In this episode, we discussed what Douglas Eby did when years ago he could not find any information on high sensitivity and intensity. We see what we can learn from actors who are emotionally intense. We will answer the question: Why sensitive people are more prone to depression and it might not be a bad thing. Finally, we explore what constitutes exceptional creativity and why gifted women have a hard time accepting their talents.
– Julie A. Bjelland: https://www.juliebjelland.com/
– Sharon Barnes: https://therapistforsensitiveandgifted.com/giftedness/
About Douglas Eby:
Douglas Eby (M.A./Psychology) is author of The Creative Mind series of sites including Talent Development Resources, High Ability, Highly Sensitive and Creative, and others providing information and inspiration to help enhance your inner growth and artistic expression as a creative person.
Main site (with links to other sites) The Creative Mind http://thecreativemind.net
Site for his main book “Developing Multiple Talents – The personal side of creative expression”http://thecreativemind.net/book-developing-multiple-talents/
Facebook profile (connects to my multiple Facebook pages) https://www.facebook.com/douglas.eby
YouTube / The Creative Mind https://www.youtube.com/user/EnhancingCreativity
Imi: Hello, is this Douglas?
Douglas: Yeah, it is. This is Imi?
Imi: Hi, it’s Amy. Yes, it is Imi.
Douglas: Hi, can you hear me okay?
Imi: I can actually hear you okay. Thank you so much for getting on the call with me.
Douglas: Oh, no, thank you for inviting me. This is a wonderful topic obviously of wide interest to both of us.
Imi: Yes, yes, it really is. Yeah, you were a strong influence in the beginning of my path and you still are and I follow all your pages.
Douglas: Well, thanks.
Imi: Yeah, I feel like I find my people in there.
Douglas: Good, I’ve got a lot of people do respond to my pages on Facebook. There is a wide audience for people wanting to understand more about high ability and high intensity.
Imi: Absolutely. Yeah, I see you as one of the few pioneers who explore this intersection between creativity, sensitivity, high intensity, and I absolutely love all your websites and Facebook pages.
Douglas: Oh, thanks.
Imi: You’re so… Yeah, go on.
Douglas: I just was curious are you calling from London?
Imi: I am calling from London, yes.
Douglas: Oh, good.
Imi: How does it sound?
Douglas: It’s occasionally choppy but overall very good.
Imi: Right. Okay, if it gets too choppy, let me know.
Imi: I’m going to switch to other platforms, yeah. Isn’t it amazing what technology could do for us?
Douglas: It is.
Imi: Whereabouts are you?
Douglas: I’m in Southern California, Beverly Hills.
Imi: Yeah, very different to London.
Douglas: Very. I lived in London for about a year and liked a lot about it but it-
Imi: Oh, did you?
Douglas: Yeah, didn’t work out for me in terms of getting employment.
Imi: How did you find the energy in London?
Douglas: Well, this was so many years ago but as I recall, it was well there’s an overused word, cosmopolitan, and I think that definitely applies. I lived in, as I recall, was Highgate. It’s a suburb that when I visited Central London, I appreciated the, well, just the overall energy of the people.
Imi: Yeah, I used to work in Highgate. That’s so cool. It’s interesting how life intersects.
Douglas: Yes it is.
Imi: Let’s talk more about what we’re both interested in, which is high intensity. How did it all happen for you? How did you find this niche or niche where everything intersects? I know you work with lots of sensitive artists, authors, and actors, so you don’t just talk about sensitivity as a mental health thing, but as something that is intertwined with our life.
Douglas: Right. Well, first of all, I wanted to clarify that I’m not a counselor or a clinician, I’m really a writer researcher. I’ve done many interviews with actors, writers, and filmmakers, and some other artists that overall my approach is as more of a scholar and researcher. Anyway, given that, I think one of the things that really got me going in all of this was an urge to better understand my own inner dynamics. From a very young age, I felt a misfit like many creative people do, and also exceptionally emotionally intense and reactive and wondered what all that was about. Which is one of the reasons that motivated me to pick a major of psychology in college, and I pursued that for throughout college and then into graduate school. But all the time being really fascinated with particularly actors, how they did what they did, how did they express such intense emotions on film or on screen, on TV? What was going on with them?
