Intensity – What makes intensely creative, emotional and gifted adults like Steve Jobs prone to troubling relationship issues?

I was truly dismayed to see someone as influential and talented as Steven Johnson, author of the brilliant book  Where Good Ideas Come From: The Natural History of Innovation say this about Steve Jobs:

“But for all his obnoxiousness with his colleagues…, Jobs had a rich collaborative streak as well. He was enough of an egomaniac to think of himself as another John Lennon, but he was always looking for McCartneys to go along for the ride with him.”


To me, this is an example of the kind of socially accepted intolerance, bias, and disparaging name-calling that creative, emotionally intense and gifted adults (and children) frequently experience their entire lives. Even though Mr. Johnson is intending to show the “other” side of Steve Jobs complex personality, it doesn’t excuse his perpetuating the portrayal of Steve as an “obnoxious egomaniac.”   Those are some powerfully degrading and hurtful words for such a respected author to be using as though they were mere objective facts and not defamatory or derogatory character slurs.  To me, those words are just offensive as any racist or sexist epithets.

Yes.  Steve was emotionally intense.  Yes, he had a temper and SOME people felt bullied by him.  But he was so much more than that — he had many allies, supporters and people who overlooked his outbursts as being part of his intensity and found his intense convictions inspiring.  They didn’t take his emotional intensity personally and loved working with him.

Intensity is one of the many forms of neurodiversity that are misunderstood, not tolerated and aggravated by our culture.  Unharnessed, emotional, intellectual and energetic intensity can feel overwhelming to people who are not intense.

When people assume that other people are sharing the same experience in the same way, and at the same level of intensity, it’s so easy to assume they simply lack self- control.  In reality, it’s more like two people can be in a 70 degree room and to one it feel like 100 degrees and they are uncontrollably sweating and to another it can feel like 40 degrees and they could be having uncontrollable shivers and goose bumps.  Emotional intensity works similarly.   There is actually a biologically based neurochemical reason (one of which is dopamine levels) that literally and profoundly affect how intensely we feel emotionally in response to events.  For example, we might feel such a strong surge of emotion in response to a new idea that it’s not “controllable” though with practice we CAN learn how to change the way we respond to it.  But that requires advanced habit shaping and emotional intelligence skills that are rarely taught.

To the intense person, what seems like nothing to most people, for example, seeing a typo or mistake, can trigger such a strong emotional discomfort that it feels like being hit by a crashing wave.  In our culture, instead of recognizing that some people are just that way, we treat it as a mental illness, we invalidate the reality of what it feels like to live with this, or we make it a character defect.  When you really look at the situation deeply and objectively, you begin to see that it’s actually a need to learn skills.  Thankfully therapy is moving toward an educational model, but why do we still classify the learning as a “treatment” for a disorder?

This fundamental variation in intensity is at the the root of many of our “differences” and when not recognized causes misunderstanding and over time can lead to such extreme frustration and anger that people become very abusive to each other.

Intense people themselves are usually unaware of how different their experience of life is from most people and their descriptions of how they feel are often not believed by others.  Consequently, instead of learning how to cope with intensity, it is invalidated and people try to repress it.  The repression leads to build up and eventually meltdowns, tantrums and other forms of emotional outbursts.   My intention with this article is not to “excuse” anyone’s rude behavior, but rather to move us forward in understanding so that we can find more productive ways to deal with our differences.  Like learning more about the ways people are different and how to resolve the inevitable conflict in respectful ways.  We have a culture where most people seek to avoid conflict or confrontation.  If we learned early on how to see conflict as an opportunity to learn to become more accepting of differences, more patient, more emotionally agile, mentally flexible and less certain that what we think is right, perhaps we wouldn’t have an epidemic of social anxiety and depression.

Back to the article that inspired this article — I wonder if Mr. Johnson is familiar with the literature on giftedness and intensity and, if he were, would he still choose to use words like “egomaniac” so easily?

