Tag Archives: Our Story

How I Finally Found My Tribe

PowerWood Summer Camp

My life changed dramatically a year ago. I’ve always been an outlier, flitting round the edges of social groups, never comfortably fitting into one group for long.

I’ve managed for short periods, like when my kids started school and I somehow found myself a member the cool mummy clique for a few months. But sooner or later I’d get tired of pretending to be someone I’m not. I’d start to reveal my odd little quirks, my unusual way of looking at the world, and the invitations would gradually dry up.

Sometimes acquaintances would withdraw more abruptly, like when I threw a huge spanner in the school mum network by taking my kids out of school to home-educate them. I began home-educating because I could see that school wasn’t the right place for my outlier kids, but people sometimes think that homeschoolers have made their kids different by taking them out of school, rather than vice versa.

This confusion between cause and effect carries over to parenting generally. My kids are different from average. They are both, in their own ways, intense, sensitive, easily-overwhelmed and hyper-reactive.  Parenting techniques that work on most kids don’t work with mine. Luckily I figured this out very early and turned instead to books like Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reason.

But other people thought my kids had meltdowns because I wasn’t strict enough. I couldn’t really blame them – it’s how humans are wired. If their kid used to have temper tantrums and they tried a technique that worked, of course they’re going to think that if only everyone used that method, there’d be no badly-behaved kids.

As my son got older, the gap between his behaviour and that of his peers grew wider – and I became lonelier and lonelier. My husband, who spends less time with our children than me, wasn’t convinced we shouldn’t just be trying a bit harder with some of those traditional methods of discipline (I hate that word).

In the absence of any external support, instead of working together to help our son we were wasting our energy, at best arguing about what we should be doing, and at worst accusing each other of making his problems worse.

Then just under a year ago we finally found what we needed: community. A group of parents who were experiencing very similar issues to us, who were familiar with our challenges, who understood how it felt to be judged and misunderstood, and who knew better than to point the finger and ask, “Why don’t you just take away his iPad?”

Within this community we’ve found the validation, compassion and information we desperately needed. And once we stopped blaming ourselves for our son’s non-average behaviour, we were able to understand him better. Freed from worry that he was ‘abnormal’ we could see more clearly where he needed support, and we could also begin to share with our kids what we were discovering about the positive side of overexcitabilities.

The PowerWood Community

The person who introduced us to that community was a wise and compassionate lady called Simone de Hoogh. Simone was inspired by her experiences with her own children to create PowerWood,  the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation supporting families dealing with sensitivity, intensity and super-reactivity.

Everyone I’ve met who’s come into contact with PowerWood expresses the same feelings of relief and gratitude – finally someone gets their family. Perhaps that explains why Simone is now supported at PowerWood by a team of more than 50 volunteers helping share her wonderful work.

Here are 5 ways you can connect with the PowerWood community:

(1) Go to a PowerWood workshop

The next PowerWood OE Workshop (Intensity, Super-sensitivity and Hyper-reactivity) is happening in London on 12 and 13 March 2016. You can go to one or both days.

If you can’t make the workshop, Simone is hosting a free, informal ‘coffee with Simone’ event (also in London) on Friday 11 March 2016.

If you’re reading this after those dates, check the PowerWood website for future workshops.

(2) Join the PowerWood Facebook group

In the PowerWood Facebook group you’ll find encouragement, information and support from Simone de Hoogh, a team of friendly PowerWood volunteers and a wonderful bunch of other folks who are dealing with the opportunities and challenges life with intensity and sensitivity brings.

(3) Go to a PowerWood summer camp

I’ll say it now, I am not a natural camper. I find the whole process of packing my kitchen into my car and sleeping under canvas for several days completely overwhelming.

So it’s saying something that I utterly loved my first PowerWood camp  last summer. Being with kindred spirits for an extended period and participating in Simone’s workshops while my kids happily played with new friends left me on a real high, not to mention equipped with a whole bunch of information and tools to support my kids. (That’s me up there in the photo, hanging out with my tribe at the camp.)

As well as plenty of craft and play activities for kids, Simone even runs workshops for children and teens at the PowerWood summer camp. My children came away from these sessions understanding themselves better, and after meeting them in person, Simone was able to reassure me that they are quite ‘normal’ intense and sensitive kids!

(4)  Book a free 1-hour introductory Skype support session

I’m a therapist and coach myself, and over the years I’ve had some great coaching from a variety of people to help me in my life and as a parent. But nothing has ever hit the spot like the Skype support sessions I’ve had with Simone over the last year.

If you have OEs, there’s no substitute for getting support from someone who both understands how that feels and who can offer the information and tools to make a real difference to the issues you’re struggling with. (Book a support session here.)

(5) Sign up for the PowerWood newsletter

The monthly PowerWood newsletter contains stories from other parents together with information about upcoming PowerWood events. If you’re not quite ready for a workshop, signing up for the newsletter might be a good first step to finding out if the PowerWood community is right for you. (You can sign up here.)

