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Why intelligence and sensitivity go hand in hand

Why intelligence and sensitivity go hand in hand

Are you wondering how and why intelligence and sensitivity fit together?


Imagine a computer with thousands, nay, millions of input channels. It needs a pretty big processor to handle all that incoming data, right? Well, the same goes for your mind.


This computer is, in fact, you.


Every second, oodles of data comes into your experience.

Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and skin all sense what’s going on in your environment.

Your internal sensors give you data on temperature, thirst, hunger, balance, fatigue/energy levels, and much more besides.

Your mind is busy sensing mental events: thoughts, images, fantasies, memories. (Never thought of your mind as a sense before? It’s a Buddhist idea, and a jolly good one at that.) Your mind also has the busy task of processing the data from all these senses.


With sensitive senses, you have high sensitivity.

What’s High Sensitivity?

You sense a lot of things, perhaps at levels that other people don’t notice. You can hear sounds that others miss. You spot unevenness in a painted wall. You feel tiny cold draughts at 20 paces.


If you’re sensitive, you have much more information to process than your average person.


You need a bigger processor – i.e. a higher level of general intelligence – to do this. Maybe your sensitivity led to you developing higher processing powers – your high intelligence.

Some people have the sensitivity, and the intelligence, but not the methods of how to manage and use your intelligence to handle your sensory experience.


This is especially the case if you have strong emotions, but you don’t have the strong emotion-processing skills to match the strength and intensity of your emotions.


You’ll have trouble moderating your emotions, swinging quickly between extremes. You’ve probably been told to ‘Stop over-reacting!‘ You’ve probably been described as “too much, too sensitive, too intense, too [insert word of choice/put-down here]” and this is grossly unfair.

Yes, you’re sensitive, but not too much.


The world needs sensitive people.


Where sensitivity gets a bad rap is when it’s labelled as ‘over-sensitive.’

Finding out whether you’re innately sensitive, or you’ve lived though stuff that has left reactive triggers (i.e. trauma) in you, is immensely useful.

Sensitivity is about how you’re wired. Being ‘over-sensitive’ to events and experiences is about what you’ve experienced before and the marks it’s left on you.

Take a read of my article Are you sensitive or sensitised? to figure out which of these affect you.

If you are highly sensitive to other people’s physical, mental or emotional states, you might have come across the term Empath. Read my take on Highly Sensitive Empaths here, if that’s your thing.

What about high intelligence?

Let’s now back-track a little and turn the sensitive-intelligent combo around: let’s start with high intelligence this time.

If your mind is a high spec processor, you probably learned to do with fewer filters on your sensory data that your average person. You can handle more sense data, so you sense more than average: you’re sensitive. You process more, and more quickly, so you’re capable of sensing more.

Sometimes this second possibility doesn’t quite happen.

You may be highly intelligent, but you have some pretty strong filters in place.

These filters can come from having very strong interests, so you have a narrow field of sensing.

Or you had some crappy childhood experiences that closed you down, or missed out on teaching you important emotional skills. Take a read of: Helping sensitive, intelligent children, How to heal from insecure attachment in adults and what happens when you have Genius mind, hellish emotions.

You could be sensitive, if you dropped your filters.

But right now you might actually be the opposite – insensitive – because your filters are so strong. Yes, I have an article for you about that too: Sensitive insensitive.

Or you have beliefs that lead you to act insensitively. You believe, you think (unconsciously, perhaps), you have a principle by which you operate – that, for example, other people’s interests and experiences are less important, or even totally unimportant, compared with your own. This falls more into a question of ethics, how you see yourself, other people, and the world you’re part of, interacting.


Who knows if high intelligence comes first, or if high sensitivity comes first?

In any case, the two together make an extremely powerful partnership – as long as you know how to handle them.


They both have their magnificence.

They both have their downsides too.


Like a high-performance car, you need specialised handling skills.

If you don’t already have them, how do you learn those specialised handling skills?

1:1 Support - Sue Mahony, Ph.D

Read on…

How to manage your intelligence and sensitivity

Like most things in life, you have options.

1. Do nothing

I’m going to take a wild guess that if you’ve read all the way to here, you’re looking to do at least something to help you understand and handle your intelligence and sensitivity.

Let’s skip to point 2.

2. Do-It-Yourself

Read read read. Read about intelligence. Read about sensitivity. Read other people’s stories and see if you see yourself reflected in them.

Watch films. Documentaries. How does what you see of intelligence and sensitivity fit with how you perceive yourself?

Experiment: who are you? what can you do? how do you do things? what do you like or dislike? what are you sensitive to? how far can you go?


Journal – find a good source of reflection prompts and write, or sketch, your way into clearer self-knowledge and awareness.

3. Do It With Support

Finding out about yourself with another real-live human to reflect you back to yourself, to share knowledge and tips, and to challenge you on the things you’d rather not see, is a great way to speed up the process to self-knowledge, and ultimately handling your intelligence and sensitivity with grace.

One of the easy pitfalls of high intelligence is thinking you already know the answer. Be open to the possibility that you don’t – solicit insights and feedback from the people who know you, live with you, or work with you, or skilled professionals, to get an even better grip on who and how you are in the world.

Review what you know about yourself already. What would you like to know, to be able to do, or to have help with?

Then find the professionals or skilled friends who can help you with those.

Not sure where to start? Find a generalist, then move on from there.

Surprised that you might need more than one helper?

Imagine yourself as project manager on a heritage building project: you’ll need specialist architects, builders, window-makers, stone masons, asbestos removers, roofers, plasterers, painters… As a highly intelligent, highly sensitive human, you’ll draw on people from a wide range of backgrounds and skillsets – should you choose to.

If you’re looking for someone to help you manage, understand and operate your (energy) sensitivity skilfully, and/or releasing trauma, have a look at what I offer, get a sense of whether you feel we might click, and book in for a call.

1:1 Support - Sue Mahony, Ph.D

When you know your intelligences and sensitivities deeply and intimately, and know how to manage and care for them, you can do amazing things.

The world needs you, being you, doing you.

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The information contained above is provided for information purposes only. The contents of this webpage are not intended to amount to advice and you should not rely on any of the contents of this webpage. Professional advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from taking any action as a result of the contents of this webpage. Sue Mahony PhD disclaims all liability and responsibility arising from any reliance placed on any of the contents of this webpage.

Sue Mahony PhD is gifted, autistic, and ADHD. She provides 1:1 specialist support for brains similar to her own, giftedness group programmes, speaking and bespoke support for organisations, and a wealth of articles on this website.

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