Intensity of energy, drive, compassion, and frustration is a well-documented aspect of having extraordinary intelligence and empathy. Steve Jobs was lucky he had productive outlets for his intensity, but he also paid a high price.  I deeply admire that he was strong enough to not let his creative passion be subdued or muted by the people around him who were clueless about how to cultivate or cope with his intense drive to innovate. Luckily he insisted on cultivating it himself. Even when he got booted from Apple for his emotional intensity, he refused to give up and moved on to become the force behind Pixar and Toy Story.

It takes a very intense kind of person to challenge the status quo and do what people say can’t be done. Not only did many people not support him, they actively tried to suppress and modify him as well.

How long would you stand up for your big idea if everyone around you was trying to change it?

To me, Steve Jobs exhibited a personality trait called “hypersystemizing” or “addicted to insight.” Hypersystemizing has a biological basis and is often the driving force behind the kind of idealism and perfectionist behavior that Steve Jobs displayed. This is not everyday perfectionism, however. It’s a deep driving need to create something truly magnificent and not let others water down the visionary ideas with “groupthink.”

People tend to admire super-talents like his from afar, but up close, they find it challenging to deal with the kind of intensity that comes along with the super-talent. Without realizing it usually, they tend to become defensive and try to change the person in order to “make them easier to deal with.” They try to get them to compromise their vision because they want their ideas to be considered, and they want to have input into the outcome. It’s only natural to want to put your stamp on someone else’s project, but it’s not always the best thing for the project. Sometimes other people’s ideas do enrich a product, but the truth is, sometimes their ideas water it down or muddy it up.

The super-talented person also does their share of stubbornly not listening to other people’s input, rejecting the input they do listen to and not always being very nice about it. But imagine how you would feel when people give you advice you know isn’t right for you – you know they don’t get you. Now magnify that by a thousand percent. That’s what profoundly gifted and talented people experience MOST of their lives. It’s draining, frustrating and demoralizing. Feeling deeply and chronically misunderstood can lead to  existential grief, depression, anger, a profound sense of disconnectedness and social alienation.

People like Steve Jobs who are strong enough to self-advocate and push back over and over again do act out in socially abrasive ways, but when you realize that alternatives to being your authentic emotional self, even when it feels “abrasive”,  include some extreme mental health disorders including addiction, violent aggression, dropping out of society, and even suicide, you begin to see the problem in a whole new way. There are no easy answers to the dilemma, but name-calling, outcasting, trying to get them to “conform” and bullying – whether verbal or physical – certainly doesn’t help.

Calling people like Steve Jobs “not a team player” is overly dismissive and is fundamentally biased. It’s usually said as though not being a team player is some kind of personality defect that makes you the equivalent of an “untouchable”. Why not just say that his strength is being “an independent or creative thinker”?  Why do we divide the world into “team players” (good) and “non-team players” (bad)?  There is so much more to the story than that.

Who said being a “team player” is the “best” way to be or something that everyone should aspire to be?

When someone is “not a team player” – most likely there is some valuable talent they DO have that team players DO NOT have. Like DEEP thinking.

Groups often make the WORST decisions in many arenas of life and business. Keep in mind it was a group decision that got us into the war in Iraq.

Most great thinkers accomplished their life’s legacy work mostly working alone – supported by and supporting others, giving and getting input to each other’s work in other ways besides teams.  They publish and read each other’s work, they attend conferences, they challenge each other in a way that is not usually acceptable in a group setting.

They are not designed for and don’t need to work in groups to produce their best work.  Just like planes don’t fly in groups or in single file the way cars do, some people are not designed for teamwork.  Challenging independent thinkers who are also emotionally intense are less common, but every bit as valuable as a team player. Just as a plane is less common, but is still a fundamentally needed and valuable form of transportation, we NEED people who don’t work well in teams to have their place in society respected and valued. (Read more about Group Think here.)

Society needs challengers. Without them, we would probably still have slavery. Women would still not be allowed to vote.  And Child Labor would not be against the law. You get the picture.

It takes incredible internal fortitude and vulnerability to stand up to social pressure and express yourself when most people would much rather you kept your challenging ideas to yourself.

