Five Ways of Being Intense— A Fun Chat with Jessie Mannisto from the Third Factor Magazine about overexcitabilities, giftedness, and more
Today, I am sharing with you a fun, lighthearted but informative conversation I have with Jessie Mannisto. Jessie is the Editor in Chief of the Third Factor magazine. Third Factor is a thought-provoking magazine that helps the creative, the quirky, and the gifted understand themselves. It is for those who experience life intensely, those who are teeming with complexity, complex feelings, and abundant mental activities.
In this episode we cover:
— A deep, detailed dive into exactly what the five over-excitabilities may look like
— How Jessie meanders a world where people, including her parents, can be overwhelmed by her intensity
— The importance of being yourself even when the world finds you ‘too much’
— We both shared a lot of our personal experience of living with these intensities
Instead of an interview, this is more like a lively conversation with a friend. I got very excited and there were lots of back and forth between us, I didn’t realize this at the time, but I interrupted Jessie a lot! (Sorry, Jessie! )
I hope you get something from this too 🙂
Imi’s Interview with Third Factor: From HSP to Gifted Leaders
About Jessie Mannisto
Jessie has worn many professional hats, including that of leadership analyst for the Central Intelligence Agency, where she wrote psychobiographic assessments of foreign leaders for US policymakers. In 2011, she was the Google Policy Fellow at the American Library Association, where she analyzed digital technologies’ impact on the quality of our lives and our ability to think deeply. She has also served as the Assistant to the Consul General of Japan in Detroit, as a United States Pavilion Guide at the 2005 World Expo in Japan, and as an English teacher in Japan through the JET Program.
Today Jessie is working to combine her background in applied leadership analysis with the theory of positive disintegration to develop a better understanding of human catalysts in social movements—and to empower those who seek to better our world. Her work has been published in In These Times and Advanced Development Journal (Volume 17), and she has served on the editorial board of Democratic Left, the magazine of the Democratic Socialists of America. (She dislikes political echo chambers, however, and is committed to showcasing a diversity of perspectives at Third Factor.) She practices insight meditation, which she recommends to others who seek to harness and channel overexcitability. A proud native of Detroit, Jessie currently lives in physical space in Washington, DC, on the Web at jlmannisto.com, or (sporadically and grudgingly) on Twitter at @jlmannisto.
imi: Hi, Jessie.
jessie: Hi, Imi.
imi: It’s good to speak to you. Welcome to the show.
jessie: Thanks for having me on.
imi: Absolutely. So ages ago, well, not ages ago, sometime ago, I did an interview with you myself and I was so impressed and so delighted with the outcome. And it feels like you really know what this is all about, sensitivity, intensity, giftedness.
jessie: Well, that’s very kind of you. But yeah, I read your book and I said, “She knows what we’re talking about,” so Hey, the meeting of the minds.
imi: Yeah. So you are the starter, founder, editor of the Third Factor Magazine, right?
jessie: Right. Yep.
THIRD FACTOR MAGAZINE AND POSITIVE DISINTEGRATION
imi: Absolutely. And that’s how we met. So for our audience, can you tell us a bit more about the Third Factor Magazine?
jessie: Yeah. Well, I started it, it came out of my… I had a personal blog and I was interested in Dabrowski’s Theory of Positive Disintegration, which you talk about in your book.
imi: Well, I am afraid we may have to go into a bit more detail about that too.
jessie: We can put aside what it’s about. Basically, it’s about this intense life
imi: It’s quite a jargon for people who’ve never heard of it, like ‘positive disintegration’, it’s almost an oxymoron.
jessie: Yes. In fact, I was at a conference about positive disintegration a few years back and I… It was in Calgary, in Canada and it was near Banff National Park, so I went there afterward and I was chatting with someone about why I was there. And I said it was a conference on positive disintegration, and she just recoiled like, “Well, that sounds horrible.” Yeah, and it does, but that gets at what the theory is about. Should I go on about positive disintegration?
imi: I think that might be useful, just a quick one for our audience who’ve never heard of it.
jessie: Sure. So this is a theory that was created by a Polish Canadian psychiatrist, whose name is Kazimierz Dabrowski.
imi: So that’s how you pronounce it.
jessie: Roughly, I don’t speak Polish, but roughly yes. I got that from the people at the conference. But yeah, the idea is, in a nutshell… It’s really complicated, it gets into a lot of detail, but the nutshell version is that it is sometimes healthy to be maladjusted and to go through a hard time and even to have this disintegration. Disintegration sounds like a bad thing, but there can be positive instances of it, but you don’t want to delude yourself into thinking every disintegration is just positive and everything is everyone else’s problem.
