Long time no see! I am sorry that I have gone a bit quiet in the last two months, and here is the reason why: I was preparing for the release of the book Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity.
I am immensely grateful to be given the opportunity to birth this book into being. Although it has sprung from my search for answers and ongoing inquiry, it is not a personal project. I could feel in my heart how much you have all inspired me, and it is your continued presence and support that have propelled me forward.
I started writing out of the frustration of seeing intense people in the world being mislabelled, misjudged, and sidelined. When I was working in the National Health System, I saw how the system medicalised the most natural human expressions such as grieve the loss of connection, anxiety in a time of rapid change, or anger for injustice in the world. And despite the clearly documented link between giftedness and emotional intensity, few knew about it. Instead, individuals who feel things deeply were pathologised, institutionalised, or were encouraged to numb out their vitality through drugs.
I was also dissatisfied with the existing self-help resources for highly sensitive people, which focused heavily on protective and defensive strategies, and seemed to perpetuate the idea that they are somehow ‘too fragile for the world’. Through my encounter with many of you, I saw quite the opposite of the victim mentality— with your intensity, sensitivity and perceptivity, intense people have important work to do in the world. Rather than shrinking and hiding and taking a smaller and smaller slice of life, by learning to ground, build resilience you can harness your strengths. A rising tide lifts all boats; I have come to believe that intense individuals are meant to be IN THE WORLD, rather than be on the fringe.
SOMETHING ABOUT ME
While the journalist who interviewed me for the book said it clearly ‘came from a personal place’, I had not shared anything personal in the book itself. So I thought I would take a plunge and share parts of my journey here. Then, I want us to look at how my realisations relate to all sensitive, intense people across the world and where this is all going.
Growing up, I have always felt like the misfit. Being in a family that had little capacity to see or comprehend who I was, I sought refuge in books, the arts, ideas and concepts. I connected deeply with the characters in literature, films and theatre; They were my best friends, my community, and my soul’s family. In truth, I did not feel ‘lonely’, or perhaps I did, but like a fish in water that did not know otherwise, I was content. Ironically, the experience of gut-wrenching isolation only started when I went into the wider world and tried to fit myself in it.
I was always overwhelmed by what I sensed, felt and saw. Without the ability to regulate my feelings, I swung between elation, depression, deep longing and burning envy of those who fit in. Simultaneously I was bombarded with information I subconsciously absorbed from the surroundings; I would see the tension, bitterness, competition, passive aggression and dysfunctions in my school and the family, yet being a child I was not able to express, make sense of, or share these impressions with anyone.
As the gulf between reality and my safe-haven widened, I woke up to the realisation that I was perhaps indeed a little 'out of sync'. It turned out, most people did not become obsessed with their same-sex classmate at a young age, suffered from insomnia, dreaded death every day, or enjoyed ridiculously long periods of solitude. When I let my most spontaneous, unedited, over-excited self out, others would find me odd, over-bearing, and called me the ‘drama queen’. Being heavily bullied had led to painful wrestles with an eating disorder and suicidal urges that permeated my teen years.
What saved me, apart from the loving presence of a few angels in my life, was my intellectual intensities and my thirst for knowledge. Like a solo voyager, I zealously looked for answers in ideas and concepts. When I was 12, I found out that I was a 4 in the Enneagram and an INFJ. I savoured all that I could find about Highly Sensitive People, Empath, Indigo Children. From classical psychology to trauma theory to astrology, I soaked in whatever I could gather to ‘know thyself’. Even my search started from a painful place, this process of collecting and synthesising healing arts across history and the world has been an exhilarating ride, and I would not trade it for anything else.
As my mind roamed free in the world of knowledge, I felt physically trapped where I was. Despite being born in Hong Kong, I never felt I belonged- there was something about the homogeneity of the culture that bothered me. Leaving home at 16, I ‘escaped’ to attend an art school in Australia, yet my psychological maturity did not keep up with where my soul wanted to go, and I ended up in a hedonistic mess. Since then, I have lived and worked in various countries from Australia to Taiwan— When you had felt ‘foreign’ all your life, there is something about being an actual foreigner that was liberating. I did and still do, have a passion for observing and analysing cultural idiosyncrasies. People’s oddity and beauty, how we are all so glorious and terrible in much the same yet massively different ways are just incredibly exciting. Until today, I don’t feel I ‘belong’ anywhere. But I am okay with that, and technology has made being a global citizen possible for us all. I rejoice in the notion that home is a feeling, not a place; It happens not on the physical plane, but a psycho-spiritual one where time lapses and people authentically connect. Thanks to the internet, I can now relax and just let my vibe bring me to my tribe.