Staying true to a vision like Steve Jobs did is a rare thing. In many ways it requires becoming a difficult person, even if at heart you really don’t want to be difficult. Many people who produce truly great work have suffered lifelong cognitive “bullying” for being different – sometimes intentional, sometimes not.

We wonder why so many smart creative people suffer from depression and social anxiety. It’s not very mystifying to me.

As Mr. Johnson noted in his article, Steve Jobs also had a deep hunger and desire for collaborators. That is part of the curse of being gifted. The search for people that “get” you, and don’t try to “control” you, who don’t mind if you keep changing your mind as you evolve the quality of your ideas.  The search for a way to make a living and work with people who won’t overly pressure you to give in to doing something on schedule instead of getting it right is an excruciatingly painful search.

Steve Jobs went through 67 nurses in the end to find three that he felt really cared about his needs.  When he found “the ones” he kept them with him till the end. He was intensely loyal to the people who let him be himself and didn’t need him to conform to make them comfortable. (Source:  His sister’s eulogy as it appeared in the New York Times.)

The kind of existential loneliness and angst that leads to the impatient behavior Steve Jobs exhibited is something most people can’t really understand. Our society is so biased against people who are different and have intense emotions and passions like his, we rarely question that kind of name calling.  I think that’s why Mr. Johnson didn’t even flinch at calling Steve Jobs an “egomaniac.”  It is so insulting to Steve Jobs and deeply inaccurate. My guess is that if he better understand cognitive and neurodiversity, he would rethink using such a derogatory word.. His family and friends sure paint a very different image of him.

People like Steve Jobs experience so much negative criticism and push-back from teachers, bosses, and others who seek to control and “reign them in” that they often become dictatorial and controlling in order to accomplish their mission. Who teaches them how to cope with the constant pressure to conform in more effective ways?  There are no courses I know of to help kids stand up to the kind of pressure you get from school and parents to, for example, do the homework assigned by a teacher instead of working on inventing a computer.

Innovation REQUIRES breaking conventions like doing a “book report” when you’d rather be actually “writing a book.”  There are so many examples of geniuses who had to quit school in order to actually make the most of their genius – it’s actually kind of frightening. Richard Branson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs are just a few.

Living with the constant pain of being misunderstood by most people combined with being pressured to conform to think, feel and act like “normal” people is exactly what kills most innovation and creativity.

If Steve Jobs had conformed and become a conventional “team player” Apple wouldn’t exist. It would be just another failed victim of “groupthink” that bows to lower standards of design just to get the job done “good enough.” There is a time and place for good enough, like when you are cleaning a floor or doing the laundry.  But “good enough” doesn’t get you products like iPads. (James Cameron’s Titanic is another example.)

Why should Steve Jobs have been so maligned and even ousted from Apple for being emotional and prone to crying? Emotion, empathy, caring for people, and dedication to higher principles than “speed” and “short term profits” are exactly what those unemotional corporate leaders who are responsible for our economic meltdown are deficient in.

The real travesty in our culture is the pathology of corporate types who DON’T respect the power of emotion and who lack, or have very low levels, of compassion, empathy, ethic, and integrity. There is name for people who experience very low levels of emotional intensity, compassion or empathy and have such a high degree of self-control that they can easily manipulate others as well and can get themselves to do anything that serves their own interests regardless of who gets hurt. Strong self-control is required to be good at concealing your true thoughts, feelings, and intentions from people so that you can manipulate them.

Yes, there is a dark side to high self-control just as there is a dark side to low self-control. Highly charming, charismatic, philanderers, con men, politicians and executives who find it easy to say whatever people want to hear so that they can do whatever they want in private are very HIGH in self-control.  Interestingly, people with LOW intensity and HIGH self-control may also qualify as sociopaths.

Could it be that our culture has so idolized the achievements of getting good grades, making lots of money, seeking fame, and winning awards, elections and sporting events that we are literally glorifying sociopathic tendencies and behavior while simultaneously repressing and medicalizing those who are uniquely so intense that they are biologically driven to challenge what doesn’t seem right to them?

