How to Cultivate the Potential Gifts and Strengths of Emotional Intensity, ADHD, Creative Intensity and other Traits of Neurodiversity

Emotional “intensity” is one of the biological traits that contribute significantly to neurodiversity, cognitive diversity, inner conflict, stress and misunderstandings in relationships. It is also a highly significant ingredient in chronic stress, chronic disorganization, chronic illness and feelings of overwhelm. 

In the article, “Intensity of Emotion Tied to Perception and Thinking” by Daniel Goleman, Michigan State University psychologist Robert Emmons explains that

“emotionally intense people seek variety, novelty, complexity. They have more varied goals in life, know more people in more different situations, and because they are doing so many different things, feel more conflict in their lives.”

”These conflicts can be a source of stress for the emotionally intense, and may explain why they report getting more minor illnesses, like colds and flus, than do less emotional people,” said Dr. Emmons.

“The new data are showing that what are considered discrete psychological disorders may, in fact, be simply the extremes of a continuum of normality.”


Want to learn more about Emotional Intensity?

The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense PersonalitiesBOOK REVIEW:  The book The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities by Martha Burge, an ADHD coach with a BA in Psychology, is very well-written and makes what could be difficult concepts much easier to understand.

Emotional intensity is one of five intensities (based on psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski’s groundbreaking theories of adult development) explained by Burge using the SPICE acronym.  The five intensities are:

  • Sensory
  • Psychomotor [energy]
  • Intellectual
  • Creative
  • Emotional  

Differences in these intensities contribute significantly to personality diversity and each has it’s own set of challenges and strengths.  

I love her use of the “mental map” metaphor to help us understand how our mind-body-emotions filter our perceptions of the world and shape our identities.  The book is well organized and supports ease of browsing as well as in-depth reading (though in my Kindle version there aren’t many visuals.)  

The practical ideas she provides for both reducing and coping with the stress that may accompany these traits include many that I have implemented in my own life to reduce stress and heal PTSD. For example:

  • Plan recuperation time following busy events. [I build in at least 2 transition days with minimal or no appointments etc. before and after a vacation or other major event.]
  • Get rid of clothes that aren’t comfortable.  [I remove all labels from clothing and only wear smooth fabrics that don't irritate my sensitive skin.]
  • Use sound-blocking headphones when in loud places like an airplane or subway. [I carry earplugs with me everywhere I go and sleep with them as well.]

She also provides highly practical suggestions for harnessing and cultivating the strengths of our intensities so that we can experience the potential advantages that are enabled by intensities.  For example:

“The intense brain has to be busy. Boredom is the ultimate enemy. This is impossible to explain to a nonintense person. Boredom is torture. When bored, even some pretty stupid things start to look like good ideas.”

Instead of “boredom” I would call this insufficient engagement, stagnation, or lack of change. To me boredom is when I can’t think of something to do – which almost never happens to me.  But I do experience a kind of physical pain or discomfort when things stay the same for too long or don’t require me to engage fully because they are too repetitive, easy, or just too passive or not multi-sensory. For example, I can feel this even when reading an interesting book.  If I don’t engage my body while reading, my attention will wander and it can feel physically painful.  So I take notes, often just to help me pay attention, the note-taking is for me like having a conversation with the author, it’s not always so that I can refer to the notes later.  In general I find that full engagement is more of the issue than whether or not I’m interested.   I believe what I think of as full engagement is what Ms. Burge is describing when she discusses practices for becoming “fully present” such as contemplation, mindfulness and immersion. 

I actually rarely feel bored, but I often feel that “torture-like” feeling that comes from being only partially engaged, quiet, slow or inactive on a daily basis.  Instead of feeling tortured and helpless and reacting in ways I regret later, I have designed productive ways to respond to that feeling. I have learned how to enhance my own sensory engagement using my environment to influence what I pay attention to and to avoid overloading my senses.  For example, I find that I can create the “freshness” I need by changing simple things like:

  • decluttering a drawer
  • changing the colors of something
  • painting a wall 
  • rearranging furniture or display items 
  • swapping out the dishes I use daily (I have a red and a white set that I can alternate)
  • deep cleaning
  • gardening

Sometimes, just changing the color pens I’m using or what’s hanging on the wall is enough to satisfy this need.  What I’ve found is that there are lots of ways to incorporate the inspiration that comes with variety and novelty without being drastic or as disruptive as say, buying all new furniture – just rearranging it is usually enough.

It’s unfortunate that she named the book “The ADD Myth”  because the subtitle is a much more accurate description of the book’s content.  Most of the book is actually a guide to living with the five SPICE intensities.  The “The ADD Myth” title makes it seem like the whole book will be about debunking the diagnosis of ADHD when in fact it’s mainly the first chapter.  

The ADHD chapter is highly controversial and thought provoking and I completely concur with the foreword by Dr. Allen who was one of the writers of the criteria in the current DSM. The ADHD section could have made a great appendix rather than the lead story.  Overall the book is constructive, optimistic, inspiring AND practical.  I highly recommend it for anyone is an intense person or lives with one. 

