Do Depression, Anxiety and Mania Exist? Conversation with Eric Maisel

I have the honour of having a conversation with Eric Maisel. Eric is the author of more than 50 books and is widely regarded as America's foremost creativity coach. His most famous books include Fearless Creating (1995), The Van Gogh's Blues (2002), Coaching the Artist Within (2005), and The Atheist's Way (2009). In this article, we discuss what it means to live an authentic life, why the idea of mental illness as a construct, and more specifically, what depression, anxiety and mania mean. Finally, I asked Eric what it means to be resilient.

This article is largely based on a recorded conversation with Eric Maisel, plus my own research. It is not meant as medical or professional advice.


Sometimes in life, we don't make changes we know we need to make or make decisions that are true to us because there are consequences to change. For example, if the change is to change professions, you may be looking at poverty. If the change is to change relationships, you may be looking at loneliness.

Shifting our beliefs also comes with a kind of pain. After having adopted a system to belief for years, changing your system of thoughts can be disconcerting.

This is why a lot of people delay following the path of their truth until midlife. Then suddenly they have a crisis where everything they have believed all their life are overturned.

The idea of authentic living is a central theme of the work of existentialists philosophers such as Satre and Camus.

To use existential language, people can 'act in bad faith'— a synonym for "inauthenticity."

We act in 'bad faith' when we don't do the 'next right thing' for us. This 'right thing' is different from person to person. It may be something moral, but it really means what is most appropriate for that person at that point in time.

For you, the next right thing might be taking a shower or it could be anything under the sun.

The key here is to identify what right things are for you and then doing them. Bad faith means knowing what it thing is and then not doing it— For safety reasons, for survival reasons, for selfish reasons, etc.

As an example, if Eisenhower the day before D-Day decided to do something else, that would be an act of bad faith.

We all understand that about Eisenhower. But we don't tend to understand that about ourselves.

We underestimate how far we would go to feel safe in life. For example, a lot of people claim to be wanting to be writing a memoir. They claim to have been writing it for the last 10 years, but actually, they don't feel safe enough to do that. They don't actually want to reveal the things that need to be revealed in an honest memoir, so they're stuck there, announcing that they're working on a memoir but not actually working on it.

This kind of tension goes on all the time in people's lives. Everyone understands that it's correct to whistleblow and that it's dangerous to whistleblow. That it's right to be anti-authoritarian and that's it's dangerous to be anti-authoritarian. Most people come down on the side of safety for obvious enough reasons.

But ultimately, this does not serve us.

To live a truly fulfilling life, it is essential that we honour authentic living.


Another big part of Eric's work is about reframing mental illnesses.

In his book Rethinking Depression, Eric holds that depression as a mental disorder does not exist.

Depression is not usually a biological illness— In medicine, for something to be something diagnosed, there has to be some underlying biological illness. Depression, however, is usually 'diagnosed' based on self- reported symptoms.

A certain kind of transaction goes on between a sufferer and the mental health professional: People go in and say they are depressed because they become accustomed to using that language. In response, the clinician hands out some medicines.

The person might be despairing or sad or grieving or having a reasonable human emotion, rather than a biological problem.

If you hate your job, or have trouble with your wife, that is not a mental disorder. You may be demoralised, disappointed, but not necessarily depressed.

The same goes for anxiety. There is nothing 'neurotic' about anxiety. There is nothing irrational about being afraid to go on stage in front of 2,000 people and your whole career hanging on the balance by how well you play the Tchaikovsky violin concerto. And there is nothing neurotic about wanting to feel safe.


Existential depression isn't depression either, but we have to use this term because it's a typical cachet. It should be existential despair, which is what it was called traditionally.

Existential despair is that state of being where you stop believing that you or your efforts matter, that your place is not important in the universe.

The complete solution to existential despair is to make meaning in life. we have to do this work ourselves. We have to actively invest in the idea that we matter and that our efforts matter.

You need to create your list of life purpose choices— the six or seven or eight things that you find important. Some examples may be relationships, activism, service, creativity. After you make you list, you look at it— if one avenue is not producing meaning because society is not allowing, is not providing successes there or not allowing you to pursue it, then you can look at other things on the list and go there and see if you can coax meaning into existence there.


Here is a quote: "As a smart person whose brain races faster and harder than the next person's, you can't accomplish something like stopping your racing mind from worrying. Doesn't mean you have a disorder, that you are a failure."

Mania has never been intelligently talked about. At first, it was a separate mental disorder. Then it got folded into bipolar disorder in a mysterious way.

If you use your brain to solve problems and to navigate your way through the world, you're setting it in motion. You're saying, "Go, brain. Go." That means your asking it to start racing. You're asking it to start working. Human brains have certain ways of racing and those ways have names like "obsessions" and "manias", but setting your brain in motion is entirely sensible.

It is even desirable. In fact, there should be ideas like 'productive obsessions',' mediated manias', namely that you're going almost a little too fast, but you're still in control.

You can mediate your obsessions and manias. For example, you can have "ceremonial bridges" to mark the in and out of your racing state. You can drop in a useful thought in a deep breath. For example, you can say a useful phrase like, "On the exhale I'm completely stopping."" I return with strength," or some way of stopping the race. In other words, you want to inaugurate the racing in some way.

These are useful concepts for people who are intense, gifted, creative.


The definition of resilience is: to not have just to do things repetitiously, but to have an ability to take one step to the side and actually see what's going on. This is about a deepening of presence, and that allows us to see reality with more clarity.

In other words, resilience is having the ability to take a pause, to take a side step.It might just be a split second, but to have a moment to decide at that moment what you actually want to do and how you want to respond is a strength.


Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of more than 50 books. His interests include creativity, the creative life, and the profession of creativity coaching, which he founded; issues of life purpose and meaning; mental health and critical psychology (also known as critical psychiatry and anti-psychiatry); and parenting in a “mental disorder” age. 

Dr. Maisel’s most recent books include Unleashing the Artist Within (Dover, 2019), Helping Parents of Diagnosed, Distressed and Different Children (Routledge, 2019), A Writer’s Paris (Dover reprint, 2019), Helping Survivors of Authoritarian Parents, Siblings and Partners (Routledge, 2018), Ten Zen Seconds (Dover reprint, 2018), 60 Innovative Cognitive Strategies for the Bright, The Sensitive and the Creative (Routledge, 2018) and The Magic of Sleep Thinking (Dover reprint, 2018). Please see our Publications section for more information on Dr. Maisel’s books.

Dr. Maisel writes the “Rethinking Mental Health” blog for Psychology Today and is a regular contributor to Mad in America, where he founded and edited its parent resources section. Among his favorite things are leading Deep Writing workshops around the world (in places like Paris, London, Rome, Dublin, Prague, New York and San Francisco), working with individual creativity coaching clients, and producing interesting and useful programs (like his Life Purpose Boot Camp Self-Paced Instructor Training).

Dr. Maisel divides his time between Walnut Creek, California, where he lives, and Belmont, California, where he babysits his grandkids a lot.

Have You Been Harmed By Authoritarian Parenting? Conversation with Eric Maisel

I have the honour of talking to Eric Maisel. Eric is the author of more than 50 books and is widely regarded as America's foremost creativity coach. His most famous books include Fearless Creating (1995), The Van Gogh's Blues (2002), Coaching the Artist Within (2005), and The Atheist's Way (2009).  In this article, we discuss the wounds of being children of authoritarian people, how we can liberate ourselves, and Eric's advice on parenting. 


This article is largely based on a conversation with Eric Maisel, plus my own research. It is not meant as medical or professional advice. 


The authoritarian personality was first identified by Adorno et al. (1950).  People with an Authoritarian personality type :

Categorise the world in a black-or-white manner 

Hold a tyrannical attitude towards those who deem inferior in rank or weaker in any way

Adore power and authority

Believe in aggression towards those who are different

Have a blind allegiance to conventional beliefs about right and wrong

Hold a negative view of human nature, and believe that people would all lie, cheat or steal if given the opportunity

Have the tendency to project their feelings of inadequacy and vulnerability onto a scapegoat or a scapegoated group

Have a preoccupation with violence and sex

A group of researchers at the University of California, Berkeley published a book called The Authoritarian Personality, in which they examined the personality characteristics of authoritarian leaders and authoritarian followers. This investigation started out as an attempt to understand why so many people followed Hitler. Applying this to our world today, we may ask not only 'why there is a Trump?', but also 'why do so many people follow a Trump?'



Although there is a body of literature about adverse childhood events, most of them do not address authoritarians in the family. 

In his own research, Eric Maisel put out an authoritarian wound questionnaires, inviting people to tell their stories about growing up with an authoritarian family member—mother or father, brother, sister, aunt, uncle, grandmother, grandfather. The stories were harrowing. He also found that the stories were equally divided among authoritarian fathers and authoritarian mothers. There was no gender difference when it comes to authoritarian personality. 

Approximately 25% of humankind are authoritarian. These are people who are attracted to the prospect of oppressing others. They are intrusive, and act like there are rules that should not be violated but then break those rules themselves. 

They're filled with hatred and their basic desire is to punish others, though they may not look like punishers because on the surface, they are charming.

Sadly, this is an under-recognised problem. Our society does not like having a spotlight turned on authoritarians because our world Is largely ruled by them. As a result, we don't talk about the cruelty in families even it is blatantly there. 

As children, we were powerless and could not escape the situation. And since we live in a sugar coating culture, we had our friends and relatives reinforcing the idea that our parents were 'lovely people'. We were silenced and stifled.  As children of authoritarian parents, we hold a horrid truth that could not be named. 

Also, if you were born intense and sensitive, your own siblings may not have the same experience. If you are the oldest child, the younger sibling who was born 10 years later may have a very different experience. Your parents might have mellowed over those 10 years, so that your younger sibling did not see what you saw.  You might have been the scapegoated whistleblower. You are the one to point out the elephants in the room. But because the others can't see or feel it, you become the 'problem'.  Growing up, you had no advocates, no allies, even in your own family.

As a child, it was a scary prospect to think of your parents as bad people, let alone thinking about cutting them off. So you've adopted this way of being where you automatically blame yourself and internalise everything. Even as an adult, you may not feel your trauma is legitimate. You may say, "No, I haven't been through trauma. Look at me. I haven't been beaten up. Look at other people. They've been through a lot worse." 

But you ought to trust your most basic feelings, which is that you were harmed. Trying to set the bar as to what's enough harm to classify yourself in some category is not useful. If you feel that you were harmed, you likely were. 

And if you were harmed, that has lifelong consequences and helps explain some of the things that may be otherwise inexplicable. Like why you don't have confidence, or why you have all of these talents that you've never manifested, or why your relationships seem never to work. Or why you're meaner to your own kids than you know you want to be— you're repeating something there, even though you know you hated having it done to you. 


Getting into a creative space requires a specific process. Typically, we don't understand the extent to which mistakes and messes are part of it.  It is hard to be innovative because it does not always feel safe— all day long we're supposed to do things right, to drive on the correct side of the road, pick up our kids at 3:00 and weed the garden and do one right thing after another. 

Then, when we enter a creative space, we struggle to switchgear. We do not find it easy to stop everything and suddenly gain permission to make a mess. So another day goes by where we don't create. And another day goes by and seven years go by. It is all because we don't have real permission to make a mess. Especially, if our authoritarian parents have never given us any permission to spill the milk or to do anything messy. 



Self- awareness is the key.  

You have to understand your own mind by going inward— through a process called 'dynamic indwelling'. 

You should have a certain kind of self-relationship inside where you have smart conversations with yourself and try to understand what's going on. This is so that you A) don't repeat the things you don't want to be doing. And B) can make those changes you know you want to make.  


Sadly, having authoritarian parents is not a problem that can be easily solved. If you are born into a toxic family of this kind, the only thing you could do is to walk away. You cannot change your parents, and you cannot change the system.  In Eric's research, all of the respondents said the only thing that worked was to get thousands of miles away and not go back. 

Of course, this is never easy. A myriad of confusing and conflicting feelings will come up.  One of the feelings that wounded children as adults feel is guilt. They feel guilty that they don't love their parents, that they don't want to be around their parents, that they don't want to take care of their ageing parents. 


With this scar, you do not feel safe. A lot of people even have a physical reaction when they are around their toxic parents. They feel shaky, or like a child on the inside, even when they're a 60-year-old attending an 80-year-old's funeral.  


Conventional therapists tend not to give direct advice. But as a coach, Eric does make suggestions, and that is to not go to or show up in family situations.


