I grew up in a home that had a very similar emotional environment for most of my formative years. The intensity around religion and politics was overwhelming. There was no gray. Certainly not fifty shades. I could explain the absolute ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ position on any subject.
I could argue any point and create a space where the opposing party felt small. I knew how to push another’s shame button. I won lots of arguments and lost lots of friends. I would have passed the litmus test for intensity.
Important aspects of connection such as openness, self awareness, or valuing personal feelings were not at the top of the list. My loud, rousing verbiage created intensity. Never vulnerability.
I didn’t have to look at my heart because I was sanctimonious about big, intense issues. It created an environment where I felt powerful and superior. And, I was wholly disconnected from others.
Emotional hide and seek is played when intensity is substituted for genuine intimacy. We ratchet up the intensity in debate. Then we don’t have to feel the loneliness and lack of intimacy in our lives.
Intensity is a miserable substitute for intimacy, but we do it often.
The scale tips from healthy discussion to addictive behavior quickly. The debate becomes another way to avoid deep feelings of shame, pain, fear, and loneliness. It’s not much different than the unhealthy use of sex, food, money, alcohol, or work to keep us from true connection with others.
That kind of false connection works….until it doesn’t.
I’d never shared my deep hurts, longings, or took responsibility for my own thoughts and feelings. I’d never bothered to let someone close enough to me to challenge my lack of introspection. I didn’t know what the word meant.
Later in life I found myself surrounded by discerning, thoughtful individuals. They were intense and passionate, but also emotionally safe. It wasn’t what I was used to. They taught me how to look at myself and how I impacted others. We considered the many things we desired, grieved, and feared. We looked inside with honesty.
The therapist and other members of my first therapy group helped me understand that the big issues and topics surrounding religion and politics were important, but not at the expense of my own heart.
I learned that I had mistaken intensity for intimacy.
The feelings around national politics and religion are often attached to complicated concepts. We can point to them, scream about them and shame others for them. We enjoy insisting we are right. We state facts and opinions with great fury in our need for religious and political sparring.
Or, we can look inside with humility and investigate what the intensity is covering up. Once we shed the facade of false connection, it changes the way we see the world. The old patterns of name-calling and accusations suddenly feel very cheap.
No matter someone’s stance on an issue, you can’t help but be drawn in by warmth and gentleness. Commanding self-awareness and authenticity is deeply attractive. The courage of vulnerability takes my breath away every time.
I’ve lived two lives.
One of loud legalism, and one of connection.
One of loneliness and another of community.
One with my heart safely locked away in superiority, and another of freedom.
Which will you choose?