 


REFERENCES and RESOURCES

ARTICLE: Daniel Goleman,  Intensity of Emotion Tied to Perception and Thinking

BOOK: Martha Burge, The ADD Myth: How to Cultivate the Unique Gifts of Intense Personalities“ 

Other Books I recommend for Cultivating Emotional Intelligence

 

The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freeing Yourself from Destructive Thoughts and Emotions Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up and Leave Insecurity Behind The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New Insights
The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion: Freein… 
by Christopher K. Germer PhD 
Self-Compassion: Stop Beating Yourself Up a… 
by Kristin Neff 
The Brain and Emotional Intelligence: New I… 
by Daniel Goleman 
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Edition; Why It Can Matter More Than IQ
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who Yo… 
by Brene Brown 
Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulne… 
by Brene Brown 
Emotional Intelligence: 10th Anniversary Ed… 
by Daniel Goleman 
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life With the Heart of a Buddha Men, Women, and Worthiness: The Experience of Shame and the Power of Being Enough Dabrowski's Theory of Positive Disintegration
Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life Wit… 
by Tara Brach 
Men, Women, and Worthiness: The Experience … 
by Brene Brown PhD LMSW 
Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration 
by Sal Mendaglio 

ADDITIONAL ARTICLES BY ARIANE BENEFIT 

INDEX OF MY “BEST OF” Articles here

Resisting the War on Resistance. BOOK REVIEW of “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles”

I don’t usually write about what I disagree with, but I think it’s time for me to express my opposition to cultural metaphors and myths that feed the growing epidemic of stress, anxiety, powerlessness, and feelings of inadequacy that so many people are experiencing today.

What better place to start resisting than with a best-selling book that has 309 5-star reviews and declares something as untrue as  ”Resistance is Evil?” 

war of-art-steven-pressfield

If resistance is characterized as evil…no wonder our culture destroys the confidence and self-respect of anyone who dares to be different, express dissenting ideas, or disagree with dominant values.  

Today, I’ve decided to resist openly and honestly.  I’m not going to be “nice” or “quiet” just to not make waves.  Our cultural obsession with the idea that self-control and battling one’s inner resistance is the only way to “break through” procrastination or creative blocks must be challenged.  

My intention is not to simply criticize by attacking his ideas I hope to inspire deeper thinking on the claim that “resistance is evil” and encourage people to ask questions of their own before accepting the ideas as truth.  So along with my resistance, I offer an alternative.

I believe resistance is more effective when served constructively.  It’s not enough to point out what isn’t fully accurate. Thoughtful resistance that has any hope of being well-received by the force being resisted needs to offer a creative and sustainable alternative as well.

Here’s my attempt at that.  Hope you find it helpful.

_______________________________________________

The content of the book “The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles” makes it abundantly clear that the author did little to actively resist or challenge his own ideas while writing it. From the first page, Steven Pressfield makes one outrageous and inaccurate claim after another.  

Was he trying to shock people?  If shock was the intention, I suppose I could understand it.  But from the tone of the whole book, it seemed to me he really believes what he is saying and truly cannot see an alternative way to look at inner resistance.

So, if he reads this, I hope he takes it in the spirit offered and is willing to consider that a metaphor other than WAR might apply to the inner conflict he and so many others experience when trying to write or create art of any kind. 

QUOTES FROM THE BOOK:

— “Resistance is the most toxic force on the planet. It is the root of more unhappiness than poverty, disease, and erectile dysfunction.” 
 

— “Resistance is evil.” 
 

— “Resistance is the enemy within.”

These quotes are so utterly and completely misguided, I can hardly believe this book got published. Unfortunately they are the premises upon which the entire book is written.

ALTERNATIVE VIEWS OF RESISTANCE

Here are several other ways to look at resistance. And yes, you can quote me.  To my knowledge I have not read or heard anyone else say these exact quotes. 

— Resistance IS NOT inherently evil. Resistance is VALUABLE.  Resistance is our GIFT.  It’s the source of our Free will. Without resistance we would all be obedient little robots. 

— Resistance is a vital component of your ability to think for yourself.   Inner resistance is what enables you to challenge YOUR OWN thoughts and ideas and not believe every thought you think.

— Inner Resistance makes courage possible. Without it, you would not be able to feel fear and act anyway.

— Resistance helps prevent you from automatically believing everything you hear or see. 

— Resistance prevents you from automatically following every order or command you are given. Even the ones you give yourself. 

— Resistance is often trying to PROTECT and defend your rights, not HURT you. 

— Resistance is REQUIRED to develop your ability to think both creatively and critically. 

— Inner Resistance may seem evil, but in fact, is often coming from our inner wisdom trying to get our attention nonverbally to let us know that we are not yet ready to do the thing we are intending to do.  It has the potential to give us useful information if we listen and not immediately jump into war with it. It is often NOT our “enemy within.” 

 

THE POTENTIAL VALUE OF RESISTANCE

When we listen more deeply, resistance (even when it comes to writing or any other creative task we want to perform) can be felt and heard as the voice of our inner wisdom challenging and encouraging us to:

  1. Become less rigid in our idea of what we think we have to do to become a good writer or whatever you are trying to get yourself to do. Creative work is challenging and can be an opportunity to learn more about ourselves and become more flexible and agile in all aspect of our lives.
     
