“You Are Too Intense.”

“You Are Too Intense.”

I have spent several months walking through my past with my inner rebel runner.  It hasn’t been easy.  We have felt so much futility, grief, shame and fear.  And countless memories have been shared.  All of these memories are different in their own way, but they have one very important message in common.  People suck.  Every memory has involved someone telling me how something is wrong with me, something is wrong with my plans and dreams, something is wrong with how I express myself and basically how I am just wrong.  My inner rebel runner believes that people are not worth my time because all they do is tell me what I need to change to meet their standards.

On a cognitive level, I get what’s happening here.  I was attracting people with serious self-esteem issues.  They were projecting their need to perfect themselves on to me.  They wanted to change me the way they wanted to change themselves.  I know that I attract a different type of person in to my space now.  There are so many amazing people around me.  But my inner rebel is not convinced it is safe to connect on a deep level and I understand her hesitation.  I get it.  And we will change at her pace.

But my most recent revelation was a particular phrase that hit me hard.  “You are too intense.”  It was something I heard mainly in intimate relationships, but sometimes in working relationships and friendships.  It was always men who said it.  I feel anger about it for a couple of reasons.  First, of course I was intense!  After all that I had been through, I was trying to survive every single day.  The world was a very scary place.  Survival requires intensity.  Second, it brings up the societal issues of how women are expected to portray themselves.  Men get to be intense.  Women need to be happy, smiley people who know how to have a good time.  “You are prettier when you smile” is a phrase most women have heard.

When I move past the anger, I do have to acknowledge the truth of my intensity.  I am intense.  I approach life in an intense way.  As a child, there was no time for play or fun.  There was only hyper vigilance and waiting for what bad thing would happen next.  On some level, my intensity was learned and it was a survival strategy I needed desperately.  But on another level, I know I was born with a propensity to be intense.  Trauma doesn’t do this to everyone.  I know that.  My intensity comes from a very intense controller who I enmeshed with very early in my life.  And my controller is me.  My controller took their traits from my true self and “traumafied” them.

So based on that understanding, my intensity must come from a strength.  All inner parts hold traits that are grounded in strength.  So when I look at intensity, it is easy (and my responsibility) to see the good in it.  It shows up best in my work.  I am constantly asked why I do this coaching.  People don’t get how someone could talk about trauma all day long.  “How can you immerse yourself in it the way you do?”  But I embrace the intensity of this work.  Not everyone can hold the space for intense emotions and experiences multiple times per day, but I thrive on it.  And this work is desperately needed.  There are enough people out there who run away from intensity.  We don’t need more of those.

But if there is one thing I have learned in this recovery work, it is that balance is key.  I can be intense.  And I can be proud of it.  I can perform like a pro in any crisis you throw at me (after an initial battle with futility).  An E.R. visit?  I got it.  A broken air conditioner?  No problem.  A last minute fight cancellation?  I will figure that out.  But if you ask me to play a game of Frisbee with my kids, I will stand there like a deer in headlights wondering what to do.  I know how to be intense in my work.  I know how to be intense in my rest.  But I never learned to play … not really.  There was no time for that.  I am working to find that balance that allows me to be intensely passionate about making life happen, but also intensely passionate about the present moment.  I want to balance the intense doing with the intense being.  Not every moment has a goal and I want to understand that on a deep level.

I see it in my son.  He has the same intensity that I have.  He reads with intensity (accents included).  He works with intensity (when he has to).  He plays with intensity.  He performs with intensity.  He even dances in the grocery store with intensity (and to a chorus from his sister about how embarrassing he is).  He is intense about life.  And I notice that some people can’t handle him.  People will tell him to calm down and be quiet.  They will tell him to be less intense, less passionate, less of a clown.  I know I’ve said it on my bad days.  And I sure hope he doesn’t let it affect him too much.  I hope he finds a way to let his intensity shine in this world.  We need it.  We need the passion and power that comes with intensity.  There is truly nothing wrong with being intense.

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15 Comments

  1. I love where you say “not every moment needs to have a goal”. I struggle with this one and am often told to be ‘less intense’. That I’m too much 😞 I’m beginning to understand this after 50 years so I guess its progress! The joy of just being is something I have experienced but struggle to embrace.

    Reply
    • It is quite a tough one to learn. There is no doubt about it.

      Reply
  2. I can identify with your intensity. People always have something negative to say and it really does suck. Their lives are no shining example, why would they think they can tell us what to do in our lives. I consider them very unqualified. Something I’ve also heard in my life is “you laugh too loud.” Even now I struggle to laugh as I am feeling it and not cover my own mouth with my hand to keep it in. I did that the other night because my grandson was asleep close to me on the couch and that situation is different than when I was laughing at something on TV at my parents house and I was laughing way too loud (and these people are partially deaf!) I don’t think laughter ever needs to be restrained because it is an explosion of joy in the moment. I wish other people could understand that and not be so critical. But yes, people often really, really suck.

    Reply
    • Thank you Teresa. That is a great point about laughter.

      Reply
  3. Thanks Elisabeth,
    I too am intense, ex partners have found it difficult to handle my intensity and have made me feel bad about being this way,
    I too have found it difficult to handle my intensity and have made myself feel bad about feeling this way !!!!!!!!!!!
    I like it when you say, how these parts are born from truth and how there is a power within this intense state.
    Thanks,
    yvette xxxxxxxxxxxx

    Reply
    • Thank you Yvette. Yes! There is so much power in our intensity. And that is a positive thing too.

      Reply
  4. Thank you for sharing this, Elizabeth. I have definitely heard this from colleagues and former partners alike, yet always wondered why my state of being was the exception and not the norm. Why aren’t people as passionate as I am about things, I always responded when told I was ‘passionate’ – code for intense!

    I’ve recently accepted the fact that I am a highly sensitive person and realize that I approach sensitivity with an intensity that counterbalances the hurt I feel about things. Your insights are really helpful in showing me the anger in these feelings. Thank you.

    Reply
    • So! sorry for misspelling your name!

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    • This is brilliant awareness Monique. I do think our intensity is often a protection from our pain and hurt. Thank you so much for your comment.

      Reply
  5. Thank you for sharing this. It’s great to know I’m not alone with it.

    Reply
    • I am so glad it helped!

      Reply
  6. Thank you for so clearly defining what my family saw as my ” problem”. I was always too much. Too happy. Too active. Too emotion. blahblahblah. They made me ashamed of my core self. When they are the dysfunctional ones. It was never me and it took me til age 58 to finally see it. They were jealous of my talents and accomplishments. It never changed me but hurt my self concept.

    Reply
    • Thank you K. I am so glad you see the truth now!

      Reply
  7. “Children are to be seen and not to be heard!” a very common and destructive comment that has been repeated too often including beatings throughout childhood. Hence I’ve had problems speaking up for myself and defending myself; I became a people pleaser, co-dependent and abused wife. It has taken me 60 some years to understand this and now the real work begins; “Who am I? What am I doing here? What do I want?” Sometimes when I drive on the Queensway with the windows up I scream at the top of my lungs and it feels good!! I want to feel whole and worthy and I thank you for your insights. They help.

    Reply
    • Thank you Linda. I am so glad you are asking those questions. And I agree with the screaming. I have done it many, many, many times. It is often a part of getting our voice back.

      Reply

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