How I Shifted My Relationship with Intensity

I have very few vivid memories of my childhood, but if I were to sum up the feeling that I associate with my childhood, it would be a constant striving. My first such memory was around 6 years of age, trying to catch my older brother as we played tag in the apartment building where we grew up in Beirut Lebanon. I was so intent on catching him, that not even a large pane glass window could keep me from tagging him. There was a car dealership in the lobby of our building and as I saw him on the other side of the showroom, I ran towards him crashing through the thick glass and ending up with cuts all over my body.  

You would think this would have taught me to take my intensity down a notch or two.  Instead, I continued my unwavering determination to strive to beat my brother at whatever game we were playing. Whether it was a “friendly” game of chess, thumb war or a wrestling match, I wanted to win. When I did, it was invigorating; when I didn’t, I wasn’t necessarily a sore loser, it just made me want to try harder the next time.

After moving to the U.S. as a 9 year old, my striving became part of my mechanism for survival. I spoke a different language, I ate “weird” food and I didn’t look (or act) like other girls. My Dad used to cut my hair so short and I was such a tomboy, that I would often overhear kids asking if I was a boy or a girl. So my intensity became fueled by both a need to prove that I was good enough, and that I belonged.  I competed in every sport that was offered in school, and it was there that I felt acknowledged and valued. I also remember how proud both of my parents were of my determination and grit. This reinforced that being competitive and intense was a good thing, because it made me feel valued and worthy of their love.

A few years ago, out of curiosity, I asked one of my long time friends what one word she would use to describe me. Without skipping a beat, she said, “intense”. My initial reaction was one of sadness — I actually teared up. It was so upsetting to me that my best friend would use that word above all else to describe me. She had meant it as a compliment, but at the time it felt so harsh. I was tired of being so “intense”, of continually striving to prove something to myself and to others. I had come to see my intensity as my “shadow” side. 

I now realize that it is not my competitiveness or intensity that are inherently “bad”.  It was the “why” behind the intensity that was the problem. I now understand that for me, the “why” was that I needed to feel valued; I needed to feel worthy; I needed to feel seen. This is what I learned as a young child. This made my intensity in competition a dangerous proposition because my feeling worthy was reliant on my accomplishments.

Many of us label ourselves and say things like, “I am competitive” or “I am uncoordinated” or “I am anxious” etc, and we believe that we don’t have a choice…that it is just who we are. But it’s who we’ve subconsciously chosen to be as a survival mechanism. We always have a choice. With this new awareness, I made a conscious decision to change my belief – to change this subconscious pattern.

I looked to the Law of Polarity for guidance. The Law of Polarity states that two opposites create the Whole. If darkness exists, so must light; if there is an inside, there must be an outside; if there is an up, there must be a down – the yin and the yang. This duality lives within all of us. I was able to see that resisting my nature of being competitive or intense wasn’t the answer. Instead, I could begin to look for its polarity – a softness and equanimity that also had to be within my nature.  Acknowledging that they were both a part of me, I could begin to find a balance between the two. One isn’t “bad” or “good”, they are part of the Whole person that makes me “me”. My intensity and striving isn’t “bad” because it has allowed me to be successful in many aspects of my life.  

At first, the shift felt very strange – there were times when I would be out playing a round of golf so detached from the outcome that I didn’t recognize myself. The subconscious doesn’t like change; its job is to continue the patterns that keep us feeling “safe”.  It can feel uncomfortable when we choose to let go of an old pattern –it can feel like losing an old friend that we know we have outgrown.

My journey of self-discovery has helped remind me that we are all born worthy. With that knowing, I am able to let go of the notion that I need to prove that I am enough. That doesn’t mean that I have to let go of my intensity.  Instead, I honor that part of me, and use it to strive to become more resilient, more compassionate and more present today than I was yesterday.  

The striving is no longer to feel worthy; I now strive to help others feel their own sense of worthiness. I do this by teaching self-care and mindfulness practices like Qigong, using Mind/Body tools  that are part of Sensation Based Coaching, and incorporating the wisdom of Natural Laws.

Do you have a pattern that you are ready to see with new eyes?


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