Skip to content

Stoic Coaching for the Emotionally Intense and Gifted

Stoic coaching provides a holistic framework for us, especially those amongst us with heightened emotional intensity and giftedness, to navigate life’s uncertainties with grace and purpose. By blending Stoic philosophy with personalized coaching strategies, we can cultivate inner strength, balance our emotions, and foster a mindset that aligns with the timeless wisdom of Stoicism.

Intensely emotional and gifted people excel at interpreting the world through heightened emotional awareness and empathic insight. However, this heightened perceptiveness brings challenges, including emotional overwhelm, negative self-perceptions, decision-making difficulties, and susceptibility to overstimulation.

Amid sensitivity and challenges, Stoicism, an ancient philosophy, can act as a guide for wisdom and resilience.

 

Stoicism Coaching

“It’s not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste much of it.” – Seneca

 

Stoic Coaching and Insights for the Emotionally Intense and Gifted

Here are some examples of how certain Stoic principles and practices could be helpful:

Dichotomy of Control

In the realm of Stoic coaching, the concept of the “Dichotomy of Control” takes center stage. This principle encourages the practitioners to discern between factors they can influence and those beyond their control. By mastering this distinction, we gain a powerful tool for emotional regulation, enabling us to maintain a sense of calm and stability irrespective of external chaos.

Gifted people and emotionally intense people frequently struggle with the difficulties of feeling overwhelmed by strong emotions and the pressure of high expectations. Despite their intellectual understanding that the future is beyond their control, a lifetime of conditioning often lures them into the tempting yet futile endeavor of trying to manage and control events beyond their influence.

From a young age, gifted people have received praise and validation for their achievements, creating a strong unconscious belief that they can always change the outcome as long as they put effort into things. In addition, they often have a genuine desire to contribute positively to their surroundings and help others. However, this desire can morph into an unrealistic sense that they can change circumstances beyond their actual capacity to help, leading to frustration and anxiety when faced with the limitations of their influence. This often causes them to become the ‘over-functioning’ one in relationships, and the leader or caretaker in any groups they go into. This persistent desire to intervene in situations they cannot genuinely impact becomes a source of anxiety, particularly when faced with the inherent uncertainty of life.

Embracing the “dichotomy of control,” a principle particularly salient in the work of Stoic philosopher Epictetus, can be helpful in these instances. This principle urges a thoughtful distinction between what one can influence and what lies beyond their reach. 

 

By shifting their focus away from external events and towards their thoughts and actions, intense people can empower themselves to maintain a sense of calm and stability regardless of the chaos around them. 

Epictetus’s emphasis on the importance of one’s reaction to events, rather than the events themselves, is encapsulated in his words: “It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.” This Stoic wisdom also empowers gifted people to channel their high energy into managing responses rather than succumbing to external stimuli. Consider a highly sensitive and emotionally intense person facing criticism or judgment from others. Applying the Stoic approach involves recognizing that external opinions are beyond their control. Instead of dwelling on the judgment itself, the focus shifts to cultivating a wise and measured response. This change not only protects them from external influences but also fosters inner resilience.

Stoic coaching plays a crucial role in helping individuals practice the ‘Dichotomy of Control’ by providing guidance and strategies to navigate the conscious effort required to differentiate between what is within their sphere of influence and what lies beyond it.  Through guided introspection, individuals become more attuned to their thoughts, emotions, and reactions. This heightened self-awareness is foundational for practicing the ‘Dichotomy of Control.’

Stoic coaching can also encourage the development of an internal locus of control. It doesn’t just focus on theoretical concepts but emphasizes practical application in daily life. Thus, stoic coaches may assign exercises or reflections to help individuals integrate this Stoic principle into their daily lives.

When internalized, the dichotomy of control becomes a potent tool, offering emotionally intense and gifted people a resilient framework to navigate the complexities of external circumstances. 

