Gifted children eventually grow up. Gifted adults were the subject of discussion at #gtie on 13th January. Gifted is a not a term adults tend to use in reference to themselves. It comes with many negative connotations and is something people expect you to grow out of anyway. However, gifted is just a term used to refer to those at the upper end of the intelligence spectrum. It comes with various traits, not least of which are the overexcitabilities or intensity.
The problem is that we all compare ourselves and others to the norm. Those who fall to either side of the norm are at risk of being perceived as “abnormal” when, in fact, they are just different to the majority. Hence, the statement of the night “the norm can blow it out its ear”. Below is a summary of the chat, including some great articles and resources. Once again, many thanks to all who contributed!
The questions asked were:
1. Is there such a thing as a gifted adult?
1.5. Is there a difference between the characteristics of adult giftedness and child giftedness?
2. We care that G&T children’s giftedness gets addressed, what about G&T adults? Does that matter? Is adult giftedness as relevant as child giftedness in terms of cultivating potential?
2.5. Do you know any adults who discovered as adults they were gifted? What is your experience of them?
3. Are gifted adults who adjusted to being an undiscovered G&T child lacking authenticity as adults?
4. What problems/issues are likely to be present in undiagnosed gifted adults?
5. To what extent to undiagnosed gifted adults try to live their life through their children?
6. What do G&T children say about G&T Adults?
7. What do adult friends of gifted adults say about them?
8. What would/should a gifted adult say to their 16 year old self?
9. What affirmations, if any, does your gifted self live by today?
Q1: Is there such a thing as a gifted adult?
The clear answer to this question was “yes”. Giftedness is about more than just IQ. It is a way of being or of experiencing the world. In the same way as people don’t grow out of mental disability, people don’t grow out of giftedness. Gifted adults have all the same traits as gifted children, but with life experience, may have learned to adapt. This may mean coping better, or it could mean disguising their giftedness in order to survive. As one participant said, tongue-in-cheek, “we learn to accept our own neuroses”. One thing that giftedness does not necessarily mean is high-achieving. Some gifted adults do achieve highly but many more have very ordinary lives and don’t stand out from the crowd in terms of achievement.
Genetics and Intelligence by Robert Plomin
Q1.5. Is there a difference between the characteristics of adult giftedness and child giftedness?
The answer was “no”. Gifted adults remain as different or out-of-sync as gifted children and their oversensitivities persist. What is different is the effect of life-experience. For some, this means coping better, but for many it means disguising their giftedness in order to blend in. While there is generally a drive to develop the potential of gifted children, adults are on their own in this regard. They just have to suck it up and get on with it.
Are you a gifted adult?, by Christopher Coulson, includes a checklist.
What gifted adults say about their childhoods by Deborah Ruf
Q2. We care that G&T children’s giftedness gets addressed, what about G&T adults? Does that matter? Is adult giftedness as relevant as child giftedness in terms of cultivating potential?
If we accept that giftedness is part of who you are and the filter through which you experience the world, then it stands to reason that it is absolutely relevant in terms of cultivating potential. Adults are largely responsible for themselves and personal development is up to themselves to achieve. Outside, possibly, some innovative tech environments where creative talent is recognised, valued and actively nurtured, adults are generally expected to just get along and get the job done.
However, if gifted adults are not supported in their personal development, it can have repercussions for them, their families and for wider society. A gifted individual has the potential to become involved in social activism, creative entrepreneurship, research and development, running the PTA, or they may become socially isolated and depressed. Whilst having a great deal to offer, they may be unable to fit in in the workplace. Rather than being just a tad quirky or eccentric, they can be very difficult. Given that intensity is usually a core trait of giftedness, they don’t tend to do these things by half-measures!
The difference may well be understanding their own giftedness; self-awareness. Those who understand their giftedness and how it affects their responses and how it affects other’s responses to them, are more likely to be well-adjusted and able to cope. Those who don’t, can end up in difficulty.
Unfortunately, not many psychologists or counsellors understand giftedness so that, even when these individuals seek help, they don’t get the help they need. Without the gifted piece of their personal jigsaw, they can go round in endless circles, never making progress. With this piece, they often re-evaluate their whole life, seeing themselves in a positive light for the first time, rather than as a misfit.
“The gifted are the only group with special needs who can pretend to be like everyone else. But this is not without cost to the Self.” Linda Silverman
“Trying to fit in at the expense of the Self leads many gifted people to feel like aliens from a different planet.” M Wallach
Arousing the Sleeping Giant: Giftedness in Adult Psychotherapy by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen
The Universal Experience of Being an Out-of-Sync Adult by Linda Silverman
Counselling the Gifted; A Case Study by Paula Prober
Q2.5 Do you know any adults who discovered as adults they were gifted? What is your experience of them?
