Only super-intelligent, rational, high-achievers are gifted, right?
That’s certainly what I believed for most of my life.
Gifted people, I was sure, never let their emotions influence their judgement. Gifted people only believed in hard science – they didn’t waste their time in frivolous contemplation of metaphysical worlds. And gifted people were born with a clear purpose which they devoted their lives to achieving.
I knew plenty of those sort of gifted people. They were my classmates at Oxford, and my colleagues at the commercial practice where I trained as a lawyer.
Perhaps my fellow students and my colleagues thought I was gifted, too. But they didn’t know the real me.
Sure, I was intelligent.
But I’d also been the child who snuck into the adult library to read about hypnosis, dream analysis, and graphology.
I was the teenager who read about meditating in a magazine and who’d chant nam-myoho-renge-kyo at her bedroom wall after school each day. (If one of my family happened to walk in, there’d be snorts of suppressed laughter as the door was hastily pulled shut. Normal people didn’t meditate in 1985.)
I was the trainee lawyer who felt so overwhelmed at the thought of writing a research paper that she sat in her office, staring at a blank page, until hers was the only light on in the building. Who cried with exhaustion in the bathroom when a client needed contracts signed urgently and she had to work all night. Who survived – just – by spending weekends ensconced in her favourite, new age, bookshop (England’s only, back then in 1994).
Yes, I had the kind of brain that could pass exams. But I was also clearly slightly loopy.
Why else was I the only person I knew who was into all this weird metaphysical stuff? Who was too sensitive to cope with life in a law firm? And whose meandering mind meant she took three times as long as her colleagues to get anything done?
On the outside, I was a successful twenty-something lawyer. On the inside I felt inadequate and desperately lonely.
I’d come to believe that the parts of me others considered frivolous were completely separate from my intelligence, detracting from it, even. A shameful secret to be hidden away.
It never, ever occurred to me that my quirkiness was a part of my intelligence.
By the time I became a parent, the denial of my own giftedness was so complete that when my 6-year-old’s schoolteacher described her as ‘the most naturally gifted child I’ve met in 30 years’ teaching’, I didn’t take in the meaning of her words.
When we started homeschooling, I’d occasionally come across blog posts about gifted homeschoolers. Even though much of what they said resonated with our experience, I put it down to coincidence. After all, we weren’t gifted.
My definition of gifted (rational, serious, focused) was watertight, and I was firmly outside it. If someone had suggested I go to a workshop to help with the challenges of living in a gifted family, I’d have laughed out loud.
Gifted or not – isn’t it just semantics?
So, I never realised I was gifted. What’s the big deal? Does it really matter whether or not we apply the G label to ourselves or our children?
I believe it does matter. It matters because until we understand what giftedness is, we lack the means to fully understand and accept ourselves as the complex, multi-layered, beautifully paradoxical individuals that we are.
Turning gifted upside down
For me to begin that journey of understanding, someone had to turn giftedness upside down. She advertised a workshop to help parents of ‘intense, sensitive, over-anxious, easily overwhelmed and hyper-reactive’ children. Those words described my son to a T, and I signed up on the spot.
Throughout the workshop, I listened with tears in my eyes as I learned about the inherent character traits known as overexcitabilities. When Simone de Hoogh talked about sensitivity, intensity and heightened awareness she wasn’t just describing my children – she was describing me.
And then I heard something that rocked my world. These traits, I discovered, are most commonly found in the highly able, and their intensity tends to increase with IQ.
Could it really be possible that my sensitivity, my meandering mind, and my curiosity about things beyond this world, weren’t signs that I wasn’t gifted, but that I was? Apparently so.
The vulnerability of the gifted
One of my favourite parts of the Columbus group definition of giftedness is this:
‘The uniqueness of the gifted renders them particularly vulnerable and requires modifications in parenting, teaching and counselling in order for them to develop optimally.’
Two years have now passed since I acknowledged and began to embrace my giftedness. I can’t imagine my life now without the loving gifted community that supports me – even just by knowing it exists and that it welcomes me.
My heartfelt wish is for every other vulnerable gifted person to to have access to this kind of support.
The world won’t change overnight, but I hope that by writing posts like this and having my lovely readers share them, we can take a few steps in the right direction.
High Ability and Society – PowerWood article with interesting observations about how gifted children adapt (often to their own detriment) to fit society’s norms.
‘Because of the significant different ways gifted children, teenagers and adults experience their inner and outer world they are part of a minority and have to find a way to express themselves appropriately without losing their sense of self in a situation with people who experience the world in a different way.’
What Does Gifted Look Like? Clearing Up Your Confusion – Your Rainforest Mind
How to Embrace Your Beautiful Rainforest Mind – 2 part interview with Your Rainforest Mind author Paula Prober on The Alchemist’s Heart podcast
PowerWood – for sharing ideas and support about intensity, super-sensitivity and hyper-reactivity (in particular raising children with overexcitabiilties)
Intergifted – ‘coaching, connecting and inspiring gifted people around the world’
League of Excitable Women – for ‘intense, sensitive, dynamic and spirited women to come together and help each other ignite their own power and balance their highly sensitive need for extra self-care and TLC with their strong drive to push forward with their passions’.
Your Rainforest Mind, Paula Prober
The Gifted Adult, Mary-Elaine Jacobson
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To read more about the difficulties of being gifted, head over to this month’s GHF Blog Hop.
Main graphic: BellaOlivera