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 typeof 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.
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.
Written By Elisabeth Corey, MSW