When I was little, I thought I must work either in a hospital or an airport, perhaps because I was drawn to ‘important moments’ of people’s coming together and being apart, and existential issues such as sickness and death. Assuming that working in Melbourne’s China Town on a minimum wage (was that even legal?) did not count, my first professional role was as a Suicide Counsellor. My interest and drive have driven me to later train as a mental health Social Worker, an Art Therapist, a Clinical Psychotherapist, a Mindfulness Teacher, and a Schema Therapist, etc. However irrational, a young part of me was driven to gather titles and credentials to gain my family’s approval, even to the detriment of my health. Now, as I begin to see that titles and endless pursuits actually clash with my authentic self and restrict my personhood, I try my very best to have my ego release the attachment to them. Saying that I would not diminish the value and richness of all my professional experiences. After all, nothing beat the memory of being spat on and swore at in a rural Australia Special School ;).
I think I would stop here. I can go on, and if you have read this far, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for holding time and space for my disclosure. Ultimately, I hope this book is not about just me, but also you, and us as a collective. Like a wave that cannot be separated from the ocean, it should serve as a dent in something infinitely more vast and powerful.
If, on this day you felt particularly lonely and deprived of connections, it may be time to go back to your *true home*.
Your true home is not your biological family, the small town you were born in, or the big city you live in.
No matter where you are, it lies beyond the physical, the biological, or anything we can see.
Perhaps you have never felt ‘at home’ at home.
If you were drawn to the arts from a young age, it might be because you have always yearned to connect with artists, writers, and musicians from across time and space.
Or perhaps you have always felt misplaced in the human world and had sought connections with the wildlife and animals.
Even you were not thinking about it in that way; your soul has always been in search of your true home.
It is not a particular person or group or place, but the ‘moments of meetings’ when you intellectually, emotionally, spiritually connect.
It is when your soul aligns with a piece of writing, art, or music, and you inspired, transformed, elevated.
It is when you ‘download’ materials from the Universe.
It is when you express yourself freely and unapologetically.
Although not being able to connect with those in your immediate surroundings makes you feel alone, like a Martian on Earth, it is also this temporary homesickness that propels you to be creative and expand your awareness.
When you step into your ‘true home’- a psycho-spiritual space that cannot be seen or calculated or defined, you will experience ecstasy and peace so profound that you will not miss it.
You will never be homeless, exiled, or betrayed, if you can find your true home from within.
FROM MISFITS TO LEADERS
I hope the book will challenge what we as a society think we know about sensitivity, empathy, being different and creative.
Diversity is the universe's natural state- we see this in nature and the galaxies. All the different ways we are of being, perceiving and serving the world form the bedrock of our progression. Yet we seem inept at embracing differences; people often feel threatened by what they do not understand and comprehend, and eventually attack each other. The problem is not our differences, but our judgement of each other, and the indifference towards it. By pathologising, stigmatising and marginalising intense people, the world is sitting on a gold mine without knowing it, and we are being held back in progression as a collective.
For the last few decades, our world has been driven by linear, mechanistic, patriarchal values (by which I do not mean an individual male is oppressing women, but a cultural narrative that is dualistic, results and action-oriented). We have gone very information-driven, intellectual, and concrete. We have been ambitious, driven, stressed human-doings, disowning our essence as human beings.
But many of us are waking up to the fact that the old way of operating has reached its limit. Our global economy is outgrowing the capacity of the earth to support it, and what is happening in the politics might just be the ‘final push’ of the old system, before it is forced to recede.
The chaotic time that we are in is also imbued with potential.
Humanity is calling for a different way of being, and a redefinition of power. Even in the most ego-driven corporate space, increasingly we hear people saying things like ‘trust your gut instinct, ‘follow your intuition’, or ‘watch the energy in the room’. The value of white space, rest, sleep and mindfulness is entering the mainstream media, and more female pioneers are rising to the horizon. The popularity of Brene Brown’s work on vulnerability, Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, the phenomenal success of Susan Cain’s book Quiet are all pointing to something.
Like a bamboo tree that bends but does not break, the new paradigm of power comes from balancing the yin and the yang; from not just fighting, but also yielding. We are not only ready but also hungry for a different kind of leadership. Our new world calls for those who are sensitive, intuitive, empathic, authentic and transparent. We are waiting for the emergence of heart-centred trailblazers, torch-bearer, and bridge-walkers. And this is where sensitive, intense and gifted people come in.
“Change always involves a dark night when everything falls apart. Yet if this period of dissolution is used to create new meaning, then chaos ends and new order emerges.”
― Margaret J. Wheatley
WHY YOU MATTER NOW MORE THAN EVER
Perhaps up until now, you have not yet grappled with the value of your qualities. You did not get why you feel angsty, impatient, restless and depressed with issues that other people find acceptable. The truth is, you are a fast-moving machine in a world that does not keep up. You are a truth seeker in a society that is complacent about hypocrisy. Your thoughts are critical and challenging when others opt for a comfortable life. You are a passionate lover in a culture plagued with fear and separations. Intense people are positioned to be the game-changers, the truth- tellers, and the fierce lovers of the world.
