TO THE natural non-conformist
Being intense, seeing the world through different eyes and feeling the world on a distinctive wavelength means you by default function outside of the ‘norm.' You may be the misfit, the mystic, the visionary, and it is not an easy path. At the same time, no matter how hard you try, you cannot be what you are not.
It is a natural human instinct to reject what is unfamiliar, strange, or beyond comprehension. That’s why it takes tremendous courage to be a non-conformist. Even if you had done nothing wrong other than honouring your values and integrity, even if the way others treat you is entirely unjust, situations in which you are being silenced, misjudged, or attacked may still evoke intense feelings of vulnerabilities and shame, especially if they touch on some of your unhealed childhood injuries.
Becoming okay with not being ‘normal’ (thinking and feeling ‘within the norm’) can bring enormous sadness and even temporary despair. We can grieve what we never have- after all, your yearnings to belong, to be part of a tribe, to feel like a part of humanity has been a big part of you. But alongside your sadness, there can also be an undeniable undercurrent of relief - finally you can stop trying to be what you are not, gone is the burden of false impressions.
“We must never be afraid to be a sign of contradiction for the world.” - Mother Teresa
THE LONGING FOR BELONGING
Belongingness is a difficult subject for many emotionally sensitive, intense and gifted people.
Perhaps loneliness is a universal phenomenon, but you feel it more intensely, more frequently, and more penetratively.
The intimidating reality is that at times no language or image can fully capture how isolated and misunderstood you are.
Your heart breaks when you try to express the depth of your sorrow, the extent to your passion, and be met so often with apathy, indifference, or simply incomprehension.
Long awaited is that someone who can plunge deeply into sorrow, and soar high into ecstasy with you, or the loving presence that goes beyond a surface understanding of your deep well of feelings.
Perhaps after repeated cycles of infatuations, fantasies, and disappointment, you have gone into despair.
When we look at the Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, belongingness is seen as so important that it comes right after we gratify our needs for food and shelter. It is therefore understandable that many of us would do anything to feel like we are a part of something.
However, if you do not fit society’s conventional definition of ‘normality,' is it worth sacrificing your truth, or contorting yourself for the sake of fitting in?
‘Authenticity’ has become one of those buzz words, overused in online and social media, that it has almost lost its meaning. Throughout history, many philosophers, theologians, social theorists, and thinkers have explored the idea of authentic living. The existentialist philosopher Heidegger (1995), for instance, suggested that being authentic means reclaiming oneself from unexamined conformity. He even named the call for authenticity within ourselves the “call of conscience,” not in a moralistic sense, but because it is the ultimate responsibility of each one of us to realign our beings with our true selves and strip away the expectations placed upon us.
Living outside of the ‘norm’ is always going to be difficult. Although more and more scholars and professionals are embracing the idea of ‘neurodiversity’— the acknowledgment that particular groups of the population are innately different from the norm, the majority of society remains unaware of this biological reality, and most people tend to misjudge minority groups that they do not understand.
The tension between belongingness and authenticity is illustrated in a tale about Zumbach, the Tailor:
As legend had it, a man in this village had succeeded in business and wanted to have a new suit made. He went to Zumbach, the most famous tailor in the land, and had himself measured. When he came hack to Zumbach’s shop the next week for the final fitting, put on his new suit and stood in front of the mirror, he saw that the right sleeve was two inches longer than the left.
“Er, Zumbach,” he said, “there seems to be something wrong here. This sleeve is at least two inches too long.” The tailor, who didn't like back talk from his customers, puffed himself up and said,
“There is nothing wrong with the suit, my good man. Clearly, it’s the way you’re standing.” With that, Zumbach pushed on the man’s shoulder until the sleeves were even. But when the customer looked in the mirror, he saw that the fabric at the back of the suit was bunched up behind his neck. “Please, Zumbach,” the poor man said, “my wife hates a suit that bulges in back. Would you mind just taking that out?”
Zumbach snorted indignantly, “I tell you there’s nothing wrong with this suit! It must be the way you’re standing.” Zumbach shoved the man’s head forward until the suit seemed to fit him to perfection. After paying the tailor’s high price, the man left Zumbach’s store in confusion.
Later that day, he was waiting at the bus stop with his shoulders lopsided and his head straining forward, when another fellow took hold of his lapel and said, “What a beautiful suit! I’ll bet Zumbach the tailor made that suit for you.”
“Why, yes,” the man said, “but how did you know?”
“Because only a tailor as brilliant as Zumbach could outfit a body as crippled as yours.”
(Source: Polishing the Mirror, Ram Dass)
For how many years now, have you been trying to fit in, even when you don’t?
Maybe you have sacrificed your rights, silenced your voice, or endured much discomfort, to be like everyone else?
