When looking for potential love relationships, many of my codependent and trauma bond-prone clients confuse emotional intensity and emotional intimacy. There’s a big difference. Emotional intensity is like a wildfire and emotional intimacy is like a hearth fire. One destroys lives; the other can warm your soul.
Oftentimes, dysfunctional, toxic and/or personality disordered individuals are highly emotionally intense. It’s a manifestation of their pathology, not their capacity to love. The typical instantaneous intensity of emotion upon first meeting them can feel seductive, hypnotic and even euphoric. This is what some people confuse for “chemistry.”
Many of my codependent clients have yet to experience true emotional intimacy. Meaning intimacy that’s deep, lasting and mutual. Not the superficial, fleeting and intense sexual experiences that are typical of emotionally intense (and frequently personality disordered) partners. Real emotional intimacy grows over time. It requires reciprocal empathy, emotional attunement and the willingness to be vulnerable with each other.
Emotional intensity — without depth — can be indicative of characterological pathology. It’s easy for some to confuse intensity of emotion with depth of emotion, but they’re quite different. Emotional depth isn’t a flash of lightning that disappears as quickly as it appears. Once developed, it’s actually a consistent character attribute.
Emotional depth involves the capacity to experience a range of emotions (e.g., not just mad, glad, sad, bored) and distinguish among them. Emotional depth requires a sophistication in comprehending one’s emotions, their origin (e.g., something from the past or present) and the ability to understand and relate to other’s emotions through attunement and empathy.
This is why many narcissists, borderlines, histrionics and other emotionally immature people call you their soulmate on Monday, and post selfies with their newest soulmate by Thursday. Their emotions may appear intense, but are, in fact, remarkably shallow. Like a 3-year old proclaims you’re the best mommy/daddy one minute and then hates you because you won’t buy them a toy the next.
Have you confused emotional intensity for emotional intimacy in your relationships? Is this something you’d like to understand better?
Counseling, Consulting and Coaching with Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD
Dr. Tara J. Palmatier, PsyD helps individuals work through their relationship and codependency issues via telephone or Skype. She specializes in helping men and women trying to break free of an abusive relationship, cope with the stress of an abusive relationship or heal from an abusive relationship. She combines practical advice, emotional support and goal-oriented outcomes. Please visit the Schedule a Session page for professional inquiries or send an email to email@example.com.
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If you can’t handle me at my worst…
You probably have healthy boundaries.
Dr Tara Palmatier says
I am making this into a meme right now. Brilliant!
Going viral right after I deleted my Twitter account….
Yes, I think this is how I got into trouble.
Because I didn’t have a lot of relationship experience, I thought this was how relationships were “supposed to” go. And that if I wasn’t “strong enough” to deal with emotional volatility, then I wasn’t but out for being in a relationship. That if I wanted someone around who was happy on (decreasing) occasions, I had to endure deep sadness and anger as well.
Lots of memes and trite phrases reinforce that — the awful MM quote I riffed off, “relationships are work,” etc.