In fact, you are the canary in the coal mine. In the old days, miners sent canaries into unknown pits. If the canaries stopped singing, they knew the mine was toxic, and they would stay away. When there are woes in the world, the sensitive souls are amongst the first to take the hit. Your sadness, anxiety, rage are not wrong; They are warning signs of the world’s pain. Except that this time, we need you not to die as the canaries did, but to rise to the occasion and bring the message of truth and passion back into the world.
At this point, some of you may ask: Am I really that ‘special’? Are you suggesting that I am superior in some way? Does this further alienate me from those around me? I do understand the fear of your own power, and of losing belongingness. Here is a more useful way of thinking about it: We all have our unique blueprints and trajectory in this lifetime, and everyone is being gifted with certain qualities to do certain things in the world. Maybe you are qualitatively (rather than quantitatively) different to someone who is less intense, but that does not make you any better or worse.
And when you are given the ‘package’ that comprises a fast brain, fierce passion, the ability to see things penetratively and to feel things deeply, you have no choice but to do something with it. As your body already knows, suppressing your expression leads to existential guilt, depression, restlessness, physical pain and chronic emptiness. In other words, you don’t have a choice but to follow where your intensity leads.
Many of us feel we have no choice but to protect ourselves in this unpredictable and volatile world. You might have felt that you had to withdraw, to defend, to hide behind four walls. As you have probably figured out by now, such strategy leads merely to internal deadness. Defending against the world doesn’t work. Neither do shrinking and hiding. And numbing out your heart brings psychic death. The only thing that can take you forward is to open your heart and mind.
“ We cannot change the way the world is, but by opening to the world as it is we may discover that gentleness, decency and bravery are available, not just to us, but to all human beings’" - ChongyamTrungpa.
My pledge may seem extreme, but for too long intense people have been misunderstood, shamed, and sidelined, and just like the beginning of any movement, a forceful pushback is needed to swing the pendulum.
Claiming your place in the world 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 standing up for yourself when others call you a ‘drama queen’ or ‘too this and that,' you are helping your soul sisters and brothers to fight against injustice. Being unapologetically honest about your emotional reality is not only personally healing, but also transpersonally meaningful.
Sandra Mantel: "Being gifted means you are called upon to help people find their path and bringing a little bit more light into the world. Being gifted is to have the gift to make yourself glow so you can touch others and help them to find their own glow. "
If I were to sum up my messages in three sentences, they would be:
One, there is nothing wrong with you.
Two; not only that, you are in a unique position to do something, create something, stand up for something.
And three; your sensitivity and intensity are not your hindrances, but DOORWAYS to your fullest potential.
So far my work has focused heavily on the ‘healing’ and the ‘coming out’ process, and these will continue to be paramount. But I also think we are ready for the next step. Part two of this book is titled ‘from Healing to Thriving’. Truly, it is time intense people move from victimhood to heroism, to go from being the ‘misfits’ to standing as the leaders of the world (and this can take many forms. You can be a thought leader that speaks to a small niche, a quiet creative pioneer, or you can model how to be the best parent in town).
I sincerely hope that this book is just the beginning of a new direction.
“How odd that we spend so much time treating the darkness, and so little time seeking the light. The ego loves to glorify itself by self-analysis, yet we do not get rid of darkness by hitting it with a baseball bat. We only get rid of darkness by turning on the light.”
― Marianne Williamson, Tears to Triumph
The release of the book is exciting and nerve-wracking. I have to continually remind myself that once out, it will take up a life of its own. It will fall into the hands of those who are ready for it and quietly pass by many. It will be praised and loved by some, and be rejected and criticised by others. Just like an anxious parent, I must now lovingly bless these pages to go on their journey.
With all my aspirations, I must also practise letting go of attachment to any specific outcome. As Woody Allen so brilliantly put, ‘If you want to make God laugh, tell him about your plans’. We all are continuously evolving and growing, so I reserve the right to change my mind and have to stay open to where my intuition leads.
You can now order Emotional Sensitivity and Intensity on Amazon and all the major wholesalers including Foyles, Waterstones and the independents. If you live abroad, it will soon be available in Barnes and Nobles, Dymocks, and bookshops in most Commonwealth countries including Australia and Canada.
Don’t tell my publishers I say this, but I would not say that this book is for everyone. Rather than suggesting you to all buy it and read it from cover to cover, I encourage you to load the preview and see if the pages resonate. If you do decide to bring these pages home (thank you!), you may just let your intuition and interest guide you to what catches your attention. Take what is useful, and leave behind the rest.
As always, thank you for your ongoing love and support!
3 Feb 2018, a wet London day