imi: What do you mean by disintegration then? Do you go through a crisis?
jessie: Yeah. It’s often a crisis, a mental health crisis, a period of this depression and anxiety, but it doesn’t have to be. In fact, there are people out there who will share stories of disintegration that are simply mild to no distress, but just a changing of how you see the world, a reshuffling of values, confrontation with something that just makes you see the world differently. But it often causes distress. So it often involves something related to a period of poor mental health.
imi: Is there a specific duration? Can it last one year, two year, three years, 10 years?
jessie: Yeah. For the people who talk about positive disintegration, it runs the gamut. I’ve heard people talk about short-term intense periods that changed something important in their lives. And then you see people with chronic disintegration, which is not generally…. It’s not necessarily positive, you don’t want to stay in that disintegrative state. You want to reintegrate at a healthier, higher level, that’s more in line with your values. That will take a long time, but you don’t want the crisis to last forever, if at all possible. And so I liked the theory, because it shows what’s the path out look like for other people who are like this, because the people we’re talking about are not very common. Right?
imi: Yes, absolutely. And that’s actually how I would like to frame this interview. I want to hear about your work, the theory itself, but it’s more so. The purpose of this podcast, sometimes I interview experts and psychologists to have some understanding of a specific topic, but actually more and more, I do just want to interview fellow intense people. And yeah, it’s just to let our audience know that actually you’re not alone and there are people like you. So if you would like… Maybe I’ll ask you more questions later, but I may ask you to share more of your own experience as well and if appropriate, I may share some of my own disintegration.
jessie: That sounds great.
imi: I used to get so annoyed at my therapist, because whenever I have a crisis and I go to him, he’ll say, “Oh, you’re just positive with disintegrating.” I’m just, “Dammit,” every time.
jessie: Really, he said that to you?
imi: Yeah. Yeah.
jessie: Okay. Well, you got to use this delicately. That takes some social skills.
imi: Yeah. I don’t think he just said it in that way, but that was how I first got introduced to the concept.
jessie: And I should clarify for your listeners, I’m not an expert. I don’t have really… I’m not a trained therapist. I am a writer.
imi: Are you an expert by experience though?
jessie: Well, yes, I am an intense person. This relates. So that’s what I’m offering. And Third Factor is a magazine where I interview experts, but I don’t claim to be one. I am a writer and I’m an editor and I help other people put their words out there, but we focus on this kind of story.
imi: I’m at two minds now, because I really wanted to get into overexcitabilities, intensity and Third Factor. But I also just want to get to know you, so why don’t we cycle back and ask you more personal questions so our audience get to know you first.
imi: Well, are you an emotionally intense person?
jessie: Yeah. I have to say yes, and especially when I was a kid. You know?
jessie: I mean, I still am, but it was more evident, because you have to learn to control that. You have to learn how other people respond to it and it’s often not good. So I would say I’ve… And I’ve worked on mitigating the bad parts of the emotional intensity and I like to think I’ve had some success, but it’s still there inside and there’s pros to it too. I’m working on accenting those pros and minimizing those cons, but that is a challenge I have in my life. Yes.
imi: Yeah. My first impression of you was, I love your energy. Usually when people email me and they have a certain vibe to them, I can tell that, “Oh gosh, this is a fellow intense person.” And I really love the enthusiasm and what really stood out actually, and from your work as well, what’s your intellectual intensity and overexcitability and the emotional parts. That’s what I wanted to ask you more about that. So you were an emotional, intense child. What was childhood like for you?
JESSIE’S CHILDHOOD AND FAMILY RELATIONSHIP
jessie: Well, I get along with my younger sister now, she’s three and a half years younger than me, but I think I made her miserable. She could never be the… I always had to like whatever I liked the most, I was the most enthusiastic I would get upset about things, I was uncool. So I’m worried that all the neuroses she has in life is reacting to me being this emotionally dominant force in the family.
imi: Was she not so intense? Was she quite different?
jessie: Now, I would say, we’re not that different, but as children, we seemed really different. Yeah. She was not the loud opinionated person that I was. And she was a little more like… You know Myers Briggs intuition and sensing?
jessie: She used those terms a lot, because it’s so useful to describe this difference, right?
imi: Yeah, absolutely.
jessie: I would be intuiting and she was very much the sensing part, right?
