Performers and Sensitivity, Introversion and Excitabilities

Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain in Molly's Game (2017)One of the qualities of many actors, musicians and other performers that intrigues me is they are often introverted, sensitive or even shy, while also being so intense, emotionally dynamic and apparently extroverted in their work and public roles.

The photo is Idris Elba and Jessica Chastain in ‘Molly’s Game’ (2017).

Idris Elba commented in an interview:

“I wouldn’t say I have much of an outgoing personality. I’m pretty shy.

“It’s interesting how people describe me because I’m not Mr Life of the Party. I’m a bit of a homebody if I’m honest. But I’m never at home. I have partied. But people get disappointed when they meet me because they expect me to be really confident and exciting and I’m like, ‘nah I’m going home now.’”

[From Idris Elba Talks To Red, by Rosamund Dean, October 3, 2017.]

Jessica Chastain has talked about being a highly sensitive person, and introverted or shy – these are different experiences but can overlap: see my article below.

Among her comments:

“I’m very sensitive in real life. I cannot not cry if someone around me is crying…even if it’s not appropriate.”

“I walk the dogs, I play the ukulele, I cook. I’m not a girl who goes to big parties – I’m shy.”

From my article Jessica Chastain and High Sensitivity.

Traits of creative people include being extroverted and introverted, open and sensitive.

In his informative and fascinating Psychology Today post After the Show: The Many Faces of the Performer, cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman quotes creativity 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.]

Michael Jackson posterKaufman comments, “These three seeming contradictions – energy/rest, extroversion/introversion, and openness/sensitivity – are not separate phenomena 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.”

Kaufman quotes record producer Quincy Jones: “Michael was so shy, he’d sit down and sing behind the couch with his back to me while I sat with my hands over my eyes — and the lights off.”

[Poster of Jackson is from my article Dabrowski Excitabilities – Michael Jackson.]


Joss StonePhoto: Joss Stone has created multiple top-selling albums and earned awards including a Grammy.

In a magazine interview article, she talked about being highly sensitive.

“I think I’m just very, very emotional. My mom used to call me her little empath. I just feel other people’s love and other people’s pain very, very easily.

“Which can be dangerous when you set yourself to be that open. It can mess with your own heart.”

Stone smiles. “But in another way, it just makes your life fuller to really feel every inch of everyone’s feelings, including your own.”

See more in article Singer Joss Stone on being a ‘little empath’.


video: Scott Barry Kaufman – Creativity and Imagination


Being shy and a performer

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  [From her profile.]

A number of other actors and other performers have described themselves as shy – although some may use that as a convenient label, and really mean they are introverted or highly sensitive.

See many more artists in article:

Introverted, Shy or Highly Sensitive in the Arts

These are three different traits or experiences – see article:

Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?


Intensities / Exitabilities

Like many other artists, performers like Michael Jackson 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.”

Excitabilities, Overexcitabilities, or Intensities are considered to occur in five areas: psychomotor, intellectual, imaginational, emotional and sensual.

Many writers and educators consider the concept to be particularly relevant for gifted and talented people.

intellectual excitabilityThe video below is an excerpt from the SENGinar (a webinar by SENG): “Understanding Overexcitabilities – The Joys and the Challenges” presented by Susan Daniels, PhD – January 31, 2011.

What are Overexcitabilities or Intensities?

Description from the SENG site:

Overexcitabilites – psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional – are often presented as personality traits and behaviors to be managed in terms of interactions at home and at school.

Continued in article – including short video –

Excitabilities and Gifted People – an intro by Susan Daniels.


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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