Douglas: That’s an ongoing passionate interest, part of what motivates me to keep developing my collection of websites, and then I’ve come across researchers, especially, Elaine Aron and psychologist Julie Bjelland who specialize in high intensity, highly sensitive people. They’ve provided a lot of insight on what the highly sensitive person psyche is. Are you familiar with Julie Bjelland?
Imi: No, I was about to ask. I thought I have dabbled into all these authors and researchers, you learn something new every day. I’ll make a note of it.
Douglas: I’ve posted a number of quotes and excerpts and links to her site on my Facebook page, Highly Sensitive, and also my website, Highly Sensitive. It’s J-U-L-I-E B-J-E-L-L-A-N-D. Anyway, she’s a really articulate and thoughtful psychotherapist author and a highly sensitive person herself, so has a lot to say about it.
Imi: Right, yes, which I will ask a bit more later about women in the field and how they thrive.
Imi: But going back to your personal story, I would imagine there to be much even less awareness and resources and information years back.
Imi: Yeah, so you had no choice but to be on the quest to find answers for yourself.
Douglas: I think that’s right. Certainly when I was really young in grade school and on into high school, which was decades ago, I did not come across information or books or really any information about what this was, high intensity, high sensitivity. Part of what my experience has been early on is a kind of a feeling of being a misfit, which I understand from psychologists like Julie Bjelland and Sharon Barnes is another one who studies gifted people. This sense of being “too different” and too much an outsider and just too much is a common experience for creative and gifted people. We’re living through that without an understanding of what’s going on, I think, is really challenging and disrupting for many of us, probably most of us.
Imi: That’s right. Yes, not finding the right label or the identity. Most people assume that there’s some kind of pathology or illness going on with them. That’s why they’re different and they don’t fit in.
Douglas: Yes, exactly.
Imi: Yeah, go on.
Douglas: No, that’s all right.
Imi: No, no, please go on. I’ll ask the next question later.
Douglas: Well, I like your reference to pathology, I think that very early on for me that was a label that I grabbed on to the sense that, well, if I’m feeling this weird and this different and I read bits and pieces of psychology from popular sources like Psychology Today magazine. I made judgments about myself and the few friends I had that, well, we must be wrong in a psychological sense, we must have some kind of neurosis or deeper pathology that makes us feel this strange and different and this much of an outsider. It’s really taken years, I think, to understand that’s a distortion, that is a very unhealthy self-concept.
Imi: Yeah, you did try and find answer in traditional psychology. I know you have an MA in psychology.
Imi: Did you find much answers to these questions in the academic world?
Douglas: Not really, no.
Imi: Neither do I.
Douglas: There are a few psychologists I look up to that have gone through traditional training that have broken out of, I think, the mindset of a traditional academic psychology such as Eric Maisel and Scott Barry Kaufman, if you’re familiar with them.
Imi: Yeah, I will actually be talking to Eric Maisel in a future date.
Douglas: Oh, good. Right.
Imi: Yeah, very impressed with, very prolific work, yes.
Douglas: Yes, absolutely, and I’ve really been impressed and intrigued with a lot of his writing on reframing mental, emotional experiences like depression. Reframing depression as something other than a DSM pathology.
Imi: Yes. What do you think depression is in your own experience with yourself and people that you see and in your research? Why do intense people get depressed?
Douglas: Well, that’s a big question.
Imi: It is. I have not prepared you for this, I just throw it out.
Douglas: Yeah. I think part of it is awareness, just a scent of a personality and a psyche that is simply very exceptionally aware of what’s going on both internally and out there in the world. There’s so much out there, especially, in the world these days that it is disconcerting and disheartening. Like an immigrant crisis is to take one small example of being aware of what’s going on at our border with immigrants trying to escape violence in their countries, and the treatment that they’re receiving at the hands of our government. That’s very painful and hard to accept or understand or not get involved with it in some way. I think it relates with emotional intensity and overexcitability to use Kazimierz Dąbrowski’s idea of-
Imi: Yeah, it’s life changing work.
