What Is EMOTIONAL Intensity?
Emotional intensity comprises of the following five components:
1. Emotional depth and passion
2. Deep empathy and sensitivity
3. BEING HIGHLY PERCEPTIVE
4. 4. A RICH INNER WORLD WITH VIVID IMAGINATION
5. Creative potential and existential angst
1. EMOTIONAL DEPTH AND PASSION
You have always been an ‘old soul’. Compared to peers your age, you are an unusually deep thinker and feeler. You see the world with depth and complexity. Although the passion and curiosity you have remains like that of a child.
You experience emotions powerfully, both positive and negative. You feel a lot, sometimes positive and negative at the same time. For example, you may soar high into bliss and plunge deep into despair within a short period of time.
You know the meaning of ecstasy and rapture, though this may not be shared by others around you. When you feel into music or art, you feel completely absorbed, sometimes you have difficulty pulling yourself out form an immersive art experience.
You love passionately, even you may not show it explicitly. This applies to not just to romance but also your friends, family pets, even the wider humanity.
You give a lot, and you are easily wounded by abandonment and rejection.
You are passionate, even if you do not show it on the outside. You form such strong connection with people, animals, and places that separation is painful, even traumatising for you.
You experience life with tenderness and nostalgia. When you recall a memory with someone you love, you feel as though it was yesterday.
2. DEEP EMPATHY AND SENSITIVITY
From an early age, you have a grave concern for the wider world. Your empathy is so strong that when others are hurt, you feel as if it is happening to you. You may even feel physical pain when you witness abuse.
Being an empath, you feel you ‘absorb’ other people’s psychic and emotional energies. After being in crowds or social situation, you may get overwhelmed.
You are not interested in small talks and shallow connection, but soulful and meaningful relationship. You are sensitive to your friends and lovers’ needs, and you are a loyal companion.
However, having energetically ‘thin boundaries’ also means you are vulnerable to relational hurt. You take things personally and often take too much responsibility for what happens in a relationship. You are likely to drive all blame to yourself than to blame others.
You are physically sensitive to the environments. You may be overwhelmed by too much sensory input. You are sensitive to loud noises, strong smell, or tactile sensations such as clothing tags and rough surface.
3. HIGHLY PERCEPTIVE
You can sense and perceive things that others miss. You see beyond the surface, pick up subtle cues, and are very attuned with any changes in the dynamic between people.
You are able to assess someone’s level of honestly rapidly. Even when they do not say anything, you can sense their ingenuine thoughts and intentions.
Even when someone does not admit they are upset, you can sense their sadness underneath the normal facade.
You have a sense of knowing when something is about to happen, or about other people’s inner worlds. And you are often correct. Some may call you a ‘psychic’.
When your perceptiveness is paired with a strong sense of justice, interpersonal dynamic can become challenging for you. For instance, you are able to sense people’s hypocrisies and unfairness at work, and even it is to your disadvantages, you cannot help but to point out ‘the elephant in the room’. People may be threatened by you because they feel you see through them.
You may be the scapegoat in your family because you are the one who point out things that are not going well despite what it looks on the outside.
You have a need to push the boundaries of conformity, to question or to challenge traditions, particularly those that seem meaningless or unfair.
Although your path is not an easy one, your intuition and integrity also makes you a great visionary leader.
4. A RICH INNER WORLD WITH VIVID IMAGINATION
You have a rich inner world. You may think not just in words, but also images and metaphors. You have vivid imagination, fantasies and dreams.
If you did not have a happy childhood, you might have resorted to your imagined world as a haven in times of emotional turmoils.
Intellectually, you are inquisitive and reflective. You have a strong need to seek to understand, to expand your horizons, to gain knowledge. You might have felt an urge to leave home to explore the world, even you feel guilty for leaving people behind.
With an ability to process information with speed and depth, you absorb and surge through information very quickly. You are likely to be an avid reader and a keen observer. You may appear critical and impatient with others who cannot keep up with you.
You also can integrate intellectual concepts with your deep feelings for original conceptions. You may have a constant stream of ideas, sometimes so many that you feel you cannot keep up with it.
When you get excited about an idea, your mind runs faster than your words can keep up, or you find yourself talking rapidly, perhaps even interrupting others.
