Do you experience inner intensity rather often?

oie_transparentWhether you experience inner intensity as a sort of collapse inside (e.g. overwhelm or self-doubt) or as an outburst at somebody else (e.g. anger or criticism), it can be very, very uncomfortable.

When you have that experience relatively often, by which I mean that for you it seems like all too familiar state, it can be disconcerting.

I’d like to consider what happens when inner intensity arises and how you can respond to it so that the whole thing is less intimidating.

How it arises…

Let’s start with sharing some ways in which people experience their inner intensity arise. So you know you’re not alone and not abnormal either.

When I asked a group of people about it recently, here’s how they said it can happen:

– when your senses are bombarded
– when you have a decision to make
– when you’re anxiously anticipating what “will happen”
– when things change
– when your tank is low on a core need, e.g. love
– when unfinished stuff is piling up
– when you let thoughts linger and snowball inside
– when your environment is busy/loud/messy, etc.
– when you see someone as being “negative”, “wrong”, etc.
– when you interpret what’s going on as “bad news” (rather than what’s going on)
– when you don’t see intensity coming and it “zaps” you

Do you recognise any of these?

Be gentle. Yes, these moments can feel “bad”. Yet, they don’t mean anything bad about you.  

Why – explained with chicks

Obviously, everybody experiences inner intensity, to a varied degree, going through life.

However, how we appear when we’re overstimulated can vary so much as to seem like different things altogether.

When somebody is taking the brunt of their inner intensity internally, they may be seen as “weak” or “powerless” or even “victimised”.

When somebody is taking the brunt of their overstimulation out on others, by passing the heat on, it may be seen as “strong”, “powerful” or even “abusive”.

There’re many ways to judge what we do with it but inner intensity (i.e. overstimulation) itself, is as normal, needed and as difficult a phenomena as the physical pain.

The psychologist Dr L.J Cohen* studied a form of inner intensity called immobilisation via (somewhat cruel!) experiments with baby chicks.

He stared them in the eye simulating approach of a hawk.

Then, he watched how they froze and came round and what made a positive difference to them.

He understood that the nervous system, animal and human, is built for both: alarm AND recovery.

Inner intensity and sensitives

Of course, nobody really wants pain or inner intensity.

These two aspects of life are difficult to welcome and it doesn’t help that our conditioning gets us to fear or be ashamed of them as if they were an enemy and not part and parcel of human experience.

If you happen to be quite sensitive, you‘ll naturally have more inner intensity because your nervous  system is built to register more stimuli and process them extra deeply.

That doesn’t mean that overstimulation is a problem by itself.

And, it often becomes a problem because few people in our society as yet have a chance to understand it as helpful communication.

Instead, we judge and diagnose it as is the popular tendency to do with anything uncomfortable and – innocently!!! – we add fuel to the fire.


The cycle of fear and recovery is universally human, normal and precious. It’s what enables you to survive life’s dangers, real and imagined AND what makes you more compassionate towards the ups and downs of human experience in others.

Some things that can help de-escalate

If you’re naturally more sensitive than most,  finding ways to calm overstimulated nervous system becomes an unavoidable (and I believe beautiful!!!) quest in life.

By now, you too must have found a number of things that help calm, soothe and re-centre the psyche.

How do you restore your “inner frightened chick”?

Of course there are myriads of techniques out there and if you’re like me you’ve tried many of them out in pursuit of sanity.

But I’m asking about the actual, garden variety thing you use and return to again and again, whenever you need to re-centre more rapidly than “processing”.

For many people, deeper breathing or longer walks help send attention away from scary thoughts and onto something more basic and so calming and grounding.

When you get back into a calmer state, you’re less likely to react from intimidating thoughts and more able to consider what’s most important and how to take care of THAT. 

Some folk start de-escalation through a reassuringly familiar activity, e.g fidgeting,  gardening, a cup of tea, listening to music, etc.

People fear and judge many of those ways, of course. The different is another difficult thing to like or feel safe with.

In general, though, any weird or wonderful way you have to pause and show your nervous system that the world is still there and you’re still alive breathing in it, will give you a better chance to exhale and return to helpful activity.

What’s counterproductive

Any prolonged contact with the assumption that things are “bad”, will escalate your inner state regardless of what’s true/possible in a given situation.

Humans just don’t think clearly or constructively when overstimulated.

Dr Cohen’s chick experiments* showed that the recovery from intense inner states varies, depending on how you respond to them.

Recovery was slowest, he found, when individual chicks were placed in front of a mirror.

They got really affected by seeing their posture reflect how bad they were ASSUMING the danger was (while there was no actual physical danger there).


What’s really, really important

Speaking of “feeling in danger”.

Have you noticed the curious way in which human interpretation of what’s “not okay” and what’s “life” depends on whether you’re in quite intense or more peaceful inner state?

This is HUGELY important and I’m so glad we’re looking at it together!

ESCALATING inner intensity makes you think that much of your or someone else’s life is “wrong” and needs “fixing”. Yet, the very perception of “danger” and “brokenness” is what increases inner intensity. 

Do you recognise the scared-chick-in-front-of-the-mirror loop here?

Dr Cohen’s* overstimulated chicks that were just left be, recovered their equilibrium more quickly than those taking cue from the mirror.

In minutes, they naturally returned to the flow of healthy chick activity.

More curiously still, overstimulated chicks that were placed next to a calm chicken who wasn’t perceiving “danger” recovered most quickly of all.

They only needed a few seconds before they could be in the flow of chicken life and love again 😉

Consider what happens to you when a well meaning friend responds to your worries with much advice (suggesting that they are worried about you too and therefore something must be “wrong”).

And then remember (or imagine) what happens when a gentle,  compassionate person alongside you is able to deeply allow you to experience what you’re experiencing, without making it to mean anything scary.

Have you experienced how naturally life’s beauty and your own beauty become visible again then?

How about learning to become such a gentle, restorative presence towards your inner intensity?

Here’s to the possibility that we are only ever one compassionate look, word or thought away from internal recovery.


*  Lawrence J. Cohen, Ph.D “The opposite of worry. The Playful Parenting Approach to Childhood Anxieties and Fears”, 2013