Some people are naturally more intense than others.

They are often told that they are ‘too much,’, ’too sensitive,’ ‘too emotional.

People who feel more deeply and intensely than others are more aware of subtleties; their brain processes information and reflects on it more deeply. At their best, they can be exceptionally perceptive, intuitive, and keenly observant of the subtleties of the environment. Yet they are also overwhelmed by the constant waves of social nuances and others’ emotional and psychic energies.

After years of being criticized for being ‘too much’, many emotionally sensitive and intense people have learned to stifle or cover up their exceptionalities.

At some point in your life, to protect yourself, you had to ‘hide and shrink’. However, what starts out as an attempt to self-preserve and stay safe, without awareness, can gradually be internalized as an inner reality. As you try to censor and silence yourself, you feel anxious about taking up any space in the world, or even secretly wish that you could disappear.

Instead of celebrating your achievements, you may have the feeling of being a failure, a fraud or an impostor. You may live in constant fear of being ‘found out’, and prefer to ‘play safe’, avoiding exposure to competitiveness and intellectual challenge, thus preventing yourself from achieving your full potential.

However, when you try to squeeze your wild passion and spirit into a metaphorical prison, you will suffer from internal tension and pains. This may manifest not only as emotional distress but also as physical aches and pains. Some of the common symptoms are migraines, chronic fatigue, and debilitating allergies.

As you have disengaged with the part of you that is, in essence, passionate, excited and idealistic, you may end up feeling disconnected, empty and frustrated. You may also experience a spiritual crisis later in life, in which you feel that something important is missing, or feel plagued by a sense of meaninglessness.

The 2013 Disney film Frozen depicts the archetypal tale of hiding and shrinking. In the story, the protagonist Elsa possesses the magic power of turning everything into ice. When she was little and had not learned to master her power, she accidentally injured her sister Anna. Then, in the name of protection, their parents taught Elsa to hide her power to stay safe. They erased her sister’s memory, pretending that Elsa’s power did not exist. They shut Elsa off from the world and told her to ‘conceal it, don’t feel it, don’t let it show’. Elsa no longer felt able to laugh and play with a carefree spirit. She was ashamed of who she was and believed that allowing her true self to be seen meant she would either be rejected or that she would hurt someone.

Like Elsa, you might have learned to become frightened of your gifts. Her story touches us because she reminds us of the isolation and fear we feel when we reject ourselves to avoid being seen as too weird or different. Like Elsa, perhaps you went through many dark nights when you were afraid of what lay within you.

The first step to awakening from the unconscious trance of hiding is to have an awareness that it is happening and to look squarely at its origins. Let’s review some psychological factors that may have kept you hiding and shrinking.


Combining your gifted perception with an intense sense of justice and an unwavering passion for life, it is inevitable that you ask the dangerous questions. This makes you a natural visionary, but like all visionaries across history, you might be fiercely attacked and rejected. Since most people who live within their comfort zone dread change, the fact that you challenge the status quo makes others feel threatened.

Many intense individuals find themselves perceived as a threat that needs to be eliminated. Your astuteness amplifies your fear, as you can pick up the most subtle cues of attacks and ridicule in any given social situation. As a result, your fear system becomes chronically activated, and you become haunted by the fear of being ostracized. To survive socially and to self-preserve, you may then decide at some point in your life to hide your capabilities to avoid being seen as a threat to others.


Many gifted and emotionally sensitive individuals feel an intense inner conflict: they want to show up in the world as their real self, yet they do not want to sacrifice their belongingness. The existential tension of wanting to be authentic while still being part of a group is heightened most strongly around adolescence, often creating strong internal conflicts that persist into adulthood. As in the story of ‘The Ugly Duckling’, though you were born a swan, you might have tried your whole life trying to fit in as a duckling. You may soon discover that hiding is not a sustainable strategy: if you adopt a false self and pretend to be something that you are not, even if that facade is accepted, deep down you will still feel imperfect and unlovable. Eventually, you would no longer be able to suppress the cry from your most passionate, daring and authentic self.


