Pardon me while I rant.
I just saw a preview on TV for a show that is highlighting “elite gifted athletes” and showcasing their particularly astonishing abilities. Oh boy. Then, I thought, how do we honor intellectually gifted folks on TV?
We don’t. Or we think we do because we watch people on Jeopardy competitions to see who has memorized the most facts. And we think, these are the smartest people. They know lots of trivia. Or we watch characters like Sheldon on Big Bang Theory or Sherlock on PBS. These people, we say, are what gifted looks like. Argh. Grrrrr. Expletive!
I spend much of my day with gifted humans in my therapy and consulting practice. I will tell you what I see.
Suzanne, college junior, perfectionist and extrovert. Suzanne was bullied in elementary school because she was outspoken, an enthusiastic student, and a fast learner. The years of bullying and her inborn capacity to think of many options, choices, variables, and catastrophes combined to generate disabling anxiety. Her intensity, complex thinking, and extroversion left her frustrated and lonely. Conscientious about completing assignments with at least 120% effort, she got bogged down in her need for quality and accuracy. In therapy, understanding that the source of much of her self-criticism came from years of rejection from peers and misunderstanding of her own rainforest mind, Suzanne began to feel more self-compassion. She was determined to learn tools to calm her anxiety, ease her depressed moods, and find a way to make a difference in the world.
James, 35, was overwhelmed by his many interests and abilities and unable to choose a path forward. He had a construction job that was paying the bills but his heart was in music, composing, electronics, art, design, writing, philosophy, sailing, and more. He longed for a deep connection with a partner and for intellectual discussions around literature, spirituality, and life’s meaning. He was an avid reader and researcher and loved diving into philosophical exchanges. As a child, his sensitivity, creativity, and curiosity were overlooked and misunderstood. In counseling, James worked to understand how his family of origin influenced his choices in relationships and his difficulty with decision-making. Learning about multipotentiality and giftedness gave him some relief and direction. He was open to exploring many healing modalities to address his complex inner and outer worlds.
Tenisha, 29, was a profoundly gifted introvert. She excelled in most everything she tried including academics, art, music, dance, and writing. Schooling was frustrating and disappointing because she did not experience the level of intellectual stimulation she needed. It was hard for Tenisha to be with friends and family because she could sense what they were feeling and thinking. And, in turn, they were uncomfortable around her. She longed to find someone who would debate with her or who knew more about a topic than she did. She never felt truly seen. Health problems in her early 20’s confounded her doctors. After doing her own research, she diagnosed herself, correctly, surprising her practitioners, as she had no medical training. Even among the gifted, she felt like an alien. Tenisha had a strong sense of ethics and was deeply troubled by the lack of integrity she experienced in her workplaces. She lost jobs because she was outspoken. Tenisha wondered if she would ever find a career path where she could be herself and contribute to improving life on planet earth. In counseling, she found relief in that she could finally talk about her gifts without fear of rejection or judgment.
These are some of the faces of giftedness. Some of the highly sensitive, empathetic, creative, analytical, perfectionistic, deep thinking, complex, intuitive, intelligent, socially responsible, spiritual souls that I am privileged to work with.
This is what giftedness looks like.
(With apologies to Sheldon, Sherlock, and Jeopardy winners and fans everywhere.)