Eric has  a lot to say about authoritarian parenting, but most parents genuinely want to do a good job. I asked Eric what his advice to parents might be. 

To him, worldly achievement should not be prized above our children's natural growth and mental health. 

To start, we need to ask ourselves the outcome we want as a parent— which is not the same as what's best for our child.

If you want Mozart, you probably have to pester your child every five minutes about composing. If you want a virtuoso, you probably have to pester your child every three minutes about practising.  You might say to yourself, "I think that whatever the downside is of that sort of life, to have created a child who excels at something is my job in life." You may argue if you don't push, you are not maximising every ounce of your child's potential. 

However, this is not a good idea: You might make a Mozart, but you'll get a tortured Mozart or a tortured Beethoven, or a tortured van Gogh, or tortured this person, or tortured that person. As beautifully as van Gogh could paint, he still committed suicide. So having your child paint beautifully or play beautifully is not all of the game. 

Instead of pushing our children to follow a particular path or push them towards a particular achievement, we can practise what is called 'benign neglect' — letting them be. 


Childhood is by nature, obsessive. If you watch a two-year-old or a three-year-old building things, they are ‘obsessed’ —  if you move one piece the wrong way, they'll have a tantrum, their whole world will collapse. That is natural. You want to give them the freedom to be that— to play, to be obsessed. You don't have to say they have autism or Aspergers, or OCD.

Apart from giving them a lot of space to be who they are, we can also  present our children with big problems, big challenges.  Imagination is not just about drawing outside the lines versus drawing inside the lines. It's about talking to children about the biggest things there are. We can ask them how they'd stop wars. They will light up if you give them big challenges. This is why kids love big things like the school play. If you take them seriously, they will feel it. 

In the next part of this article, we discussed what it means to live authentically, and why depression, anxiety and mania are not mental illnesses. 


Dr. Eric Maisel is the author of more than 50 books. His interests include creativity, the creative life, and the profession of creativity coaching, which he founded; issues of life purpose and meaning; mental health and critical psychology (also known as critical psychiatry and anti-psychiatry); and parenting in a “mental disorder” age. 

Dr. Maisel’s most recent books include Unleashing the Artist Within (Dover, 2019), Helping Parents of Diagnosed, Distressed and Different Children (Routledge, 2019), A Writer’s Paris (Dover reprint, 2019), Helping Survivors of Authoritarian Parents, Siblings and Partners (Routledge, 2018), Ten Zen Seconds (Dover reprint, 2018), 60 Innovative Cognitive Strategies for the Bright, The Sensitive and the Creative (Routledge, 2018) and The Magic of Sleep Thinking (Dover reprint, 2018). Please see our Publications section for more information on Dr. Maisel’s books.

Dr. Maisel writes the “Rethinking Mental Health” blog for Psychology Today and is a regular contributor to Mad in America, where he founded and edited its parent resources section. Among his favorite things are leading Deep Writing workshops around the world (in places like Paris, London, Rome, Dublin, Prague, New York and San Francisco), working with individual creativity coaching clients, and producing interesting and useful programs (like his Life Purpose Boot Camp Self-Paced Instructor Training).

Dr. Maisel divides his time between Walnut Creek, California, where he lives, and Belmont, California, where he babysits his grandkids a lot.

How To Thrive As A Creative Introvert ?  Conversation with Cat Rose

In today’s conversation, We discussed why introversion does not equal shyness, the importance of fun in building a career and life. We will hear Cat Rose’s advice to a sensitive and creative person who wants to make it as a successful entrepreneur. She told us how she managed to do things that terrifies her, the importance of personal connection and why ’Introvert needs people too’. 


Resources mentioned:

Susan Cain: Quiet Power

Jess Lively:

Insight Timer:

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

About Cat Rose:

Cat Rose helps creative introverts show their work and get the exposure they deserve. She does this through the League of Creative Introverts online community, as well as one-to-one coaching and her podcast, the Creative Introvert. 

Her aim in life is to help all her clients do what they love and realise their dreams, whilst honouring their personality type and preferences.

Full Transcript:

 Imi: Welcome to Eggshells Transformations, Cat. Thank you so much for being here. Yeah, it's a real pleasure to meet you and to know you.

Cat Rose: Thank you! No, it's a pleasure to be interviewed by you, Imi.

Imi: So, we have some email exchanges before and we realized we actually have quite a lot in common, including our love for Japan, both being an introvert. What's the tagline of your site? It's called Cat Rose, the Creative Introvert.

Cat Rose: Yeah, I was like, oh no, do I have another one? But yes, basically the Creative Introvert. I'm basically helping introverts, particularly introverts who work in the creative industries, to get their work out into the world. Especially for those of us, which tends to be many introverts, who don't really like the marketing side of things, and trying to find ways that actually work for us.

Imi: Yeah. Well, I think you've built a really creative, beautiful, and inspiring career, which we will come back to. But I always like to start from the beginning.

Imi: What was childhood like for you? I'm assuming you were an introvert, and you didn't just suddenly become and introvert.

Cat Rose: Right. Well yeah, it's funny. As a child, I was definitely called shy and quiet quite a lot, terms which I knew were used not in a nice way. It wasn't like, "Cat, you're so quiet. How lovely." It was like, "Oh, that kid's a bit quiet. That's not a good thing." I've come to see since then that introversion isn't necessarily the same as being shy or quiet, though that definitely was a big part of my childhood.

Cat Rose: Actually since then, I've kind of worked on that shyness element a bit, which I think is something that can be worked on. Whereas introversion itself, this getting your energy from spending time alone, preferring the company of just maybe individual, and preferring to get into deep conversations; that has always existed and continues to be the case. And yeah, I didn't realize what an introvert even was until my early 20s.

Imi: That was a really meaningful distinction between shyness and introversion, where there's nothing wrong with introversion whilst shyness is something that's optional.

Cat Rose: Right.

Imi: How did you discover about your own trait, when you were 20?

Cat Rose: Yes. It was actually just after I had left my job at a digital design agency in London, which on paper was the perfect job, especially for somebody just fresh out of university. Job market wasn't great; I guess it still isn't now. I really had a hard time just trying to do that life. Doing the busy London commute, spending all day in an open-plan office space. I didn't really realize that was the case at the time. It wasn't until I'd left and I'd gone freelance, and I was talking to my friend. He pointed out, "Cat, I think it's because you're an introvert. That's why. You're perfectly sociable, but you have a limit. You loved the work you were doing at that job, but you didn't love the environment." He had read the Susan Cain book Quiet, which I'm sure everyone's familiar with, and recommended I check it out.

Cat Rose: Yeah, because at first I thought, "Introvert ... I'm not shy anymore." I was really kind of ... Again, I thought the term was derogatory. I didn't think it was a good thing. It wasn't until I read Susan Cain's book that I realized this is actually something to celebrate.

Imi: And now you've built a career around it.

Cat Rose: Yeah, didn't expect that to happen, I can tell you.

Imi: I mean, since the work of Elaine Aron on the highly sensitive people, as well as Susan Cain in championing introverts, there has been a lot more awareness and attention, even in the mainstream media. Were you worried that sort of the market was too saturated; the space is too full for you to enter it?

Cat Rose: Yeah, that's such a great question because it definitely came up. Maybe not when I first started the Creative Introvert. I started blogging, and it wasn't really a concern. Maybe about a year in, and I started to really see more of it. But quite quickly, I realized actually this is not something to worry about. This is something to celebrate, and to help others who are doing something similar. Because really, what we want happening is for everyone to realize that introversion is a trait, a quality to be celebrated. We want things to change. We want workplaces to change. We want events, large-scale events, to sort of be more introvert friendly. And this kind of change isn't going to happen unless it is almost like a saturated market.

Cat Rose: So actually reflecting now, I'm like, it's not even saturated enough. I think there is so much more for people to be talking about this, and talking about how it differs from person to person. I think introversion isn't as simple as you get your energy from spending time alone. I have this kind of rogue response to that. I think it's different for many of us. I think there's much more that we could be learning about introversion and the personality in general, so I'm really excited about where that's all going.

Imi: Yeah, I agree. For the public consciousness to change, there needs to be a lot of Susan Cains, a lot of Elaine Arons. There's definitely enough space for all of us to thrive. Also, with all our different thing, within the umbrella of introverts, there are many gradients and many different shapes and forms of introverts.

Cat Rose: Completely. Yeah.

Imi: Yes. And I'm looking at your website; I find it to be really authentic and unique, because you definitely have your own voice, you own artwork in there. Do you make all the art on your website?

Cat Rose: Yeah, yeah. Because that's part of my background. I wanted to be an illustrator from when I was very, very little. I went down the route of design. So design, illustration, all the kind of visual elements to my work; it was really important for me to bring that through. Hence why it's the Creative Introvert. I'm not speaking to all introverts; I'm specifically speaking to people who are trying to work in the creative industries. That said, it does tend to cross those borders a little bit more. But yeah, for me, being able to express myself through visual things like the comics and just the color scheme, stuff like that; I really enjoy that element. It's good fun, basically.

Imi: Yeah, exactly. I was going to say, what really across is that you have a lot of fun doing it.

Cat Rose: For sure.

Imi: I actually saw a project that's called A Year of Fun.

Cat Rose: Yeah, yeah.

Imi: Can you say a bit more about that?

Cat Rose: Sure. Yeah, that came about from ... I think a lot of people now, at the start of the year, we don't necessarily set goals. We set maybe intentions or words or values-driven statements. I'd kind of been going through some words, and I was reflecting at the end of ... I guess that was at the end of 2017, about what my word should be for the next year. I realized that fun was something that I hadn't really been cultivating, even though it was one of my top values. Something that I aspire to create in my life. I have a tendency in myself to get a bit serious from time to time. That doesn't feel like who I really am. I really do think that I have a fun side, and that I get a lot of joy in life from being jovial, I guess.

Cat Rose: How could I, I guess, make a project out of that? That's also my more analytical side. It's like, well, if I have this term, how do I actually make it real? So my theory was I'm going to do one fun thing every week and kind of see how it goes. You'll see my analytical side, because I actually rated everything I did out of 10. But that whole year taught me a lot about what I really think fun is. It surprised me a lot about the fact that fun ended up being doing stuff mostly with people, particularly like one or two other people, close friends. That really added to my fun. So just having solo fun wasn't as fun.

Cat Rose: Yeah, and my need to spend less time looking at a screen, which had been my career up until that point. Or even as a kid, I spent a lot of time just watching TV and playing video games, which I'm not necessarily proud of now. But that was it; my life has very much been behind a screen, and I kind of got the fear of that in me during that year. I've tried to change things since then.

Imi: What have you found to be the most fun out of all the experiments that you have done?

Cat Rose: One thing that just pops to mind now, because there were a bunch, truly; doing improv comedy, which I thought would've been terrifying. And in a way, it was. But one thing that helped was I did go with a friend. So this is something that, like I said, I learned. I learned that I could do things that terrified me as long as I brought a friend that I trusted and knew would be a good crack to bring along.

Cat Rose: I also learned about the importance of good group facilitation, which I'm really passionate about now. Because the person who led the comedy group was really great and really sensitive to what we all needed. The whole group; they were probably all introverts. That's kind of what I sensed from people. So it was really interesting that we just happened to be a group of slightly more quiet and reserved individuals who were pushing their comfort zones. And everyone was so supportive of each other because of that.

Imi: One thing you keep coming back to is the importance of people in your life; be it one or two friends or a good group. Which is, I'm imagining, sits in contrast with most people have in mind when they think of an introvert; is a bit like a hermit or [inaudible 00:10:29] in solitude. But what you're referring to is quite a different picture.

Cat Rose: Yeah, I mean, this definitely came as a surprise for me. Especially in terms of business as well. I kind of thought that an online business, going freelance was all going to be great for me as an introvert, because I could just do everything myself. You've probably found this out as well. You can't do it all alone. Really sort of embracing that, and doing it slowly, because I really think it's kind of like one connection at a time, which is very introvert friendly.

Cat Rose: Yeah, so I've kind of been surprised by that myself, and I've just been figuring it out as I've gone along. I keep coming back to this phrase, which is, "Introverts need people too."

Imi: Yeah. Introverts need people too.

Imi: How are you finding the online business scene?

Cat Rose: It's interesting. I feel like it's not that I think it's changed a lot over the years, because I guess my first dabbling in it was blogging, and even just blogging for fun. I didn't expect to turn anything into a business really, other than doing my web design, which is kind of where I started.