Cultivating Strength through ‘Amor Fati’

Having been labeled as ‘too much’ or ‘too sensitive’ due to their heightened sensitivity and intellectual giftedness, many intense people struggle to  embrace their intrinsic qualities. Living in a society that predominantly values toughness and a certain level of denial proves challenging for sensitive people. The internalized shame associated with being different can become a barrier to confident and authentic living.

The Stoic principle of ‘amor fati,’ or the love of fate, provides a powerful tool for navigating feelings of alienation. Instead of resenting their uniqueness and the challenges it presents, the emotionally intense ones can learn to embrace ‘amor fati’ as a guiding philosophy. This principle encourages finding meaning in every experience, even those that seem difficult or isolating. For the gifted, it means embracing their unique capacity for profound emotions, heightened empathy, and intuitive insights as essential aspects of their identity. By accepting and loving their fate, including all its complexities and difficulties, they free themselves from the burden of feeling like an outsider.

Embracing ‘amor fati’ enables them to see differences not as flaws but as integral parts of their identity. Rather than seeking validation from others who may not understand them, they find validation within themselves by acknowledging and appreciating the unique perspective that comes with being highly empathic and emotionally intense. It cultivates resilience and inner strength in the face of misunderstanding or rejection. Ultimately, this Stoic principle empowers them to live authentically without fear or shame about who they are. Through embodying ‘amor fati,’ they can find a sense of peace and purpose in embracing their individuality rather than allowing it to be a source of alienation or self-doubt.

Stoic coaching helps individuals create a supportive environment that aligns with their values. This involves making conscious choices in relationships and activities that nurture their intrinsic qualities, fostering a sense of belonging and acceptance, and slowly healing from the wound of being different and being told they are ‘too much’ all their lives.

Stoicism further advocates viewing challenges as opportunities for growth, echoing Marcus Aurelius’s renowned saying, “Obstacle is the Way.” Gifted individuals can apply this principle by transforming discomfort into a chance to enhance their emotional intelligence, empathy, and understanding of others. Feeling different or misunderstood can sometimes lead to a sense of powerlessness. ‘Amor Fati’ flips this narrative by empowering them to find strength in their uniqueness.

In a nutshell, through the practice of ‘amor fati,’ intense individuals can shift their perspective, redefining sensitivity from a perceived burden into a profound asset that enhances their life experiences and deepens relationships.

Realistic Expectations of Others

In the Stoic tradition, Marcus Aurelius advises maintaining realistic expectations of people. In his morning reflection, he acknowledges the diverse and sometimes challenging nature of people: “The  people I deal with today will be meddling, ungrateful, arrogant, dishonest, jealous, and surly.” This acknowledgment acts as a preemptive measure against potential frustrations that may arise from interactions with people who may not meet one’s ideals.

This principle holds particular relevance for those with high intellectual capabilities, who may be impatient with the perceived shortcomings of others, especially when those around them show ignorance, illogical behavior, or unethical tendencies. By acknowledging the imperfections in others, gifted people can navigate social interactions with greater equanimity and compassion. 

Stoic coaching emphasizes the importance of maintaining realistic expectations of others, echoing Aurelius’s acknowledgment of the diverse nature of people. Coaches work with individuals to develop patience and understanding, especially when dealing with perceived shortcomings in others. This involves reframing expectations and approaching interactions with equanimity rather than reactivity.

While Marcus Aurelius did not explicitly use the phrase “made for each other,” he highlights the interconnectedness and shared nature of humanity: “We were born to work together like feet, hands, and eyes, like the two rows of teeth, upper and lower.” Stoicism emphasizes the internal aspect of happiness and the shared pursuit of a good life. It suggests that our well-being is interconnected (as in Buddhism), and thus having a compassionate and empathic mind by default can help us contribute to a collectively joyful existence. This sentiment can act as a guiding principle for gifted people, who could then set the intention to harness their gifts not as a source of irritation but of understanding and generosity towards others.