imi: Oh, God. This is one of the biggest challenge I personally have. And I see so much in intense people in couples relationship, family relationship. Both of my parents are strong s’s. Well, my father more so, but on a day-to-day level… Yeah.
jessie: Yeah. People pick on the MBTI, but that concept is so useful.
jessie: to give the name to something that people just didn’t realize was affecting them. And then my parents both came from… They brought their own struggles, I don’t want to say trauma, it wasn’t anything that bad. Well, maybe for my dad. He grew up in poverty and he was probably, what they call profoundly gifted.
imi: Oh, wow.
jessie: And he, as a child, like an elementary schooler, he rewired the electricity in his parents’ house because they needed it done. And so they counted on him to do that kind of stuff. They didn’t have heat, and this was outside of Detroit, Michigan. It gets cold there.
imi: He sounds like Thomas Edison.
jessie: I think so. I’m very proud of my dad, so I’ll… Yes, indeed. He didn’t know how to parent, because his parents were absent and had their own generational struggles passed down, poverty and unkind, maybe even abusive, I don’t know all the details, in a couple of generations ahead. He said at least his family was loving, because if they hadn’t been, he would have turned out to be a serial killer, instead he’s just a bright, scientifically minded kid who got lost. And then my mom, she didn’t grow up in poverty, but very much working class and didn’t really know what to do with strong, multipotential intellectual interests.
jessie: It was like, “Don’t go to an Ivy League school,” was what she told me because she did and she always felt out of place there because everyone was so rich. She told me once, she didn’t know how to handle rich people’s cocktail parties and that I would be more comfortable in a small liberal arts college. And there’s some truth to it, but more comfortable means not growing in certain ways. So I think I missed a challenge because she had been so overwhelmed by the challenge herself, she wanted to protect me from it.
jessie: Also, and going back to your question about intensity, I really think that both my parents just needed to… They approached raising me as managing me rather than, “how do we address these big feelings?” They loved it when I was happy, because I definitely had the joy and the enthusiasm you were so kind to point out and people always liked that about me, but the flip side of it was, when something bad would happen, I would have really stormy, heavy moods that affected other people. And I realized that and that’s why I said I would try to reign that in, and I hope I have become successful as an adult, but that was where I came from.
imi: Yeah. So that’s where you’ve come from.
imi: It’s interesting, this passion project of yours, to investigate excitability, intensity and giftedness, do you think it’s a way of making sense of your own upbringing and your own story?
jessie: Yeah, it definitely is. The origin of the magazine is actually my personal blog and I was just blogging about it then, it was interesting. But I realized that part of what was valuable and what people were responding to who found my blog was saying, “Oh my gosh, that’s the similar path to mine. I’m also like that.” And if you don’t have anyone to mirror your experience and your way of being, you only have your own choices to reflect on and you can’t really learn very much from that.
You can’t learn systemically, it’s not a scientific process of comparing lots of data, it’s just, “Well, I tried that and that didn’t work.” And that becomes lonely and that takes longer, but if you can talk to other people, you can really put your own experiences in a lot more context and just see what other people have done with the same uncommon problem.
imi: Absolutely. So I do strongly encourage people I work with to have a voice, to have a creative expression, to start a blog, to start talking to people and telling their story too.
jessie: Yeah. That’s what we’re all about. It’s super important.
INTENSITIES AND PEOPLE LIKE YOU
imi: Yeah. Well, let’s cut into more details then. What did you mean by being intense? Can you give us some examples of how…? How did you know you were different?
jessie: So that’s a good question. I talked about the emotions, right? I could eventually see that other people didn’t get as excited as about things that I did or didn’t get… I was …
imi: It took me 20 years.
imi: It took me 24 years to realize I was different, despite feeling different all my life.
jessie: That reminds me of a tangent, if I may?
imi: Yeah, of course.
jessie: It goes back to how I realized my own intensities. But we gravitate to other people like us. So these intensities are, whether this is true or not, it’s anecdotally seems to happen .
imi: Well, that is if you assume there are people like you.
jessie: Well, yes.
imi: I think for some intense people, there just literally weren’t, aren’t, people like them around.
jessie: Sure. Yes. I have encountered people who just didn’t see anyone like them. Then, if you’re lucky enough to have people like you, like in my gifted program, growing up there were people like me and we all had similar intensities and we would therefore clash with each other, which has its own challenges. Everyone’s butting heads because they all feel so strongly, so you have to learn to navigate that too. So that made me think, “Oh yeah, I’m not that weird. There are other people like me,” and then you get out of that context and then you think, “Where did all of those people go?”
