How Many People Have Overexcitabilities? & Other FAQs

overexcitabilities FAQ

Do you ever wish you could press the pause button on your life? Slip away with a pile of books for a long weekend at a luxury spa hotel, perhaps?  Then return, refreshed and ready to swing back into the groove?

I’ve found myself dreaming about that pause button over the last few weeks.

So instead of starting a new story, today I decided to dig deeper into the subject of overexcitabilities by having a little Q&A session with myself.  Getting things clear in my mind feels soothing. (Is that an OE thing? 😉)

What are overexcitabilities?

Overexcitabilities (OEs) are innate personality traits. You’re either born with them, or you’re not. They’re with you for life, and with any luck you get more practised at managing them as you get older.

The nervous systems of people with OEs are both more sensitive, and more responsive, to stimuli. Individuals with OEs have a greater awareness of things, inside and outside of them, than most other people.

When were overexcitabilities first identified?

Overexcitabilities are a part of the personality theory developed by Polish psychologist Kazimierz Dabrowski (1902-1980). Dabrowski’s  Theory of Positive Disintegration is now credited to be the leading personality theory of the twenty-first century. Weirdly, not many people have heard of it (including me until a year ago), but I’m trying to do my little bit to spread the word.

Dabrowski identified five types of overexcitability: psychomotor, sensual, imaginational, intellectual and emotional.

How many people have overexcitabilities?

Psychologists estimate that about one in five people have OEs. Between two and four percent of people experience OEs in a way that brings challenges to daily life.

According to the latest research, OEs mostly occur in individuals with an IQ of over 110.

OEs are usually more intense in high-able individuals, but not every person with a high IQ has OEs.

Are there any risks associated with overexcitabilities?

People with the increased sensitivity, awareness and intensity that OEs bring experience the world very differently from other people. This means they behave differently.

Unfortunately we live in a society which, whatever people might say about valuing creativity and innovation,  rewards conformity, especially in children.

Children who behave differently – especially when they ‘over’-react, are ’too’ sensitive, can’t stop asking questions or aren’t able to sit still – face disapproval.

One of the biggest risks to a child who has OEs is that they grow up with a negative view of themselves. Many become extremely unhappy or depressed. Some even express suicidal thoughts.

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People with OEs also often experience asynchronous development, twice-exceptionality (high-ability combined with a learning difficulty like dyslexia), or sensory processing and anxiety-related issues.

Is there a positive side to having overexcitabilities?

Individuals with OEs experience life – including the good bits – more intensely.

Depending on the particular combination of OEs you have, beautiful art can be intensely moving, fine food can taste exquisite, small acts of kindness can instil deep appreciation, heavenly worlds can be imagined, passions can be pursued to their joyful fullest, and sports can be enjoyed with ferocious intensity.

Overexcitabilities - Frequently Asked Questions

According to Dabrowski, OEs are one of three factors that are necessary for advanced personal development. Innate ability is also required, and the third pre-requisite is the capacity for self-directed emotional growth.

It is this third factor, in particular – self-directed emotional growth – that we can nurture. If we allow our children to grow in tune with their authentic passions and confident of their ability to attain their goals, we can give them a huge boost along the way towards creating their happiest possible lives and contributing to the world around them.

How can we help children value their overexcitabilities?

There are many things we can do to help our sensitive, intense children appreciate who they are and find their place in the world.

We can advocate for them in a society that doesn’t always understand their needs. We can stop holding them to standards they struggle in vain to meet.  We can help them stay in touch with their intrinsic motivations. And we can show them ways to manage their intensity.

But perhaps the most important place to start is with ourselves.

OE character traits are genetic – if your children have overexcitabilities, the chances are that you have them too. For me, learning to understand and appreciate my own OEs is an important first step towards helping my children manage and value theirs.

I’ve found that improving my energy levels and resilience is the best way for me to manage my own OEs. I’ll share more next time about how and why I do this.

Do you have any questions about OEs?

How do you help your children appreciate their quirkiness?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments or on the Laugh, Love, Learn Facebook page.

* * *

*Simone de Hoogh is one of the founding directors of PowerWood, the UK’s leading not-for-profit organisation which supports people dealing with OEs. Much of the information in this post comes from the PowerWood General Information About OEs flyer. You can find a copy of the flyer here. If you’d like extra copies of the flyer to distribute in schools, health practices etc, leave a comment or email simone@powerwood.org.uk.

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10 thoughts on “How Many People Have Overexcitabilities? & Other FAQs

  1. One of my own FAQs relates to that fine line between OEs and something else.

    When do we stop attributing characteristics to OEs and begin to investigate something more, such as anxiety disorders, OCD, ASD or ADHD?

    I understand that there are many similar, or even overlapping, traits between OEs and some of these conditions. How do we know when to think beyond OEs?