Cat Rose: What's been interesting to me is to see how the social media and stuff like that; that can all change and update. But again, the most important thing is still coming back to having a personal connection with people. You can even see it in the media we're consuming. We're leaning more towards long form video format, and maybe audio format equally alongside that, with these long podcasts and stuff like that. That's kind of been interesting to me as an introvert who thought, at least at the beginning, I could distance myself from my work. I could have me, and I could have my work. And maybe a push, I'll put a photograph, like a little small photograph of myself, on my website.

Imi: Like you have now, isn't it? You're really putting yourself out there, and you are the business.

Cat Rose: Right. That's taken a lot. I think it's actually been my own form of therapy in a way. You know? It helps me grow. As much as I'm growing the business, it's helping me grow as well. And I'm seeing a lot of that happening as well; at least in the space that I'm in, which is good I think.

Imi: Yeah. Your work has really caught my attention. I like that your image is really strong, but you stay very feminine in a good way, in a sense that you're very versatile. But your direction is also very clear and very focused. So I think you have built a really business and a good brand around your name.

Cat Rose: Thank you. That's really interesting. I haven't really spoken to anyone about those kind of characteristics and what does that look like in business; what does embracing the feminine look like? And equally, the masculine. I think that's a really interesting thing.

Imi: I think the most successful people are able to balance the two, whilst walking their own authentic path. You know, I look at you; you have a lot of strong messages. And then I look at the navigation title, and there's a really cute image of a cat. It all balances out. Yeah, it's pretty wonderful.

Imi: What advice would you give to a sensitive, introverted person who also wants to be a creative and successful entrepreneur?

Cat Rose: I think take it slow, because something ... I rush things. I don't have very much patience traditionally. This is something that I had to work on. But it's something that actually ... As soon as I kind of surrendered to the idea of, "You know what? This is a process" ... It doesn't have to happen overnight. You don't have to be in a rush, basically. Then it became a lot more fun and light, and actually I could see things progressing as soon as I kind of took that slowed-down approach. Which, I mean, what does that look like? Well, it looks like knowing that if you start a podcast, you should be in it for the long game if you can. Same with blogging. Somebody isn't going to ... I can't tell you how many times, especially as a web designer, my clients will say to me, "Why am I not ranking on the first page of Google yet?" I'm like, "It doesn't work like that anymore." You have to build that stuff up. As soon as you accept that, things will become easier. So that's one thing.

Cat Rose: The other is ... I've kind of already been beating that point home, but having some good people around you. Even if it's two, three people, maybe that are friends from home or school or personal friends. Or maybe they're business friends. I'm really a big proponent of mastermind groups, so having like-

Imi: Oh, lovely.

Cat Rose: Yeah. I've had a couple in the past, and I'm just about to start a new group with my audience. I just feel like that's something that until you experience it working, you don't realize the power of that. The powerful of having different perspectives all focused on one point. Which is, let's say you come to the group with a particular question or a problem. It's really amazing to have that, and just to have the support.

Imi: Yeah, to be really nitty gritty about it, do you suggest people seek out paid versions? Because I know there are lots of paid versions and options, but there may also be free ones that you can start with your friends.

Cat Rose: Exactly.

Imi: Do you [inaudible 00:16:18] people to invest in it, or?

Cat Rose: I think if you can and the right group comes up for you, investing is fine. Especially if the person who's running it or facilitating it ... That they are almost going to be coaching you. They are going to take the lead. Because it takes something to actually organize the group. So, paid is fine, but only if you're like, "I must work with that person who's leading it. I must work with that facilitator." If it's just a random one that you're googling, probably not.

Cat Rose: Other than that, I think trying to set up your own, as long as you know that it will take some organizing on your side. That's also worth doing, especially in the early days.

Imi: Yeah, I agree. I think group facilitation is an art, and it makes a whole lot of difference.

Cat Rose: Right.

Imi: Hmm. Are there particular people or influencers that has inspired you the most?

Cat Rose: Oh, good question. I mean, it's changed so much. It's been interesting to see. It's often quite surprising. For example, do you know Jess Lively?

Imi: No I don't. I might ... Spell it out, so I have to look it up properly.

Cat Rose: It's Jess, as in J-E-S-S. Lively, as in to be lively. She had a blog, and I think she was very much for creatives ... She made jewelry, so she had that kind of background. Then moved on to having a podcast, very much about business. It was quite like a left brain kind of stuff. And then she kind of switched the direction of the podcast, and made it way more spiritual, woowoo, all of those things.

Imi: Nice, out of the closet.

Cat Rose: Yeah, completely. It was really lovely to see the transition, and to see her just do it from a really genuine place. Just be like, "Guys, this is just where my passion is going right now. You can either come with me, or we're going to have to say goodbye." I just really loved the integrity; not to just keep doing the business thing because it was working. So she's really somebody who I've really admired over the years.

Imi: Yeah. It's a really good point, and thank you for saying that. Funny enough, I have recently rebranded my work, and it's really very scary.

Cat Rose: It's so scary.

Imi: On the surface, it's like a change of name. Nothing much has to change. But actually when you consider all the complications of running a business; I've lost my SEO, people could no longer find me, et cetera and et cetera. You know, it's quite scary.

Cat Rose: Yeah, it's like a sacrifice we make to be more real [inaudible 00:18:58]. And also, I've been thinking about this recently as well; how our identity is kind of challenged when we do something like that. Because I've just kind of started going down this more ... I don't know. Spiritual is a word that's banded around too much, so I wouldn't necessarily say that it's that. But for example, I've been really getting into astrology. Trying to kind of admit that and be like, "I'm getting into astrology" ... You know? It's been quite hard for my identity to cope with that. But I also think it's a good challenge. It's a good test of will to be able to do that.

Imi: In a different but similar way, I've been trying to walk away from the academic psychology world, and go down my own woowoo path and sort of create something that is unique for people. Yeah, and I really understand that need to come out of your spiritual ... Well, spiritual ... Let's use that word for now ... Astrology closet, and own who you are. That's really brave. But I'm also already hearing some little noise and voices in myself complaining. Saying, "Yeah, it's easy for Cat to say that. She's got this business, she's pretty, she's done all these things." I can imagine some of my audience also wondering how can they, if they are, say, trapped in a nine to five job, if they have taken the conventional path that they are not even comfortable about and they might be experiencing existential crisis that they know they want to wiggle their way out, but it's not as easy. They need to feed themselves. It's like going back to what you said earlier about taking it slow. I can imagine someone saying, "Well, I can't afford to take it slow. I've got bills to pay."

Cat Rose: No. It's something that's popped up; which, again, it's not easy. It's not an easy answer, but it's definitely helped me at times when I felt that kind of resistance. You know, you're kind of like between a rock and a hard place. You don't like the situation you're in, but it's very scary to take on that next step.

Cat Rose: So my first thing would be, have her think about what's this costing you if you stay in this situation. For example, when I was at my nine to five, had I stayed in that ... I mean, I knew I had about a year or two before I'd have a complete mental breakdown. Really. I kind of knew it was coming, but I really had to kind of go into that space, which is a dark space, to actually look at that and imagine your life even worse than it is now. Because if you continue this thing, assuming that you do, it is going to be worse. So actually looking at that and seeing how bad can it. Then, what's the alternative? How good can things get if you take this leap of faith?

Cat Rose: You know, honestly I've heard so many people who don't have to do it overnight. They can take it slowly, building it up. Building up a business on the side. Yeah, and that does tend to be my approach, at least when I try something new. I'm always like dabbling in the background, for example with the astrology thing. I didn't just like overnight decide I'm going to dive into this thing. It was just like a little bit here and there and building stuff up.

Cat Rose: But yeah. It's that. It's kind of thinking, how bad can things get? How good can things get? And do you want it enough? Because in many cases, people don't actually want it enough. Maybe they don't need to make a radical change; they just need to change something very small in their life and even their day to day life. But yeah, I love that stuff. I love helping people crack that code of what's wrong right now, and how can we make it better?

Imi: Yeah, that's a really useful mental strategy. And another thing I always ask people to think about is that yes, there is a risk to changing, but there's the risk to not changing. Think about the slow death that slowly kills you in the background, and making you feel bad and numb and stuck.

Cat Rose: Yeah, that's often enough to scare people. I mean, if in doubt, move towards that fear. That's when fear is useful.

Imi: Yeah, yeah. And I do think taking risk and living "dangerously" does give you a big sense of aliveness that is essential-

Cat Rose: Completely.

Imi: ... to feel things. Yeah.

Imi: Do you think in the beginning of your journey or at any point of your journey, do you suffer from low self esteem? Lack of confidence? Imposter syndrome? Feeling like you're a fraud? Any of that sort?

Cat Rose: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. I know those feelings very, very well. It's every time ... I've noticed it now that it's any time I do move into a new area. So, back when I was only doing web design and digital marketing and stuff like that, to actually start talking about the mindset things and actually move into the kind of psychology realms; that was really hard. I remember feeling that imposter syndrome then. I remember just being on Twitter and being like, okay so I guess I need to start following all these people in this new industry. That feeling of being on Twitter and being the lurker of this industry, and I had a list of all of these people who I was aspiring to then; and just feeling very timid about that.

Cat Rose: Over time and through talking to those people, sending tweets and DMs to them and actually the courage to one by one form connections and realize that they were actually real people; that helped me feel more like I was part of the club. I'm doing it right now. I'm starting from scratch again, again with the astrology thing. I went to a conference recently and I was like, "Oh my god. I'm out of my depth." I can't remember a time when I felt as [crosstalk 00:25:07]-

Imi: ... the new kid.

Cat Rose: Yeah, completely. It's that feeling. One thing that I like to remember is Tom Hanks, who's one of my favorite actors; he talks about having imposter syndrome. All of these amazing people still suffer from that. So that's always reassuring to know that it doesn't reflect on you or your talent or ability. It's just-

Imi: If anything, I think you have a lot to be proud of. Anyone who is making a direction change has a lot to be proud of, because you are taking a risk, you're experimenting with life. Which does come with risk, but as I said, that's what life is for. Constant experiment and movement. You always [inaudible 00:25:48] something.

Cat Rose: Yeah, yeah.

Imi: Gosh, what a live. Yeah, I know you also are a frequent traveler. You said you just lived in the States for three months, and then you used to live in Japan, which would be my dream.

Cat Rose: Yeah, this all came about partly because of The Year of Fun. Like I said, I was kind of moving away from spending as much time on the screen. I mean, it's a mixture of things. Obviously I don't have the kind of responsibilities that a lot of people have that ties them down to one location. It was one of those, "If not now, when?" things. So I've taken this year to do just that; to live in different places, to figure out maybe there's somewhere other than the UK that I could live happily. Depending on how difficult it is to move to whatever country. And how can I, while I'm traveling, not be wedded to my laptop? So I've been doing of work exchanges, which I recommend to anyone, especially introverts. If you're a solo traveler, as an introvert, I personally find it very difficult to reach out and actually try to make friends when I'm traveling.

Imi: Well, could you say a bit more what that means?

Cat Rose: Oh sorry, yes. So work exchange is ... Some people might have heard of wwoofing. It's basically you trade some of your time and labor, so you might be helping out on a farm or just in somebody's garden, maybe even like babysitting. Just doing kind of basic jobs in exchange for room and board.

Imi: Oh, I see.

Cat Rose: It's just like four hours a day usually, five days a week. Which gives me, personally, plenty of time to be doing everything else. As a city girl all my life, to be actually out in a proper farm like planting trees; I really needed that. I don't know-

Imi: Did you do that in Japan?

Cat Rose: No. I'm going to be doing that in Japan later this year, but so far it's only been Portugal and the States. But it's just been amazing. The people you meet through that ... Yeah, I highly recommend it if you can do something like that. I think a lot of digital nomads, that kind of thing ... That's all good and well to go to another country, work from your laptop. I was dabbling in that, but there was something a little bit unfulfilling. I've just realized that the answer was I wasn't ... This kind of idea of service, which exists in many faiths, is like selfless service. That kind of has come into it, and I think that's kind of given this particular type of travel a real deep meaning for me. It just feels good.

Imi: That is a really unique perspective. Because I know the digital nomad thing has become so popular. It has almost been everyone's dream nowadays. And hearing that you find that slightly unfulfilling is quite a refreshing perspective.