Douglas: Yeah, definitely. Well, I’ve had levels of depression most of my life and been diagnosed and treated by traditional psychiatrist occasionally. I saw a research psychiatrist and took some antidepressant drugs which helped for a while. This was decades ago but I think there is certainly value for some people in traditional treatment, at least, for a time to get over perhaps an acute incidence of depression. But, overall, I think I agree with you that traditional psychology and psychiatry is misinformed.
Imi: Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I say to people when they come to me for advice. First of all, I’m not medically trained, I’m not a psychiatrist, but I’m not against psychiatry. I believe they have their place, especially, for a period of time, something chemical and biological can be really helpful for transitional period. But I really like what you said, yeah, about our world today. People who are sensitive and highly empathic absorb so much. But in a funny way, they are the healthy one. It is healthy to be responding to the oppressive trauma in the world and in their lives with depression, is a healthy, or again, it’s a healthy response. In a way, depression is a sign of health.
Douglas: I agree, I think it is and, unfortunately, given the many years of traditional psychology in the media that when people get depressed, they immediately think, “Oh, there’s something really wrong with me. I have to immediately see a doctor and get a pill to deal with it.” Rather than paying more attention to what’s going on and what their emotional response might be indicating about them.
Imi: Yeah. It’s so good to have this chat and to just be with someone who is like minded and I understand now why you built a community.
Douglas: Well, thank you very much, I agree. Just you’ve brought up that idea of community a couple of times and that I appreciate it. But also I wanted to emphasize perhaps that I’m really like a lot of people who do this, a lot of writers, especially, I’m very isolated and reclusive. I love doing research and publishing material that I believe will help people better understand themselves. But I don’t go out and meet people, I don’t participate face to face in groups, which may be a detriment, but it’s the way I live.
Imi: Do you think it is what you have found to work after all these years of experimentations?
Douglas: Yes, yeah, definitely. Thinking back over the years that the jobs I took on tended to be ones where I could often be working on my own. For example, I was a research assistant for a geneticist at Caltech. That allowed me to work in the lab on my own growing bread mold, which was actually quite a fun job. I worked for a research psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco looking at brainwave differences. Anyway, they had a number of jobs were like that and, on the other hand, a number of jobs just that I took on in order to get by, pay the rent were traditional office jobs. Even some customer service jobs many years ago, and they were very anxiety producing. Having to relate to other people in an office environment was just really destabilizing.
Imi: Yeah, and we live in such a world that’s a myth or the centralized idea is that a healthy person needs to be in the crowd, needs to be with others, we need to have friends and family. For those of us who are more aligned with a hermits lifestyle, I don’t know if you have read Walden by Thoreau which was a big influence in my path.
Douglas: Sure, yeah, years ago. I, actually, I took a walk from Boston to Walden with a friend of mine. That I have a really wonderful memory of. We were walking sometimes at midnight, so it was really a unique experience to follow his footsteps.
Imi: Yeah, yeah and there are many forms of joy and meaning and ways of doing life that is outside of the conventional world, and yet, because most people have so little exposure to the alternatives, I feel like everyone is just been bullied into doing the mainstream things and yeah.
Douglas: Well, what you’re talking about too brings up in my mind the writings of Susan Tang talking about introversion, and she has some wonderful comments about introverts really being responsible for some of the most significant creative worked in history.
Imi: Yes, that actually leads to my next question. Do you think there is a link between, well, emotional intensity or sensitivity or strong intuition with creative genius, however you define creative genius?
Douglas: I think so. I think it’s, unfortunately, genius or creativity are both really broad and often over used labels that there are, obviously, creative people. First of all, everyone has to be creative in life to some extent, so we’re really talking about people who are exceptionally creative who really engage in creative expression or scientific work that’s at a high level. Excuse me.
Imi: Bless you.