    Thanks for this wonderful set of articles. It is refreshing to not feel so alone in this journey.

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words and also for your great question, which is one I’ve been asking myself recently, too.

      I’ve mentioned in a few blog posts how people have questioned whether my son might have ADHD. Some of the comments I got revived my doubts on the question, and I talked them through in a coaching session with Simone de Hoogh.

      Simone’s response was obviously tailored to our situation, but her general response was as follows:

      The (statistical) criteria for diagnosing psychiatric disorders are based on the average child in the middle of the bell curve. This makes the criteria unreliable for diagnosing high-able children with OEs (at the edge of the bell curve). Even if a diagnosis is confirmed, treatments aimed at average children are likely to either be ineffective or to fail to treat everything that’s going on. Instead, it’s best to focus on treating our children’s specific problem behaviours (ideally with the guidance of someone who understands OEs and high-ability) while building up their self-appreciation.

      I know Simone works with parents whose children do have OCD, ASD and ADHD behaviours/diagnoses. Perhaps you could have a chat with her about your specific concerns? She offers a free one-hour no-obligation initial Skype consultation. (Book one here.)

      And/or you might want to join the PowerWood closed Facebook group where you might feel more comfortable discussing specifics with me, Simone and other parents?

      Thank you for your tip about the Allis Wade books, btw. I’m learning a lot from them! 🙂

      1. Thanks Lucinda. I really appreciate your reply and you’ve mentioned the exact point that has held me back in seeking professional help for my daughter regarding possible anxiety/OCD.

        I’ve never had her tested for giftedness/IQ, but I’m reasonably confident she’d be a bit of a way along the bell curve, and I’ve felt concerned that a mental health professional may not be familiar enough with children like her.

        We identify very strongly with the OE framework, and understanding OEs has been a huge help so far, so it would be very important to me to keep things framed in this positive way.

        It may be time for me to delve into the world of Facebook. Nothing like stepping out of your comfort zone … I’ll need to ask my teenage daughter for help :o)

        Thanks so much!

        1. I’m amazed at the number of professionals we saw when my son was younger who didn’t realise what was going on. What I’ve discovered about OEs provides such a comprehensive framework, it now seems ridiculous to try to deal with any aspect of his behaviour without taking them into account!

          We know our children better than anyone, and we’ll do our best by them if we trust our judgment about where to turn for help.

          I know what you mean about Facebook! I used to be very wary of it, but since I’ve begun to relate to the OE/2e community I’ve found it a huge source of support. I hope to see you over at the PowerWood group. 🙂

  2. Thank you, Lucinda, another clear and articulate article! I shall be forwarding this to a few friends and family.

  3. Lucinda,

    Right at this moment, I’d love to press the pause button on my life too. I need to recharge and that’s hard when there are so many demands on my time and so many ideas in my head that I feel I should put into action. But that’s me and nothing to do with your article!

    I always enjoying reading your posts. I don’t think we have overexcitabilities in the way you describe, but we are certainly quirky people and have learnt to value that trait!

    1. Sue,

      I’d always love hearing from you, even if your comment were completely unrelated to what I’m writing about (which it isn’t!).

      It’s wonderful to feel brimming over with possible ways we could spend our time, isn’t it? But then sometimes those possibilities seem to spill over and we feel overwhelmed. I sometimes wish I was more organised and efficient with my time, but then I like being flexible, too, and spending time just hanging out with my kids (without feeling stressed because I ‘need’ to get a blog post written by the end of the day).

      Today is a very snowy day in the Italian Alps, which I was thinking was a perfect excuse to stay snug in our hotel and catch up on some writing. But I know that Cordie has lots of plans to play games together and Jasper would like to go swimming and watch a film, so perhaps I won’t spend as much time at my computer as I’d planned. One day my children will be off leading busy independent lives of their own, and I’ll look back and cherish these days, so I’ll make the most of them. 🙂

      The only reason I focus so much on overexcitabilities here is because the behaviours they bring are so often pathologised, which can result in a lot of stress and self-doubt for parents. Discovering OEs has made so much difference to our family and I want to share what I’ve learned with as many other people as I can. What I truly value is diversity. I love how unschooling, especially the way you write and talk about it, allows our children to appreciate who they are and to stay in tune with what they love to do. (Blessed are the quirky, for we shall lead creative, interesting lives!)

  4. Hi Lucinda,
    I love getting the notification for your new post. I won’t be missing any from now on!
    “But perhaps the most important place to start is with ourselves”
    I know that in order to help my son (perhaps my daughter too), I need to take a look at the mirror. I will be looking out for your post on managing you energy level and resilience.
    Thank you
    Silvana

    1. Thank you so much for your kind words, Silvana. 🙂 I really appreciate the positive and thoughtful contribution you’re making here.

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