Today we will talk to Aurora Holtzman, she came on my radar as one of the very few people out there who talks about ‘intensity’. In fact, she has a podcast called ‘Embracing Intensity’! After years of feeling “too much,” Aurora finally realized that intensity, in the form of excitability, is the source of her greatest power. Now instead of beating herself up about not measuring up to her own self-imposed standards, she is on a mission to help outside-the-box thinkers befriend their brains and use their fire without getting burned. In this conversation, she shared her journey, what she has learned through interviewing intense people, how to manage ADHD, and a bunch of useful resources!
On social media, you can find Aurora at auroraremember on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram and embracingintensity on Facebook & Instagram.
Here are her main websites:
AS AN INTENSE PERSON
I feel like people don’t always see me as intense because I think I tend to be a pretty calming person to other people. Sometimes I will have people ask me about that (my podcast) because they don’t think I seem like a particularly intense person, but the emotional intensity is definitely there internally.
If you look at the five areas of intensity for over-excitabilities, I would probably be all of them except not so much the imaginative one. I don’t really visualize things very well, but I definitely have intellectual over-excitability. The physical over-excitability is more about being in a restless state, a wired but tired kind of feeling. I have chronic fatigue, but when you look at my hormones, I actually have those high energy hormones.
TELL US ABOUT OVER-EXCITABILITIES
Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski identified five areas in which children exhibit intense behaviours, also known as “overexcitabilities”. His biggest theory is the theory of positive disintegration, which can be very complicated, but essentially it says that you have to fall apart before you can come together into a more integrated whole. He also talked about what he called over-excitabilities, super stimuli abilities. He had a variety of different names and since it got lost in translation, I personally use excitability on its own because I think overexcitability implies ‘too much’. Also, I use just highly excitable instead because I don’t necessarily think that it’s ‘too much’.
One of the five areas is intellectual. A lot of gifted and outside the box thinkers have that area where your mind is just constantly going and over analysing. Physical overexcitability is more known, more obvious in those who are hyperactive or people who are physically gifted in sports or they just have this need to move. I was hesitant to see myself that way early on, but I realised that I do have physical overexcitability. I have a constant need for motion. I can’t just stand in one place for long, but for me, it manifests as wired but tired. I did adrenal testing like five years ago, the two things they found is that I had the cortisol levels would go up through the day naturally, but then they would stay up late at night when they’re not supposed to do, which makes it hard to fall asleep. And then I had excess glutamate, which is a stimulating hormone and not enough GABA. Seeing the chemistry of it is really what made me realise like, “Oh, actually I do have that, that psycho motors excitability.”
The other two are emotional intensity and physical, sensory intensity.
WHAT WAS CHILDHOOD LIKE FOR YOU?
I was very lucky in that I had a family that understood, at least my core family. Both my parents and my sister are intense people. It was a little chaotic, but we had a solid basis of love and understanding. School was difficult. I definitely have some school trauma based on the fact that I was in a very rigid, it was a Spanish immersion program and we lived in San Diego. They were very authoritarian in their approach to school.
I was four when I started kindergarten and most of the kids were already five and so they tried to hold me back a year and said I was “immature” for my age, but I was actually just immature for my grade. It was because I talked too much and asked too many questions.
I didn’t really speak, read in English until third grade and so when it came to the gifted testing, I didn’t actually pass a gifted test until fifth grade. At that point, they told my parents they needed to get me out of that school and into a full-time gifted program. I scored high enough that they felt like I needed a special program outside of that school I was in, but it wasn’t until fifth grade that that happened.
I feel like those early years of school kind of set me up for feeling like I was not necessarily doing the right thing and I had continued into years of feeling like an underachiever in school.
I also believe I have undiagnosed ADHD, but that’s a whole different story.
HAVE YOU EVER REJECTED YOUR INTENSITY?
Definitely. In my last marriage, which was about a little over 10 years. We were drawn together in the beginning in high school when one of our mutual friends said, “Oh, he’s weird. He’s even weirder than you,” and so I was drawn to him for that, but then somehow in that young adulthood had gotten this idea in his head that it was important to conform and fit in and started really toning down. As I moved into that relationship, I thought (conforming) was maturity. I thought I was maturing because I was no longer ‘so big and too much’.
WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED THROUGH INTERVIEWING INTENSE PEOPLE?
I think that there’s a lot of universal themes. You asked the question about the childhood experience and that’s something that I ask about a lot too and what for one, almost everybody that I’ve interviewed has come through a point in their life where they have tried to tone themselves down or they tune themselves out physically, like if they’re having chronic pain or they’re highly sensitive.
There are only a handful of people that I interviewed who never found themselves able to tone themselves down in any way and it wasn’t so much of choice, it was just, “I’m just too big.” That wasn’t really an option for me and so they just made peace with who they were, but I think there almost everyone either had a point in time where they toned themselves down or found themselves in a place where maybe they wished they could.
But of course, by the time I interviewed and connected with them, they had reconnected with that part of themselves and were using it in some positive way.
DID THEY ALL HAVE SOME KIND OF TRAUMA IN THEIR LIVES?
