therapy for the highly sensitive, the introvert, emotionally intense, creative or gifted
Hi, and welcome to my site. I’m Craig, a psychotherapist working online, across the UK. I have a particular focus on working with people who relate to being highly sensitive, emotionally intense, creative, introverted or gifted. For more general info about me and my practice, please click “about me” above.
You may relate to one of the above words, or perhaps a few or all of them. There is often a lot of overlap between them. They can be tricky to pin down and define. Often, people are misunderstood, labelled or even diagnosed with “conditions” that completely miss the truth of these experiences. These misunderstandings can make it harder to work through your emotional struggles, rather than helping. I have personal experience of learning to understand, live with and thrive on these experiences myself. And I use an integrative approach to psychotherapy, to help understand your unique experience, and can work with you to find your best way too.
That may be about thriving on these parts of you, or understanding the added impact they can have on other emotional struggles, like anxiety or depression. Below is some more in-depth information, or if you’d like to chat more about therapy with me, feel free to email or call…
the highly sensitive person & emotional intensity
If the term ‘Highly Sensitive Person’ resonates with you, you’ve perhaps likely heard comments from people around you – you’re too sensitive, over-sensitive, fragile or need to toughen up. It can be so easy to have heard these all your life, and learned to believe them, wondering why it is you feel you don’t fit in or can’t react to the world around you like others do.
But as Elaine Aron, who coined the term in her fantastic book (The Highly Sensitive Person) explains, this increased level of sensitivity can be seen in around 15-20% of the population. And while it may be seen as a flaw to some, and indeed be hard for an HSP to live with themselves, it can bring great advantages too. High sensitivity may show up in an emotional sense, feeling profoundly moved or affected by many things, with deep ability for empathy. There are physical manifestations like feeling more sensitive to pain, or being more affected than most by things like caffeine. Or it can show up in practical, every-day ways too – feeling easily irritated or affected by things like strong smells, coarse fabrics, or sights and sounds. Overall it’s perhaps best summed up by feeling overstimulated by the world around you more easily than others. Big crowds and noisy places just exhaust you, while everyone else seems OK to carry on with their day. But it can also mean you pick up on all kinds of depths and minutiae that others seem to miss.
The HSP can often experience emotional intensity too. Maybe you’ve often heard people telling you you’re too much, too intense, and full on; and that you need to chill out or mellow a bit. So often your emotional intensity may have been seen as a flaw, something you were criticised for. You may often have felt that your highs are higher, and that your lows are lower than people around you. And struggle to understand how everyone else seems to live at a flatter, more level place. But whereas this is often seen as a flaw by people around you, you may feel that you’re more fully alive, experiencing the world in technicolour, and you wouldn’t want it any other way.
If any or all of the above resonate with you, just acknowledging that is an important starting point. Experiencing any of these can bring layers of richness and complexity to life; both amazing, positive ones, and at other times deeply painful or difficult.
If you’re an introvert you may be all too familiar with how misunderstood and mischaracterised introversion is. How many times have you been told you’re too shy, too quiet, aloof or a loner? And that you should be more sociable and extroverted, and that you don’t seem to like people?!
Things often couldn’t be further from the truth. Introverts – (usually!) – love people and social interaction as much as anyone. In fact, they often crave deeper connections and conversations, perhaps with only one or two others, rather than the small-talk of busier groups and parties.
The key distinction with introversion is less about liking people than about energy levels. Whereas the extrovert needs and feels energised by social interaction, an introvert may still love the connection with others, but feel drained by it. They may love socialising but need to withdraw after a shorter period, to the quiet of solitude to rest and recharge.
That’s all there is to it really, but as Susan Cain explores so well in her book Quiet, in a world predominated by extroverts and that values extroversion so highly, the introverts among us can feel misunderstood and alienated, which can only add to existing mental health difficulties we may be facing.
creativity & giftedness in adults
You perhaps know yourself to be a deeply creative person, or feel there’s something inside you, but you’re unsure how to access it. Creativity can show up in traditionally artistic ways, or more subtle approaches to practical problems or your emotional life. The common theme may be feeling that urge in you, that you simply need to be creative to feel alive – that it’s just part of who you are.
“Gifted” is an elusive word. It so often conjures stereotypical images of a maths or science genius, with A* grades in everything. But it can show up in all kinds of different ways, and is not always about huge success either. Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski studied giftedness extensively, and his research lead to new understandings of the term. He saw how many gifted people can also often “slip under the radar.” People with huge potential can become bored and frustrated, or feel at odds, with regular ways of learning or doing things. They can feel restless or switch off. As such their gifts could be missed, even by themselves, as they coast through with reasonable grades or achievements, while all the time feeling misunderstood and unfulfilled.
Rather, Dabrowski highlighted 5 areas of psychological intensity or “overexcitabilities” that he saw as signs of giftedness. These are: intellectual, emotional, imaginational, sensory and psychomotor. You may have huge intellectual curiosity and hunger, or experience your emotions and empathy at a profoundly deep level; you might have an endlessly creative imagination, or acutely and finely tuned senses, picking up on minutiae that others around you miss; or maybe you have boundless energy and talent with physical activities, co-ordination and sport. Because of this level of intensity, gifted people have often been labelled as “too much” in some way, or even misdiagnosed with things like ADHD or bipolar.
Whether you’ve been formally identified as gifted at some point in your life, or not, but it feels familiar and relatable to read about in some way, therapy can focus on your emotional, lived experience, and the many challenges that can come your way.
Research shows that gifted and creative people may be more susceptible to certain emotional difficulties. The intense or creative way they experience the world can mean they feel their pains more deeply, or are aware of all the inconsistencies around them. This can lead to deep feelings of anxiety or angst, or existential depression or persistent existential crisis and struggling for meaning. Relationships can become hard when people struggle to understand or accept you; the normal 9-5, paying-the–bills life can seem downright bizarre when you have urges to live differently. Perhaps this is where a particularly common experience can be seen too – in that giftedness is often seen as something related to childhood. As if all of the intensities and difficulties of any of these increased levels of sensitivity or giftedness suddenly disappear once you have to get a job and pay the bills! Obviously this is not the case, and therapy can help to honour the gifted child in you and find what you still need now, and will do for the rest of your days.
If any of the above resonates with you, and you’d like to talk more about working together in therapy, please feel free to contact me now…