imi: So that’s interesting, because there are two types of gifted people that I’ve meet. One are the closeted ones, sometimes to themselves where they just don’t even know it, “Fuck, I can’t acknowledge it,” and they’re gifted adults who have nowhere to go. And some were just framed and put into this gifted box from a very young age, and they went to a gifted program and that comes with another set of challenges.
jessie: Yes, definitely. I had a strange path through school. I spent kindergarten through third grade at a Montessori school, which was like the Garden of Eden period of my life. I feel like it was wonderful, I felt supported. I didn’t feel weird, because..
imi: People usually say that about the Montessori.
jessie: It’s wonderful. I’m one of those advocates. And in my intensity, when they tried to move me, my parents moved me to the regular public schools where you sit in the rows and you listened to the teacher, and I just thought this was the worst thing ever, changing me from Montessori, and they tried to move me in third grade and I would hide under the bed every morning and cry. My mom got sick of dragging me out from under the bed, and so they moved me back to Montessori after two weeks, but then they got their plan together for fourth grade that they were going to overcome this. And so fourth grade was miserable. I told my mom every morning that I had a stomach ache and didn’t want to go to school, but I had to go to school.
jessie: And for some reason I didn’t get tested for the gifted program that year, but then the next year they’re like, “Oh, maybe she belongs there,” and it felt like, “Oh, I’m in this group of people and I am proud to be here. Could they say it’s a good thing. And they like me here and it’s more like Montessori again.” It was interesting how they have a little more agency for the kids there. So I didn’t become a closeted gifted person, because I felt rescued by the gifted program, I think.
imi: I see. Yeah.
jessie: Yeah. I think that. They told me it was good and they suddenly started encouraging the creative processes and the intellectual inspiration. Yeah.
INTENSITIES AND RELATIONSHIPS
imi: So I know you’re married.
imi: I just knew it today. I didn’t know it before.
imi: Well, congratulations. It’s never easy to sustain a long-term relationship.
imi: When it comes to partnership, as we mentioned the MBTI and the coupling, was it difficult to find someone who meets you at your intensity, sensitivity, creativity level?
jessie: Yeah, it absolutely was.
imi: From Facebook though, you guys seem to have a blast.
jessie: Oh, well, yeah.
imi: Tell me about the that side?
jessie: Yeah. Max, my husband is Max, he also writes for Third Factor, he is a novelist for a small press.
jessie: Yeah. I know. Max is wonderful. So my career path has been a lot rockier than I imagined. I thought that was going to be… I’m shooting up this academic achievement path, so that will work out. But I didn’t date at all until I was in my thirties and Max is second person I ever dated, and we hit it off. But that’s because I was just so disinterested in most of what dating life was like. A lot of these messages I got as a teenager like, “Oh, you’ll intimidate the boys.” You have to care about if they put on this certain appearance, that didn’t seem to be authentically me and so I just didn’t want to do that thing. So I rejected most of that just outright as a younger person.
imi: It can be really hard to be a gifted girl.
jessie: Yeah. It absolutely is. I hear this again and again and again, and it still happens and there’s still biases against girls being intense and intellectually inclined.
imi: Oh, completely, yes.
jessie: Yeah. So that just made me turn off of dating entirely. But I met Max through a language training program, where he was working at the time when I moved to Washington DC, I’m originally from Detroit. But when I came here, I think I just opened up more because I had nobody and I was like, “All right, I’ll give it a try.” And we hit it off through… I think it’s like buying a winning lottery ticket, I don’t know that there’s any advice I can give to say, “Well, here’s how you find your person. No, you just keep buying lottery tickets.”
imi: I think your stories tells one where you didn’t compromise. You didn’t skew it yourself. You didn’t pretend to be a damsel to be rescued so you could attract someone who wouldn’t be intimidated by you.
jessie: No, that’s exactly right. And Max has been one of the most supportive people, he encourages me to have more confidence and to share what I have been bottling up, because I… You can only resist those messages so much that, “Oh as a woman, you need to do this and you need to be like this and you need…”
imi: Like how?
jessie: Like you need to be more demure and you can’t have strong opinions and don’t ever make people mad. Well, that’s something I’m really struggling with. I don’t-
imi: The good girl syndrome.
jessie: Yeah. I don’t want to upset anybody. Right?
jessie: Because I also have sensitive feelings. I don’t want to tick off someone else’s pain, but I also want to point out as a writer, I want to be a writer. And if you’re not saying things that are true, and usually things that stir up some controversy or trouble of some sort, why are you saying it? Everyone already agrees with that. Any talking about giftedness, you’re not supposed to do that, I lost friends over that.