Can you feel truly belonged, if you are not yourself?
“Placing my head on my knees, I let the irrational tears fall unrestrained. I am crying over the loss of something I never had. How ridiculous. Mourning something that never was - my dashed hopes, my dashed dreams, and my soured expectations.” - EL James
RETHINKING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE DIFFERENT
You might have spent your whole life thinking there is something wrong with you for being different, but what if there is a meaning to your unique life path? What if you are an inspiration? What if it is the others who need to learn to be tolerant of diversity?
We no longer live in homogenous tribes and villages, and exposure to the unfamiliar is inevitable, even when it is uncomfortable at first. By honouring your idiosyncrasies and demonstrating self-acceptance, you are actually serving others, and helping them grow. What if by the universe’s design, that is your mission of this lifetime? There is so much mystery to what we are here to for each other that is beyond our comprehension, but perhaps you are a gift to the group because you have opened their eyes to the unfamiliar, broadened their horizons, and equipped them and the next generation for our increasingly sophisticated and hyper-connected world.
Just because others reject you doesn’t make you wrong. Even if the MAJORITY of the world rejects you, that is still not ‘evidence’ that there is something wrong with you. You are different, yes. But that doesn’t make you bad, wrong, defective in any way. Your life is harder than most, yes. You will be misunderstood and sidelined, but that still does not make your values and the way you are inferior in any way. It does perhaps mean you need to be better equipped for bruises and attacks life has in-house for you, it may make you scream, again and again, that ‘life is unfair.' But life has never promised fairness. What it does promise, though, is that if you do not resist, but rather, live out your legacy- what you are REALLY here to do, you will find joy and fulfilment in growing into who you are.
Honing the skill to survive other people’s judgments and attacks is an ongoing practice. It involves you learning to stay grounded in your secure base (made up of your self-love, a firm system of beliefs, an inner circle of those who see and accept you, and a sense of spiritual trust that life is on your side), despite what goes on outside of you.
It is not an easy dilemma, but you are not alone in this. We are all doing this human dance and finding our ways through. In order to live fully and wholeheartedly, we ought to develop a strong mental muscle that holds the multiplicity and complexity of human dynamics. Gradually, you will find a still small space even amongst the tension between sameness and differences , anger and compassion, actions and acceptance.
Ultimately, when it comes to human relationships and finding your place in the world, I do not wish for you an ‘easy’ path, but one that is rich, stimulating, fulfilling and vividly alive.
“Home is where your people are.”
FINDING REFUGE IN A COMMUNITY OF LONERS
For the emotionally intense and gifted, it is important to acknowledge that where you find your ‘true home’, or your sense of belonging, is no longer limited by our geographical locations or our biological bonds. If you are born into families with limited capacity to understand the depth of your being, you may have to seek your spiritual or psychological refuge elsewhere. Thanks to the internet, you can connect with like minded people from the other side of the world, you can also seek resonance in the arts, literature, music.
From when you were a young soul, you have been healing through the arts and a wider connectivity without consciously knowing. You have sought refuge in your solitude, the libraries, the music albums, and the cinema.
When you saw characters in films and books who were heroic misfits, you also witness how they create their own beauty and meaning. You were given hope by their courage and love, for on a deep level you recognise that in you soul.
Even when your home life had been claustrophobic and alienating, you sough solace from knowing that you were not alone in the world. From when you were a little child, your heart knew where to go for solace. So keep going, follow your nose- allow yourself to be moved, pushed, inspired and guided by anyone and anything that brings you tears, laughters and awe. They are the mirrors to the answers you seek, which have always been, and always will be, in you.
I used to think I was the strangest person in the world but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it's true I'm here, and I'm just as strange as you.
Frida Kahlo quoted in "Diary of Frida Kahlo"
authenticity over perfection
Any human expression is in itself a creative act, a public art form. You do not create meaning only when you call yourself an artist or a writer. You do so by how you show up every day to life: how you cook a meal, solve a conflict, or have a good conversation. And in this art, your unapologetic authenticity is unmistakably compelling, more so than being ‘beautiful,' ‘original,' or even ‘creative’ in a conventional way. When you are making your mark in the world, realness will always be more powerful than a facade of perfection.
When we hear words and see images that are radically truthful, stemming from the core of one’s being, we are instantly impacted, connected, and a real conversation begins, as if in a kind of spiritual unison. You know what this is like. You know it when someone dares to be raw and expose parts of themselves. You know it when you hear a powerful speech, heard a resonating song, read a poem that speaks to your soul.
So when it is your turn, see if you can forget about social appropriateness and conventional wisdom. Discard perfection or the facade of okayness.
