Behaviors

Stifled Creativity and Its Damaging Impact on the ADHD Brain

Creativity. It’s often cited as a valuable (but tough to harness) benefit of having ADHD. As it turns out, creativity is more than a perk; it is a requirement. To be healthy and productive, you must carve out time to pursue your creative passions. Here, learn how suppressing your wild ideas may actually be sabotaging your best efforts to get stuff done.

Creativity and ADHD: The Toxic Impact of Stifling Yourself
A person with paint on their hands holds a pencil and a paintbrush

Inside every person I’ve ever met with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a wellspring of creativity — a creativity so integral to who we are and how we’re made, that our health and happiness seems to hinge on embracing and expressing it fully. When this creative energy is unleashed, it increases joy, satisfaction, self-esteem, and motivation. When this creative energy is ignored or suppressed, I have found, it can cause harm in some pretty surprising and significant ways.

The same ADHD traits that make us disorganized and unfocused also make us divergent thinkers. Our wider-than-wide lens of attention, our hyperfocus, our willingness to take risks, our ability to make unobvious connections — these are the essential traits that make up the ‘neurology’ of the creative mind, and we have them in abundance!

As Ned Hallowell once said, “What is creativity after all, but impulsivity gone right!?”

But despite our natural inclination for creativity, many of us don’t really value or use it. Too often, we don’t even think we are creative, much less expressing it!

This isn’t surprising considering we’ve lived our lives feeling at odds with a world in love with efficiency and productivity. We do our best to adopt these qualities because that’s who we’ve got to be if we want to pay the bills on time, organize our stuff, and keep the tax man happy. But living this way is so contrary to our true nature that the effort involved can leave us feeling drained and depleted, especially if we’ve no energy left for our playful and creative sides.

[Self-Test: Could You Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

I know this because I’ve lived this way, too.

During a stressful period when my boys were small, I tried desperately to live the “efficient and productive way” to get it all done — and I was feeling overwhelmed, spent and miserable in the process. I assumed feeling that way was a normal part of parenting, that I just needed to suck it up and eventually, magically, I’d begin feeling happier again. So I changed nothing, and nothing changed.

Over time, I became more and more miserable, irritable, and discontent — and my health began to suffer. I tried to change the way I felt with spa breaks, social time, doctors and naturopaths, herbs, pills and diets. Some would make me feel better for a time, but then the feelings of irritability and discontent would return. Clearly something in my life wasn’t working, but I had no clue what, or how to fix it.

Then I was given Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom, in which Dr. Christiane Northrup states that, in her clinical experience, people with recurring physical and emotional ailments that are resistant to treatment need to embrace their creativity (as a tool) to help heal themselves.

What a novel theory — the idea that expressing myself creatively would actually make me feel better in all sorts of ways. Why would I? As Ms. Productive, I viewed “being creative” as a kind of self-indulgent frivolousness, and I was way too busy for all that malarkey. Regardless of how weird as it sounded, desperation gave me an open mind, so I gave it a try.

[Free Handout: Get a Grip on Tough Emotions]

Starting small, with a few clumsy paintings and some crafts, I began folding more and more creativity into my days. And I slowly began feeling lighter, less irritable, and more satisfied with life. The change wasn’t quick, but it was lasting! Eventually, living this way restored me emotionally, and my physical health followed.

Since then I’ve been a total believer in the healing power of creativity, clearly, or I wouldn’t be writing this piece — or writing at all! I’ve also discovered others who know the value of creative expression, like Brene Brown who, in her book The Gift of Imperfection, says,

“People think creativity is self-indulgent; they don’t think it is productive enough. I say, ‘Unused creativity is not benign.’ And what I really mean is, that when people sit on that creativity or deny it, it festers, it metastasizes into resentment, grief, and heartbreak.”

Similar to emotions when they’re suppressed or denied, unused creativity doesn’t just melt away, it festers and becomes dangerous.

People with ADHD are naturally curious, impulsive, chaotic, sensitive, and playful. When we try to live contrary to who we are, using untold energy attempting to be something we’re not and frankly never will be, that hurts us. This struggle reminds me of something Albert Einstein said:

“Everyone’s a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Choosing to embrace our innate creativity not only feels good, it heals our low self-esteem and gives us more confidence. We feel more equipped to meet life, albeit in our own unique and chaotic way. And when we live in harmony with who we are, and how were made, we develop a deep knowing that we are essentially whole and good, just as we are.

What could be more freeing and uplifting than that?

So I’d like to invite you to embrace your natural creativity. Go make something. Anything! No matter how small or clumsy, your creative endeavor isn’t about the end result. As long as you express yourself, the emotional and physical payoff will be positive and worthwhile. You’ll find, as I did, that unleashing this healing energy spills over into all aspects of your life in an upward spiral that increases motivation, life satisfaction and joy.

This topic stemmed from Diane O’Reilly’s talk on Tara McGillicuddy’s Support Talk Radio with host, ADHD Coach Lynne Edris of www.coachingADDvantages.com. You can find Diane at www.indigotreecoaching.com.

[16 Good Jobs for Creative & Restless ADHD Brains]

Updated on August 27, 2019

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  1. Like so many articles I read on ADDitude, when I finished reading this, all I was thinking was “amen”. We spend our lives doing what needs to be done and trying to fit inside “the box”. Being creative lets me “do me”. It is truly restorative to consciously hyper focused, when I’m creating, there is no “right way”, no “time limit” – no “box”. While I’ve come to recognize that creativity has huge benefits for my mental wellbeing, it always seems shocking to find others who feel the same. Thanks so much for sharing this

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