When you become absorbed in your love for a piece of art, literature, theatre, or music, the outside world ceases to exist.
You are highly inquisitive and often diligently reflect on your own behaviours. The flip side is that you may be occupied with obsessive thoughts, and scrupulous self- examination. You may also suffer from perfectionism and live with a strong inner critic.
You are sensitive to the spiritual world or were drawn to spirituality from a young age. Even you don’t have a religious background, you feel connected to something in nature or something bigger than yourself.
5. CREATIVE POTENTIAL AND EXISTENTIAL ANGST
From a young age, you experience existential depression and think about issues such as the meaninglessness of life, death, and loneliness. You might have felt frustrated that those around you, including thh adults, were not prepared to discuss and consider these weighty concerns.
Because you can sense your own potential and how things can be, you are driven by a strong existential angst. You may be haunted by an unnamed sense of urgency, a constant impulse to move forward. You get a constant ‘niggling’ feeling that there is something important that you should be doing, even when your vision is not clear yet. You live with a feeling that somehow time is running out, and you are not doing what you should be doing.
For some unnamed reason, you feel a weight of responsibility on your shoulder - even for things you are not responsible for.
Your angst propels you to learn, to expand, and to advance in your life path, but it can also paralyze you. You may be prone to creative blockages such as ‘artist’s block,’ ‘writer’s block,’ procrastination, the fear of exposure or the Imposter Syndrome (the feeling that you are a fraud).
You are multi-passionate. Even you might have chosen one conventional career path, you could not curb your curiosity and passion for other disciplines.
When you have a strong vision or innovative idea, you can feel the split between belongingness and authentic expression— you want to express with your full, authentic self but you are worried that it means being rejected.
The above conceptualisation of the emotional intensity trait inevitably involves some simplification of human complexity. Unfortunately, this is the limitation of language: Just as a map is always a simplification of the territory it is trying to map, to make sense of things and to communicate we need to create a schematized version of a complex reality. Any typology is necessary a simplification compared with the real, unique human being in front of us. My intention is NOT to have a grossly simplified system that shoehorns someone’s reality into fixed pigeon holes, or rigidly suggesting that you would always perceive, thinks or feels in a certain way.
A pathologising caricature is the last thing we want to reinforce. In the end, we as a human species are both different and much the same, in a paradoxical unity. We must not forget that what always holds more weight than the theory is the here-and-now-ness of the living human beings, who is constantly changing and evolving. I hope we can all retain the wisdom of the ‘beginner’s mind’ (Suzuki, 1973), in that part of us will always stay open and curious, and see things as if we are seeing it for the first time.
Nothing is definite.
WHY DO I FEEL different?
Being sensitive and intense are not inherently an illness- in fact, it often points to potential high intelligence, unique talents or endowment. However, after years of being misdiagnosed by health professionals, criticised by schools or workplace authority, and misunderstood by even those who are closed to them, it is understandable that many intense people start to believe there is something wrong with them. Ironically, the low self esteem and loneliness makes them more susceptible to having an actual mental disorder.
People’s brains vary. Research has validated that some people are born with certain kind of biochemical, or neurological make up that can make them more emotionally or intellectually intense, sensitive, and more open to external stimuli than the general population.
Neurodiversity is a biological reality; the term describes the infinite variation in our ways of functioning as human.In fact, the idea that there is one “normal” or “healthy” way of perceiving and being in the world is merely a cultural construct (Foucoult).
Nowadays, understanding towards mental health and difficulties are often confined to boxing people based on a disorder or diagnosis. Whilst there are certainly tremendous value in acquiring a formal diagnosis (accessing the right treatment, feeling validated for the difficulties, realising that one is not alone, research), such ‘one size fit all’ mentality has its limitations.
The neurodiversity paradigm suggests the diversity embedded amongst us, though challenging to meander at times, make us stronger as a species, as communities, and as people. Having a group of individuals who functions more intensely in the world is not only a natural form of human diversity, but is also an essential factor in our evolution and the progression of our collective consciousness. This perspective is the opposite of the medical model, which contends that there is a ‘normal’ and desirable way of functioning, and the rest are disorders.