Before I met Simone I’d read plenty online about twice exceptional children. I’d even visited the PowerWood website. But with so much information out there I found it difficult to pick out what was truly relevant to my own family.

What I needed was to connect with real people, to find my tribe. If you have sensitive, intense children, join me in the PowerWood community. You won’t regret it.


Of course, I’d love you to help other people find community too by sharing this post or by  liking Laugh, Love, Learn on Facebook. 🙂

How I discovered that OEs aren’t something that needs fixing


How I learned that OEs aren't something that needs fixingOverexcitabilities can look very different from one individual to another, which is why it took me so long to identify them as the reason for my son’s unusual behaviour. I’d seen OEs briefly mentioned, but only connection with giftedness, which isn’t talked about here in the UK. (I can imagine it now, like a scene from a sitcom. My son mid-meltdown in the Harry Potter Experience gift shop, while I explain to frowning onlookers, “It’s because he’s gifted, you know”.)

No one here talks about giftedness, and no one talks about overexcitabilities.

Before I found the one person in Britain who does talk about OEs (she’s Dutch) we’d taken our son to see half a dozen ‘experts’, none of whom could explain his extreme reactions. They mostly agreed, though, that his behaviour needed fixing so he could have a normal life.

Sensitivity and intensity reframed

I knew the PowerWood workshop was going to be different when, within the first half hour, we were looking at photos of people like Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, Steve Jobs, Princess Diana, Alfred Nobel and PewDiePie  (ask your children about the last one).

What did all these people have in common? They didn’t achieve what they did by curing their OEs – they succeeded because of them.

Finally someone was saying something that resonated with my experience. Yes, my son may be challenging at times, but I’ve always known that his intense energy, imagination, curiosity and zest for life could one day take him wherever he wants to go.

Each OE provides the energy or fuel that contributes to the development of a ... young person's talent.

The five types of OE

Our workshop leader Simone de Hoogh went on to talk in detail about the five types of overexcitability – emotional, imaginational, sensual, intellectual and psychomotor. As I listened to the characteristics of each type of OE and the challenges and opportunities related to them, I began to sense a framework within which every single aspect of my intense, sensitive son’s behaviour made perfect sense. The relief was incredible.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be exploring each type of OE and giving a few examples from my family’s experience. I’d love you to join me and share your own stories along the way.

How I found the Secret Key to Understanding My Sensitive and Intense Family

sensitive and intense family - boy upside down on the beach

Do you feel different from other people? Maybe more intense, sensitive, or just a bit weird?

When I was a little girl I knew I was different. I thought there must be something wrong with me. Why else did  adults so often tell me to stop being so sensitive, or ask me, ‘Why are you so intense?’

I  learned to squash my eccentricities, revealing my true self to only a few trusted friends. I did this so well I ended up in a job I hated, which everyone said I’d be mad to give up because I’d trained for so long to get there.

My sensitive and intense family

Then I had children. Two distinct personalities, parented quite differently from how I’d been brought up, and they were different from other children, too.

One wanted to join in every group activity and try every craft project she came across. The other couldn’t be in a group for more than fifteen minutes without having a meltdown. He  was happiest playing in his own imaginary worlds from morning until night.

My firstborn was intense but extroverted. Except for the occasional outburst, she fitted with the way our society says kids should be. By contrast, we spent years trailing my second child around ‘experts,’ trying to figure out what was going on with him and how we could help him fit into society better.

Those explorations eventually led me to a workshop in which all was revealed, not just about him but about my daughter and myself, too.

What was this well-kept secret?

My children and I  have nervous systems that are more sensitive than average. We have strong reactions to things other people don’t even notice. We’re easily overwhelmed by our emotions. And we generally experience life at a more intense level.

Psychologists call this combination of innate personality traits ‘overexcitability’ (OE for short).

Over the last nine months I’ve thrown myself into finding out as much about overexcitability as I can. What I’ve discovered has helped me understand not only my children but also myself on a whole new level. The sense peace this has given me is profound.

Since that first OE workshop I’ve worked as a volunteer with PowerWood, a not-for-profit social venture which supports families living with OE, founded and led by my heroine Simone de Hoogh. I’ve also written about OE in parenting magazines, and of course I share stories about how to live positively with intensity and sensitivity here on this blog.

All this has left little time for my home-education blog, Navigating By Joy.  I love being part of the blogging community, but I’ve often wanted to share more personal stories that I hoped would touch and encourage other people.

Join me

If you’d like to share experiences, information and tips about life in a sensitive and intense family, I’d love you to subscribe to receive e-mail updates of my blog – just leave your email address in the box at the bottom of the page.

You might also want to like my Laugh Love Learn Facebook page where I’ll be sharing interesting and  helpful ideas and resources.

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