Performers and Excitabilities

Clea Duvall

“I’m an only child and I’m just a real loner kind of person, and yeah, kinda dark. But I’m happy. Not sad. I’m just shy and nervous… I was a loner in high school. I keep to myself, but I love life.”

Actor Clea DuVall  []

One of the qualities of many actors, musicians and other performers that intrigues me is their being introverted, while also so dynamic and apparently extroverted in their work and public roles.

In his informative and fascinating Psychology Today post After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D. quotes researcher Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi on three traits of creative people (from a list of ten) that especially relate to performers.

Csikszentmihalyi thinks creative people “have a great deal of physical energy, but they’re also often quiet and at rest… tend to be both extroverted and introverted… [their] openness and sensitivity often exposes them to suffering and pain, yet also to a great deal of enjoyment.”

[See article: The Creative Personality: Ten paradoxical traits of the creative personality by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.]

Kaufman comments, “These three seeming contradictions – energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity – are not separate phenomenon but are intimately related to one another and along with other traits form the core of the creative performer’s personality.”

He thinks this “contrast between onstage boldness and personal shyness was certainly seen in Michael Jackson.”

[See a short clip of Kaufman from his video “Creativity” in my post Don’t You Have To Be “Gifted and Talented” To Be Creative?]

Like many other artists, performers like him also experience intensities: unusually high levels of excitement in various ways, such as intellectual, emotional and imaginational.

In my post Dabrowski Excitabilities – Michael Jackson (with a video), I note that Jackson also exemplified physical or psychomotor excitability.

What are excitabilities?

In their book Living With Intensity: Understanding the Sensitivity, Excitability, and the Emotional Development of Gifted Children, Adolescents, and Adults, Susan Daniels and Michael M. Piechowski explain:

“Overexcitability is a translation of the Polish word which means ‘superstimulatability.’ (It should have been called superexcitability.) … Another way of looking at is of being spirited – ‘more intense, sensitive, perceptive, persistent, energetic’ (Kurcinka, M.S., 1991. Raising your spirited child).”

They add, “It would be hard to find a person of talent who shows little evidence of any of the five overexcitabilities. They are the underlying dimensions of thinking outside the box, the urge to create beauty, the push for stark realism, the unrelenting striving for truth and justice.”

But they also note that many people may not welcome such traits: “Unfortunately, the stronger these overexcitabilities are, the less peers and teachers welcome them.”

That may be part of the reason highly sensitive people can be more vulnerable to stress, as I note in my post Sensitive to anxiety.

For more quotes, articles on excitabilities see the page Dabrowski / advanced development.


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Originally posted 2010-08-27 20:59:23.


  1. says

    True creatives do process differently than non creatives. It is important to take their sensitivities into account without pandering (adults/not children)it is crucial to their long term success that they develop a good foundation to support their excitabillties/creativity.

  2. lordkoos says

    Jimi Hendrix is another example of a person who was very flamboyant and expressive in performance yet shy and quiet offstage. Elvis too…

  3. says

    I’ve experienced these traits personally, watched them develop our highly creative children (two of three are artists), and worked with them in the many artists I’ve encountered in the performing arts. When talking to or about artists I often share that, in my view, we creatives live our lives turned inside-out. We’re highly receptive (raw even) to almost all that we experience, and I believe it is this receptivity which manifests itself as our intensities, but it is a necessary gathering-drive from which we create our art. Without this receptivity, I’m convinced, we’d have nothing to “say”.

    Thank you for these insightful posts & resources.

What do you think about these topics?