Cat Rose: Yeah. I haven't looked too much into it. I just know that for me, travel in my 20s was my favorite thing. I lived to travel. But towards the end of my 20s, I was like, this is missing something. Just this year I've realized what it is. I'm going to say, again, but it really is people.

Imi: And life has rewarded you with happiness and fulfillment, because you have tried different things and you know what's worked and what doesn't.

Cat Rose: Yeah, there's a lot to be said for making ... You've mentioned it a couple times, like risks, basically. You know, and they're not uneducated risks. We weigh things off. And actually, most introverts including myself, are pretty risk averse.

Cat Rose: And also you mentioned experimenting, and that's something I'm a big proponent of. You don't have to like sell the farm; you can test something else. This year, this is a test. I'm currently home right now, so I've taken this month as a kind of break; a time for me reassess the last six months. Because at any point I could just say, "You know what? I'm done with the travel thing." And that's okay; I haven't failed or anything like that. It's like, I've run the experiment and here we are. So I think treating these things, even if they scare you, as an experiment, that seems to be the slightly less scary, less risky approach.

Imi: Well, what's the role of money in all this?

Cat Rose: Did you say the role of money?

Imi: Yeah, the role of money. Or do you think money buy happiness? Do you think it's essential?

Cat Rose: Yeah, so I've definitely taken a pay cut by sort of doing this work exchange thing. I mean, yes, what's great is I don't have any rent to pay right now. The real expense is traveling. So particularly with this work exchange thing, people can really do this on a shoestring. That means that everything else; all of your bills, food, rent are taken care of doing a few hours of work a day; great. That suits a lot of people who'd normally use money as an excuse not to travel.

Cat Rose: I guess with a laptop, I can do most things. So for me, it's always been like, how can I diversify my income streams? Because I know, especially when I was only freelancing, that I can't rely on that client to always be hiring me. Every freelancer knows how ... Well, most know that that fear that is kind of always just below the surface of, "Even if things are going well for me now, what are they going to be like six months from now? Next month?"

Cat Rose: So for me, it's like ... I don't really have anything big to save for, like I have some big dreams. But money stopped being as important as it was for me in my early 20s, where I was just like, "Give me the next biggest client. I will take any crappy design job if it pays enough." Whereas now I've found myself turning down gigs and basically just prioritizing the long term goal, which is building up the Creative Introvert, which is relatively small chunk of my income now.

Imi: Yeah. So you have traded money for authenticity and for freedom?

Cat Rose: Fulfillment, for sure. Yeah. Definitely all those things.

Imi: Okay. Nowadays, what emotion, if you were to pick one, do you experience the most?

Cat Rose: Out of the good ones, joy.

Imi: How about one good one and one bad one? Well no, [crosstalk 00:32:57] is bad, but-

Cat Rose: Challenging one, right?

Imi: Yeah, challenging [inaudible 00:33:01] you're better with.

Cat Rose: I think general guilt mixed with shame on a bad day; that's the bad one. I blame Catholic guilt as just something that's like in my blood. But just generally, that seems to be the biggest problem.

Cat Rose: Most of my life though, anger was clearly, for me looking back, was the thing I struggled with most.

Imi: Really? [crosstalk 00:33:28] do you express it or do you just feel it?

Cat Rose: Yeah, both. Or I would feel it and then deny it. You know, you would kind of repress it and then it would come out at a later stage. Definitely as a teenager, early 20s; big problems with that. And just since kind of radically changing my life and realizing I do have control over my situation and really taking responsibility for those less helpful emotions ... Not necessarily stopping repressing them and actually giving them some kind of space. Mostly through journaling; that's been really helpful for me.

Cat Rose: And also, just like with the practices that you'll hear everyone recommend, like meditation. That has changed especially anger in a big, big way for me. It's really transformed that reactionary feeling. I always say that I'm a terrible meditator; I'm always thinking about breakfast or whatever it is.

Imi: I was going to ask, what form do you do? Do you use any kind of app? How much do you do a day?

Cat Rose: Yeah. I've changed a lot over the years. Current practice would be something like I'll do a few yoga asana poses, and then I'll sit- [crosstalk 00:34:52]

Cat Rose: What's that?

Imi: What's your favorite yoga pose?

Cat Rose: Puppy. Did you know puppy pose?

Imi: I should do.

Cat Rose: You've got your ... It would be like being in tabletop pose and then coming down onto your forearms, and then putting your chest or your forehead to the floor.

Imi: Yeah, so it's just advanced child pose?

Cat Rose: It's like ... Yeah. It's like child's pose but with your bum up. That's basically it. It's lovely.

Cat Rose: Anyway, I'll do that, sit for about 15 minutes. I really struggled when I was traveling but since being back home, I find it easier again. I'll do it in silence, mostly counting breaths for a while. Then I'll move into a mantra that I have. Then I'll finish up with just like active listening. So it's like, I have to have ... Apparently I'm at a place where I have to have things to do every five minutes, because just sitting for 15 minutes is still very hard for me.

Cat Rose: Some apps that I would recommend though; Insight Timer, that's what I use to ... Often if I'm just doing a silent meditation, I'll just time it using that. But it also has some great guided meditations. There's another app called Meditation.Live, which also has some amazing live classes, so you can actually watch a teacher in real time.

Imi: That's really useful. Most people recommend Headspace and Calm. It's the first time I hear about these two. I'll put it in the notes.

Cat Rose: Cool.

Imi: Okay. Final few questions. Please share one book that has changed your life.

Cat Rose: Yes. There are a handful that I often share, but one of them that always comes up is Steven Pressfield's The War of Arts.

Imi: Oh, yes.

Cat Rose: Have you read this?

Imi: Oh, yeah.

Cat Rose: It's so great. Yeah, as you know it's great for the artist; the reluctant ... Maybe not even reluctant. It's the artist who just struggles from time to time, and I think we all do. Getting over the Resistance, he calls it. Resistance with a capital R. There's a section in it where he talks about the muse. I remember just bawling with tears when I first read it. This is before I was into more spiritual ideas, and I wasn't even contemplating them. But when I read that, it really hit me hard. So I recommend that to people. Yeah.

Imi: Nice. Okay. Can you share one quote or a song or a poem with our listeners who are emotionally intense, sensitive, gifted, and probably felt misunderstood and lonely all their life?

Cat Rose: This is such a lovely question, and I love that you put a song as a suggestion as well. I couldn't think of one song, but I remember thinking ... The first one that came into my head was Jimmy Eat World, because I spent a lot of my teenage years feeling all the feelings to their songs, so that's one.

Cat Rose: My quote is ... Crap, I need to find it.

Imi: Yeah, you can jam out.

Cat Rose: "Who looks outside dreams, and who looks inside awakes." That's a Carl Jung quote which I really love. "Who looks outside dreams, and who looks inside awakes." I think it's great for introverts and highly sensitive people who ... We spend a lot of our life introspecting and looking inside. This is kind of like the go ahead from Jung.

Imi: Yes. I think Jung is an ... Well, there are lots of theories about what kind of MBTI type he was.

Cat Rose: I want to say he's definitely an IN; an introverted intuitive. Some people say feeling. I've even heard people say thinking.

Imi: Yeah. I know Freud is an INFJ, and there are lots of arguments about what Jung is.

Cat Rose: Oh, I thought Freud would be the extrovert. That's interesting.

Imi: I don't know, there are so many different opinions-

Cat Rose: Yeah, yeah, because we don't know.

Imi: Yeah, we don't even know them.

Cat Rose: We need to go back in time and talk to them.

Imi: Yeah, yeah. What would be you MBTI type, if you don't mind sharing?

Cat Rose: Yeah. I'm an INTJ.

Imi: INTJ.

Cat Rose: Yeah, I've got that ... One of the functions that I've sort of developed most is going towards more of the feeling side. So I'm more feeling than I used to be, but I still like to think I'm quite thinking dominant.

Imi: Right. I am born an INFJ, and very, very INFJ. But I also feel in the last 10 years ... Not that I consciously do it; I think the world has shaped me to be less feeling oriented and more thinking oriented.

Cat Rose: Oh, interesting. So we've kind of like starting to both balance out. Maybe that's [inaudible 00:39:30] that happens in time. It's like a balance.

Imi: Which is a healthy thing. I mean, I used to have a lot of emotion spillover. I feel I couldn't live my life because I was just so drowned by the feelings. But now I feel like I can have a life and have feelings.

Cat Rose: Yeah. Well, this is it, something that I've kind of started to come to terms with; that we can live in the dichotomy. We don't have to just pick one thing at any time. It's like, I can have sadness and actually enjoy my day, which is a strange thing but it's real.

Imi: Yeah, yeah.

Imi: Well Cat, thank you so much for all your wisdom. I found you to be very insightful, and I love all the resources and things that you have suggested, and I resonate with a lot of them personally.

Cat Rose: Thank you, Imi. It's been a pleasure to chat with you.

Imi: Can you tell us where to find you?

Cat Rose: Sure. If you head to, that's where you'll find my podcast, my freebies, blog; all the things. Connect with my @creativeintro on Twitter or Instagram. I'd love to say hello. I like when people talk to me.

Imi: I think you will; you might get really busy. Thank you so much, Cat.

Cat Rose: Thanks again.

Imi: Have a lovely rest of the day.


Why Do Sensitive and Creative People Get Depressed? - Conversation with Douglas Eby

In this episode, we discussed what Douglas Eby did when years ago he could not find any information on high sensitivity and intensity. We see what we can learn from actors who are emotionally intense. We will answer the question: Why sensitive people are more prone to depression and it might not be a bad thing. Finally, we explore what constitutes exceptional creativity and why gifted women have a hard time accepting their talents. 

Resources mentioned: 

- Elaine Aron- The Highly Sensitive Person

- Julie A. Bjelland:

- Sharon Barnes:

- Susan Cain- Quiet Revolution

- Tara Brach - Radical Acceptance

- Wired to Create: Unraveling the Mysteries of the Creative Mind


About Douglas Eby: 

Douglas Eby (M.A./Psychology) is author of The Creative Mind series of sites including Talent Development Resources, High Ability, Highly Sensitive and Creative, and others providing information and inspiration to help enhance your inner growth and artistic expression as a creative person.

Main site (with links to other sites) The Creative Mind


Site for his main book "Developing Multiple Talents - The personal side of creative expression"

Facebook profile (connects to my multiple Facebook pages)


YouTube / The Creative Mind

Full Transcript:

Douglas: Hello.

Imi: Hello, is this Douglas?

Douglas: Yeah, it is. This is Imi?

Imi: Hi, it's Amy. Yes, it is Imi.

Douglas: Hi, can you hear me okay?

Imi: I can actually hear you okay. Thank you so much for getting on the call with me.

Douglas: Oh, no, thank you for inviting me. This is a wonderful topic obviously of wide interest to both of us.

Imi: Yes, yes, it really is. Yeah, you were a strong influence in the beginning of my path and you still are and I follow all your pages.

Douglas: Well, thanks.

Imi: Yeah, I feel like I find my people in there.

Douglas: Good, I've got a lot of people do respond to my pages on Facebook. There is a wide audience for people wanting to understand more about high ability and high intensity.

Imi: Absolutely. Yeah, I see you as one of the few pioneers who explore this intersection between creativity, sensitivity, high intensity, and I absolutely love all your websites and Facebook pages.

Douglas: Oh, thanks.

Imi: You're so... Yeah, go on.

Douglas: I just was curious are you calling from London?

Imi: I am calling from London, yes.

Douglas: Oh, good.

Imi: How does it sound?

Douglas: It's occasionally choppy but overall very good.

Imi: Right. Okay, if it gets too choppy, let me know.

Douglas: Okay.

Imi: I'm going to switch to other platforms, yeah. Isn't it amazing what technology could do for us?

Douglas: It is.

Imi: Whereabouts are you?

Douglas: I'm in Southern California, Beverly Hills.

Imi: Yeah, very different to London.

Douglas: Very. I lived in London for about a year and liked a lot about it but it-

Imi: Oh, did you?

Douglas: Yeah, didn't work out for me in terms of getting employment.

Imi: How did you find the energy in London?

Douglas: Well, this was so many years ago but as I recall, it was well there's an overused word, cosmopolitan, and I think that definitely applies. I lived in, as I recall, was Highgate. It's a suburb that when I visited Central London, I appreciated the, well, just the overall energy of the people.

Imi: Yeah, I used to work in Highgate. That's so cool. It's interesting how life intersects.

Douglas: Yes it is.