When confronted with unfair judgments of the way they are, one can also observe Aurelius’s teachings. As he aptly puts it, “The best revenge is to be unlike him who performed the injustice.” Furthermore, Aurelius also reminds us, “They are like this because they can’t tell good from evil.” This perspective invites us to view others’ actions as a result of their limitations rather than deliberate malice. Despite encountering potential negativity, the Stoic response is to remain steadfast in one’s commitment to kindness and virtue. Leveraging their sensitivity and love for humanity, gifted people can respond to unfair judgment with compassion and thoughtfulness. In doing so, they not only navigate challenges with resilience but also foster a profound sense of authenticity in their interactions with the world.

Perfectionism

Intense people, characterized by exceptional abilities and heightened emotional intensity, frequently find themselves trapped in the relentless pursuit of perfection across various facets of their lives. Whether in their professional endeavors, relationships, or personal achievements, the pressure to achieve flawless outcomes is always there. This quest often leads to a cycle of self-directed frustration, disappointment, and self-criticism.

Seneca, the Stoic philosopher, imparted timeless wisdom when he stated, “He who aims at perfection will never achieve it.” This profound insight resonates particularly with emotionally intense perfectionists.

Stoic wisdom serves as a poignant reminder that the pursuit of perfection is inherently flawed and, ultimately, unattainable. His teachings prompt people to reassess their approach to success, urging them to embrace imperfection as an integral aspect of the human experience. Instead of fixating on an ideal that can never be fully realized, Stoic teachings encourage a shift in focus toward the value found in the journey of growth and development.

Dealing with Anxieties Negative Visualization

Exploring Stoic philosophy, we find a powerful practice called “premeditatio malorum,” or negative visualization. This method involves imagining potential hardships or negative events in the future and coming up with strategies to handle them. It aligns with Stoic principles, stressing the importance of focusing on what we can control and seeing challenges as chances for growth.

Stoic coaching may involve practical exercises, such as role-playing scenarios or actual guided visualization where individuals practice responding to unfair judgments in a Stoic manner.  A consistent practice of negative visualization encourages a shift in perspective. Instead of fearing or avoiding the possibility of adversity, we learn to embrace the idea that challenges are inherent in the human experience.

The essence of this practice lies in its proactive nature. By mentally preparing for potential adversities, we can cultivate a heightened awareness of the uncertainties that life may present. This heightened awareness, in turn, serves as a foundation for developing robust coping strategies. Rather than being caught off guard by unexpected setbacks, those who engage in negative visualization are better equipped to face challenges with resilience and a steadfast Stoic mindset.

Negative visualization is not a pessimistic exercise but a proactive and empowering one. It empowers us to foresee challenges, not as insurmountable obstacles but as integral aspects of the human journey.

Embracing Solitude

Stoicism encourages people to embrace solitude as an opportunity for reflection and personal growth. This perspective can bring comfort to those who often feel disconnected from others due to their emotional depth and intellectual pursuits. 

The gift of heightened intelligence and sensitivity often creates a desire for deeper introspection and self-discovery, making solitude a crucial part of their life journey. For gifted people, embracing solitude isn’t just about avoiding external distractions; it’s a deliberate choice for profound introspection. This intentional withdrawal from the chaos of the world allows them to tap into their innate curiosity, explore complex ideas with depth, and confront existential questions without restraint. Through this process, the intellectually intense and gifted can use the power of solitude to build inner strength and purpose, helping them navigate life’s complexities with unparalleled clarity and grace.

Stoicism provides the emotionally intense and gifted with a framework to leverage solitude as a valuable catalyst for intellectual refinement and spiritual enlightenment. They can transcend social norms, increase self-awareness, and emerge as luminaries of wisdom in a world in need of profound insights by immersing themselves in solitary contemplation without feeling like there is something ‘wrong’ with being on their own. 

