I’m reblogging an old post of mine from another blog, Raising Smart Girls where I blog about raising my daughters, two of whom are in the gifted program in their respective schools. This post is in line with a few threads of thought that I have for this blog, though I’m not sure which direction I’m going to take the upcoming posts (creativity, ADD/ADHD, giftedness, mental health struggles, misdiagnosis of gifted adults, moods and addictions). Since part of this blog is devoted to creativity, talking about what I’ve learned about myself and how I’ve come to understand myself as a intelligent, creative person is something I want to share with others that might help them understand themselves. I’m reprinting it for a couple of reasons. I have come to the belief that there are a great many unrecognized gifted adults who end up addicted to drugs and alcohol as a way to manage their intense internal experience because they were never trained to understand just how their minds and emotions work, perhaps didn’t get the proper understanding and support, and what they need to understand their gifts and how to manage the challenges that come alongside these gifts.
I wrote this originally in 2009, so my children were a lot younger. It still is relevant today, for the most part…with the exception that I’m thrilled to say my middle daughter, while still highly sensitive and prone to anxiety (as I am), is no longer selectively mute.
I don’t know whether it’s a gift or a curse to be a highly intelligent person sometimes. If it’s a problem for gifted children to be placed in under-stimulating environments, what problems does it pose for the gifted adult in under-stimulating environments?
I often wonder if I have ADD-like symptoms because I’m now a stay-at-home mom and left the challenging field of biotechnology. I often zone out on the computer, trying to feed my brain while the kids are doing what they do best – you know, being kids.
On Thursday, because I was on a quest to obtain some information, I wasn’t paying attention to the time and forgot to get my middle daughter off to her afternoon class. Oops. That’s not the first time I’ve been driven to distraction in this manner. The internet is a wonderful and slightly dangerous tool for an
information junkie highly curious gal like me.
In seeking to understand myself a little better, I did a quick google search and found this Gifted Homeschoolers Forum and an article called Misdiagnosis and Missed Diagnosis:Giftedness and Disorders written by Linda Kreger Silverman, PhD.
In their popular book, Driven to Distraction, Hallowell and Ratey (1994) explain the creativity of individuals with ADHD in a manner uncomfortably descriptive of most gifted people:
A third element that favors creativity among people with ADD is the ability to intensely focus or hyperfocus at times. The term ‘attention deficit’ is a misnomer. It is a matter of attention inconsistency. While it is true that the ADD mind wanders when not engaged, it is also the case that the ADD mind fastens on to its subject fiercely when it is engaged. A child with ADD may sit for hours meticulously putting together a model airplane. An adult may work with amazing concentration when faced with a deadline. (p. 177) This ability to hyperfocus heats up the furnace in the brain. The intensity of the furnace when it heats up may help explain why it needs to cool down, to be distracted, when it is not heated up. A fourth element contributing to creativity is what Russell Barkley has called the hyperreactivity of the ADD mind. Cousin to the traditional symptom of hyperactivity, hyperreactivity is more common among people with ADD than hyperactivity is. People with ADD are always reacting. Even when they look calm and sedate, they are usually churning inside, taking this piece of data and moving it there, pushing this thought through their emotional network, putting that idea on the fire to burn, exploding or subsiding, but always in motion. Such hyperreactivity enhances creativity because it increases the number of collisions in the brain. Each collision has the potential to emit new light, new matter, as when subatomic particles collide. (p. 178)
Inconsistent attention, the ability to hyperfocus, and hyperreactivity of the mind, are just three of the many traits shared by both the gifted and AD/HD population.
I tend to hyperfocus on a lot of issues, partly due to the fact that I’m wired to do so. I’m also an active problem solver. If it’s broke, I have to fix it. And consequently when things go slightly off-balance, I tend to want to do something to bring things back into harmony again. I also tend to hyperfocus on the girls’ development, and need to learn to step back from it and let them figure things out. That’s incredibly hard for me to do so. I have an analytical mind, and sometimes it doesn’t let me rest.
The hyper-focus on acquiring knowledge and the analysis and synthesis of ideas is also understood as a component of overexcitabilities. Kazimierz Dabrowski, a Polish psychologist, psychiatrist, and physician, (1902-1980), developed a theory of advanced development of the person called the Theory of Positive Disintegration. To him, advanced development were preceded by conflict and inner suffering. This conflict and suffering and ultimate higher level development were caused by innate ability/intelligence combined with something he called overexcitabilities. Not all gifted or highly gifted individuals have overexcitabilities, nor are they exclusive to the gifted population (for instance, individuals who are not necessarily gifted do have sensory processing disorders that cause sensory overexcitabilities).
According to this article by Sharon Lind at SENG (Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted) called Overexcitability and the gifted.
Overexcitabilities are inborn intensities indicating a heightened ability to respond to stimuli. Found to a greater degree in creative and gifted individuals, overexcitabilities are expressed in increased sensitivity, awareness, and intensity, and represent a real difference in the fabric of life and quality of experience. Dabrowski identified five areas of intensity-Psychomotor, Sensual, Intellectual, Imaginational, and Emotional. A person may possess one or more of these. “One who manifests several forms of overexcitability, sees reality in a different, stronger and more multi-sided manner” (Dabrowski, 1972, p. 7). Experiencing the world in this unique way carries with it great joys and sometimes great frustrations. The joys and positives of being overexcitable need to be celebrated. Any frustrations or negatives can be positively dealt with and used to help facilitate the child’s growth.