Imi: Let's talk more about what we're both interested in, which is high intensity. How did it all happen for you? How did you find this niche or niche where everything intersects? I know you work with lots of sensitive artists, authors, and actors, so you don't just talk about sensitivity as a mental health thing, but as something that is intertwined with our life.

Douglas: Right. Well, first of all, I wanted to clarify that I'm not a counselor or a clinician, I'm really a writer researcher. I've done many interviews with actors, writers, and filmmakers, and some other artists that overall my approach is as more of a scholar and researcher. Anyway, given that, I think one of the things that really got me going in all of this was an urge to better understand my own inner dynamics. From a very young age, I felt a misfit like many creative people do, and also exceptionally emotionally intense and reactive and wondered what all that was about. Which is one of the reasons that motivated me to pick a major of psychology in college, and I pursued that for throughout college and then into graduate school. But all the time being really fascinated with particularly actors, how they did what they did, how did they express such intense emotions on film or on screen, on TV? What was going on with them?

Douglas: That's an ongoing passionate interest, part of what motivates me to keep developing my collection of websites, and then I've come across researchers, especially, Elaine Aron and psychologist Julie Bjelland who specialize in high intensity, highly sensitive people. They've provided a lot of insight on what the highly sensitive person psyche is. Are you familiar with Julie Bjelland?

Imi: No, I was about to ask. I thought I have dabbled into all these authors and researchers, you learn something new every day. I'll make a note of it.

Douglas: Yeah.

Imi: Yes.

Douglas: I've posted a number of quotes and excerpts and links to her site on my Facebook page, Highly Sensitive, and also my website, Highly Sensitive. It's J-U-L-I-E B-J-E-L-L-A-N-D. Anyway, she's a really articulate and thoughtful psychotherapist author and a highly sensitive person herself, so has a lot to say about it.

Imi: Right, yes, which I will ask a bit more later about women in the field and how they thrive.

Douglas: Sure.

Imi: But going back to your personal story, I would imagine there to be much even less awareness and resources and information years back.

Douglas: Yes.

Imi: Yeah, so you had no choice but to be on the quest to find answers for yourself.

Douglas: I think that's right. Certainly when I was really young in grade school and on into high school, which was decades ago, I did not come across information or books or really any information about what this was, high intensity, high sensitivity. Part of what my experience has been early on is a kind of a feeling of being a misfit, which I understand from psychologists like Julie Bjelland and Sharon Barnes is another one who studies gifted people. This sense of being "too different" and too much an outsider and just too much is a common experience for creative and gifted people. We're living through that without an understanding of what's going on, I think, is really challenging and disrupting for many of us, probably most of us.

Imi: That's right. Yes, not finding the right label or the identity. Most people assume that there's some kind of pathology or illness going on with them. That's why they're different and they don't fit in.

Douglas: Yes, exactly.

Imi: Yeah, go on.

Douglas: No, that's all right.

Imi: No, no, please go on. I'll ask the next question later.

Douglas: Well, I like your reference to pathology, I think that very early on for me that was a label that I grabbed on to the sense that, well, if I'm feeling this weird and this different and I read bits and pieces of psychology from popular sources like Psychology Today magazine. I made judgments about myself and the few friends I had that, well, we must be wrong in a psychological sense, we must have some kind of neurosis or deeper pathology that makes us feel this strange and different and this much of an outsider. It's really taken years, I think, to understand that's a distortion, that is a very unhealthy self-concept.

Imi: Yeah, you did try and find answer in traditional psychology. I know you have an MA in psychology.

Douglas: Right.

Imi: Did you find much answers to these questions in the academic world?

Douglas: Not really, no.

Imi: Neither do I.

Douglas: There are a few psychologists I look up to that have gone through traditional training that have broken out of, I think, the mindset of a traditional academic psychology such as Eric Maisel and Scott Barry Kaufman, if you're familiar with them.

Imi: Yeah, I will actually be talking to Eric Maisel in a future date.

Douglas: Oh, good. Right.

Imi: Yeah, very impressed with, very prolific work, yes.

Douglas: Yes, absolutely, and I've really been impressed and intrigued with a lot of his writing on reframing mental, emotional experiences like depression. Reframing depression as something other than a DSM pathology.

Imi: Yes. What do you think depression is in your own experience with yourself and people that you see and in your research? Why do intense people get depressed?

Douglas: Well, that's a big question.

Imi: It is. I have not prepared you for this, I just throw it out.

Douglas: Yeah. I think part of it is awareness, just a scent of a personality and a psyche that is simply very exceptionally aware of what's going on both internally and out there in the world. There's so much out there, especially, in the world these days that it is disconcerting and disheartening. Like an immigrant crisis is to take one small example of being aware of what's going on at our border with immigrants trying to escape violence in their countries, and the treatment that they're receiving at the hands of our government. That's very painful and hard to accept or understand or not get involved with it in some way. I think it relates with emotional intensity and overexcitability to use Kazimierz Dąbrowski's idea of-

Imi: Yeah, it's life changing work.

Douglas: Yeah, definitely. Well, I've had levels of depression most of my life and been diagnosed and treated by traditional psychiatrist occasionally. I saw a research psychiatrist and took some antidepressant drugs which helped for a while. This was decades ago but I think there is certainly value for some people in traditional treatment, at least, for a time to get over perhaps an acute incidence of depression. But, overall, I think I agree with you that traditional psychology and psychiatry is misinformed.

Imi: Yeah, that's right. That's what I say to people when they come to me for advice. First of all, I'm not medically trained, I'm not a psychiatrist, but I'm not against psychiatry. I believe they have their place, especially, for a period of time, something chemical and biological can be really helpful for transitional period. But I really like what you said, yeah, about our world today. People who are sensitive and highly empathic absorb so much. But in a funny way, they are the healthy one. It is healthy to be responding to the oppressive trauma in the world and in their lives with depression, is a healthy, or again, it's a healthy response. In a way, depression is a sign of health.

Douglas: I agree, I think it is and, unfortunately, given the many years of traditional psychology in the media that when people get depressed, they immediately think, "Oh, there's something really wrong with me. I have to immediately see a doctor and get a pill to deal with it." Rather than paying more attention to what's going on and what their emotional response might be indicating about them.

Imi: Yeah. It's so good to have this chat and to just be with someone who is like minded and I understand now why you built a community.

Douglas: Well, thank you very much, I agree. Just you've brought up that idea of community a couple of times and that I appreciate it. But also I wanted to emphasize perhaps that I'm really like a lot of people who do this, a lot of writers, especially, I'm very isolated and reclusive. I love doing research and publishing material that I believe will help people better understand themselves. But I don't go out and meet people, I don't participate face to face in groups, which may be a detriment, but it's the way I live.

Imi: Do you think it is what you have found to work after all these years of experimentations?

Douglas: Yes, yeah, definitely. Thinking back over the years that the jobs I took on tended to be ones where I could often be working on my own. For example, I was a research assistant for a geneticist at Caltech. That allowed me to work in the lab on my own growing bread mold, which was actually quite a fun job. I worked for a research psychiatrist at the University of California, San Francisco looking at brainwave differences. Anyway, they had a number of jobs were like that and, on the other hand, a number of jobs just that I took on in order to get by, pay the rent were traditional office jobs. Even some customer service jobs many years ago, and they were very anxiety producing. Having to relate to other people in an office environment was just really destabilizing.

Imi: Yeah, and we live in such a world that's a myth or the centralized idea is that a healthy person needs to be in the crowd, needs to be with others, we need to have friends and family. For those of us who are more aligned with a hermits lifestyle, I don't know if you have read Walden by Thoreau which was a big influence in my path.

Douglas: Sure, yeah, years ago. I, actually, I took a walk from Boston to Walden with a friend of mine. That I have a really wonderful memory of. We were walking sometimes at midnight, so it was really a unique experience to follow his footsteps.

Imi: Yeah, yeah and there are many forms of joy and meaning and ways of doing life that is outside of the conventional world, and yet, because most people have so little exposure to the alternatives, I feel like everyone is just been bullied into doing the mainstream things and yeah.

Douglas: Well, what you're talking about too brings up in my mind the writings of Susan Tang talking about introversion, and she has some wonderful comments about introverts really being responsible for some of the most significant creative worked in history.

Imi: Yes, that actually leads to my next question. Do you think there is a link between, well, emotional intensity or sensitivity or strong intuition with creative genius, however you define creative genius?

Douglas: I think so. I think it's, unfortunately, genius or creativity are both really broad and often over used labels that there are, obviously, creative people. First of all, everyone has to be creative in life to some extent, so we're really talking about people who are exceptionally creative who really engage in creative expression or scientific work that's at a high level. Excuse me.

Imi: Bless you.

Douglas: But I think one notion about this, it was expressed by Elaine Aron as something about highly and she thinks all highly sensitive people are creative and has talked about high sensitivity involving the ability to explore and understand our inner lives in a depth that nonsensitive people do not. Also, to understand how different parts of life, humanity, human expression, how those different parts fit together, and put different things together in unique ways. I think there's a lot of validity to that. I think that goes along with emotional intensity. If you're intense, you're responding at a much higher level to all the input coming in.

Imi: That's right.

Douglas: Instead of just shunting aside or discounting or discarding ideas and sensations and information, I think creative people pause enough to really pay attention.

Imi: Yeah, they pause enough to pay attention or they have no choice but to feel and to have this huge reservoir of information coming in, which they can use to create.

Douglas: Exactly.

Imi: You did mention creativity being an overused word, which I do agree. What would be your definition of creativity if you have one?

Douglas: I don't really have one. I use it regularly and I certainly like referring to creative people as a class or a group of people who are actively involved in creating art work, acting, writing, performing, or engaged in scientific work. Well, I think it was Elaine Aron, again, brought up the idea of creativity being putting two separate unusual things together to come up with a new idea. I'm not quoting, I'm paraphrasing very poorly but that idea of putting unusual ideas together to come up with a new solution. I think that's a good working definition of creativity.

Imi: I think you've just given creativity a good definition.

Douglas: Oh, good.

Imi: Yes. Let me think where I would like to go next. Yeah, we've talked a lot about being intense and creative and it's certainly not an easy way of life. Do you think being anxious and having anxiety it's also an inevitable part of being a creative and intense human?

Douglas: I don't like to use the word inevitable but it certainly seems to be much more common with creative people. Certainly, it's been part of my own history to feel high levels of anxiety at times during my life. A number of psychologists, the ones that I've mentioned, talk about creative people much more likely being anxious. Julie Bjelland, the therapist, talked about the train of high sensitivity involving an overactivated amygdala. Which causes flight freeze and I think that's a good explanation. She says that being highly sensitive tends to involve overreaction and an over increase in production of adrenaline. A number of people that I've interviewed myself or read interviews of like actors have talked about how intensely responsive they are, which shows up as crying, for example. Like Mandy Moore is one that comes to mind, the singer and actor has talked about. She said something like, "I'm hypersensitive, I'll cry at anything, even a commercial." I can relate to that. I often-

Imi: I can imagine a lot of people do, that's right.

Douglas: Yeah, so that kind of emotional reactivity can become, I think, very easily become anxiety or involve anxiety. Another person who has written about this, Paula Prober, the therapist.

Imi: She's a friend of mine, yes.

Douglas: Oh good.

Imi: Well, I say friend, we've spoken online.

Douglas: Good, good. Well, she's talking, she's written about our active, our rain forest mind which is a wonderful metaphor.

Imi: That's right, love it.

Douglas: She says it's our rainforest mind is able to dream up so many things to worry about. Less complex minds worried less because there isn't as much thinking. I think that makes a lot of sense.

Imi: Yeah.

Douglas: It's not to dismissed to nonsensitive people or non-creative people as being blessed, but I think it's important, valuable, and really helpful to acknowledge that we who are creative and exceptionally uncommon have this kind of nervous system that is more reactive and more vulnerable to anxiety.

Imi: We need to work with it and find ways around it or to work with what we have rather than rejecting it and trying to be what we are not.

Douglas: Exactly.

Imi: In your experience, what trauma or maybe blockages do intense people have that stops them from fulfilling their full potential?

Douglas: At the beginning of your question, did you say trauma?

Imi: Yeah, either trauma or mental blockages that block them?

