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Intensity: Is it Real?

Image of dark clouds. Raleigh Psychotherapy, counseling, Katherine Broadway, Intensity

David is six months into a new job. He is making more money than ever before, but he is working constantly. There is conflict with his boss who wants more of him at work. He disagrees with his coworker’s way of performing the job. His family is being neglected, he is tired and exhausted, and has no leisure activities.

He believes his only solution is to find a new job. As the job search begins he feels less stressed. David is offered several jobs, all with new responsibilities. He feels validated, recognized and successful. This new job is going to be different.

The problem is that this will be his third new job in two years.

Aron and Nan just finishing making up…again. They seem to have the same fight over and over. One gets hurt, the other gets angry. Words are exchanged, feelings intensify, and there is a threat that one person may not be able to continue the relationship. Fear flares up and distance is made. Uncertainty rears its ugly head and there are several hours of doubt, “Will he leave me? Is she leaving me? What will I do then?”

After the feelings cool and they talk, they believe that all is well. Aron and Nan, and many couples like them, think that all this emotion, pain and suffering is due to having strong feelings of love. They believe that for every feeling of fear, pain and anger there are twice as many feelings of love and relief. This is not necessarily true.

This is not intimacy; this is intensity.


Intensity is an extreme degree of strength, force, energy and or feeling. It is a magnitude of feeling; all-consuming emotions, thoughts and actions that we might package and wrap up as “passion, chemistry, connection or spiritual.” Intensity heightens everything giving it a false sense of value, importance and meaning. It leads to putting on rose-colored glasses, and the mantle of denial.

Outside of our awareness, intensity makes us into thrill-seekers. Not the kind who climb mountains or race cars, but those who seek thrills in more subtle ways. This intensity feeds off of the pursuit of the new and different…new jobs, new friendships, new activities, new connections and new relationships.

Looking for that person, activity or challenge that creates adrenaline. Living this way conditions our brain to expect surges of dopamine and the feeling of intensity. It becomes our new normal and when we are not experiencing a state of excitement, we feel something is wrong. Depression and emptiness set in. At its peak, life feels meaningless and boring.

Intensity and intimacy are not the same thing.

Intensity is not long-lasting. It happens quickly and fades even faster. Denial and illusion are necessary to maintain it, which is exactly what we try to do.

Unfortunately, when we are in the midst of intensity we do not usually recognize it for what it is. Those who mistake it for intimacy will find themselves confused, unsettled and unsure whether they are in the right situation, be it a relationship, a friendship or a job.

Striving after intensity leaves a person exhausted. They’re using all their energy to seek experiences that constantly feed this brain chemistry that the human body is not designed to maintain.

When that intensity is achieved, nothing can match it. It becomes a substitute for intimacy.

The simplest definition of intimacy is this: knowing another and being known. It is a relationship where two individuals reciprocate feelings of trust and emotional closeness toward one another. Intimacy is developed over time, with patience, with love, with understanding and compassion.


Intimacy occurs whenever we live in truthfulness, vulnerability, and responsibility.

Healthy relationships, friendship and jobs don’t run on constant highs. Yes, they can each give the greatest satisfaction and offer wonderful highs. However, they do not operate at this level all the time. They require consistency, work, patience, suffering, and perseverance.

This goes way beyond just excitement and romance. Running after intensity leaves a person “high and dry,” trying to be satisfied in ways they were not created to be fulfilled.

The substitute kills. The real thing fulfills.

Next week I will talk about what separates an intimate relationship from an acquaintance.

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