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Living with Intensity: a Journey of Self-Acceptance



Written by: Caroline Flocari


“You’re too intense!” These are words I heard a lot growing up.[1] Accepting how I engage with the world around me (passionately) and how I process information (intensely as a highly sensitive person) is something I started tackling as I entered my 30s…and just as I thought I had made significant progress, I voiced a similar criticism to a loved one. Not in those exact words, but the sting was the same nonetheless.


Talk about a rude awakening.


When I came to that realization, I felt terrible. At that moment I knew my journey to self-acceptance wasn’t over.


Living with intensity, especially when that intensity has not been appreciated - or even tolerated - is a bumpy journey! Accepting it and welcoming it required tools I didn’t have as a young adult. Nor did I have the typical gifted child supports to help me navigate my academic and personal life growing up.[2]


Does any part of this journey sound familiar?


Over the last few years – and to this day – I’ve tried a lot of things to accept my intensity as it’s an integral part of who I am as a person.[3]


Understanding my overexcitabilities under Dabrowski’s Theory of Disintegration was a big part of moving towards self-acceptance. Overexcitability essentially “[...] means that life is experienced in a manner that is deeper, more vivid, and more acutely sensed”[4]. Under his theory, there are 5 forms of overexcitabilities: psychomotor, sensual, intellectual, imaginational and emotional.[5]


While I have known for a very long time that I get overly excited (and often overly stimulated), a big part of self-acceptance here was using that knowledge to my advantage. For example, if I am feeling emotionally overwhelmed on a given day (emotional overexcitability), I can give myself permission to rest or do activities that will replenish my emotional tank.


But really what has been most cathartic about coming to terms with my overexcitabilities has been giving myself the permission to lean into them! The question that has guided me is how can overexcitabilities be harnessed to live a fuller, more enjoyable life? How can their fire be used in a positive way, whatever that means to you? Then, take action.


Beyond these more philosophical musings about overexcitabilities and my everlasting fascination with Dabrowski’s Theory of Disintegration, there are tangible practices, tools and actions I integrate in my daily life that have helped me greatly on this acceptance journey:

  • Self-compassion: I started with cultivating self-compassion as one of my first steps. I’m still cultivating it, I’m still experience fallbacks, but I’m learning to accept that I am human and flawed, and won’t always live up to my own very high expectations.

  • Radical acceptance: Acknowledging and honouring difficult emotions (and my own part in any given situation), helps me process things and find meaning in my intense experiences.

  • Therapy: Has been instrumental in providing guidance, learning to approach my intensity without judgement and living an intentional life.

  • Consciously unmasking: By living authentically and not hiding my intensity, I feel good in own skin and am able to find my tribe. It’s scary and the fear of rejection can be very real, but what’s the alternative? Masking doesn’t get me the relationships or life I want.

  • Surrounding myself with people who enjoy my intensity: A friend once told me “You’re intense, but that’s what I love about you” and that really stuck with me. Finding people or peers can be a trial and error process, but surrounding myself with folks who see intensity as a positive trait has been very healing.

  • Carving out time for my rich inner world: I need time to think, reflect, ponder….insert your preferred word here. There is a sweetness and a luxury to dedicating time to our inner selves.

  • Slowing down: Spending time in nature, hiking and by bodies of water are the most healing for me, and give me the space I need to devote to my inner world. Yoga, meditation, listening to music, writing and reading are equally rejuvenating.

  • Life architecture & alignment with values: Building my life in a way that makes sense for me allows me to channel my passion and intensity into relationships, hobbies and work. Alignment between my values and day-to-day actions brings me a deep sense of peace, allows me to live intentionally and harness my overexcitabilities well. But this wasn’t always the case. When I first started to learn about myself, I would regularly fill out the Valued Living Questionnaire[6] and use my answers as a gauge for my progress.


By accepting my intensity, I can live an authentic and intentional life. Though ultimately, the biggest takeaway from my journey is that with this acceptance I can become a better advocate on gifted or neurodivergent issues and can channel my passion to contribute to my community.

 

Caroline Flocari works in research administration as a Project Officer, Strategic Initiatives and dabbles in the wine world as a trained Sommelier. She particularly loves working among the vines. She has a love for discovery, whether it be people, places, wines or hiking trails, and endless questions about the human experience. Multipotentialite, Francophone, lifelong learner, she has a soft spot for used bookstores and cozy spaces. These days she's contemplating returning to graduate school solely as a passion project.

 

[1] Some inspiration from: Giftedness Online. “Growing up with Intensity: Still Intense as Adults?”, May 2020. Link: https://www.giftedness.online/post/growing-up-with-intensity-still-intense-as-adults [2] Antonia (Toni) Szymanski & Melissa Wrenn (2019) Growing Up With Intensity: Reflections on the Lived Experiences of Intense, Gifted Adults, Roeper Review, 41:4,243-257,DOI:10.1080/02783193.2019.1661054 [3] Some inspiration from: Giftedness Online. “Gifted Adults and Wellbeing”, April 2022. Link: https://www.giftedness.online/post/gifted-adults-and-wellbeing [4] Piechowski, M.M. and Daniels, S. (2009). Living with Intensity, , Great Potential Press Inc., p.9 [5] Op. Cit [6] Wilson, K. G. & Groom, J. (2002). The Valued Living Questionnaire.

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