I like to use the characterization of gifted people by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen: They are uncommonly intense, complex and driven. (See webpage.)
That characterization can be easily extended to all XIPs: In fact, it can be used as a kind of universal way of identifying this specific “group”, whether their gifts/talents are in academic achievements, sports, arts, counselling, healthcare, management, or any other field.
In my previous blog, I wrote about complexity. This one is about the complicated relation many XIPs experience with their innate intensity.
What does intense mean? Some possibilities: “extreme in degree”, and “earnestly or deeply emotional” (Chambers). The first sense is always relevant in various personal characteristics of XIPs; the second is also relevant, although its level and expression may vary widely between one XIP and another.
In the five typical character traits for XIPs it can be found as trait 4: Excessive zeal in pursuit of interests, but also as an aspect of traits 2 or 5.
Is this attractive?
In either sense, many people – either the XIPs or their environment – do not perceive intensity as an attractive feature.
The Top-10 reproaches (see webpage) is filled with criticisms like: “You are always too …”.
If you have internalized such reproaches, you hit the brakes when you feel your intensity emerging. But the related energy flow does not disappear from your body: If you do not spend it consciously, you will use it unconsciously in the form of bad temper, unhappiness, need for substance abuse, etcetera. In short, your innate intensity may lead to a persistent hassle. Books on this subject and remarks from clients start with the question: “Could I please discover a positive use for it, instead of dealing with its obstructions most of the time?”
Why should you welcome your intensity?
Emotions are not so primitive after all
Maybe this motto is connected to my personal feelings of relief and astonishment after reading about the recent discoveries of modern brain imaging research. They show the importance of feelings and emotions for our “smart thinking”.
Indeed, the instinctive emotional reactions that are essential for survival do originate from our so-called reptilian brain. But many of our emotions do not seem as “primitive” as previously believed. More specifically, various higher cognitive processes in our cortex appear to be strongly linked to directly neighbouring regions that regulate certain important emotions concerning our work and our relationships.
I feel, therefore I am
Antonio Damasio discovered in his studies of patients with specific brain damage that much of our ability to reason becomes futile if we have lost our ability to feel. We use our feelings to work out how things are going: is it good or bad, attractive or repulsive, safe or unsafe, right or wrong, what is our body doing currently, and so on. These and other findings have led to the title of his book, Descartes’ Error (1994):
It is not really: “I think, therefore I am” but rather: “I feel, therefore I am.” In his more recent books he further exemplifies the significance of the body and emotions for our consciousness.
Natural companions, in such a diversity
If feelings and emotions are thus physically intertwined with our smart thinking, it suddenly becomes logical and inevitable that XIPs who can think in an unusually complex way, will also experience unusually strong and complex feelings and emotions. In other words, intensity, also in its meaning of “deeply emotional”, is a natural companion of uncommon intelligence.
Either of the two may lose power of expression, if its companion is absent: Intensity without intelligence becomes aimless; intelligence without intensity becomes sterile.
Please note that there is a huge variety of ways to be extra intense, just like there is such a diversity of ways (see webpage) to be extra intelligent.
Similarly, it is of limited use to look at other people’s intensity as a reference for correctly expressing your own: It has to be your own discovery tour, your own Hero’s Journey. Consider e.g. the ideas of Dabrowski on “Positive Disintegration” (see webpage), or Richard Davidson’s ideas of finding out and influencing your “Emotional Styles”.
In search for liberation
For most part of my life I felt somehow obliged to use my very high intelligence with discipline and perseverance in order to obtain the successes that I was seemingly meant to reach for. But quite often I collided with my feelings and emotions about other people’s expectations and judgements, about what I really wanted for myself, and about the typically rational ways of academic science. Over time, I found my own way of being disciplined and persevering in developing and sharing my ideas and experiences around Xi and XIPs.
It is only recently that I became aware how for all those years I had kept internalized the traditional conviction that feelings and emotions are inferior to intellect. This is not very helpful for your self-esteem when you gradually become more aware of your own uncommonly strong sensitivities. I feel more at ease now with my intensity, and more able to welcome its contributions.
Do own your intensity
I get the impression that still quite often intensity is considered a liability that threatens the successful performance of the gifted. Just like a strong ability in Imaginal Thinking (see webpage), resulting in an uncommon creativity, is considered a liability to perform successfully in school and society. This may even be true in some aspects, but it is not helpful for the person involved. Viewed from across the lifespan, if the underlying message is: “You’d better not be so intense…” it boils down to a kind of oppression of personal development, as well as suggesting that one of your innate qualities will do nothing but hold you back.
Looking from the perspective of the XIPs involved, I can only encourage them to welcome their intensity (and their imaginal thinking, if applicable), and find out how to make good use of the strength and vitality it brings. Of course, similar to owning a very fast car, it is important to maintain and drive the car carefully, keep its fluids at a proper level, and watch out for trees very suddenly appearing on your path. But do enjoy your ride to the max, even though it may be rough sometimes:
It is about coming home to yourself.