Douglas: But I think one notion about this, it was expressed by Elaine Aron as something about highly and she thinks all highly sensitive people are creative and has talked about high sensitivity involving the ability to explore and understand our inner lives in a depth that nonsensitive people do not. Also, to understand how different parts of life, humanity, human expression, how those different parts fit together, and put different things together in unique ways. I think there’s a lot of validity to that. I think that goes along with emotional intensity. If you’re intense, you’re responding at a much higher level to all the input coming in.
Imi: That’s right.
Douglas: Instead of just shunting aside or discounting or discarding ideas and sensations and information, I think creative people pause enough to really pay attention.
Imi: Yeah, they pause enough to pay attention or they have no choice but to feel and to have this huge reservoir of information coming in, which they can use to create.
Imi: You did mention creativity being an overused word, which I do agree. What would be your definition of creativity if you have one?
Douglas: I don’t really have one. I use it regularly and I certainly like referring to creative people as a class or a group of people who are actively involved in creating art work, acting, writing, performing, or engaged in scientific work. Well, I think it was Elaine Aron, again, brought up the idea of creativity being putting two separate unusual things together to come up with a new idea. I’m not quoting, I’m paraphrasing very poorly but that idea of putting unusual ideas together to come up with a new solution. I think that’s a good working definition of creativity.
Imi: I think you’ve just given creativity a good definition.
Douglas: Oh, good.
Imi: Yes. Let me think where I would like to go next. Yeah, we’ve talked a lot about being intense and creative and it’s certainly not an easy way of life. Do you think being anxious and having anxiety it’s also an inevitable part of being a creative and intense human?
Douglas: I don’t like to use the word inevitable but it certainly seems to be much more common with creative people. Certainly, it’s been part of my own history to feel high levels of anxiety at times during my life. A number of psychologists, the ones that I’ve mentioned, talk about creative people much more likely being anxious. Julie Bjelland, the therapist, talked about the train of high sensitivity involving an overactivated amygdala. Which causes flight freeze and I think that’s a good explanation. She says that being highly sensitive tends to involve overreaction and an over increase in production of adrenaline. A number of people that I’ve interviewed myself or read interviews of like actors have talked about how intensely responsive they are, which shows up as crying, for example. Like Mandy Moore is one that comes to mind, the singer and actor has talked about. She said something like, “I’m hypersensitive, I’ll cry at anything, even a commercial.” I can relate to that. I often-
Imi: I can imagine a lot of people do, that’s right.
Douglas: Yeah, so that kind of emotional reactivity can become, I think, very easily become anxiety or involve anxiety. Another person who has written about this, Paula Prober, the therapist.
Imi: She’s a friend of mine, yes.
Douglas: Oh good.
Imi: Well, I say friend, we’ve spoken online.
Douglas: Good, good. Well, she’s talking, she’s written about our active, our rain forest mind which is a wonderful metaphor.
Imi: That’s right, love it.
Douglas: She says it’s our rainforest mind is able to dream up so many things to worry about. Less complex minds worried less because there isn’t as much thinking. I think that makes a lot of sense.
Douglas: It’s not to dismissed to nonsensitive people or non-creative people as being blessed, but I think it’s important, valuable, and really helpful to acknowledge that we who are creative and exceptionally uncommon have this kind of nervous system that is more reactive and more vulnerable to anxiety.
Imi: We need to work with it and find ways around it or to work with what we have rather than rejecting it and trying to be what we are not.
Imi: In your experience, what trauma or maybe blockages do intense people have that stops them from fulfilling their full potential?
Douglas: At the beginning of your question, did you say trauma?
Imi: Yeah, either trauma or mental blockages that block them?
Douglas: Right. Well, trauma is a topic that’s fascinated me for years. I’ve had a couple of minor experiences like pretty much anybody does in life of trauma. But a number of really outstanding artists, actors, especially, have talked about experiencing trauma in life. Like Halle Berry had a father who was alcoholic and physically and emotionally abusive and strike her mother a number of times, and Halle Berry has talked about growing up with a really damaged sense of self-esteem. I think that’s one of the key results of trauma, this compromise of self-esteem and that, of course, can lead to being very uncertain about expressing yourself even feeling imposter feelings. You don’t even get started on expressing creative ideas, and I think that’s a really important and key topic for a lot of creative people.