  2. Use our inner creativity to DESIGN ways to inspire ourselves to write and to increase the quality of our ideas.
     
  3. Try listening to our inner wisdom instead of assuming our logical self is always right. The part of our brain that sets goals and tries to “tell” us what to do is not always right. Our inner controlling self is not inherently superior to our emotional and physical selves.

Writing is a process. If Steven Pressfield wrote this book by forcing himself to sit down and start writing at 9 am every day – well, no wonder it is so biased, oversimplistic and promotes strategies that not only may not be helpful, they could be downright oppressive to the creative soul.   

Good writing requires doing much more than sitting down at a computer at 9 am every day. Good writing requires a healthy combination of: 

  • Nurturing your ideas 
    • Thinking and experimenting and trying out your ideas.  Do they hold up when you put them into practice?  
  • Challenging your ideas
    • Reading and listening to other people’s ideas on the same topic. Particularly reading ideas that are contrary to your own. 
       
    • Listening to “resistance” to your ideas. 
       
    • Actively considering the possibility that ideas that are completely opposite of yours might have some seeds of validity that could ENRICH your point of view.

Resistance challenges us to think deeper, and use our reasoning and discerning skills before we accept other people’s ideas and adopt their suggestions. Resistance enables us to filter out ideas that either aren’t true or simply don’t fit us. Without resistance, we become easy targets for any claim that simply “feels right” or “sounds good.”  Willingness to resist and get past our comfort zone empowers us to challenge outdated cultural myths and metaphors no matter how intuitively right they seem.

Most Inner Resistance is worth listening to. If you listen and respond respectfully it often melts and may even evolve into an ally.  It may give you information that can greatly improve your strategies. Resistance is uncomfortable, but war is not usually the most effective response to resistance.  In fact, the most honest feedback and resistance often comes from the people who are closest to us and love us the MOST.  If they didn’t care, why would they bother to risk giving us their honest feedback?  

The same is true of our inner resistance.  If you look and listen deeper, your inner resistance could be your best friend.  It could be the most honest source of feedback you have to challenge you to question your assumptions, redesign your strategies, or rethink your own ideas.  What if you could not only SUCCEED but ALSO enjoy the creative process in all its mysteries and unpredictability?  What if you could nurture it and NOT have to FORCE or BATTLE or CONQUER yourself at every turn?  

What if your resistance holds the keys to creative bliss and you can’t get there because you are too busy fighting it?

The more you fight resistance, the more it goes underground and becomes even stronger.

— Resistance is what fueled the American Revolution. If England had LISTENED and allowed us to have a voice in our own taxation, we might still be part of England. 

— Resistance is how we respond to disrespect and tyranny – even when we are disrespecting ourselves.

— Resistance is how we respond to abuse – and trying to force ourselves to do things can become a form of self-abuse.

Clearly, Steven Pressfield’s military background not only taught him to devalue his inner resistance, it seems to have weakened his ability to see life with any metaphor other than war.  It seems to have robbed him of his ability to embrace the gifts of resistance.

I hope that somehow he finds a way to see inner resistance as a healthy part of developing the miracle we humans have of being able to learn, change, and grow as a result of conflict, tension, and struggle.  Our “opposable mind”  separates us from animals and makes it possible to resist ourselves and change our own behavior rather than simply follow built in “instincts”.  Resistance is a central ingredient to the ability to learn. Our ability to resist what we have learned so that we can UNLEARN untruths is one of the most wondrous aspects of being human.

ALTERNATIVE METAPHORS FOR ART

When you take the time to consider the potential value of resistance and to ask the question, is war REALLY the best or only metaphor for art?  You open your mind to see that the process of creating art does NOT have to be war.  It can be so much more satisfying and enriching than that.

— Art can be a “dance” with life and the “gardening” of high quality ideas. 

— Art can be an adventure in getting to know ourselves and cultivating self-respect, self-confidence, and humility. 

— Art can teach us self-leadership, conflict resolution and inner consensus-building. 

— Art can challenge and inspire us to cultivate inner alignment instead of trying to dominate ourselves.

 

WAR IS THE REAL SELF-DEFEATING STRATEGY

Who is winning when you go to war with yourself?  Who loses?  Both sides ARE YOU!  When you “defeat” one part of yourself…that is the REAL act of self-sabotage. Thinking you having an enemy inside is a recipe for depression, anxiety, frustration, and wasting ridiculous amounts of energy fighting that could have been spent listening and learning.

Steven, if you read this piece of resistance to the ideas in your book, I wonder:  Would you even consider rethinking the war metaphor for art?  or would you actively consider the possibly of another way to experience the process of creation?

____________________________

I wonder if the people who love the book would read this or be inspired to consider new possibilities?  If you were like me and felt something was “off” and felt outnumbered by the vast outpouring of people agreeing with and praising the war metaphor, I hope reading this helps you strengthen your own point of view and conviction to think for yourself – even when it seems like an overwhelming majority disagrees with you.  If you feel more empowered to keep listening to yourself,it was worth taking 4 hours out of my life to write this. 

 

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