“You were very sensitive as a child; family and school problems, childhood illnesses, and the like all affected you more than others. Furthermore, you were different from other kids and almost surely suffered for that.” Elaine Aron, PhD.
“I did not perform well socially in junior high. I was a strange girl and I was in a lot of pain because of that, like most teenagers.” Claire Danes
Many highly talented actors like Claire Danes report feeling shy, socially isolated and highly sensitive.
In an interview when she was about 15, she said, “I never thought of myself as shy, and then I realized I am kind of shy; I’ve just built defenses to hide it.” [Interview mag., Jan, 1995]
Elaine Aron, PhD, in her book The Highly Sensitive Person notes this term shy “has some very negative connotations. It does not have to; shy can also be equated with words such as discreet, self-controlled, thoughtful, and sensitive.”
Dr. Aron adds that studies show “most people on first meeting those I would call HSPs [highly sensitive people] considered them shy and equated that with anxious, awkward, fearful, inhibited, and timid.
“Even mental health professionals have rated them, more often than not, this way and also as lower on intellectual competence, achievement, and mental health, which, in fact, bear no association with shyness….
“Beware of the hidden prejudice behind the word shy.”
Related article: Shyness, Introversion, Sensitivity – What’s the Difference?.
Claire Danes’ series “My So-Called Life” (1994-1995) [DVD] was acclaimed as “the first TV show to get adolescence right” and Danes recalled in an interview that being a teen actor and star of the show was very positive.
“It was groundbreaking for television but it was also groundbreaking for me as a person. It was my first steady gig and legitimate job… It was such a blessing because everyone working on that show was so smart and so supportive.”
But, she also admitted, “I really was a miserable teenager. I did not perform well socially in junior high. I was a strange girl and I was in a lot of pain because of that like most teenagers. But I had the privilege of venting and complaining about it in a way people took seriously.
“To have a forum to release my frustration and anger was an incredible gift. It was very cathartic.” [SuicideGirls interview Jan 1, 2003]
Actors do have the advantage of working with groups of other gifted and talented people, and often being in very protected environments such as film sets or locations.
In another article, Danes talked more about her early life, and mental health experiences that may not be so rare for a number of people dealing with high sensitivity.
“When I was 4,” said Danes, “my mom ran a toddler school in our home. I shared my space with a lot of tiny people. I didn’t really like it. It felt invasive. It was challenging, sharing my mother that way.”
At about the same time, she began suffering delusional incidents: “I started seeing scary, demonic creatures. I believed there was a gargoyle who made me assume bizarre positions and stay that way for a long time. Evil creatures would taunt and bully me. I was very afraid. I began to develop obsessive-compulsive behavior.”
At 6, Claire began treatment with a child therapist and started taking modern dance lessons. Therapy helped calm her fears, and dance freed her body. “I took to dance immediately,” she said. “And that led to my fascination with acting.”
But, she added, “I chose a public role, and it’s illusory to think that fame immunizes you from rejection. Famous or not, you can still feel invalid and unloved.
“We’re all on an emotional journey with each other. And the point of acting is to share, to connect. That’s why I act. Acting is the greatest answer to my loneliness that I have found.” [From interview by Dotson Rader, Parade, October 2, 2005.]
[Photo from "Homeland"- for which she won an Emmy, Sept 23, 2012.]
In an interview about her movie “Stardust” (based on the novel by Neil Gaiman), Danes mentions some of the impact of being more famous and talked about in the media: “Being aware of peoples’ opinions of my work and myself can be disconcerting and even undermining at times. I think people confuse fame with validation or love.
“But fame is not the reward. The reward is getting fulfillment out of doing the thing that you love.”
Danes describes her character, a fallen star [the celestial body kind] as “a force to be reckoned with. She knows her significance and her power and she’s not embarrassed by it.” [Reuters, Aug 7, 2007]
That sounds like someone many of us – perhaps especially those of us who are introverted and sensitive – would admire, even want to be.