Douglas: Right. Well, trauma is a topic that's fascinated me for years. I've had a couple of minor experiences like pretty much anybody does in life of trauma. But a number of really outstanding artists, actors, especially, have talked about experiencing trauma in life. Like Halle Berry had a father who was alcoholic and physically and emotionally abusive and strike her mother a number of times, and Halle Berry has talked about growing up with a really damaged sense of self-esteem. I think that's one of the key results of trauma, this compromise of self-esteem and that, of course, can lead to being very uncertain about expressing yourself even feeling imposter feelings. You don't even get started on expressing creative ideas, and I think that's a really important and key topic for a lot of creative people.

Douglas: Working through that trauma, whatever it takes, and they may take seeing a traditional psychologist or psychiatrist. I saw a wonderful psychologist for a couple of times in Beverly Hills who uses EMDR if you remember that.

Imi: Yeah, it has come up.

Douglas: That really helped me diffuse some of my feeling around a couple of my traumatic life experiences when I was a child. But back to imposter feeling or more generally self-esteem, I think that is probably one of the really critical aspects of being able to fully express yourself. If you have an unhealthy sense of yourself, if you're being overly critical, if you're listening to your inner critic too much of the time, then you're not available to express yourself.

Imi: Yeah. Big Question, that's what would be some of the way out? How do we get through it if we have an imposter syndrome or we're very harsh on ourselves or if we have really harsh inner critic?

Douglas: Well, simplistic perhaps answer is just getting more aware of it. For years, look into my own experience, for years I accepted my inner critical voice as something real, my almost like intuition. It was saying something that I should pay attention to that knew more than I did rationally and that had a judgment that I was doing something wrong. That kind of thing. It took me really years of reading a lot of psychologists and, well, Eckhart Tolle even talks about accepting in the sense of paying attention without judgment. I think that enters into this. There's certainly a number of other people who talk about how to work with our inner critic. Like Tara Brach, I don't know if you're-

Imi: Yeah, Radical Acceptance. Yeah, life changing work.

Douglas: Yeah. A number of the artists, especially, actors that I've read also talk about this and how they've learned to... Some of them talk about they've learned to talk back. They say things back to their inner critic, which I find really both amusing and really helpful that I've done that myself.

Imi: Yeah, I do that too, I say it out loud even in my own house.

Douglas: It can be really helpful.

Imi: Yeah. Well, thank you for all the tips and strategies that you have gathered throughout all the years of research and personal experience.

Douglas: Yes.

Imi: Yes, and now to make sure we have enough time, I definitely want to touch on something that we both have an interest in, which is the view of on women being in the creative field. I wrote an article on Psychology Today some time ago called the Nonconforming Asian Women. Obviously, based on my own personal experience of being an ethnic woman, but I also see similar struggles in others. I see specific challenges, cultural baggages faced especially by gifted women. In your work with people, do you think you've come across a similar phenomenon where people of a certain group maybe gender ethnicity just have a harder time being intense and gifted?

Douglas: Well, another huge question but I think just to label giftedness brings a lot of cultural baggage that is still carried by perhaps most people growing up. I think it's really difficult for teen women, from what I've read, it's really difficult for them to embrace being different from their peers and being exceptionally intelligent or exceptionally intense or exceptionally intelligent. I think that's an element of this. Definitely that relates to imposter syndrome, that there's a fairly one of the most curious aspects for me of imposter syndrome is it seems to show up in the most capable and gifted people primarily women. More common place, to use one word, most more common place people do not seem to suffer imposter syndrome so much. It really takes people who are unusually capable with high abilities. Perhaps enough intelligence to know themselves deeply.

Douglas: But lately this whole element of #MeToo in the entertainment industry has brought up a lot of issues around how women have been treated for decades in entertainment fields, especially, film lighting, in the motion picture industry, and other aspects of entertainment field. I think it's so important to keep opening that up and for women to embrace not giving in to patriarchy and patriarchal men saying you "should behave a certain way". I just read something in a magazine by an interview with Miley Cyrus and I, personally, I sometimes have a hard time accepting her willingness to be so openly sexual and wear such revealing clothes etc. I'm really, because of my age and other things I suppose, I'm really conservative in a lot of ways. But my reactions to her brought up a lot of awareness that there are a lot of white men who respond to young women expressing themselves like Miley Cyrus in ways that they don't agree with.

Douglas: They make it difficult for them to get jobs or they engage in really offensive, abusive behavior, sexual abuse and otherwise. I'm not giving you a very coherent answer, I know, but I think all of this mixes together.

Imi: That's right, it's a complex issue. It's impossible to be coherent about something so complex.

Douglas: It is but I'm glad to see that it's opening up. That women like Alicia Malone are really making their voices heard and bringing lawsuits against some of these especially egregious man in the industry.

Imi: Which is very inspiring and because of the nature of the industry, it definitely leads the world. I can imagine a lot, well not can imagine, I can see a lot of young women feeling more empowered by seeing people like them voicing out and overturning the dynamic that [crosstalk 00:46:41]-

Douglas: Right.

Imi: ... is the imbalanced. Here is a challenging question. If you were to sum up all your work all these years of work with say three messages, you can do one, but one to three messages what might they be?

Douglas: Well, that's a good one, a good question. I think acceptance comes to mind as one of the most important ways to engage with yourself and to release your talents more fully. It's something I keep coming across in creative people and throughout my life, a lack of acceptance about who and what we are often suppresses ourselves, suppresses what we can do with our abilities and our talents. It's not easy sometimes, like accepting you're being unusually intelligent can be a real challenge if you're a teenage girl trying to fit in and have friends in high school or college. But if you find other friends equally intelligent, then you don't need a lot of friends, and that self acceptance about being exceptional can really lead to you engaging with who you are.

Imi: Yeah, and that's something-

Douglas: That goes along with emotions as well. I think it's there's a number of psychologists that talk about how we respond to our emotions as being really critical for what we do with our talents, our creativity. Karla McLaren is what comes to mind.

Imi: Yes, emotion, yeah, she's going to be my guest. It's so interesting how many overlaps there are.

Douglas: Yes.

Imi: Yeah, she's wonderful and what I really love about her work... What's her book called? I forgot what it's called exactly, but she laid out each and every single emotion, the language of emotions, and each of them had their own language and meaning and each of them is a messenger.

Douglas: That idea is so valuable, Messenger. Like even with depression, if you treat depression as a messenger that something is a mess with your life or your social situation, that's very different than saying, "Oh, depression is a disorder and a pathology and something that needs to be treated immediately.

Imi: Absolutely. There's that Rumi quote, "These pains you feel are messengers. Listen to them. Yeah, it's beautiful. Okay, well, I found the chat to be really reassuring, reaffirming, and inspiring.

Douglas: Oh, good, me too.

Imi: Thank you. Well, here are some of your final questions. Please share with us... I know we have actually mentioned a lot of books, but I ask all my guests this question, please name one book that has changed your life?

Douglas: Well, Elaine Aron, The Highly Sensitive Person definitely is one of those. I only read parts of his books, but Scott Barry Kaufman's book, Wired To Be Creative. What I've read of that it's really valuable, and likewise pieces of Eric Maisel's books several of them.

Imi: Yes, a lot.

Douglas: Yeah.

Imi: Okay, thank you. Please share with us one quote, song, or poem for people who are emotionally intense, sensitive, gifted, and probably felt misunderstood and lonely all their lives?

Douglas: One quote? All right, well, here's one. This was a quote by a science journalist, Winifred Gallagher, and who was in turn quoted by author Susan Cain, Gallagher said, "Neither E equals MC Squared nor Paradise Lost was dashed off by a party animal." And Susan Cain goes on to say, "Without introverts, the world would be devoid of the theory of gravity, the theory of relativity, WB Gate, the second coming, Chopin's Nocturnes proofs in search of last time, Peter Pan, etc."

Imi: Oh, that's really powerful, thank you.

Douglas: You're welcome.

Imi: Without introverts or without intense people, the world wouldn't be what it is.

Douglas: Exactly.

Imi: Yeah. Well, I feel very inspired and I'm sure my listeners will too. Thank you so, so much for agreeing to talk to me and have this conversation.

Douglas: Oh, thank you Imi, it was a pleasure. 


I Was Born Intense and Sensitive. Now What? Conversation with Melissa Schwartz


Melissa is an Author, Speaker, Coach who specialises in subjects related to Highly Sensitive Children. In this conversation, we will come to hear why Melissa thinks sometimes having a diffused vision is a relief. We will learn how to ground ourselves even amongst busy travel schedule, crowds and bright light. We talked about what sensitive children need to hear. She shared how she turned her relationship with her mother around and helped her to understand and accept who she is. Finally, we touched on the power of EMDR therapy.


Resources mentioned

Far From the Trees by Andrew Soloman

The Highly Sensitive Person by Elaine Aron


About Melissa


Melissa Schwartz was born an intense, sensitive, empathic, power seeker. Her intuitive ability to decode misbehavior and her passion for giving a voice to the legitimate needs of children naturally evolved into becoming the co-creator of Leading Edge Parenting, co-author of Authentic Parenting Power and author of soon to be released, Under the Hood: A Manual to Understand the Inner Workings of Children. She is an internationally acclaimed author, coach and public speaker bringing new perspective based on current research and personal experience to transform the field of child development. or (both link to the same website) — her private group for parents of HSCs — this is the book she wrote with her mom
— this 21 day, self-guided course starts at any time

Full Transcript:

Melissa: Hi, Imi.


Welcome to Eggshell Transformations. Thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show.


It's my pleasure to be here with you, thank you.


Whereabouts are you now, geographically? 


I am in San Diego in California.


Yes, and I'm in London, England.


Isn't technology amazing?


I know, I know. This is working well, as well, for once. Okay. Thank you for being on the show. This is a podcast dedicated to people who are emotionally intense and quite sensitive. I would love to start from the beginning of your journey. My first question is whether you consider yourself an emotionally intense person?


A resounding yes. I've been emotionally intense, from what I hear, from the moment I was born, probably even when I was still in the womb but my whole life, I have always felt things what I believe to be deeper than other people. I like to explain it when I talk about what it feels like, the saturation is more intense.


If you think about a pale pink and a pale blue that most people feel, I feel like cobalt blue and magenta, just more saturated, more intense experience.


That is a really lovely analogy and I can immediately visualize it.




Are you quite a visual person as well?


I am, I am. I was actually a professional photographer for a little while [inaudible 00:01:48] school and I think that my visual sense is one of my strongest senses. I think I see color in more range than most people. Some people might look at a picture and say, "Oh, I see red and orange and yellow," and I'll see a thousand different degrees of red, orange, and yellow in the way that colors mix and things like that.


Yeah, I wear glasses, wear contacts and I've often thought about having corrective surgery on my eyes. Doctors have said to me over the years, "Do you want to do it?" And I always say no because I like being able to diffuse my vision. As somebody who has such an intense sensory experience all the time, it's nice to be able to, I say, turn my eyes off and diffuse my vision.


Because I do, I take in everything, I notice details. It feels like my eyes are kind of always working overtime. Yeah.


It's really interesting because I did my Lasik surgery ten... Gosh, how old? I was 17 and I lied to my parents. I did it behind their back. I saved up a whole lot of money and did it when the technology wasn't there but after how many, I think 15 years... I forgot how many years, but all these years has passed and actually my sight is beginning to deteriorate.




Now I'm enjoying the joy of blurry vision as well.




What's really interesting in what you said is that sometimes it's okay to have a diffused vision in a metaphorical sense, that sometimes it's okay to relax, to not feel so much. 




Do you have tools and strategies to kind of healthily cut off rather than unhealthily dissociate?


Yeah. I love that you raise that question too because I think most sensitive, emotionally intense people have unhealthy ways to dissociate things like technology or drinking wine or eating sugar or those kind of things that seem like they work, but they don't really. 




Yeah, and for me, some of the healthy ways that I do it, fortunately I live right by the ocean so I get to take a walk by the beach which is a really good way for me to step out of what's going on and recognize how small I am in comparison to the rest of the world. That, for me, is really wonderful, just kind of going and breathing fresh ocean air.


But of course, I'm not always there. Sometimes, I'm traveling. I travel to speak quite often and that can be very overwhelming. The flying, staying in a hotel, being around crowds of people, speaking, the bright lights.


The thing that I do most regularly that's helpful is a grounding meditation, a sort of meditation to feel connected to the Earth and release whatever it is that I'm absorbing or holding onto and come back to feeling what my own energy feels like, that sort of peaceful, just presence and get away from that buzzing, that activity.


I hear you, I hear you. When you have access to it, ocean, water, nature. Does that explain the brilliant painting or photograph behind you that says it all?


