Feeling Intensely: The Wounds of Being "Too Much"

Have you been told that you see too much, hear too much, or think too much?

Posted May 04, 2018

Some people feel more than others. 

They are often told—spoken and unspoken—that they are ‘too much,’ ‘too intense,’ ‘too sensitive,’ ‘too emotional,’ and that their behaviors are either ‘too dramatic’ or ‘too timid.’

People who feel more deeply and intensely than others are more aware of subtleties; their brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. People with emotional intensity are sometimes described as sensitive, caring, and attentive. At their best, they can be exceptionally perceptive, intuitive, and keenly observant of the subtleties of the environment. Yet they are also overwhelmed by the constant waves of social nuances and others’ emotional and psychic energies. 

They tend to notice and remember a lot and can be over-stimulated when things are too chaotic or novel for a long time. This ability to feel deeply and intensely often starts from a young age when emotion regulation skills are lacking and can lead to psychological wounding associated with shame and loneliness.

Growing awareness of this trait has generated much inquiry, yet psychologists have so far been unable to agree on a single defining attribute. If you identify with the description, there are a few possibilities:

  • This may mean that you are one of the 15-20 % of the population who are wired differently as a Highly Sensitive Person.
  • This may mean that you fall on the right side of the bell curve as a gifted person.
  • This may mean you do have or are mis-labeled as having a mental illness such as Emotion Regulation Disorder, ADHD, Bipolar Disorder, or Dysthymia (chronic depression).

The world is gradually coming to embrace the concept of neurodiversity— the idea that particular groups of the population are ‘different’ from the norm, with specific kind of sensitivity, intensity, and giftedness. However, with little awareness, many emotionally intense adults confessed to having felt lonely and misunderstood for years, being plagued with self-doubts, and living with a lingering sense of existential loneliness.

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Source: UNSPLASH

Emotional intensity comprises of the following five components:

1. EMOTIONAL DEPTH, VELOCITY, AND COMPLEXITY

You experience emotions to an unusual level of depth, complexity, and intensity. This makes you feel incredibly alive, sometimes painfully so.

  • You have a constant stream of both positive and negative feelings, sometimes together, sometimes from one to another in a short period.
  • You soar high into bliss and plunge low into gloom in rapid succession.
  • You know the meaning of despair, but you also know beauty and rapture. When art or music move you, you are flooded with waves of joy, or get transcended into a state of ecstasy.
  • You are passionate, even if you do not show it on the outside. 
  • You tend to form strong emotional connections with people, places, and things, and sometimes that makes separation difficult.
  • You experience life with much tenderness and nostalgia.  

A human creature born abnormally, inhumanly sensitive.
To him
a touch is a blow,
a sound is a noise,
a misfortune is a tragedy,
a joy is an ecstasy,
a friend is a lover,
a lover is a god,
and failure is death.
–      Pearl Buck

2. DEEP EMPATHY AND SENSITIVITY

  • From an early age, you have a grave concern for others and the wider world.  When others are abused or mistreated, you feel as if it is happening to you.
  • You may resonate with traits of being an ‘empath,’ due to your innate ability to feel and be affected by other people's energies. In social situations, you can intuitively identify with others’ emotions, and you may feel that you 'absorb' their physical and mental ailment, to the point where you get overwhelmed.
  • Because of your responsiveness and insights into others’ pain, you tend to form soulful and meaningful connections.  You are loyal, idealistic and romantic.
  • However, being naturally open and sensitive also means you are vulnerable to relational injuries from a young age. Your natural tendency to be open and loving may get stunted due to early rejections and trauma.
  • Having a heightened sensory system means that you are extremely sensitive to your surroundings.   You have an increased appreciation of sensual pleasures such as music, language, and art, as well as intense reactions to sight, sound, touch, taste, and smell. This may also cause you to feel overwhelmed or uncomfortable with too much sensory input. You may be sensitive to loud noises, strong smell, or tactile sensations such as clothing tags and rough surface. 
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Source: UNSPLASH