Douglas: Working through that trauma, whatever it takes, and they may take seeing a traditional psychologist or psychiatrist. I saw a wonderful psychologist for a couple of times in Beverly Hills who uses EMDR if you remember that.
Imi: Yeah, it has come up.
Douglas: That really helped me diffuse some of my feeling around a couple of my traumatic life experiences when I was a child. But back to imposter feeling or more generally self-esteem, I think that is probably one of the really critical aspects of being able to fully express yourself. If you have an unhealthy sense of yourself, if you’re being overly critical, if you’re listening to your inner critic too much of the time, then you’re not available to express yourself.
Imi: Yeah. Big Question, that’s what would be some of the way out? How do we get through it if we have an imposter syndrome or we’re very harsh on ourselves or if we have really harsh inner critic?
Douglas: Well, simplistic perhaps answer is just getting more aware of it. For years, look into my own experience, for years I accepted my inner critical voice as something real, my almost like intuition. It was saying something that I should pay attention to that knew more than I did rationally and that had a judgment that I was doing something wrong. That kind of thing. It took me really years of reading a lot of psychologists and, well, Eckhart Tolle even talks about accepting in the sense of paying attention without judgment. I think that enters into this. There’s certainly a number of other people who talk about how to work with our inner critic. Like Tara Brach, I don’t know if you’re-
Imi: Yeah, Radical Acceptance. Yeah, life changing work.
Douglas: Yeah. A number of the artists, especially, actors that I’ve read also talk about this and how they’ve learned to… Some of them talk about they’ve learned to talk back. They say things back to their inner critic, which I find really both amusing and really helpful that I’ve done that myself.
Imi: Yeah, I do that too, I say it out loud even in my own house.
Douglas: It can be really helpful.
Imi: Yeah. Well, thank you for all the tips and strategies that you have gathered throughout all the years of research and personal experience.
Imi: Yes, and now to make sure we have enough time, I definitely want to touch on something that we both have an interest in, which is the view of on women being in the creative field. I wrote an article on Psychology Today some time ago called the Nonconforming Asian Women. Obviously, based on my own personal experience of being an ethnic woman, but I also see similar struggles in others. I see specific challenges, cultural baggages faced especially by gifted women. In your work with people, do you think you’ve come across a similar phenomenon where people of a certain group maybe gender ethnicity just have a harder time being intense and gifted?
Douglas: Well, another huge question but I think just to label giftedness brings a lot of cultural baggage that is still carried by perhaps most people growing up. I think it’s really difficult for teen women, from what I’ve read, it’s really difficult for them to embrace being different from their peers and being exceptionally intelligent or exceptionally intense or exceptionally intelligent. I think that’s an element of this. Definitely that relates to imposter syndrome, that there’s a fairly one of the most curious aspects for me of imposter syndrome is it seems to show up in the most capable and gifted people primarily women. More common place, to use one word, most more common place people do not seem to suffer imposter syndrome so much. It really takes people who are unusually capable with high abilities. Perhaps enough intelligence to know themselves deeply.
Douglas: But lately this whole element of #MeToo in the entertainment industry has brought up a lot of issues around how women have been treated for decades in entertainment fields, especially, film lighting, in the motion picture industry, and other aspects of entertainment field. I think it’s so important to keep opening that up and for women to embrace not giving in to patriarchy and patriarchal men saying you “should behave a certain way”. I just read something in a magazine by an interview with Miley Cyrus and I, personally, I sometimes have a hard time accepting her willingness to be so openly sexual and wear such revealing clothes etc. I’m really, because of my age and other things I suppose, I’m really conservative in a lot of ways. But my reactions to her brought up a lot of awareness that there are a lot of white men who respond to young women expressing themselves like Miley Cyrus in ways that they don’t agree with.