In recent years, there has been growing interest amongst psychologists and the general public on the topics of emotional sensitivity, emotional intelligence, introversion, and their links to wellbeing and creativity. An overlapping trait amongst these topics is Emotional Intensity— the propensity to feel emotions with more awareness, intensity, and depth.
If you identify with the description of emotional intensity, you may also find resonance with the following:
You are one of the 15-20% of the population who identifies as a 'Highly Sensitive Person' as defined by Dr. Elaine Aron
You identify as being an Empath
You feel that you have Thin Boundaries as defined by Hartmann's inventory
You fall on the right side of the bell curve and are gifted in one or more forms of intelligence:
Intellectually Gifted -traditional IQ measure)
Logical-Mathematically gifted -the ability to detect patterns, reason deductively and think logically
Linguistically gifted - the ability to express oneself rhetorically or poetically, and to master languages
Spatially gifted - the ability to create mental images
Muscially gifted -the capability to recognize and compose musical pitches, tones, and rhythms
Bodily-Kinesthetic Giftedness- a keen sense of body awareness, ability to communicate through body language
Interpersonal Giftedness-the ability to understand and discern the feelings and intentions of other
Intra-personal Giftedness -the ability to understand one's own feelings and motivations
Spiritual Giftedness -Psychic sensibility, clairvoyance, clairaudience, and particularly 'Claircognizance'
(the above framework is based on Gardner's Multiple Intelligences, with the added Spiritual dimension)
Emotional intensity is an innate trait, a temperament. Living with emotional intensity is a mixed blessing. It means feelings a wide spectrum of emotions in a more vivid and profound way than most people do, and this includes both positive and negative emotions – pain, distress, despair, fear, excitement, love, sadness or happiness. At its best, intensity comes with a sense of awe, quivering aliveness and deep appreciation for the beauty in this world. At its worst, it feels like a consuming, out-of-control, never-ending storm.
Awareness and information about individual differences are invaluable in that they can help you make sense of your life history. By reviewing events and difficulties that you have experienced through a new perspective, you can realise where many of the old hurtful, uninvited commentary might have come from, and be liberated to embark on a journey of true self-discovery.
do I need help?
A lot of people who first approach me are worried that they will be attached with some kind of clinical label, or be deemed as so ‘ill’ that they will have to be in therapy for years. Yes, on one end of the spectrum someone can experience emotional intensity in a way that constitutes a clinical diagnosis such as Borderline Personality Disorder (which has been suggested to be more accurately described by the term ‘Emotional Intensity Disorder’), Bipolar Disorder or ADHD. Your experience may or may not find its roots in developmental and attachment trauma. However, emotional intensity is not something to be fixed or cured but to be accepted, appreciated and mastered. It would be a terrible insult to try and suppress something that is so core and intrinsic to your being.
Nowadays, we live in an emotion-phobic culture that encourages the silencing of feelings, especially the ‘negative’ ones. However, if you are someone who is naturally emotionally intense and sensitive, you may struggle to do what is considered the norm (‘normal’) — denying, brushing off, or dampening the intensity of feelings. For example, you may find that when a worry sows its seed in your mind, you struggle to get rid of it. You may find yourself being left with no choice but to dwell in thoughts until the problem is solved. To others, you may appear neurotic or obsessive. Your friends and family may advise you to ‘not think too much’, to ‘sleep on it’, or to ‘go get a drink’ and distract yourself. These temporary strategies may work for them, but you continue to find yourself struggling to settle with peace.
In these cases, our work will be about courageously staying close to all emotions, attending to them without completely surrendering to their destructiveness, or being overwhelmed by them.
A healthy, emotionally intense individual would have learned to maintain a core sense of identity without it being swept by the moment-to-moment changes of their feelings.
The aim of our work is to help you thrive as an intense person. You may still experience the stab of intensity-dysregulation at certain times, but through developing self- knowledge and awareness, as well as having a healthy relationship with your intense inner world, you realise you are not controlled by your emotions. You can live with and ride the waves of life with both passion and peace.
By developing the strengths and skills to befriend with each emotions that come along, you will be able to circumvent the path of self- destructiveness, but be like an alchemist who turn their deep streams of feelings into somethings deep, beautiful, and poetic; a connective tissue to the wider humanity.