3. HIGHLY ACUTE PERCEPTIVITY

  • Being perceptively gifted means you can sense and perceive things that others miss. With acute awareness, you can see beyond superficiality, grasp patterns and make linkages.
  • Insights, intuition, and the ability to read several layers of reality allow you to assess people and situations rapidly. You can sense incongruence and their intentions, thoughts, and feelings that are underneath the facades.
  • You have a sense of knowing when something is about to happen, or about other people’s inner worlds.
  • However, your abilities do not necessarily make life easy. You are bothered by hypocrisies and unfairness and struggle with inauthentic people and situations. You cannot help but be the one who points out the ‘elephant in the room’, but your perceptiveness may seem intimidating to those who felt ‘seen through’.
  • In a family situation, you may be scapegoated to be the one who carries the painful truth that is unsaid in the facade of normalcy. You may carry the role of being the ‘problematic one’, the scapegoat, or the black sheep. 
  • You have an innate urge to push the boundaries of conformity, to question or to challenge traditions, particularly those that seem meaningless or unfair. Paired with a strong sense of justice, you are often frustrated with corruptions and inequality in the world. 
  • Although this may indicate a challenging life path for you, you also have the potential to thrive as a visionary leader.    
  • You may constantly feel older than others around you, like an ‘old soul’ that has somehow lost your roots.
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Source: UNSPLASH

4. A RICH INNER WORLD WITH SENSUAL, IMAGINARY AND INTELLECTUAL EXCITABILITY.

  • You have a rich inner world that is imbued with words, images, metaphors, visualizations, vivid fantasies and dreams
  • As a child, 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 and to analyze your mental content.
  • 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.   
  • You tend to experience zealous enthusiasm about certain topics and endeavors. 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 capable of contemplative thinking and self-reflection. The flip side is that you may be occupied with obsessive thoughts, and scrupulous self- examination. You may also suffer from perfectionism and self-criticism.
  • You are extremely open-minded. You are sensitive to the spiritual world or were drawn to the spiritual path from a young age. This may or may not manifest as some form of psychic ability.
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Source: UNSPLASH

5. CREATIVE POTENTIAL AND EXISTENTIAL ANGST

  • You have always been concerned with the big questions of life. From a young age, you may experience existential depression and have felt grief over the meaninglessness of life, death, and loneliness. 
  • You might have felt frustrated that those around you were not prepared to discuss and consider these weighty concerns.
  • Your existential angst may manifest as 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).
  • Nevertheless, you have always known deep down that you are dissatisfied with a life that is meaningless and task-driven.
  • You may be a polymath, or a ’multipotentialite’ - someone with multiple interests and creative pursuits, and not just one calling. 
  • 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, or leaving people behind.

A CAVEAT

The above conceptualisation of the emotional intensity trait inevitably involves some simplification of human complexity. Any typology is necessary a simplification compared with the real, unique human being in front of us. 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 are constantly changing and evolving.  

THE GIFTS AND THE PERILS       

Dr. Mary-Elaine Jacobson, author of The Gifted Adult, has identified some of the top criticisms a gifted individual often faces:

  • “Why don’t you slow down?”
  • “You worry about everything!”
  • “You are so sensitive and dramatic.”
  • "You are too driven.”
  • “Who do you think you are?”

Emotional Intensity is not a pathology. For someone who is emotionally intense, however, the pain that comes with a pervasive sense of being ‘too much’ is not to be taken lightly – a person can be made to feel ‘wrong’ for the most part of his or her life, and internalising this sense of shame can lead to depression, low self-esteem, inability to self-regulate, and inner emptiness.

The good news is, with the right information and support, liberation from the pain of ‘being too much’ is possible. Once you have discovered the origin of your differences, you may begin a journey of retrieving long lost gifts.

Suddenly, your whole life history makes sense. You realize that a lot of the shame and depression they bear come from ill-informed and uninvited commentary about your unique qualities, and people’s fear of what is unfamiliar. In fact, your high level of awareness of subtleties is not only unusual but also extremely precious.

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Source: UNSPLASH

As you step into embracing your unique qualities, you learn to trust your unique ways of relating to the world and can connect to what you have to offer. Themes such as authentic existence, the meaning of life, and purpose of being come to the foreground of awareness, and here you are, embarking on a true journey towards your full potential:

     'It doesn't happen all at once,' said the Skin Horse. 'You become. It takes a long time. That's why it doesn't happen

     'Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,' he asked, 'or bit by bit?' 

    'Sometimes,' said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. 'When you are Real you don't mind being hurt.' 

     'Does it hurt?' asked the Rabbit. 

    “Real isn't how you are made,' said the Skin Horse. 'It's a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.'often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.” —Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

References

Jacobsen, M. E. (2000). The gifted adult: A revolutionary guide for liberating everyday genius. Ballantine Books.