Due to their perceptivity and ability to rapidly assimilate information from their surroundings, many empathically gifted people have an unerring instinct about people and events. For instance, you can often tell if someone is telling the truth or hiding something. You may also have vivid dreams or other exceptional metaphysical encounters. However, these experiences might have worried or frightened you because we live in an intellectually dominated world that demonizes non-mainstream understanding of consciousness.

Most ultra-empathic individuals have a degree of sensitivity, perception and knowledge that is beyond the standard. Sadly, doctrines of all kinds have taught us to fear what we cannot objectively measure. In fact, most of the world denies the presence of any emotional and energetic transfer. As a result, rather than owning this natural ability, you might have become afraid of it. You would rather deny your power than be seen as crazy.


Most of us are not aware of the unconscious fears and motives that hold us back from expressing our true self. A psychological analysis carried out in 1997 by Shilkret and Nigrosh with a group of talented college women revealed two unconscious inhibitors of their performance and well-being: separation anxiety and survivor guilt.

Separation anxiety is the belief that your freedom is threatening or dangerous to the well-being of your loved ones. Your fear may be that what you see and know will separate you from those close to you.

Survivor guilt, in this context, refers to the potential feeling of remorse over being able to know and see what others in your family don’t, or that you feel undeserving of the opportunities you’ve had that have not been accessible to them. When, as a child, you showed your outstanding ability to process and gather information or to generate ideas, your family might have tried to shut you down so that you didn’t outshine your brothers and sisters.

Although it may seem irrational on the surface, subconsciously you believe that stepping out of the traditional cultural values and doctrines that you have been brought up with implies betrayal; you may think that if you were to escape from the cultural limits, you would be leaving other people behind.

Going back to the movie Frozen, one of the most memorable scenes is when Elsa sings ‘Let It Go’ on the mountain top. As she stomps her feet on the ground, she fully manifests her power for the first time in years. We are empowered as we hear: ‘I am never going back... It’s time to see what I can do. Here I am, and here I stay!’ We who know the sorrow of hiding are touched, because the song echoes our ultimate yearning as human beings to be seen, heard and accepted for who we are.

Ultimately, Frozen is a story of ‘un-freezing’, where the heroine learns to accept her true self and to show her real power. Embedded in the tale is an important message for all exceptional individuals who do not fit nicely into society’s mould: you do not have to sacrifice the truth of who you are, to be loved.

Hiding your true self to fit in will paradoxically make you feel more alone and separated from the rest of the world. Most importantly, by playing small you are depriving the world of your gifts, and that serves absolutely no one.

The goal is to find the place where your gifts are celebrated, rather than tolerated and, ultimately, you do not have to choose between power and love, or between freedom and connection. You can have both.

Author's Bio: 

Imi is an award-winning mental health professional, a Specialist Psychotherapist, Art Therapist, Coach, and author of the book Emotional Intensity and Sensitivity (Amazon No.1 bestseller, Hodder & Stoughton, 2018).

She sits at where art, culture, psychology, and spirituality meet, and her mission is to inspire and empower emotionally intense, sensitive and gifted individuals to rise from being the 'misfits' to being the leaders of the world. 

Imi was granted the Endeavour Award by the Australian Government, for her clinical and academic excellence; and later the Fellowship of the Royal Society of Arts (FRSA) for her commitment and contributions to social change. She has been featured as a specialist in the field in publications including The Psychologies Magazine, The Telegraph, Marie Claire and The Daily Mail. Her work also appears on online platforms including Psychology Today, Psych Central, Counselling Directory, The Elephant Journal, Rebelle Society, The Tattooed Buddha, and more.

Imi has lived and worked in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia, the USA and the UK. After gaining the Master of Mental Health, she further qualified as a Clinical Psychotherapist (UKCP), Art Psychotherapist (AThR, HCPC), Schema Therapist, EMDR Practitioner, Mentalisation- based Treatment Therapist, and Mindfulness Teacher (MBSR, MBCT). Combing East and Western philosophies with psychology, her approach is holistic and unique. She has worked in various settings from inpatient units to the community, served as a director for a personality disorder charity, and founded a personality disorder support group in Central London.

Combining her life-long passion and clinical expertise, she founded the psychotherapy practice Eggshell Therapy and Coaching, where she works with intense people across the world.