Shifting from External Achievements to Inner Qualities

Stoicism also highlights that true value comes from a person’s character, not just outward success: “Waste no more time arguing about what a good man should be. Be one.” This advice encourages people to focus on building inner qualities like resilience, compassion, and wisdom, regardless of their natural talents or achievements. Stoics recommend nurturing a strong sense of self-worth based on personal integrity and moral excellence rather than seeking validation from external sources, which can be fleeting.

Stoic coaching aligns individuals with Stoic virtues that emphasize the importance of character development. Coaches guide clients to embody virtues such as wisdom, courage, justice, and temperance, fostering a sense of self-worth independent of external validation. The focus is on becoming a ‘good person’ in the Stoic sense.

This idea is especially relevant in today’s competitive, capitalist society, where skills and accomplishments often overshadow the importance of ethical behavior and personal growth. A Stoic mindset emphasizes that our goal is not to impress others but to develop ourselves fully. By adopting this mindset, individuals gifted with exceptional abilities can free themselves from the pressure to constantly prove their worth through external success. Instead, they can focus on cultivating virtues that reflect genuine self-worth, independent of external recognition. 

 

Stoic Coaching

“Keep reminding yourself of the way things are connected, of their relatedness. All things are implicated in one another are in sympathy with each other. This event is the consequence of some other one. Things push and pull on each other, and breathe together, and are one.” – Marcus Aurelius; Gergory Hays translation

Stoic Coaching as a Companion to the Intense Inner Life Journey

Stoic coaching and developing deep reflections based on Stoic principles can be powerful tools for highly intense and gifted individuals. Ultimately, Stoic coaching aims to build inner strength by encouraging individuals to find strength in their uniqueness. A Stoic coach can work with them to recognize that being ‘too much’ or ‘too sensitive’ can be a source of resilience and depth, rather than something to be ashamed of.

When grappling with existential doubts, stoicism serves as a steady guide, steering them away from overwhelming abstract pondering. Rather than getting lost in existential angst, they can channel their philosophical musings and introspection into actionable self-improvement.

Ultimately, blending the insights of Stoic philosophy with the unique experiences of heightened sensitivity and intelligence creates a path to inner strength, emotional balance, and meaningful engagement with the world.  

 

Recommended Reading in Stoic Coaching

Alongside coaching, you want to consider reading one or more of these texts; the choice is based on your individual preferences, unique challenges, and circumstances.

Meditations by Marcus Aurelius is my personal favorite.

Primary texts in Stoicism provide firsthand access to the philosophical thoughts and insights of Stoic philosophers. Books by Marcus Aurelius, Seneca, and Epictetus are highly readable. However, some Stoic primary texts can be dense and complex, requiring careful reading and interpretation to grasp the nuances of the philosophy.

Some people may prefer reading secondary texts, such as the highly popular Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday. Secondary texts provide simplified explanations of Stoic concepts, making them more accessible to a broader audience. Some offer stories and examples, others offer interpretive guidance on how to apply Stoic principles to modern life. However, some secondary texts oversimplify Stoic concepts, leading to a loss of nuance and depth. Secondary texts may not fully capture the original intent and nuances of Stoic philosophers and are inevitably skewed by the authors’ perspectives.

Highly recommended Primary texts:

Meditations” by Marcus Aurelius

“Letters from a Stoic” by Seneca

“Discourses and Selected Writings” by Epictetus

Some recommended Secondary texts:

“A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy” by William B. Irvine

“The Obstacle Is the Way: The Timeless Art of Turning Trials into Triumph” by Ryan Holiday

“The Practicing Stoic: A Philosophical User’s Manual” by Ward Farnsworth  (Farnsworth meticulously structures the content,  making it highly practical and accessible)

Consultant and Author at Eggshell Therapy and Coaching | Website

Imi Lo is a consultant and published author with extensive experience in mental health and psychotherapy across diverse international settings. She specializes in working with highly sensitive, intense and gifted adults. Her books, 'Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity' and 'The Gift of Intensity,' are internationally acclaimed and available in multiple languages. She integrates psychological understanding with both Eastern and Western philosophies, such as Buddhism and Stoicism.