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Too Much to Contain – Intensity and Creativity

One of the defining qualities of creative people is passionate intensity. Creative visionaries, people who make a strong impact on culture, make use of their intensities to fuel creative expression.

Joss Whedon is writer, producer and director of movies and TV shows including Firefly, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog and Dollhouse. Last year he received the third annual 2009 Outstanding Lifetime Achievement Award in Cultural Humanism from Harvard.

In his acceptance speech video, he talked about discovering existentialism as a teenager from seeing Steven Spielberg’s movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

“Literally, I just had an epiphany,” Whedon (pronounced ‘weedun’) said. “I came out of the theatre with an understanding of the concept of existence, and time and life and humanity, that I could not contain.

“I couldn’t stop moving. I was about seventeen, renting a tiny room in London. I was just freaking out. So I went back and saw the movie again.”

This is the kind of intensity of feelings and responses to sensation and ideas that helps define the inner world of creative, gifted and talented people.


Polish Psychiatrist and Psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902 – 1980) worked with creative adults and adolescents and developed his Theory of Positive Disintegration to better understand the psychology of creativity and advanced development.

One of his central ideas – also being researched by other psychologists – is overexcitability.

Lesley Sword, Director of Gifted & Creative Services Australia, explains that the term “conveys the idea that this stimulation of the nervous system is well beyond the usual or average in intensity and duration.”

She notes that “Michael Piechowski, who worked with Dabrowski, explains overexcitabilities as “an abundance of physical, sensual, creative, intellectual and emotional energy that can result in creative endeavours as well as advanced emotional and ethical development in adulthood. He says that the overexcitabilities feed, enrich, empower and amplify talent.”

There are five areas of these excitabilities: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual, and emotional – and of course, people can have a mix of all of them.

Nicole Kidman gave a nice description of what many other actors and other artists experience:

“You live with a lot of complicated emotions as an actor, and they whirl around you and create havoc at times. And yet, as an actor you’re consciously and unconsciously allowing that to happen. ….

“It’s my choice, and I would rather do it this way than live to be 100. .. Or rather than choosing not to exist within life’s extremities. I’m willing to fly close to the flame.”

[From my Nicole Kidman profile.]

Living with intensity means respecting our needs for mental health and stability, and working positively with our powerful passions and excitabilities, while not trying to suppress or “fix” them.

But these emotional and intellectual intensities of high ability people can be challenging.

Why Smart People Hurt-Eric MaiselPsychologist and creativity coach Eric Maisel says that ‘smart’ people often experience characteristic challenges including “difficulties with society and the world, issues at work, challenges with your personality and your racing brain, and special meaning problems.

“You may have chalked up your emotional distress, existential problems, work troubles, insomnia, relationship issues, and other difficulties to a variety of common causes like some ‘mental disorder,’ some biological malfunction, some feature of your childhood, or some shadow in your personality.

“But the poignant truth may be that some or many of these difficulties may be flowing directly from your natural endowment.”

See his book Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative.

Also see his related online course: Why Smart People Hurt.

More resources:

Post: What do you do with your intensity?

Post: Leonardo DiCaprio: a “crazy kid”- and maybe overexcitabilities

Page with multiple quotes, books, articles: Dabrowski / advanced development

Book: Michael Piechowski. Living With Intensity

Book: Michael Piechowski. Mellow Out, They Say. If I Only Could: Intensities and Sensitivities of the Young and Bright

Free Passion Test Profile

Sites:  High Ability and  Highly Sensitive


Too Much to Contain – Intensity and Creativity

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2019). Too Much to Contain – Intensity and Creativity. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 14, 2019, from


Last updated: 26 Mar 2019
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