The epitome of “cool” today is to be unemotional, unaffected, to appear centered, self-controlled and to not say anything that would offend or challenge anyone.  And yet, we are also supposed to be “passionate” about something?  You can’t have it both ways. Passionate IS emotional. Being emotional and having the capacity to care and be passionate IS what makes us human.

When did having and showing deep emotions become a fatal flaw?  Even Jesus had deep emotional outbursts. Can you imagine the names he would be called today?

The so-called leaders and managers of most companies do everything they can to prevent displays of emotion and to punish people who display emotion in the workplace. Showing stress, anger or frustration in any job will get you an instant downgrade in your performance appraisal and it will certainly affect your ability to get a promotion. And yet, people who show those feelings are usually the people who care the most about doing the “right thing” or about doing a “great job.”

We as a culture have no idea how to cultivate and respect exceptionally, gifted, talented, creative people who have strong emotional drive and intensity. Our schools, workplaces, medical system, etc. are all literally designed to destroy people’s passion for learning and thinking for themselves. It’s not intentional, but it is a real challenge that we as a collective nation must face up to.

The change is coming…led by innovators like Sir Ken Robinson and many others like– Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted

The animation below was adapted from a talk given at the RSA by Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned education and creativity expert.


For more information on Sir Ken's work visit:

If you love someone who is “challenging” or seems driven to do things “their way” I hope you will be moved to take a deeper look at the tension between you. Cognitive and emotional biases play a huge role in communication and conflict resolution difficulties.

Could it be that the person you are dealing with has experienced the kind of systemic and indirect “bullying” that comes from our assumptions that being intense or emotional is some kind of “character flaw”?

Could it be that the person is more likely starving to feel understood?  

Starving to feel freer to pursue their creative or technical passions without compromising their ideals?

Charles Darwin took 20 years to write his masterpiece that changed the world. He was persecuted much of his life (and still is.)  He suffered great depressions as a result of being a different kind of thinker.

I’m not saying the answer is to tolerate anyone treating people disrespectfully.  But I am saying that perhaps the disrespectful outbursts are a reaction to being chronically disrespected by others in a way that is systematically condoned and leaves them no recourse.

For example, calling a high energy child or highly emotional adult disordered?  Isn’t it possible that it is just as disrespectful to expect a child who is naturally full of energy, creativity and curiosity to sit still in a classroom all day as it is when that child disrupts the classroom because it is literally painful for him or her to sit still?  Who is disrespecting who here?

We have the luxury today to use the power of technology to help us design more customized and innovate approaches to education that respect children’s natural strengths and cultivate them.  Is it really worth it to spend so much time and energy trying to get people to conform?  What if we spent all that energy working on ways to teach people how to resolve the conflict that naturally arises from our differences instead of trying to eliminate the differences?

I dream of a world where emotionally intense and creative visionaries are respected for their differences, and where we ALL learn to respect each other and resolve our differences in constructive ways – empowering us to design or discover contexts that fit our natural gifts, without feeling the need to label people as “disordered” and having “deficits” because we are different from each other.


p.s.  In the interest of full disclosure, I don’t actually own a Mac, although I do have an iPad and I did learn how to program computers using AppleBasic on an Apple II in 1981. I’m deeply grateful to Steve Jobs’ innovative user-centered designs for the role they played in making the whole computer industry upgrade their own interface designs just to keep pace.

30 thoughts on “Intensity – What makes intensely creative, emotional and gifted adults like Steve Jobs prone to troubling relationship issues?

  1. Great Article Ariane..this article is a proof how well and closely you can observe and understand the human pysche.A true portrait of ADHD and Dyslexic person.

  2. I agree with your article completely. The journey for one of the creative people you mentioned to become free can be really unique to any other persons journey. Full of a variety of different kinds of steps, decisions, paths chosen, principles, and mabey double think.