Yeah, and I love water. My birthday is in July, I'm a Cancer and I've always just been drawn to water. There's something about it being cleansing and nurturing and for me, it's a real comfort. Taking a bath or a shower is another way that sometimes just helps me let go and cleanse whatever things I'm holding onto that aren't serving me.


That is really interesting because that's what I find. Everyone resonates with one or two particular elements in nature. For me, it's wood and many people, it would be water or just the Earth and the landscape that calms me down the most would be trees and forest and not so much water. But what you're saying is that, for you, any water elements, even when you're not by the sea, little things like a shower, can help ground you.


Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes I've had moments when I'm speaking or after I'm done speaking where I'll just end up in the bathroom, splash some water on my face, and that feels like it kind of snaps me out of an energetic trance that I might be in.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. 


It's nice that-


[inaudible 00:06:49].


It's always available, it's always with me.


It's always available. I have to come back to that meditation that you mentioned that you can do wherever you are, when you're traveling, speaking. How long does it take you and what form does it take, if you don't mind sharing the nitty gritty details?


Sure. The meditation that I like to do, it can take anywhere from two minutes to 15 or 20 minutes really depending on how much time I have and it's something that I use in between working with clients and again, it just kind of depends on how much time I have.


It's sort of a three or four step process. The first piece is about getting grounded and connecting to the Earth and really feeling myself rooted into the Earth. Then the next piece is about releasing any energy down through that connection and then the third piece is about drawing fresh energy up through that connection and letting it fill up my body and cover the outside of my body as well.


The sort of inner, outer protection and then the fourth piece is to extend that energy around me and sort of find myself in a bubble, a protective bubble that is filled with my own energy and sort of seals out anything that I don't want to allow in. It's really a loving boundary, which I think for the sensitive, emotionally intense people...


Going back to your beautiful question, that is the healthy action, right? It's taking care of ourselves on the front end rather than waiting until we feel invaded by other energy or overwhelmed because then we're just kind of coping with it. Then we're trying to metaphorically get the water out of the boat and the way you keep that boat floating is to not let the water get in.


To me, this meditation keeps that metaphor of water out of my boat so that I don't find myself sinking.


Yeah, that's really well said because I always say to people, there are two kinds of cutting off. There is a healthy kind of checking out and saying, "Okay, I have enough. I'm going to stop listening to my thoughts for now. For five minutes, I'm just going to listen to my body and relax." 


But then there is the survival strategy, dissociative cutting off which is just your body gets too much and it just have to cut off.




Okay, well thank you so much for sharing that. I'm sure it will be useful to some of my listeners who are also intense and sometimes need a way to ground themselves.




I know you have a lot of experience, as well. We will get on to your own journey and your career later, but I know that you work with and see a lot of sensitive and intense people. The mystery question is, why... It's okay if you don't have an answer to it, but why do you think some people are more intense and sensitive? Is it nature, is it nurture? What is that about?


Yeah. I think it's probably a combination. Elaine Aaron's research tells us that somewhere between 15 and 20, maybe even 25% of the population has a genetic trait that makes them predisposed to being more sensitive, more emotionally intense but then it's also my belief that nature only goes so far and then it's the way that we are responded to, that we are understood or misunderstood, especially in our early years that can amplify or sort of reign in that intensity.


In other words, when a young child who is very intense emotionally and very sensitive to energy and through their sensory systems gets the message of, "What's wrong with you? Why are you making a big deal about that? Just don't let it bother you," that child doesn't learn one, how to handle their sensory experience or their emotional experience and it gets compounded with the message that there's something wrong with them.




Their experience gets bigger and bigger and more intense and more magnified. That, for me, is where that nurture piece comes in. On the other side of it, if that same child is met with understanding and guidance that teaches them things like age appropriate meditation from a young age and healthy tools to identify and express their emotions, then the nurture element can actually help them not necessarily feel less intense experiences but handle it with more grace and less reactivity.


I think [inaudible 00:11:37]. That's the piece where the nurture really impacts how somebody is handling life, whether or not they're given these tools at a young age or if they wait until they're adults to learn it, which is okay in any way that it happens, but of course, the younger you are when you learn these things, the easier your journey is.


Absolutely. I mean, young children came into this world, we're not meant to already know how to do things and how to regulate our emotions and we need some extra guidance. For the ones who are born emotionally more intense, we need extra, extra guidance and to be delivered in a kind and patient way, which is difficult.


I understand it's a really tall order, but it's also what they need to develop and actually more and more scientific research in attachment theory, more and more, it's validating that there's something neurologically essential. The feedback, yeah.


Yeah, and what I found because I work with parents of highly sensitive children is many parents assume or expect that children can express themselves. I often hear parents say things like, "Use your words." I say, "They don't know how to use their words."


Or they'll be saying to an infant, "Stand up and walk." Or saying to a toddler, "Drive the car." In other words, they need to have the experience, they need to have the natural progression of learning and emotions work in the same way. We're not born emotionally intelligent. We have emotional experiences but we need to develop that intelligence and the ability to articulate it.


That only gets developed through patience and compassion and guidance and it is a tall order for parents. With these very intense, reactive, sensitive children, the experience is heightened for everybody and so, it can feel very overwhelming, especially if a parent themself is highly sensitive.


Absolutely. Gosh, this has left us so many questions that I wanted to ask you. I will, but before I do, I would like to come back to you and your experience because I know you have years of experience. You started out as a nanny, didn't you?


Yes, I did.


How do you go from being a nanny to being such an exceptional coach?


Well, I actually studied child development when I was in high school. I went to a high school with a really unique program where we studied child development and ran a daycare program.




We could interact with the children and-


In high school?


In high school, yeah and it was a low income program that served families in our community, so we got to be with the children and then talk about the children and how to meet their needs and why they were behaving the way that they were. From a young age, this idea of understanding misbehavior as communication was really implanted for me.


When I became a nanny, it was right after I graduated college. I had studied photography and I was trying to build a photography business and in the midst of that was working as a nanny to support myself. I have memories of calling my mom who is a child development specialist and worked with young children in her 45 plus years of career. 


She'll not be happy that I'm giving away her age, but I used to call her on my way home from being with this little girl and say, "Did I handle this right? What do you think I should do? How could I have done it differently?" I used to kind of bounce things off of my mom and get feedback.


I didn't realize it then but my mom was really coaching me about how to be with this little girl and I worked for that family and a couple of other families over a few years, children of all different ages, and continued with that same approach of getting feedback and really being honest with myself about when was I losing my patience?


When did I feel like I didn't have a resource that I needed to help this child? Where could I be more consistent in creating routines and boundaries and very clear rules and expectations? How was I responding when a child was acting out? Was I taking it personally or was I reading into their behavior?


That all gave me this really robust understanding of what it was like to be with young children in a professional way because a parent may use something like a time out or they might get frustrated and yell. But when you are a paid professional working with a child, those are not acceptable behaviors.


I really had to be held to a higher standard because I was an employee, I wasn't with this child in the role of a parent. Over the years, I kind of got away from working with children for a little while, although I brought all of those skills with me into being a photographer.


I shot people and so, a lot of it was about building rapport and making very fast, authentic connection. So, I had this very windy, meandering professional path that led me to working with highly sensitive children and started about 10 years ago. Now my mom and I actually work together. We share a coaching practice, we wrote a book together, "Authentic Parenting Power".


"Authentic Parenting Power", I'll put it in the show notes later.


This book was really my entry into being a parent coach because as my mom started writing this book and I was reading what she was writing and sharing thoughts, I would say to her, "Actually, you're missing what I needed as a child and you're missing what these sensitive kids needed and especially what those parents need to hear to understand why their children are behaving that way."


I started speaking from the child's perspective and offering this different idea rather than just speaking to the parents for their children.


Yes, I was very curious about that. I heard your story, that you're actually working with your mum now about parenting and that's parallel itself. It's really intriguing. If you don't mind me getting a little bit personal-




What was childhood like for you? I think ultimately, I'm interested in how this process of working with your mum on the work project might potentially be quite healing for you.




Almost like you're speaking up for yourself when you were younger and you were not able to.




Sorry, that's three questions in one.


I'll try and answer them and if I miss anything, feel free to remind me. In my very early years, of course my memories are all sort of unconscious at this point but from what I've heard from my parents and cousins, family that was around, I was a really challenging child or so they tell me.


I was born very sensitive and intense. When my mom and I do talks together, she'll usually begin a talk by saying that my older brother, if he could speak when he was born, he would've looked around and said, "Ooh, this is going to be fun." He just kind of coasted through life.


When I was born, I would've said, "Oh my gosh, I don't want to be here, put me back in" because when I was born, life always felt like too much for me. The sensory experience felt too intense, everything felt challenging, I had a hard time settling and being comfortable.


Because both of my parents were educators, my mom was an early childhood educator, they would tell you if they were sitting here right now that they had a lot of ego with my older brother because everything they did worked. He was sweet and easygoing and he listened and very often, we use the marker of a child listening as them being good.


Oh yeah.


Personally, my perspective is a little bit different. I don't think it's actually emotionally healthy for a child to just listen. I think there are different ways that we can help children be cooperative and we can have consistent rules and boundaries and ways of doing things to keep children safe. But just blindly listening to authority is not necessarily a mark of a good child.


I was very much not a listener. My mom tells the story of my brother would climb on something and she would say to him, "That's not for climbing," and he would stop. I would climb on something and she would say to me, "That's not for climbing," and I would look her right in the eye and keep going.


We were just born with very different hard wiring. Somewhere around when I was four or five, after my parents having these thoughts of, "She's too sensitive, too intense, too reactive, too emotional", they realized that I wasn't changing, that no shaming it out of me was going to change who I was.


I like to say it's much like if you look at a child who's born with blue eyes and you say to them, "Why are your eyes so blue? They should be brown," you cannot shame those eyes into being a different color. Our temperament, our hard wiring is the same way. It is not going to change, it is who we are.


When I was about four or five, my mom started taking parenting classes which I think was a bit of an ego blow because she was an early childhood educator, she got her Master's degree from Columbia University, a prestigious school in New York City and she knew what she was doing.


She had been successful in her career and yet, none of it worked with me. What she realized in taking this class I that who I was was different and that I had different needs. I struggled socially and academically over the years, as most sensitive children do, because I didn't fit into the box and I didn't play the game and I pushed back and I questioned why things were the way that they were.


I had a couple of very close friends, but generally I didn't really care about being popular or fitting in with the main crowd. Most things that children do like going to school dances and being on sports teams didn't really appeal to me. I was much more interested in making art and having deep conversation with one or two people, or reading. Those sort of things.


Down the road, when my mom started writing this book, we really got into conversation about what I needed as a child and we hadn't really had the opportunity to have those conversations.


What were the things that you had needed?


The things that I needed were just to be understood for who I was instead of being questioned. I watch a lot of parents of sensitive children say things to their children like, "Why are you so upset?", or, "Why are you making a big deal?" They can't explain it. That would be like saying, "Why are your eyes so blue?" "I don't know, because that's how my genetics are."


Yeah, as soon as you said that, I remember times when my parents said that to me with all the best intention. It's really hurtful.


It is hurtful.




What I tell parents now when I work with them is instead of asking your child, "Why are you so upset?", just validate their experience and say, "You're so upset. This is a really big deal for you. This feels really big. You are really angry." By giving them that language and affirming what they're experiencing, they begin to identify it themselves. They begin to learn to say, "I feel upset. I feel angry. I feel nervous. I feel scared."


And that's how they learn to regulate emotions themselves.




Becoming an adult and once you've got into certain ways of dealing with things and certain patterns, it becomes really hard to shift things.


Exactly, and I think for many sensitive adults, because they did not get that in their childhood, they have these emotional experiences as adults but don't know how to identify them and so then they turn to again that beautiful question you asked, to these unhealthy regulating behaviors. Things like isolation or using a substance or food or technology to numb how they're feeling because they don't know what to do with it.


When we give children the ability to deal with it in their younger years, even just by saying, "This is so hard. You're so upset right now. You're really angry that I told you it was time to leave," or, "You're so sad that you have to stop playing." Then we learn as adults how to identify what we're feeling and we don't beat up on ourselves for having those feelings.


I think a lot of sensitive adults don't know what to do with their emotional experience and then they feel kind of shame and lament that they're having it.


Just now when you said those words to the imaginary child, I feel very moved by the compassion in your voice and in your eyes. I was just thinking about all the adults out there who hasn't had to force you to have such experience. Their parents might no longer be there or just don't have the capacity to be that holding, grounding force for them. 


