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 ADHD 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.

[Take This 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 (#CommissionsEarned), 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 (#CommissionsEarned), 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.

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5 Comments & Reviews

  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

  2. I have recently been struggling very much in pretty well every part of my life. I have also recently found my passion again- art! I have been so overwhelmed that I shut down, which actually gave me the time to remember how to let go and rebuild my love for myself by allowing my ability the freedom to create again. I picked up a started canvas from years ago and started adding to it. I felt better. I kept at it. I feel so much happier and able to breathe. Yes, there are pens, markers, paints, messes all over the floor but it is a comforting mess that I can live with. I am good at it and I am enjoying something again- hyperfocussing and I love it!

  3. The importance of this should never be underestimated. Some of the darkest periods of my life, and the manifestations of the well-known and soul crushing co-morbidities associated with ADHD, have come as a direct result of not nurturing this gift of our unique neurology.

    It is like any injury and the pain experienced is a signal. It is our guide, our compass. It is the reaching out from within, telling us what is wrong. It is showing us, guiding us to what needs attention. Ignore it long enough and various neuroses develop into disorders; not unlike an ignored or mistreated cut can become infected. We were all meant to be more.

    We are, after all, creations ourselves; and as manifested creations we are meant to be exactly that. Created to think and be more, to make connections, to bring beauty to the world around us. Doing so feels good because we are designed for this purpose. Not doing so hurts us because we are not living as creation. It becomes dark, robotic, cold and we can lose our way and forget who we are. It feels wrong because it is.

    It seems this transition is easier for some than it is for others. We may sometimes even feel envious of these individuals for that ability, which brings us a few steps closer to not living as our most authentic selves, abandoning who we are, and leaving our creativity behind. For the rest of us, though, we must fight to remember who we are and stop trying to fit into a factory shaped mold that no human was ever really meant for. Even for those who seem to accept this way, and go about just fine, could have had more love, innovation and beauty in their hearts if only appropriately nurtured, been provided more guiding minds and mentors to encourage them, to encourage all of us, from the start. In accomplishing this, we could have more allies and feel far less alone. Innovations created in such a scenario, might possibly be geared more towards creation, outweighing the innovations that lean towards destruction.

    For those of us aware, and resistant, to this standardization, we should not measure our worth by standards that do not match our internal compass. Standards that lead us away from the true inner beauty, creativity and light of who we are. Let dark experiences be your sign, your pain signal, the alarm sounding off as a warning to you that something isn’t right. As you would remove your hand quickly from the heat source causing it to burn, or as you would clean, bandage and protect a cut to help it heal, guard your divine inner creative being and realign your compass towards your truest and best self. The positive benefits of this can be far-reaching, extending beyond your own well-being.

    In my experience, without doing so, everything else becomes monumentally difficult, seemingly insurmountable. I risk forgetting who I truly am. Sometimes frightfully unsure if I will find my way back. Carried on far enough and I believe there is no consequence to be had in that, no loss to anyone around me. My own need to remember who I truly am, and to resist becoming molded, seems self-indulgent and even scorn and disgust worthy. Self-loathing may come into play which reinforces the belief we are what is wrong with the world. That we are not needed, and we have no value as our creative selves. None of which is true.

    Maintain your unique and creative mind. Cherish it. Let it out, let it play. Nourish it with exercise, let it have fun and breathe new and fresh life into it often. Give it strength so it may hold victory more often against all other pervading negative, non-nurturing thoughts. Don’t let it go and don’t allow anything to convince you it isn’t important. Fight for your inner sovereignty, for yourself, for your highest self. Do it despite the circumstances around you. Even if no one tells you, or no one seems to notice at all, you are deeply worth it and your uniqueness is vital to every single other creation all around us.

    And if I ever personally figure out how to do this for myself consistently, I will be sure to let everyone know. Thank you for this wonderful article… and inspiring the creativity in me to write this comment. It was very much needed and I am deeply grateful.

  4. I’ve been really struggling with work lately when I came across this article. It resonated with me a lot. I have always been very in tune with my creativity, I excel at singing, dancing, crafts, and so on. My problem is I struggle to not have those same feelings you talked about when I’m in a job that isn’t working with my ADD brain. It’s causing me to be so irritated and exhausted all the time. I am working on starting my own handmade goods business online but I feel like I have no time to focus on it like I want to because of my job. I just wish I could leave my job and put 100% into my business, but I’m afraid if my shop doesn’t grow I’ll have burnt a bridge with my current employer. Even though it’s really hard on me I know it’s the best job I can get at this time because I can work from home. With a lot of health struggles I find this the best position for myself, but I’ve been told if I don’t fix my stress my health won’t get better. Do you have any suggestions how I can survive working until my business can replace my income? I just need to find a way to cope until then.

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