To truly connect with anyone, you must show up as who you are, with all your imperfections and struggles. If being you makes you feel unbearably lonely, you ought not to dismiss your heartache and longings, as they are precisely the vehicles to you finding your people. In a strange, paradoxical way, you can find some refuge in letting the loneliness of being intense bring you to a community of loners.
Your tribe exists, even it is harder to find it, even your friends are dotted around the world, cutting through time and space. You may have to look beyond your immediate surrounding, into our collective life, the woes in nature and the world. You may look across history, into paintings, literature, poetry, hymns, and lyrics.
You may even have to plunge deeply and unapologetically into your aloneness— by writing it, screaming it, singing it, drawing it, dancing with it. In other words, you get real with who you are— in any shape or form. When you can do that not only do you allow others to find refuge in your voice, you also liberate others to do the same.
Showing up authentically is the best medicine to you existential aloneness. You can only identify the light and sparkles in others when you can own them for yourself.
Authenticity for does NOT mean that you have to tactlessly show all of who you are all of the time. It only means first and foremost being real and genuine to yourself. Being true to yourself, you may limit your time to certain people or that you only share small bits of yourself. If you are around individuals who get overwhelmed by your intensity and intellect, you may need to slow your pace and choose activities that engage both of you at a similar level. With self-honesty, you can be both sincere and strategic, and your actions will be backed up by a kind intention towards both yourself and others.
You cannot be everything to everyone, but to find your place in the world, always, always trade authenticity for perfections.
“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.” ― Tahereh Mafi
your permission to be intense
Here is the news:
You are allowed to tell someone you are angry, annoyed, frustrated, even when there is no ‘justified,' ‘logical’ reason.
You are allowed to tell the world the strength and velocity of your feelings.
You are allowed to stop putting on that fake smile.
You are allowed to perform a big, romantic gestures, or write the weightiest love letter, without feeling embarrassed or like that is not a glorious human expression.
You do not need anyone’s permission for all the intensity inside of you to come up and come out.
However, no one external can give you the permission to emotional honesty. You may first come to learn about this unconditional allowing in the presence of a loving other, in a non-judgemental spaceof a spiritual meeting, or the empathic guidance from a therapist. But ultimately, only you have the power to free yourself from the tyranny of cultural confine and social appropriateness.
People who can show up to the world authentically free are first and foremost congruent within themselves. Knowing that you can be completely and unconditionally emotionally honest with yourself gives you a secure base, a springboard you can use to be brave in the world. A deep-seated sense of joy is not found in the absence of sadness, it is found in a space where even the deepest grief is allowed. Not just sadness, but anger, frustration, disappointment, everything and anything that would have been deemed ‘bad’ and forbidden elsewhere is allowed. Your ability to open in the world strengthens when your heart detects a loving allowing for everything that comes up. You do not have to like your intense emotions all the time, but they have to be permitted to take temporary refuge in you. Then, even with the greatest sorrow and grief, there is a sense of aliveness— because you are there for yourself, participating, being fully present to your reality. It is in this space where all the wild animals in you are allowed to roar and soar, that the courageous spirit in you can thrive.
To find a real, lasting sense of belongingness in the world, you first find yourself. Not just find yourself, but make a true home within.
“The more of me I be, The clearer I can see.” - R. Archelaus
showing up is A NOBLE ACT
In our world today we have divided ourselves in a countless number of ways— between black and white, between the majority and the minority, between introverts and extroverts, between the stoic and the sensitive. People often feel threatened by what they do not understand and comprehend, and eventually attacking each other. Our current political climate is a clear reflection of this dark side of our tribal nature.
We have become very intolerant towards individual differences. This is why the sensitive and intense people often find themselves on the margin of society, being condemned as being ‘too this’ and ‘too that,' or that somehow they are deemed as being too fragile for the world. Differences are inevitable, but the lack of mutual understanding and kindness breed aggression and cruelty, making us vulnerable as a whole.
That’s why your authenticity is not just a real act of courage, but also a form of noble public service.
By showing up to the world as the sensitive empath that you are, you are championing not just for your rights, but also all the passionate and porous souls that come before and after you.
By legitimising your anger when others call you a ‘drama queen’ or ‘too this and that,' you are helping the sisters and brothers who you have never met except on the plane of art forms like music or literature.
By not keeping up with an ‘I am fine’ facade and honour the value of candid connection, you are setting an example to not only your daughters and sons but our next generation of children. As you already know, they are far more impacted by what we do and the way we are, rather than what we say.
Being unapologetically honest about your emotional reality is not only personally healing, but also transpersonally meaningful.
“I finally know the difference between pleasing and loving, obeying and respecting. It has taken me so many years to be okay with being different, and with being this alive, this intense”
― Eve Ensler, I am an Emotional Creature.