Where is the line between being highly creative and intellectual, versus being schizotypal?

Thanks for the question — I think it’s a very important one.

First some groundwork….

1. The opinion of many observers of human behavior is that insanity is a pervasive feature of the human condition. In fact, some would go so far to say that anyone presenting as perfectly normal should raise red flags, as they may be “faking it” in order to hide their genuine nature. I’m deliberately avoiding clinical language here, but the point is that, if we really dig around in people’s psyches, we will find evidence of all sorts of ideations and emotions that brush up against one or more particular disorders or dysfunctions. In fact this is likely just who we are as a species — perhaps such rich variation, including high intelligence, creativity, and psychiatric disorders, is a feature of consciousness itself.

2. The difference between someone who ends up receiving a specific DSM diagnosis, and someone deemed to be within a “normal” range, has mainly to do with three things: a) their level of functionality in routine daily life; b) their self-perception about their own level of function or level of distress; and c) a critical mass of formal and informal observations from others about their level of function or distress. A “high functioning, well-adjusted” person who is able to maintain relationships, avoid committing crimes, maintain a job, be satisfied and relatively at peace with their emotional experiences, not set off flares of concern in others who observe their behaviors, and so on will generally not be diagnosed unless and until some major crisis interferes with some or all of these metrics.

Okay, so keeping these fundamentals in mind, let’s now answer the question: ”Where is the line between being highly creative and intellectual, versus being schizotypal?”

There have actually been some hypotheses and research about correlations between intelligence, creativity, and mental illness. Here is a representative sample:

1. The rate of anxiety and mood disorders in Mensa members is over twice as high as in the general population, and they had a higher incidence of other psychiatric disorders as well. (High intelligence: A risk factor for psychological and physiological overexcitabilities)

2. The rate of several psychiatric disorders in adolescents with low fluid intelligence is higher than the general population. (Fluid intelligence and psychiatric disorders in a population representative sample of US adolescents)

3. It may be that the only difference between creative genius and psychiatric disorders — and antisocial disorders in particular — is temperament (innate or acquired behavioral propensities), as both extremes exhibit many of the same capacities and deficits. (The Association Between Major Mental Disorders and Geniuses)

From the literature available (and of course there is a lot more), it would appear that there is as yet no firm consensus about the relationship between creativity, intelligence, and psychiatric disorders. But there is a lot of data. What we might tentatively conclude from that data — in combination with our own felt experiences, insights, and observations — is that the “line” between creative genius, high intelligence, and psychiatric disorder is quite fuzzy. Disorders, and perhaps especially of the antisocial variety, can correlate with low flexible intelligence and creative problem-solving (fluid intelligence), or coincide with creative genius. It is, in effect, a broad expanse of gray area that is not well understood or easily navigated.

However, what remains to guide that navigation are the aforementioned metrics — qualities of function, equanimity, relationship, sociality, distress and so on. If those qualities achieve “acceptable” levels for the individual, the individual’s intimate relationships and community, and social norms…well then, there is little cause for concern. If those qualities fall short in any of these arenas — either consistently or because of an acute crisis — then it is probably time to consider reaching out for supportive help for the affected parties.

So it really comes down to accurately and honestly assessing those metrics. In my own integral lifework practice, I expand those metrics into thirteen dimensions of well-being, and find that a major disruption or deficit in any one dimension is really enough to cause imbalances and suffering in someone’s life — and an indication that they need to address the neglected dimension(s). Here is a self-assessment for those thirteen dimensions (you can ignore the bit about submitting the assessment to me for review, and just use it as a guideline for your own self-care):

As indicated in the “Nourishment Assessment,” I do highly recommend you include others in the assessment process.

I hope this was helpful.


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