  3. Hi Ariane and everyone,
    I truly enjoyed your article! Thank you for sharing your insight!
    I read a quote the other day that said: “I have never seen giftedness expired, only grow and mature”. As I read through the article, I gained further confidence in questioning myself (and sharing with all of you) if both parties could work on supporting each other. For example, a gifted person is well known for not listening to others (I do that all the time!) because there is an urgency to follow and accomplish the vision (whatever that may be). On the other hand, society is not willing to tolerant such behavior perhaps because it’s painful to be left behind or not be acknowledge. (I have been there too!) Can those with a larger vision and more intensities, be a little more tolerant and willing to acknowledge and mentor others and not feel so threaten by others and can society jump in with their support and willingness to try getting out of their comfort zone? I totally agree that educating others about the dynamics is extremely necessary and the teacher may just be the one who sees the need.
    We can all challenge each other by digging a little deeper….digging deeper brings growth and maturity to everyone who seeks it.

  4. Pingback: Casting Stones at Cacti. Our Intolerance of Gifted People

  5. Brilliant! Unbelievably, superbly brilliant! I could write an essay about how everything you wrote is totally,completely true, and how it all very much needed to be said, but I’ll stop at just saying this was THE ONE most brilliant, perfect article I have EVER read! Yes! It is THAT good … no….THAT perfect! Thank You!

    • Thank you so much for your note Celi! You made my day. p.s. I love your blog too! What a cool name…Crushing Tall Poppies. Thanks, too for adding your voice to the many needed to promote awareness of cognitive diversity and related bullying.

  6. My desire to understand me more (to help myself fit in!) has just taken a giant leap. I’ve never been so excited that I’m me. A woman of colour, growing up with 4 brothers and strict parents; I became a Nurse and have “existed” for 38 years, (struggling) to simply be. Not being truly myself, for fears & insecurities ad nauseam, is actually the real dysfunction (socialised indoctrinated) – self control is the hardest thing to “pull off”.

    Thank you so much, this article is frank, I relate and am grateful … I am normal after all and I hope that my Psychologist hasn’t “given up” on me yet :)

  7. Hi Ariane,

    Your article literally made me cry, it’s like for the first time someone was summarizing my life. I’m from Hong Kong, needless to say, emotions are even more suppressed in this part of the world. Chinese are NOT to display any emotions, not at home, not at school and definitely not at work. I remember as a child I cried and laughed harder than anyone, and my family was puzzled as to what triggered my severe sadness, sometimes it was merely images on TV about wars that would make me cry like a river. Moral convictions were something people sneered at. I was also extremely sensitive to injustice. It was not until my younger niece was diagnosed that she was gifted then my sister told me that I have displayed lots of character traits of being a (underachieving) gifted adult. I’m tempted to get tested if I’m gifted but it seems it’s too late for me now, I’m 45 and maybe too old for such diagnosis. To this date, I still experience emotional intensity on a daily basis and hence I still haven’t found anyone who truly gets me but the craving is always there. Like you, Ariane, I hope one day people will respect the emotionally intense people and just let us be who we are.

    Thanks again Ariane for this brilliant article!!


    • You literally gave me goose bumps. Don’t worry about being diagnosed…if you suspect you are, you probably are. Self-diagnosis is perfectly acceptable, after all, the label is only helpful in that it leads you on a path to connect with your tribe, learn more about yourself and find your way to deeper self-acceptance, self-worth and self-advocacy. The most effective path to a better life is to learn a new mindset, new skills and cultivate new thinking and emotional habits that FIT your brain. It’s not too late for you. It’s NEVER too late to heal and grow. I’m 54 now…and I’m still learning, healing and growing myself. Thank you so much for reaching out and connecting…our tribe is ever growing and we are here for you!

      • Hi Ariane,

        Many thanks for your warm reply, again, it made me cry as I finally felt less alone on this planet. I was just accused by one of my friends on FB that I have expressed some pretty ‘morbid’ views when I merely said I felt quite alone in this world and wondered if I’ll continue to be so alone (recently my existential depression crept in – don’t worry Ariane, it comes and goes all my life), I told her that I never masked my feelings, and unlike others, I don’t just flaunt my happiness on my FB page coz I speak my mind. I guess Ariane the world really does see our intense emotions as a disorder and I feel some deep pain over it.