imi: Did you?
jessie: Yes. Somebody was upset about something I said over politics and they had been holding in the back of their mind, “Oh, and you just think you’re so smart because you talk about giftedness.” And that really hurt, because…
imi: It really hurts.
jessie: Yeah. If you read the stuff, you would have seen where I talk about all the problems with the word gifted, and I’m only using this word so people can find it on Google. We don’t actually think we’re so smart, but there’s this way of being that I’m trying to talk about it. She hadn’t looked at any of that, she just saw the word gifted. And she hadn’t been in a gifted program though honestly, I think she could have been, and she’s like, “Oh, you’re full of yourself. You’re awful.” And she blocked me like, “Oh, okay.”
imi: Sounds like she’s envious of you for being able to come out.
jessie: I think that’s possible, yes. And then she probably… Maybe she has Imposter Syndrome, maybe she honestly doesn’t think… She thinks I think I’m smarter than her, and she doesn’t know because she blocked me, that I would say, “I don’t.” I think most people using the word gifted don’t ever think, “Oh, I’m so smart. I’m smarter than other people.”
imi: No. Most people have a hard time, including myself. It’s just useful to help people find it. And then the word itself is so loaded.
jessie: It is. I like the word, intellectually engaged, because it tells people more what I’m about, I want to ask about ideas, I want to know why they think what they do. I’m not threatened by people thinking differently because I’m really curious about it. And I just want to learn, I have this really strong drive to learn, which I think is at the core of intellectual intensity. And I learned early on also, most people don’t want to do that.
imi: So just pause, because I want to update our listeners again about this intellectual intensity thing. That is probably related to the five excitabilities.
THE FIVE EXCITABILITIES
imi: So can we list them out quickly? And I want you to tell us which one do you resonate with the most, which one brings you trouble, tell us?
jessie: For sure. Okay. So in the theory of positive disintegration, there is this idea that Dabrowski came up with that this certain group of people are more easily stimulated, have a considerably above average response to stimuli compared to what a normal person would do. And he noted five domains in which the super stimulus ability or overexcitability, as it’s often called.
imi: Such a good word. Yeah.
jessie: Yeah. He noted five domains of overexcitability and they are the intellectual, the imaginational, the emotional, the psychomotor, and the sensual or sensory.
imi: Yes. And listeners can Google that, there will be plenty online. I have some on my website, there will be lots on Third Factor.
jessie: Yep, exactly. I think all five of them are in my life. There are many people who have the whole package, Dabrowski called the intellect, imagination and emotions, the big three that really help a person develop. Sometimes if you have just the excess kinetic energy and excess stimulus ability by sensory pleasures, that can lead you astray. That can be a hindrance.
imi: I have all of them. And the emotional one is the strongest, it screams the loudest. The intellectual develops throughout the years, also screaming quite loud at the moment. I never had the physical one.
imi: I am very, very, still.
jessie: I envy that.
imi: That’s interesting, isn’t it, that we’re all different?
jessie: To answer your question about which ones I resonate with, I can.
jessie: Like you said, emotional was very much the most evident, I think when I was a child.
imi: Yeah. It’s hard when you don’t have the skills to regulate it.
jessie: Yes. You have to learn that and you need someone to help you a lot of the time, to give you some gentle feedback, not too harsh .
imi: Unfortunately not all parents are able to do that.
jessie: Absolutely true. In fact, I think many struggle with it. It’s a challenge. But the intellect, I had that too, and I didn’t realize until I went to the public school that that was not normal, that other kids didn’t want to do writing and reading and learning everything that I want to learn. I was looking forward to being a grown-up because then I would know everything. It’s the day I would finally know everything.
imi: I’m sorry, most people just want to become a grown-up so they can drink.
jessie: Yeah, yeah. Yes they do. Yeah. But I had that, and I also have the very strong imaginational excitability, especially as a young person. That’s why I want to be a writer, I had a website online where I put all my stories
jessie: Yeah. In the ’90s, that was the… I think of that as the golden age of the internet, so I have a long history of publishing online. And the fiction, I love fiction because it’s a way that you process your emotion. The muck you get from where the intellect, the imagination and the emotion meet, there you get fiction.
imi: What’s your favorite fiction book?
jessie: I’m so glad you asked that question, because the one that… I have many favorite books but in the context we’re talking here, the one that I have to mention is called, Children of the Star, it’s a trilogy. Actually, it’s sitting on the shelf right here in my office.