I know myself well enough that I have four of these overexcitabilities – that of intellectual, sensual, imaginational and emotional overexcitabilities.
blogs, participating in two message boards (one for gifted adults), researching information regarding selective mutism, child development (social and emotional development in particular), psychology, and anxiety disorders, I often have a relentless intellectual drive to understand what’s going on inside people. Currently this is focused on finding an understanding of my child’s anxieties and selective mutism and how to help my girls find their way in the world in ways my mother was not able to, for me.
My sensual over-excitabilities have come into play most of my life as a sensory-seeking highly sensitive person, which means I tend to seek out enjoyable sensory experiences and I have a great appreciation for the nuances in art, music, language and I love touching and hugs.
I have imaginational overexcitabilities, which can be both good and bad, because I can write creatively from my imagination, but I can also imagine worst case scenarios and I’d almost prefer to live in my imagination than in the real world sometimes.
The emotional overexcitability helps me to be empathetic, but all too often prevents me from having the needed objectivity at times that is required (someone needs to be the calm and collected one and it’s not going to be my 5 year old).
I know that all these factors play a role with how I’m in tune with my children’s experience and how overwhelming it can be for me as well.
It’s been 5 years since I wrote that post. I’m still dealing with intense hyperfocus alternating with scatterbrained moments. I still have not returned to work full-time (I substitute teach right now), and still have really not a clear direction where I want to go in my life; however, I’ve certainly been spending a lot of time developing other talents – writing, making art, photography. Since that time, a lot of problems arose in my personal life, which I think are now resolving, though I have residual problems of low-grade anxiety. And it’s winter-time, so I am pretty much hibernating which doesn’t help said anxiety.
I’m hoping 2014 will bring me a little bit more clarity as to where I might go on a professional level. I’m eager to work, but I haven’t quite decided where to apply myself that won’t conflict too much with my children’s schedules or my values. I want to use my abilities in ways that enhance the earth and it’s inhabitants, not help to destroy it.
For the folks coming over from Facebook…. I decided to add this to my post. There are personal reasons why I have not responded to the link on Facebook, so I’m adding this to the post here.
I was fortunate to have attended the World Conference for Gifted and Talented Children in Kentucky last year. I was thrilled to be able listen to and speak with James T. Webb and attend some amazing presentations (for example from the Columbus Group – Linda Silverman, Stepahie Tolan, et al.) and hear some perspectives from gifted educators around the globe. I still plan on blogging more about that on my blog Raising Smart Girls (but there’s been a lot of difficulties in my life that have caused me to get behind there).
Someone made this comment
“This is such an interesting article. I wish that there was a paper that delineated example of “normal people see/feel/react to xyz in this fashion. Gifted with overexcitabilities see/feel/react to the same xyz in this or that fashion”.
.I think those who are gifted and those who are not tend to still feel that “everyone feels or experiences like I do”. That leads to confusion and rejection and consternation when “the obvious reaction” is not shared or understood.
Isn’t there ANY psychologist who can give examples of how a neurotypical person and a gifted/overexcitable person reacts differently? Are there no functional MRI studies of two different brains reacting to the same stimuli?
Let’s start quantifying, characterizing, differentiating the whole experience. That would help both sides understand each other.”
And here’s my response. I would have left it on Facebook, but I REALLY hesitated to do so. I have family I do not wish to know I keep these blogs (if you come from a family of narcissists who just don’t understand the gifted experience…at all, you’d know why this would be an unhealthy thing to do). I apologize for the roundabout way I’m handling this. I’m trying to protect my anonymity.
I’d have to say that even within the gifted population, there is still a wide range of internal experience. I do not think any two gifted individuals feels or experiences or expresses their feelings and experiences in the same manner, and for good reason.
I’ve been a moderator for a message board for gifted adults for 5 years, and found quite a bit of variation – due to personality, type of parenting one has had (there’s a lot of vignettes of gifted individuals with abusive childhoods in Alice Miller’s work), life experience (good experiences or traumatic experiences – and at what age traumatic experience happens and if there is support for those events), whether or not one was fortunate enough to have the educational and financial support, whether or not they found meaningful work or were stuck in dead-end, soul-sucking jobs, or experienced job loss, etc.
My husband and I are both gifted, yet, we failed, quite frequently, to understand each other. He was a mechanical engineer, I was a scientist before I became a SAHM (I’m a substitute teacher now). We had a lot in common in college, but our views about almost everything diverged as we started raising a family – that’s when our differences in sensitivities, values surfaced and clashed. We also think at different rates. I’m a fast processor, and he’s a slower processor – I see connections quickly, and am rather free in my expression and don’t mind where the conversation ends up, but he takes a little longer because he’s considering his options like a chess player considers his moves.
Within my own family, my brother and I (both gifted while our sisters are not), do not always understand each other. Such is what happens when one is a bit divergent (me) and the other not (my brother).
Between my experiences as a moderator and in my own personal life, there are no guarantees that gifted individuals will understand another gifted individual’s experience.
I don’t particularly know what people are thinking when they read this post. I certainly hope that it may help.
A couple of book resources I’ve found to be very helpful are Dr. James T. Webb’s Searching for Meaning: Idealism, Bright Minds, Disillusionment and Hope and Eric Maisel’s Why Smart People Hurt: A Guide for the Bright, the Sensitive, and the Creative.