Troubled Genius

Creative prowess, towering intellect, the link with suffering and what to do about it…?

Pythagorus, Vincent Van Gogh, Frida Kahlo, Virginia Woolf, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, Isaac Newton, Judy Garland, Robert Schumann, Lord Byron, Michelangelo, Winston Churchill, Sylvia Plath, Francis Crick….

The list of troubled geniuses goes on and on. And these are just the few who have made it through the suffering to expression and creating in recognised form… Far greater numbers, as we well know, aren’t able to.

Extraordinary talent, intellectual ability, memory, sensitivity, perception or analytical prowess often correlates with intense suffering. For so many reasons. Let’s have a look at some of them:


  1. The label and ostracism
    A powerful mind can move beyond the accepted, learned status quo often into areas that challenge and confront society’s tolerances. Throughout history people have been labelled as insane and shunned for this reason. Not only is the individual left having to deal with an extraordinary mind but with isolation from the very society that the mind could help or elevate.
  2. Removal from reality
    The mind creates concepts, futures, pasts, ideas and these can be so all-consuming that very little conscious time is spent in the restful, replenishing actual reality of now.
  3. Imagination
    The larger-than-life, full detail, vivid mental representations created by a powerful imagination can look absolutely real and therefore have considerable hold, drama and tension.
  4. Intellect and analysis
    If we have spent all our lives relying on extraordinary problem solving ability it makes sense that this ability would be employed whatever the problem. This can lead to exhaustion and hopelessness when trying to secure or pin down something that is only ever made of thought.
  5. Originality
    To be a genius is to be at the very edge of one’s field, it is to move beyond the limits of belief, conventionality, security, fear of shame or derision. This can create inner conflict if the individual also has a powerful need for inclusion, security and acceptance.
  6. Sensitivity
    Extraordinary sensitivity, acuity and perspicuity – seeing, hearing, touching, sensing what passes other people by is an incredible gift that can lead to the greatest works of art. Without understanding what the mind does though, this sensitivity and attention to detail can provide a wealth of evidence to support the beliefs of an insecure self.
  7. Over-load
    A mind that is continually active, continually trying to resolve itself uses all energy, focus and attention available. There is no end to the problems to be solved.
  8. Driving purpose
    When we don’t understand what the mind is and does, everything it creates is taken as truth. Beliefs about our value, worth, identity and purpose can get tangled up and confused in creative output or work. Our purpose becomes to secure ourselves through work and the result is exhaustion and suffering.
  9. Treatment making suffering worse
    When the mind is not understood, we have to seek relief from the suffering it creates. This can be in the form of prescription drugs or other forms of numbing or distraction. To numb or distract a powerful mind is to clip the wings of an eagle rather than to admire its flight.
  10. Mis-understood as children (and adults).
    Often there are not the resources, understanding, presence, space, opportunity, stimulation that the powerful developing mind needs to flourish. For that developing mind to be forced into a particular box or structure or belief system can be the origin of a lifetime’s struggle.


The question, especially if this applies to us or to someone in our care, is what to do about this suffering? How can we ensure that imagination, creativity, intellect, analysis and conceptualisation thrive in conjunction with the thriving of the individual and beyond?

Here are ten with suggestions:


  1. Align to life’s purpose. The purpose can never be the work or the mind’s creations. The purpose must be to understand what the mind is, what reality is. Work (outstanding, sustainable and nourishing work) will come from there.
  2. Match the frontier edge exploration of one’s area of expertise and talent with frontier edge exploration of what imagination, intellect, reasoning really are and of their relationship to the self identity. Greater understanding of the latter will create extraordinary leaps in the former.
  3. Cultivate, nurture and treasure strong relationships no matter how little you think you need them. Each high speed bound of the leopard requires solid ground.
  4. Pay reverent attention to the body. It is the only link to the intelligence of now and the only possible vehicle for the extraordinary expression of life in this particular form.
  5. Get a teacher, mentor or guide who will keep you curious about praise, rejection, validity, success and failure and will guide you out of the story of identity when your work receives both tremendous accolades and brutal rejection.
  6. Nurture the sensitivity of the senses. This is aliveness in action. Understand and allow ego sensitivity to heal ie notice and be still with the protection and defences around the idea of self and how that manifests as an external reality.
  7. Balance input and output. Consider the mind as a system, like any other. Too much input and not enough output = congestion, stuckness, overload. Not enough input and too much output = depletion, exhaustion, thinness.
  8. Use rest and routine to stabilise and replenish. A powerful mind is like a racehorse or a formula one car. It needs thoughtful care.
  9. Help children to understand the mind and its power to create by above all understanding that for ourselves first. Everything else will follow from that.
  10. Work from the inside out. We may have the creativity, charisma, intellect, knowledge to change the world but until we know it is a world that exists within us, that there is no separate other, our work will only be replicating the status quo of our beliefs.

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  1. Isabella Halm

    Ingenious!!! Thank you Clare xxx

  2. Tia H Ho

    LOVE LOVE LOVE this – so helpful Clare xxx

  3. Peter Hirst

    True genius is available to anyone. It involves the harmony of the conditioned mind and our spiritual nature. Much suffering as I see it is when the intellect leads and does not allow space for that inner wisdom.