jessie: And the first one is called, This Star Shall Abide. All three volumes are good, but the first one is about a heretic in a medieval ish time and he commits a heresy, and then what happens after that. And to me, it’s very much the struggle of the intellectually intense person, just not being able to live under certain wraps. And then the other people who claim to have intellectual intensity, but what’s really behind them and all the different ways this can manifest, and then about finding your tribe. And so I love it. It’s by Sylvia Engdahl.
jessie: And I think any intellectual intense person should give it a try. It’s dated, it’s from the ’70s. You’ve got to get over that, but
imi: The five excitabilities— can you say a bit more about what each of them look like, so for example, the psychomotor one? I mean, they all have a million ways of expressing themselves, but let’s just go with some stereotypical ways.
jessie: Okay. Yeah. A psychomotor is just a excess –
imi: Lots of energy. Yeah.
jessie: Physical energy. Yeah. Can’t sit still. I talked to someone who’s studying it. It does overlap a lot with what is now being called ADHD, so I don’t think I have that.
I mean… How do you define these things? The definitions of slipping around. But yeah, that you can’t sit still and a lot of energy.
jessie: Or you can sit still, but you need to do sports, like you’re driven to do movement. Sensory is just more stimulated by things you take in through the five senses, and that could be flavors. I will spend a lot of time at the shop at the mall that has the fancy teas, and I’ll just sniff the teas. I get very excited
imi: I am snobby about my bottled water. I can tell the difference.
jessie: I believe it. It’s the super stimulus ability. But it can also be things like sensitivity to beauty. If you stop and you look at the sunset and you feel compelled to remark on a beautiful sunset that everyone else just thinks it’s like, “Okay. Fine, it’s pink, whatever.”
imi: Yeah. Absolutely. And on the darker side, it’s also things like misophonia, where you get troubled by repeated noise or certain noises, or you get uncomfortable with certain fabrics. Speaking of smell, I can’t stand strong perfume, it always gives me a migraine.
jessie: Oh yeah. I sympathize with that. I don’t have that, but I do have the misophonia. So that feels terrible and I feel bad about it. My husband knows I have it and so he’s like, “Can I eat an apple?” I’m like, “It’s fine, it’s fine. I don’t want you to have to tiptoe around me,”
imi: It requires negotiation.
imi: It’s just like any personal differences. Yeah.
jessie: Yeah. Yeah. And to realize there’s nothing personal, it’s just like a weird wiring in my brain. Okay. So those are the two, the more physiologically obvious ones. And then the ones that are in the head. The intellectual is drive for knowledge, concerned about truth with a capital T, also the thinking about, thinking metacognition, that kind of thing.
imi: Curiosity about most things.
jessie: Yes. Wide range of interests. Exactly. That’s intellectual overexcitability.
imi: I would think it also relates to people being multipotentialites.
jessie: Yes, absolutely. I think that’s a big part of it.
imi: Another big word, listeners, it refers to people who have multiple passion, they don’t just do one thing. And we live in a world where specialization is encouraged, so that can make it really difficult for people.
jessie: That was a big challenge for me too. So yes, absolutely, multipotentiality. Having pain over having to pick a career path. It’s all the lost opportunities when you have to focus on one thing. And then you come to the emotional, which is like what we were talking about, great depth of feeling in both directions, positive and negative, which I think is simple, and easily stimulated feelings too. Oh, I’ve also heard it mentioned, and I think this is true, complexity of feelings. Somebody who must have a simple reaction to some bad news and they’ll be like, “Oh, that’s bad.” But the emotionally intense person may think, leaping from detail to detail about the silver linings or the possible consequences, and so you have very mixed feelings about many positive or negative things.
imi: Well, the question I struggle the most on a daily basis is, how are you. Well, number one, growing up in an Asian culture, people don’t really ask that.
imi: Yeah. People ask more concrete questions like, “Have you eaten?” So there’s no, “How are you?” And when people ask me, “How are you?” I’m like, “Yeah, I can’t say I’m all good. I can’t say I’m all bad. The world is in a complex situation…,” and by the time I come up with an answer they’re gone.
jessie: Yeah. And it teaches you, when you’re in a culture that asks that question, that people don’t really care at that
imi: Yeah, yeah, yeah. I know, but my brain can’t compute data. I can’t just say, “Fine.”
imi: It’s strange.
jessie: Yeah. No, that’s it. That’s emotional intensity for sure.
jessie: Which one are we missing? The imagination, I think?