        Anyways, thank you so much for your kind words and I’ll do more research on cultivating new ways of thinking and handling my intense emotions. It’s a long journey but I’ll get there.



  8. Hi Ariane,

    thanks for this wonderful article. Finally somebody protects us:) Really, it is the first
    time that I read something so knowledgable and sympathetic to the cause. I have been struggling with prejudice, ignorance/arrogance etc my whole life, basically on a daily basis. And I can share all your emotions and could tell a book full of personal tales about it (which I won’t, of course).

    People don’t know anything about creativity, consciousness , high giftedness, high sensitivity. Creativity should be taught in school (as Sir Ken Robinson whom I would love to meet in person, suggests). They USE it everyday, but for many reasons they don’t want to know what goes in it.

    Anyway, too much to say about it, so I better stop it here.

    Thanks again, whishing you the very best


      • thanks for the hug, Ariane and one for you!:)
        i would like to contribute more to the conversation but feel unable to do it in this way. i am occupied with the issues that you write about my whole life. they are too complex (yet wonderful)
        that i could just comment on them.

        if there is a more direct way i would love to participate.

        be very well,


      • No worries! just commenting as you did is enough. Every little drop of support – just letting know you are out there too adds to the growing power of our “tribe” to reclaim our ability to see ourselves as natural born agilizers in need of cultivation of our unique abilities and strengths rather than as disordered or defective people in need of medical treatment to correct our deficiencies. : )

  9. In going through your back posts, and love this one about how intolerant society is or can be when someone violates some norms – or actually in the example you cite, incites envy because of talents, then faces those who would cut him to show that he has flaws , so you don’t have to feel so bad at being less talented. And if you think about a different aspect – so Jobs especially had a loyal following and people who respected him; he could call on his own resilience and also knew he had supporters; for kids or “unimportant’ people, there’s no one to champion them, and a lot of forces marshaled to keep them in line.

    I understand that it doesn’t mean that you’re saying it’s great to be rude – but that fervor about an obsession – which may be necessary to art of different kinds – does preclude expending energy to make others understand or feel good. And of course some of them are b——s. But so are some plodders.

    I completely agree ( and read some study I can;t remember) about how group decisions can be really bad and that that whole process often excludes input from the people who have real insight and ideas.

    Am also reading a book that came out a couple of years back: The Emperor of All Maladies: a Biography of Cancer. One very striking thing about the history of human co-existence with cancer – what it is, how it acts, what we can do about it – is that it was a number of very stubborn, quirky, fanatic iconoclasts who stuck to their visions who advanced our knowledge – often in the face of extreme ridicule and ostracism by mainstream medicine.

    You write very engagingly.

    • Thanks for sharing your thoughts and adding to the conversation. I tried to be clear but perhaps I should restate for the benefit of all reading this. I am not suggesting we excuse hurtful or rude behavior on anyone’s part. The thing is this. We don’t actually consider it rude to tell people they are too emotional when they become even a little passionate. When it comes to criticizing US for traits we are born with, society acts likes we are fair game and deserve to be vilified for our sensitivities. We don’t diagnose people with having “creativity deficit disorder.” Bottom line is that we all need educating about how people are different and find ways to negotiate peace that don’t assume one way of being is “inherently” superior to the other. I don’t feel like linear thinking is a “disorder” – why should non-linear thinking, or changing your mind about your opinions as you learn new things be considered inherently “weak”? or wishy-washy”? or all the other negative names we are called. Why should people saying: “Just pick a side and stick to it.” and then rolling their eyes and showing a myriad of other forms of disrespect be considered normal or justified behavior? We ALL could stand to learn more about the art of manners. We’ve so lost that. Just watching one of those political discussion shows and how people talk to each other makes my skin crawl. But today it’s considered being “strong” and “assertive” when really they are just being downright mean to each other. Gotta get going. But hope you’ll be inspired to keep the conversation going. Even when I’m not always able to respond right away. : )

  10. On Facebook I got this comment that I wanted to include in the conversation here – even though it made me sad…I am grateful for the input and challenge to make my intentions even clearer if I can.