Particularly in Ireland, where we don’t have a history of gifted education, it is a common experience that adults learn about their own giftedness when their children are identified. Learning about the traits can be a huge “aha” moment! For the vast majority, it seems to bring a feeling of relief when they finally understand why they have always felt that they didn’t quite fit in. It is difficult to go through a lifetime feeling that you don’t fit in because there is something wrong with you. Given a new perspective, they can finally come to terms with their intensity and quirkiness:
- “Finally…understanding intensity and introversion and letting go of the feeling of failing at fitting in.”
- “Gaining a new perspective on our past about being gifted can heal the present and provide a better path to help us & our kids.”
- “Realizing that one’s sensitivity to his own child’s sensitivity means taking a breath or two.”
If Only I Had Known: Lessons from Gifted Adults by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen
Through the Lens of Giftedness by Linda Silverman
Q3. Are gifted adults who adjusted to being undiscovered G&T child lacking authenticity as adults?
“Most gifted adults have never been identified as such, and therefore tend to live an existence of borrowed identity. Many mistake their different ways of experiencing the world as signs of immaturity or character flaws.” Mary-Elaine Jacobsen
Many develop Imposter Syndrome, meaning they don’t believe in their own ability and are constantly waiting to be “found out” or exposed as frauds.
Gifted, Talented and Still Hiding Out by Douglas Eby
Q4 What problems/issues are likely to be present in undiagnosed gifted adults?
Bearing in mind that many undiagnosed gifted adults may do just fine in life, this question asked about problems. The feeling of being out-of-sync with the world can lead to social isolation, depression or self-medication with alcohol or drugs. Intensity can lead to problems both at work and in relationships where people may be seen as just too much. They can be perceived as difficult or intolerant, and may indeed be so. Research also suggests that “undiscovered” gifted people may channel talent into antisocial behaviour and that the prison population may have a higher percentage of gifted individuals than the general population.
Intensity can also lead gifted adults to have more difficulty than most in dealing with crises in their lives because they feel everything so intensely and vividly.
At this point, Jen Merrill (@laughingatchaos) pointed out that “problems suggest deviance from acceptable norm” and she declared that “the norm can blow it out its ear”. This view was unanimously accepted. Gifted individuals are often quirky or a little (or a lot) eccentric. It was generally felt that finding other gifted adults with whom you can share experiences and be accepted as you are, is hugely important. As someone else said, one of the benefits of being a part of a gifted parents’ support group is that “we can all be odd together”!
Arousing the Sleeping Giant: Giftedness in Adult Psychotherapy by Mary-Elaine Jacobsen
Gifted People and Their Problems by Francis Heylighen
Q5: To what extent to undiagnosed gifted adults try to live their life through their children?
Gifted adults may become very involved in advocating for their children. The experience of the teachers and parents at this chat was that gifted parents “mostly are trying to understand their lives through understanding their children” rather than living through them. So many had negative school experiences and they are fighting to ensure that their children fare better. Naturally, once they understand the gifted piece, advocacy becomes easier…although, not necessarily more effective, depending on where you live and what supports are available.
Q6. What do G&T children say about G&T Adults?
It seems that many find the gifted adults in their lives “mad”, “not like other mothers”, “daft”, “slightly zany” “weird”, “crazy” and “bonkers”. However, we were all happy to agree that it is good for our kids to see this sort of behaviour accepted and out in the open because they are just as bad!
Q7. What do adult friends of gifted adults say about them?Hmmmm!
- It depends on their reference point and perspective – the full spectrum of smart aleck to brilliant.
- Some friends ‘get it’ and join in the hilarity, others give you a withering look or demeaning comments.
- ‘You’re weird’ (in a nice way). ‘Too sensitive’ sometimes – a common issue.
- I think there’s a sense that it’s something you have to grow out of – it ain’t!
Q8. What would/should a gifted adult say to their 16 year old self?
- Your 16-year-old self is likely to think he/she knows more than you, they’re not gonna listen! 😉
- Hang on dearie, you have NO idea what’s comin’ your way.
- You may be a bit odd, but you’re not alone. Don’t be afraid to be yourself.
- Dear 16 year old self – It is true what your parents said – one day you will have kids that are like you
- Discover yourself and fly. Different yes, but life is full of uniqueness, strut your stuff.
- You don’t have to do the social scene, it’s okay to want to stay home and read books.
- Blimey! I’d tell myself that, in spite of what I’m being told, I’m not stupid, a failure nor useless. And to not give up.
- Be confident in who you are and figure that out.
- Find your passion and then find a job to match.
- Find your passion and then find a job to match. Find your passion and make that your job!
- Too many interests are ok, have fun exploring them all!
- Ask for help if you need it, it’s not a sign of weakness but of strength.
- Don’t try to hide your true self.
- Dear 16 year old self, the criticism will always be there because they don’t know what they don’t know. Let go.
- Rise above. Be you. Inspire.
Q9. What affirmations, if any, does your gifted self live by today?
- When we decide to confide in others, we discover we’re not alone.
- This too shall pass…like a kidney stone.
- We can’t control the wave, but we can learn to surf.
And finally, the quote of the night:
The norm can blow it out its ear 😉
(Jen Merrill @laughingatchaos)
by Peter Lydon & Catherine Riordan