jessie: Yeah. Vibrant, creative images, fantasy, but doesn’t just have to be… I’m not talking like fantasy world talk in fantasy, but just like vivid perception of counterfactual things, right?
jessie: The bright minds eye, and it has a dark side too. We think of imagination is so positively charged in our culture, but it also means that you can visualize terrible things happening, causes anxiety too.
imi: Yeah. I think we pretty much covered all the excitabilities. Thank you so much. You clearly live this, because the way you talk about it, it’s here. You can speak from personal experience as well.
jessie: I never saw anything that so clearly described my experiences. And it’s interesting when you see people linking them to mental health diagnoses and various things that we would think of as pathology, like I mentioned ADHD. I haven’t really struggled with the things that were… If I read that definition and that diagnosis, I don’t see myself, maybe other people would, but I get my work done, it’s fine. But this, this is out here, it’s not a diagnosis, it’s just a different way of being. And I think that’s-
imi: That’s a really good point. I think people sometimes are eager to bring themselves to a diagnosis because it helps explain the lifelong experiences, and get a sense of validations. And sometimes that diagnosis can be valid, but sometimes people can get the wrong label just out of a desperation to find their tribe.
jessie: Yeah. And those people have come to Third Factor often and then feel really happy to have a different way to look at themselves.
imi: Absolutely, absolutely. So you interview people in Third Factor.
EXPERIENCE IN THIRD FACTOR
imi: What is the most surprising thing you’ve learned in all the interviews you’ve done.
jessie: Well, I think what I took away from all of my interviews is that I have talked to a lot of people about this intense experience, yet everybody… You think, how much can you say about this topic? But everybody brings a different way of being intense. And you recognize the overexcitability patterns in them being, “Oh, this part of the quilt is very bright yellow, and that part is bright blue. And they go together in the same quilt,” but this is a really diverse community. There’s a lot of ways that this manifests. But I’ve talked to you, I’ve talked to Paula Prober who works with the rain forest mind… Yep. Sue Jackson, who also works with those populations. And I just think you all come at it with a different experience
imi: You’ve interviewed some incredible people. I think lately you’ve interviewed the guy who actually was Dabrowski’s student?
jessie: Oh, yes.
imi: Mike ..?
jessie: Michael Piechowski, yes.
imi: Thank you. Yes.
jessie: He was Dabrowski’s partner.
imi: Oh, I see. Yeah.
jessie: And he has some ideas about the theory that are… They divert from Dabrowski’s, which I think is great. Because a living theory isn’t just a revealed book of truth that you have to accept. So it was really cool to talk to him. He is one of the authors, I believe editor of, Living with Intensity, which is one of the more famous books in the positive integration feel, that people come into it through. He also did the case studies, which I love, I just love the case studies because I think it’s wonderful. In addition to telling our stories and connecting with other people like us, also to look at people who we might see as heroes or respectable people in society who also went through this process of disintegration and reintegration. And so he did that work and it was just very… It really cool to talk to him about that, because that was one of the things I loved when I discovered the theory.
imi: Nice. Tangent, but not really a tangent.
imi: I assume you’ve been through some conventional workplaces. Biggest struggle?
jessie: It’s an interesting question. Do you know I used to work for the Central Intelligence Agency?
jessie: Yeah, I did. Now I’m self-employed and I do analysis of a similar type, but for private clients. And I thought that was like a dream to get there. I didn’t know what my dream was, because I just wanted to be a writer. So I like, “Well, what’s my career dream? I don’t know. I’m interested in foreign cultures. Oh, gee, what will I do? Well, maybe I’ll become a librarian because then I can write and I’ll be around books. Oh. But library school was really boring. But then…” So I’m desperate, the multipotential— I think I just got lost with too much potential and didn’t pick anything because I was focusing on the writing, which isn’t a good bet for a career path.
jessie: And I’m at my grad school, library school career fair at the end, and the CIA is there and I’m like, “I am so bored. I’m going to apply to this.” And I did, and I got in. So that was a weird turn in my life. It’s interesting. To say did I struggle there? I didn’t. I mean, yes and no. Right? Because I quit, I didn’t stay. And that’s because of certain things related to CIA.
imi: It doesn’t have to be because things push you out, it could be because you were drawn to something better.
jessie: Yeah. No, absolutely. That is why I quit, because to work in a super secure facility like that, to maintain a security clearance, you have to make sacrifices. And it turns out not to be a great fit with being a writer and being online, talking to people around the world. I wouldn’t be doing this interview if I still worked for CIA, most likely. That was one of the reasons that I didn’t fit there, but I will say even though I could have stayed there otherwise and been happy, I liked the work I was doing. It was super intellectually engaging. It was really an honor to get to work there.