    Jane C. –

    I get lost when people talk about traits rather than specific behaviors. Yes, Jobs AND Lennon may well have been geniuses. I read not long ago that Lennon once dumped a pitcher of beer over an older woman who was playing piano at a wedding. It puts a dent in my respect for him. The word “egomaniac” doesn’t help me grapple with the behavior, but nor does a plea to understand the supposedly tortured genius.

    • Here is the Reply I was moved to write:


      Jane I thank you so much for taking a moment to comment on my article, thus giving me an opportunity to respond. My first reaction was deep hurt and sadness – though you did not say it explicitly, I feel like you implied that my article is a simple “plea to understand tortured genius” and that you provided the example of Lennon’s bad behavior to imply that somehow I am asking people to “excuse” disrespectful behavior.

      I feel so hurt because

      1) I truly though you knew me better than that. and

      2) The point of my article was NOT about genius per se it was about variations in emotional intensity and how we as a society are systematically biased AGAINST emotion even though emotions are what make us human.

      3) Our attempts to standardize people instead of teaching us how to value differences and resolve conflicts respectfully have backfired tremendously which I believe is why well over 50% of our population suffers from some form of emotional disorder such as anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic stress and more.

      My PLEA if you want to call it that was summarized at the end of the article. How my intention was so misunderstood and seemingly created even more bias against “understanding intensity” I don’t know…but I feel compelled to quote myself to set the record straight.



      I’m not saying the answer is to tolerate anyone treating people disrespectfully. But I am saying that perhaps the disrespectful outbursts are a reaction to being chronically disrespected by others in a way that is systematically condoned and leaves them no recourse.

      For example, calling a high energy child or highly emotional adult disordered?

      Isn’t it possible that it is just as disrespectful to expect a child who is naturally full of energy, creativity and curiosity to sit still in a classroom all day as it is when that child disrupts the classroom because it is literally painful for him or her to sit still?

      Who is disrespecting who here?

      We have the luxury today to use the power of technology to help us design more customized and innovate approaches to education that respect children’s natural strengths and cultivate them.

      – Is it really worth it to spend so much time and energy trying to get people to conform?

      – What if we spent all that energy working on ways to teach people how to resolve the conflict that naturally arises from our differences instead of trying to eliminate the differences?

      I dream of a world where emotionally intense and creative visionaries are respected for their differences, and where we ALL learn to respect each other and resolve our differences in constructive ways – empowering us to design or discover contexts that fit our natural gifts, without feeling the need to label people as “disordered” and having “deficits” because they are different.”

  11. Thanks for this really interesting article, Ariane–you have really hit a nerve here.

    Reading this, I was thinking about the plight of ‘intense’ women, given the pressure on females in our culture to play nice, get along, be ‘likeable,’ etc. When we see how culturally challenging it was for someone like Steve Jobs, we have to think it’s probably incrementally worse for women of similar vision and temperament due to that conditioning.

    • You’re Welcome Kate. And you’re right. Intense women have always suffered intensely. The Salem witch hunt comes to mind. The Scarlet Letter syndrome. Another factor is family…not having a support system or parents that advocated for you like Steve Jobs did…and not only that they abused or constantly criticized you. What more reliable recipe recipe for addiction, depression and anxiety is there?

    • This is something I was going to raise if I didn’t see it mentioned. I’m glad I read down in the comments this far.