What should they do? I mean, can they be there in their parents? Is there a way of them... They can't go back to the past and change their childhood. What can they do today?


I think they could do a beautiful meditation where they sit with their own inner child and they see themselves as that young child and give that inner child that compassion because I know for me, as an adult, when I was able to give that to my own inner child, I stopped needing it from other people.




The other thing that I've found is so many parents struggle to do this with their children because they didn't get it. When parents learn to do this for their own children, it's actually healing their own inner child at the same time.




I think when you're blessed with a sensitive, intense child in your life, it depends on your spiritual religious beliefs but personally, my spiritual belief is that that child comes into your life to help you heal. That child specifically chooses you to have that experience and you choose them. There is a healing that comes through that parent-child relationship, too.


That is really beautiful. I've read a book by Andrew Solomon, it's called "Apple Is Falling"? I forgot. Something about falling far from the tree. I will put it in the show notes later, but in that, he said something about when you are blessed with a child who's wired differently, you have two choices.


You either rise above the occasion and raise them in the best way you can and learn from it, or you just give up and torture both the child and yourself. That leads me to a really important question. How important it is, the role of self compassion, plays in parenting, especially when you have a sensitive child and you are sensitive and a lot of things get triggered?


We talk about it as if it's simple, but it's a really complex emotional matrix. To name the difficult things, I know some parents look at their child and they get envious of what the child has and they didn't. Like you said, they never had it before, they just have no idea how to give it.




When the child doesn't stop demanding, crying, shouting, as a parent, you feel really helpless.




There's just so much feeling and then you feel guilty for feeling angry or you feel helpless and et cetera.




That wasn't really a well-formed question. I think I was asking about self-compassion.


Yeah, I think self compassion is the most important thing for all of us because if we are beating up on ourselves for any reason, then that's actually what we're modeling to the people around us. If parents are modeling self compassion, if they're easy on themselves, if they're loving to themselves, then that's what their children are picking up from them.


Again, I often say to my clients things like, "You don't have to do the laundry today. You don't have to do everything perfectly." For me, the real indication, the marker is how do you feel about yourself when you lay your head on your pillow at night?" 


Are you beating yourself up? Are you remembering that one little incident where you yelled or you lost your patience or are you looking at the connection that you had with your child that day? Are you feeling good about the way that you navigated challenges for the first part?


That, for me, is the real marker of the self-compassion is what is our inner talk really looking like? How can we continue to soften it? Because if we can't be compassionate to ourselves, nobody else can really give that to us.


Sure. Oh yeah, and we've talked about that too because there were many years where I just didn't feel understand and I didn't feel accepted for who I was and I couldn't change it. It's just like my eyesight. I wish I could see without my glasses, but it's just not possible and no amount of shaming or condemnation is going to change that.


When it's about who you are, your core identity and you get these mixed messages, it does make you angry and for some people, my predominant stress response is to fight. I tend to get angry. Some people shut down, some sensitive, intense people who have the same sort of experience that I had may just become very withdrawn from life and very defeated.


Yeah, exactly. For everybody, it kind of shows up differently but for me, yeah, I have plenty of years where I was angry and I still have moments where it flurries in and out. But I'm also realizing that as an adult, now it's up to me to give that self compassion to my inner child and nobody else can go back and understand her the way that I wish she would've been understood.


Now that's on me, that's my responsibility and it's also my privilege. It's my right and it's very empowering and freeing to know that I don't need anybody else to validate who I am and now that can come from myself.


Yeah. It sounds to me, the game changing bits as being able to be your own best parent and able to hold your ground. Once you've done that, you become more self sufficient and in a way, you're able to release the anger and expectations towards your mother or your parents?


Absolutely, yeah. I've certainly done plenty of healing modalities and all of that has been a piece for me. I think it's also important to acknowledge that we can't do it on our own. We're social beings and we're not meant to do it on our own. That sort of isolation is a piece of that delusional thinking.


Yes. What have you found to be the most helpful out of all the modalities that you have tried?


Personally, I've found EMDR therapy to be the most incredible and you probably know a bit more about it even than I do because of your professional background but for me, it really helped me get into the unconscious beliefs. I like to think about it as though my mind is a garden and EMDR helped me get into where the weeds were and pull them up by the roots [inaudible 00:31:51] picking them up off the top of the surface.


I was able to really get into where did this false belief come from, where was it planted? Then remove it at the source so that it removed the emotional charge for me. I can still think about a specific memory or even a belief that I used to have, whereas years ago it would've caused all of this inner turmoil and tension in my body, now I can think about it and it's like, "Oh yeah, that happened," or, "Yeah, I used to believe that," but it doesn't affect me anymore.


Wow. It's amazing to hear that you had such good experience with it. For those who don't know, EMDR stands for, let me think, Eye Movement Desensitization Processing.




I never had extensive period of EMDR therapy myself but I'm trained actually as a therapist.




I didn't go for the full certification and in that training, we had to do certain exercises on each other. What I found the most powerful was that really unusual memories came up. It's like unusual dreams and the impact wasn't immediate, but once you give it some time, it does seem to change other things in the background.


Yeah. The way that I explained EMDR, similar to what you just said was, if you've ever see a clown pull a handkerchief out of their mouth where they pull it and then they keep pulling it, do you know what I'm talking about? That's what EMDR felt like to me. It was like I started to pull on one memory and then all of the sudden, all of these other things were attached to it.


All of these subtle, very seemingly insignificant childhood memories were all attached and I was able to see how this thread, this thread of false belief was woven through so many experiences and it was almost like it was being pulled out of my psyche. I could see it, like, "Oh, this is what I used to believe. This used to feel so true and now it doesn't feel true anymore and it's now lost its power for me." That's kind of what it felt like.


Yeah. Okay. A change of subject. I know you have a sensitivity summit coming up or maybe when this aired, it's already out. It depends when this is aired. What's the hope it will inspire?


Yeah, my vision for this sensitivity summit, it's a free, virtual summit and the reason why I wanted to do it was because I always knew something was different about me. I knew I was sensitive and intense, but I wasn't able to label it and I was even doing this work coaching parents of sensitive children before I'd heard the term "highly sensitive".


My vision for doing the summit was to help other people like me who were sensitive, intense, reactive, but weren't able to identify what was different about them, begin to learn that they weren't alone and learn about this genetic trait that a fifth of the population experiences because it is true across cultures, religions, gender.


There is no one who's immune from being highly sensitive. It is innate, it is inborn, there is nothing wrong with us, there is nothing special about us. That's my own personal belief. It just is the way that we are and when we come to understand that we are hard wired differently and that we have different needs than neurotypical people, people that are not highly sensitive and don't have unique neurological wiring, then we can thrive, then we can be okay.


My vision for the summit was to bring together different experts in the field of high sensitivity who can share their own personal experience, their professional experience and offer these different glimpses of insight into how to thrive with the trait so that people can come to understand themselves and nurture that inner child that maybe didn't get it when they needed it.


Yeah, I love it because on the surface, it seems to be geared towards parents but actually, as the conversation unfold, it's not just for parents of actual children but also for parents for all our inner children. It's applicable to most, to all of us. Right. What is your definition of resilience?


That's a good question. I suppose for me, resilience is having your own internal resources to draw on because if we're looking outside of ourselves to be okay, we're in big trouble. It almost goes back to what I was saying about me being soothed by being by the ocean.


It works if I'm by the ocean, but if I'm in a place that's landlocked, I'm in big trouble. The resilience is knowing that I've got all the resources within me to handle life and to thrive regardless of what else is going on.


That is a really good definition and it's also the definition of adulting, of become a grown adult, of knowing what we have in our arsenal, our toolbox.




I know I have a few books that I just go to when I'm feeling out of sorts. On that, please share one book that has changed your life.


Just one? Oh my gosh.




Really it's hard to choose one. I think I would have to say "The Highly Sensitive Person" by Elaine Aaron because of all the books I've read, that book was the most affirming and validating for me. It really helped me to feel like I wasn't crazy and that there was nothing wrong with me because for most of my life, I thought there was something wrong with me for experiencing life the way that I do.


It would be like not being able to see your whole life and then putting on a pair of glasses and having clearer vision. That book, "The Highly Sensitive Person" really helped me view myself clearly and the funny thing about when I read that was I realized how many of my personal friends were also highly sensitive and I remember texting a picture of the cover to all these friends saying, "Oh my gosh, this is who we are. Can you believe it? There's nothing wrong with us," because it just felt so validating.


Yeah. Great. Please share one quote, song, or poem with our listeners who are also emotionally intense, sensitive, gifted and probably have felt misunderstood all their life.


Yeah, I think most musicians and artists and poets have probably melt misunderstood their whole life and are highly sensitive and that's probably why they turn to that form of expression. On that same vein, I think Alanis Morissette, if you're familiar with her music-


Yes, yes, she's so authentic. I love her.


Yeah, she's highly sensitive and she was actually featured in the movie "Sensitive" with Elaine Aaron and it's funny because when I was an angsty teenager, I really loved her music and as an adult now, gosh, it's probably 20, 25 years since her first album was released. She's kind of really come into herself as a sensitive artist and it's funny to me to think back to when she first started writing music and how I identified with the struggle and the angst and the feeling misunderstood.


Now both of us have had our own personal journeys and now her music and her career is much more about helping people understand the trait, building connection, and I know she talks a lot about attachment parenting now, so I suppose she would be the artist that... I really appreciate her sensitivity and the way she's woven it throughout her career.


Is there a particular song that touches you?


There is a song that she wrote, I believe it's called "Thank You" and it's really just a song about gratitude, appreciation which I think for sensitive people is a really powerful tool and I know I've had days where I've just been struggling with everything and wanting to just crawl into bed and pull the covers over and one of the things that's really helpful for me is to make a gratitude list.


Sometimes I like to do it alphabetically. There's something about triggering both sides of my brain and trying to alphabetically go through and name things that I'm appreciating and maybe even write it down, that can get me out of my stress response and [inaudible 00:40:52] the chemistry that's in my body.


Oh, I'm thankful for the apple that I'm eating, the bed I'm sleeping on, the com that I'm using. I'm good at this.


All of those things, yeah. By the time you get to the end of the alphabet, notice if you feel a little bit different. Maybe it's a small degree, but if there's any shift in the wanted direction then for me, it's a tool that works.


Great. Thank you so much, Melissa. This has been wonderful. Can you tell us where to find you on the internet?


Yeah, you can find me online at


Leading Edge Parenting.


That's the company that my mom and I run together where we both coach parents and I'm also on Facebook. You can find me and I have a private group for parents of highly sensitive children and it's called Highly Sensitive Children. In that group, I bring together... There are thousands of parents from around the world who I love that they all share the same experience of trying to understand their children.


Because like I said, it doesn't matter if you're in London or United States or Hong Kong or Australia, India. We have lots of parents from Asia and Europe and Africa. It really is incredible and they are all having the same experiences with their children.




That community is a really wonderful way to interact with me and other parents too.


Okay, so for the parents amongst us, please check it out. Thank you so much for being here today. I really appreciate it.


Thank you, Imi, it's all my pleasure. Appreciate it.


All right. Bye for now.

Hey, thank you so much for tuning in. For more, please head to There you will find more stories, articles, and resources for people just like me and you. Bye now.


Welcome To The Eggshell Tranformations Podcast!

Eggshell Transformations is a podcast dedicated to people who are emotionally intense, sensitive and gifted.

In this teaser, you will hear snippets from the upcoming three episodes, where we talk to intense people and experts around the world.

We will hear their stories and lean life strategies from:

Melissa Schwartz, the co-creator of Leading Edge Parenting, co-author of Authentic Parenting Power and author of soon to be released, Under the Hood: A Manual to Understand the Inner Workings of Children. She is an internationally acclaimed author, coach and public speaker bringing a new perspective based on current research and personal experience to transform the field of child development.

Douglas Eby, the author of The Creative Mind series of sites including Talent Development Resources, High Ability, Highly Sensitive and Creative, and many others. His resources provide information and inspiration to help enhance your inner growth and artistic expression as a creative person.

Cat Rose, a creative entrepreneur who helps introverts show their work and get the exposure they deserve. Her aim in life is to help all her clients do what they love and realise their dreams, whilst honouring their personality type and preferences

Eggshell Transformations is a podcast dedicated to people who are exceptionally intense, sensitive, and intuitive. Together, we go from healing to thriving.