jessie: I do best in harnessing my energy, this intense energy to do the thing. I have this drive to do the thing, to create things, the magazine is one manifestation of that. I get some choice of picking my clients, so I get to help with causes that I care about in my analytic work. And I really like being self-directed. I really like that. If I’m ever to go back to formal nine to five work, I want to be in a smaller organization. I found being in a massive government bureaucracy to be very stifling, because you really do have to be the square peg that fits into the square hole, or you’re going to struggle. And there are good people there. They know they want to keep creative people, so they try to work with you, but it will be some compromises.
jessie: I was very fortunate to be able to make the connections needed, to do some self-employment. And because I’m married, if I don’t have a client for a month, it’s not the end of the world. So that’s what makes it possible. But yes, it was hard.
ADVICE FROM JESSIE
imi: What do you think is the biggest trap intense people fall into?
jessie: There’s a lot of traps. So what’s the biggest one? We can get stuck in that disintegrative space and it is a danger. That’s why I said early on, you want to move through the disintegration, you don’t want to stay there. Especially for intense and sensitive, because those often go together, we can hang on to our wounds or absorb the distorted views that other people had of us, because they didn’t know how to talk to us, and many people… It’s really hard to overcome that, it takes work and it takes the right insight, which if you don’t have that, if you don’t have the right person encouraging you and saying, “Hey, maybe you’re not a failure,” or, “Hey, maybe you have something to offer,” it can be very hard to get out of that.
imi: So what would be a few pieces of advice you could give our fellow intense people, tribe?
jessie: Yeah. Well, so in turn you say, tribe, and I think that intense people are always trying to find their tribe. I hear that a lot. And the biggest advice I could give is, it sounds cliche, but I’ll elaborate on it, is be yourself, because you haven’t ever been encouraged to be yourself. And for a sensitive person, like for me, I’ll just speak for me. But I think other people will relate, you may have been rejected before for the big feelings, the intellectual curiosity that is tedious to other people, you’ve been rejected. And so I internalized that, “Oh, someone didn’t like me, I better hide that part of myself,” but then I didn’t have very fulfilling friendships because I was always hiding the active part of myself.
jessie: And the thing is, the people I wanted to find, they were all hiding that too. And so you have to show it or you won’t find other people like you, and that does mean that you will get rejected again, but it’s not because you’re a bad person, it’s just because that wasn’t the right fit for you.
imi: That’s a beautiful advice.
jessie: I learned it the hard way. Hope it’s helpful to someone else.
imi: Because my next question was, how can people find their tribe?
jessie: There you go, that’s the answer.
imi: You’ve actually answered that.
jessie: Be the person you want to find, even if it means some people don’t pick you up.
imi: Yeah. That’s beautiful. So final bits. Are there any particular resources that you can recommend for people?
jessie: Oh, resources? I’m trying to create the one at Third Factor.
jessie: But beyond that, there are… The same things a lot of people recommend, but things like yoga and meditation, we review some books on that kind of thing, to just learn about yourself and observe what’s going on inside of you. That would be the place I would start. Beyond that it would depend on the person’s unique needs.
imi: That’s beautiful. What’s the future for Third Factor?
jessie: I’m so glad you asked, because we are in the process of revamping the site.
imi: I know.
jessie: Remodeling it. I don’t know when your interview will go live. We’re going to go live soon, so whether it’ll be up or not when this goes out. We’re going to be diving more into trying to find more people to tell their stories, well, we’ve been doing that, but the life on the internet and the places where we go when we get stuck. Because we hide on the internet, not knowing we can go out and try to find people in real life, even though that’s extremely hard, we’re going to try to tackle that very difficult challenge. But, because we need to find people and practice with each other, we’ve developed a community at circle.so, which we were on Facebook and I think Facebook is terrible.
jessie: There’s just something about that medium that doesn’t encourage the opening up and getting to know people. So I hope this new community will make it easier for people to get to know each other and therefore establish a little more trust and reveal a little more of themselves so they have the opportunity to not be rejected.
imi: Thank you so much.
jessie: Thank you, Imi. It’s been great talking to you.
imi: Absolutely. All right. Well, thank you so much. I will put all the links in the show notes so people can be directed to the Third Factor, and get to know you and your work a bit more. And if people want to, they can get in touch.
jessie: That would be wonderful, Imi. Thank you so much.
imi: Thank you.
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.