      I will say that as frustrating as it is as a woman to be labeled “too intense”, it is even more frustrating – at least for me – to have the inquiry stop at “It’s too bad she’s so anxious/depressed” without ever finding any tools to create environments to be oneself and also be effective in the world, so one doesn’t have to *be* so anxious and depressed. It’s almost as though the world would rather have you anxious and depressed than yourself and effective, if you carry these traits as a woman. At least enough people believe in Steve Jobs that he had the support to monetize his vision to the point of becoming a billionaire. Richard Branson, Marc Cuban, the dude who runs Jet Blue – same thing. Nobody gets that far without an awful lot of support — but us women are heavily socialized to provide it, not to receive it, and heavily punished if we don’t conform to that norm.

  12. Scrolling through your blog entries, I zeroed in on this one as I am nearing the conclusion of reading Steve Jobs’ biography. I have been absolutely mesmerized by his creative genius, process and the diversity of people Jobs brought into his circle of influence to achieve his visions. Your observations, along with Sir Ken Robinson’s, resonate with me. I’ve always felt an isolation as I navigate my way through life. I yearn for those who “get” me and share my intense desire to know and understand more and to not be resigned to the status quo.
    How fortunate for us that Steve Jobs was passionate and charismatic enough to find those who could hang in there with him and be a part of an incredible component of today’s quickly changing world!

    • Jeni, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts…I feel like you “got” me…and that is something we all hunger for isn’t it? : ) Thank you for taking the time to read this and to reach out to me.

  13. Janet, thanks so much for your note! For sure, living with intensity is not the easy way to live. And, it can a incredible source of pain for the person and the people who love and work with an intense person. The individual needs to learn how to cope with it as a first level strategy. It’s fascinating though how when an intense person is in an environment of acceptance they become much less intense…and in an environment that attempts to change them, or they perceive it that way, they usually become even more intense.

    more food for thought… : )

    • ” It’s fascinating though how when an intense person is in an environment of acceptance they become much less intense…and in an environment that attempts to change them, or they perceive it that way, they usually become even more intense. ”

      I wish this could be handed out on flyers. About a million of them.

  14. Clearly you have strong feelings and triggers regarding some of the phrasing I used in this article. If your intention was to learn about Steve Jobs and judge his behavior as good or bad, then naturally you were disappointed as that was not the intention of this article. I agree that disrespectful behavior is not acceptable, however I also believe that if we want to reduce or change disrespectful behavior we must understand it first. And to me “understanding” is not a synonym for “approving” It means “investigate it further – ask questions about how it works – in understanding a problem you find the info needed to change it. Judging it good or bad without understanding it does not change it.

    I was inspired by what Johnson wrote and used Steve Jobs as an example – not at the central point of my writing. There are MANY other resources to learn about him and I was not trying to write a book about him.

    You state: “I don’t think you’re going to convince anyone who starts out disagreeing with you that Jobs represented a poorly understood and rare class of human being.”

    First of all, I wasn’t trying to do that. Although I do believe (especially after reading Walter Isaacson’s biography of Steve Jobs) that he was misunderstood (as most humans are) and I do believe that anyone who becomes a CEO of global corporation is by definition a rare human being, I still contend that “convincing others” of that point was NOT the point of this article. I’m not trying to convince anyone he was rare. If you don’t believe he was rare or poorly understood and want to be convinced, I suggest reading his biography or perhaps doing a google search on psychological studies of Company Founder CEOs.

    My article here is a blog post, not a scholarly work, and NOT trying to CONVINCE anyone to make a judgment on Steve Jobs.

    My intention is to inspire deeper thinking and insights into the problems we have in this culture of accepting, tolerating, and accommodating differences among people who don’t understand each other. For example, making it acceptable to not be a team player and teaching people how to be independent thinkers, how to challenge, disagree, or be emotionally intense without being disrespectful, mean or cruel to others.

    My hope is that we can evolve as a society to a place where we learn how to embrace differences and conflicts without so much drama and trauma.

    I stand by my basic premise that we as a culture need to learn ways to accept our essential human diversity and find ways to teach people starting at a very early age to deal with their emotions and to respect themselves more effectively. In my experience, people cannot learn to respect others if they don’t know how to respect themselves. My deepest intention is to stimulate deeper thinking and desire to understand MORE NOT to reach a conclusion or judgment.

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