Douglas: They make it difficult for them to get jobs or they engage in really offensive, abusive behavior, sexual abuse and otherwise. I’m not giving you a very coherent answer, I know, but I think all of this mixes together.
Imi: That’s right, it’s a complex issue. It’s impossible to be coherent about something so complex.
Douglas: It is but I’m glad to see that it’s opening up. That women like Alicia Malone are really making their voices heard and bringing lawsuits against some of these especially egregious man in the industry.
Imi: Which is very inspiring and because of the nature of the industry, it definitely leads the world. I can imagine a lot, well not can imagine, I can see a lot of young women feeling more empowered by seeing people like them voicing out and overturning the dynamic that [crosstalk 00:46:41]-
Imi: … is the imbalanced. Here is a challenging question. If you were to sum up all your work all these years of work with say three messages, you can do one, but one to three messages what might they be?
Douglas: Well, that’s a good one, a good question. I think acceptance comes to mind as one of the most important ways to engage with yourself and to release your talents more fully. It’s something I keep coming across in creative people and throughout my life, a lack of acceptance about who and what we are often suppresses ourselves, suppresses what we can do with our abilities and our talents. It’s not easy sometimes, like accepting you’re being unusually intelligent can be a real challenge if you’re a teenage girl trying to fit in and have friends in high school or college. But if you find other friends equally intelligent, then you don’t need a lot of friends, and that self acceptance about being exceptional can really lead to you engaging with who you are.
Imi: Yeah, and that’s something-
Douglas: That goes along with emotions as well. I think it’s there’s a number of psychologists that talk about how we respond to our emotions as being really critical for what we do with our talents, our creativity. Karla McLaren is what comes to mind.
Imi: Yes, emotion, yeah, she’s going to be my guest. It’s so interesting how many overlaps there are.
Imi: Yeah, she’s wonderful and what I really love about her work… What’s her book called? I forgot what it’s called exactly, but she laid out each and every single emotion, the language of emotions, and each of them had their own language and meaning and each of them is a messenger.
Douglas: That idea is so valuable, Messenger. Like even with depression, if you treat depression as a messenger that something is a mess with your life or your social situation, that’s very different than saying, “Oh, depression is a disorder and a pathology and something that needs to be treated immediately.
Imi: Absolutely. There’s that Rumi quote, “These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them. Yeah, it’s beautiful. Okay, well, I found the chat to be really reassuring, reaffirming, and inspiring.
Douglas: Oh, good, me too.
Imi: Thank you. Well, here are some of your final questions. Please share with us… I know we have actually mentioned a lot of books, but I ask all my guests this question, please name one book that has changed your life?
Douglas: Well, Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person definitely is one of those. I only read parts of his books, but Scott Barry Kaufman’s book, Wired To Be Creative. What I’ve read of that it’s really valuable, and likewise pieces of Eric Maisel’s books several of them.
Imi: Yes, a lot.
Imi: Okay, thank you. Please share with us one quote, song, or poem for people who are emotionally intense, sensitive, gifted, and probably felt misunderstood and lonely all their lives?
Douglas: One quote? All right, well, here’s one. This was a quote by a science journalist, Winifred Gallagher, and who was in turn quoted by author Susan Cain, Gallagher said, “Neither E equals MC Squared nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal.” And Susan Cain goes on to say, “Without introverts, the world would be devoid of the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, WB Gate, the second coming, Chopin’s Nocturnes proofs in search of last time, Peter Pan, etc.”
Imi: Oh, that’s really powerful, thank you.
Douglas: You’re welcome.
Imi: Without introverts or without intense people, the world wouldn’t be what it is.
Imi: Yeah. Well, I feel very inspired and I’m sure my listeners will too. Thank you so, so much for agreeing to talk to me and have this conversation.
Douglas: Oh, thank you Imi, it was a pleasure.
Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive and international experience in mental health and psychotherapy. Her books Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity and The Gift of Intensity are available worldwide and in multiple languages. Imi has two Master’s degrees; one in Mental Health and one in Buddhist Studies. She works holistically, combining psychological insights with Eastern and Western philosophies such as Buddhism and Stoicism.