There’s probably more than even shared on the podcast, it depends on how you look at trauma because I think being highly sensitive or intense and experiencing the world more intensely than others, you can find things traumatizing that might not be traumatizing for other people as well.
WHAT IS AN EMOTION THAT YOU BATTLE WITH THE MOST?
I guess it would come under the shame category. Have you heard of the term rejection sensitive dysphoria? It’s something that comes up especially people with ADHD where they just, they perceive rejection really quickly and they react to it. They’re very sensitive to rejection or perceived rejection and for me, it’s around anything to do with me not being responsible in some way. So if someone, especially when it comes to things like cleaning around the house or that sort of thing. Part of that too is being in a relationship with someone who was quite critical for many years and perceiving criticism and then being told that my perception wasn’t accurate and then finding out after 10 years that my perception actually was accurate.
I saw myself as being oversensitive at the time and then I realized later it was actually accurate and so now sorting through that perceived projection versus what’s accurate is definitely an issue.
WHAT IS A COMMON WOUND FOR PEOPLE WITH ADHD
Being both too much and not enough at the same time. For example, maybe I talk too much, especially in social settings. I found myself at a networking event after a conference and I just felt like I had to be on. But as I was talking to people, I felt like I had to have this constant filter around me not to say too much just to be socially appropriate.
Naturally, at just a relaxed setting, I do make friends. I do connect well. But when I’m in those settings where it’s like a networking type thing where you’re supposed to be meeting people for business purposes, I have this extra filter on— “Oh, don’t say anything stupid. Don’t say too much. Don’t.”
For me, the too-muchness would be kind of the talking too much. Not enough is for me not necessarily taking on the responsibilities that I forget appointments or I forget to schedule appointments.
RESOURCES FOR ADHD
There’s some great, amazing, both podcasts and video YouTube.
A podcast called See In ADHD. Her name’s Jennie Friedman and she has a book, called ADHD: A Different Hard Drive?
As I read it I was like, “This is describing my brain exactly.” The only thing I think that doesn’t describe my brain is that I do think more before I act sometimes because I also have that anxious side.
And there’s another podcast called ADHD Rewired by Eric Tivers who I was on his podcast.
Also a YouTube channel called How to ADHD and she’s a young woman, Jessica McCabe. She’s super enthusiastic and it’s a very popular YouTube channel. My kid loves it too. She keeps them short and talks about different concepts
The ADHD Essentials Podcast with Brendan Mahan is more focused on kids and families, but he has a lot of episodes. He also talks about anxiety as well as ADHD and he has a concept called the Wall of Awful; he talks about his concept and it’s basically how over the years we build up this wall of failure experiences and then it becomes difficult to navigate.
HOW DO WE DEAL WITH THAT?
There’s a time certainly where therapy is a major positive thing.
Coaching comes at a point when you’ve already started getting the ball rolling, but coaching helps you kind of develop tools and keep the ball rolling. If there’s a lot of trauma to process, that’s a therapy area. I’m not a therapist, but when it comes to building your toolbox of skills I have a few tools. One is looking at your energy balance— everything we do can either drain us or energize us and sometimes it’s as simple as how we look at it. If we look at it as something as a duty that we have to do than it might be draining. When we look at what we’re choosing to do because we want to do them, we find the motivation.
The other biggest thing I look at is finding your strengths— Recognizing that with all of our weaknesses come strengths, and we can find those strengths and use them and find structures, whether it’s routines, external structures.
I have to have external structures in place because I have almost no internal structure.
When people see me at my day job, they’ll look at me and say, “Oh my gosh, you are so organized,” and I will say “That’s because I have to be because I can’t get anything done if I am not.”
It is a whole different ballgame when you’re self-employed; there are so many balls that it’s hard to figure out how to organize and structure it.
WHAT IS YOUR DEFINITION OF RESILIENCE
The ability to bounce back from things. Silver Huang did a talk on resilience earlier this year and she talked about how we don’t want to simply bounce back, we want to bounce forward. I think to be able to use our adversities and transform them into something more positive.
BOOKS THAT HAVE CHANGED YOUR LIFE?
One has really changed my outlook on things— The Power of Different, The Link Between Disorder and Genius
It reinforced my existing belief , which is that all things that we see as disorders also have a positive side. What I liked about her approach to it is that she wasn’t idealizing it. She wasn’t saying like, “Oh look, you have ADHD. It’s a gift. It’s a superpower.” That’s a touchy subject and a lot of people who have ADHD and are not able to function super well in their adult life. For them, it is hard to see it as a superpower or a gift in any way.
Same with if you have emotional- if you feel like you’re really controlled by your intense emotions and you’re not able to channel them, it doesn’t feel like a gift, but what I appreciate about her book is that she looks at not just the positives of each of these categories, but also the challenges. I think she has a very realistic view of the fact that we have both strengths and challenges and not to idealize it. Before we can overcome our challenges we have to be able to see our positive strengths.
CAN YOU SHARE WITH US A POEM OR A SONG?
“Keeping our cool is freezing our aliveness.”
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.